Make the most of an open-plan layout with creative zoning

With careful planning and furniture arrangement, you can create either one interactive open space or a few separate zones.

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I've just moved into an open-plan apartment. The living, dining and kitchen counter are all within the same space, and I'm really struggling with furniture placement.

While open-plan layouts can have a wonderfully spacious feel and an interactive quality - you can chat with your guests or watch TV while you prepare a meal, for example - furniture arrangement and privacy can be tricky issues.

Before you start designing your room, consider how you will use these spaces and whether you want to create one large open space or separate zones.

If you choose open-plan, your colour and material palette are crucial. Try to incorporate the same hues and textures throughout. Pick two or three dominant tones and be sure to use each tone in each area - so if white is one of your colours, have a white sofa, white dining table and white accessories or flowers in the kitchen.

Next, think about furniture layout. Although it defies conventional thinking, placing furniture off the wall or even in the middle of the room works better in an open-plan layout. Try to use key furniture such as your sofa or a television unit between the living and dining area - by doing this with low furniture, you retain the open-plan feel while giving the space structure. Anchor the sofa by adding a thin console table, such as the Foundry Console Table by Crate and Barrel, behind it. Add a few bar stools ( to integrate the kitchen counter with your living space.

Save time - and your back - by trying different furniture arrangements on a screen. You can make a dimensioned floor plan quickly and easily with a free app at

If you want to create three distinct zones, try using a different colour palette to define each area. For an unconventional approach, divide the space by suspending a series of candle holders or lights from the ceiling.

Bookshelves also work well as space dividers, so long as they're designed to be seen from both sides. Add vases, flowers, photo frames and lamps to the books. The Cubic shelf by Freedom Furniture in Mirdif City Center is excellent. Another option is to erect a screen, but this can look clunky and disrupt the flow of natural light, making the room feel cramped.

Lastly, rugs help to visually define spaces. As a rule of thumb, make sure the rug in the living area accommodates at least the front legs of the sofa. In the dining area, make sure the rug is larger than the table.

Pallavi Dean is an award-winning independent design consultant who practises in the UAE. If you have a question for her, email