Extra-large spaces can be cut down to size by decorating with an eye to separation

July 19, 1992|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

While volumes are written in decorating magazines and newspaper home sections about space-expanding strategies for small rooms, relatively little attention is given to the opposite problem: too much space.

But the truth is that rooms that are too big can be every bit as aggravating as rooms that are too small. High and mighty spaces have their own set of shortcomings. They can be expensive to furnish. They can be difficult to light properly. They can produce conversational echoes.

Worse, they can inflict emotional distress on those who occupy them. It's not easy to cocoon in a room that has the proportions of an airplane hangar and an equal amount of charm. Faraway walls and lofty ceilings might be great for accommodating a crowd but totally unsuited to coddling a couple. Huge spaces can make people feel small, isolated and exposed.

The problems can be compounded in a home with an open floor plan. A family room/kitchen/dining room combination or a so-called "great room" can wreak havoc with privacy. Family togetherness is one thing, but if you can't talk on the telephone because your youngsters are playing video games and your spouse is practicing the piano, then the floor plan is seriously flawed.

Having spent much of the last decade knocking down walls, homeowners can't be blamed if they're tempted to spend much of the next decade putting them back up. But there are other ways to deal with too-large spaces than by resorting to small rooms and more partitions.

The goal should be to tame large spaces visually more than physically. If what you want are open spaces that feel cozier, consider the following tactics.

Furniture groupings

In a large living room, family room or even a mega-sized master bedroom, break up the space with multiple furniture groupings. Avoid arranging the furniture around the perimeter of the room in wagon-train fashion. Create two or more intimate groupings: For example, place a sofa and two chairs in front of the fireplace and another pair of chairs and a skirted table in front of the bay window. In a big bedroom, cluster the bed, dresser and chest of drawers at one end to make space for a writing desk or a love seat and table at the other end.

Different flooring

Change the flooring styles or use an area rug to distinguish one zone from another. If remodeling, consider using one pattern of wood flooring in the living area and a second compatible pattern of wood flooring in the dining area. An area rug can accomplish the same thing if you're only redecorating. Even if the flooring is the same throughout both the living and dining areas, a rug in one area can make both spaces seem smaller.

Columns and walls

Install columns or wing walls to subdivide a large space. Along with furnishings, a pair of columns on either side of a large room is a signal that one end of the room is devoted to one activity and one to another purpose. Wing walls are typically floor-to-ceiling partitions that jut into a large space from opposite sides, but just by two or three feet. They're often used between kitchens and family rooms or between living rooms and dining rooms. Wing walls can be made of standard gypsum wall board or framed glass panels.

Different levels

Change ceiling heights or floor levels to indicate a change in room function. Even though a kitchen and dining area may really be all one room, if you bump up the ceiling over the dining area, both spaces will feel distinct yet connected. A one- or two-step difference in floor levels can also make one large room feel like two.

Ceiling beams

Make a large room with a cathedral ceiling feel more intimate by installing ceiling beams. There will still be an abundance of impressive space overhead, but the beams will make the space feel more comfortable and less intimidating.

French doors

Pairs of pocket doors or French doors between rooms can allow you to have openness when you want it and visual and acoustical privacy when you need it. Glazed doors -- that is, doors with glass panes, such as French doors -- are often the best choice for family room/kitchen combinations because they provide acoustical privacy without blocking the room-to-room views or the light.

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