12 smart ideas for zoning open plan spaces

From sliding doors and screens to bookshelves and colour blocking, there are many ways to divide a room. Here, our favourite interior designers offer some inspiration

how to zone an open plan space
Montse Garriga Grau/Photofoyer

Could our collective obsession with open-plan living be waning? As hubs for work, play and everything in between, our homes are working harder than ever – innovative ideas for a little separation and flexibility are just what’s needed to restore balance.

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1 Contrast materials
claude cartier open plan apartment
Vincent Leroux

A shift in texture and tone is a cue that we’re entering a new space. The dining area of this apartment by French interior designer Claude Cartier contrasts chequerboard with parquet on the floor, and zellige tiles with terracotta on the walls, to create a clever series of transitions. claude-cartier.com

2 Call on curtains for a fluid divider
italian architect and designer cristina celestino studio
Davide Lovatti

With an ability to conceal and reveal at will, the beauty of the curtain is its flexibility and flow. Heavier fabrics feel luxurious – think weighty drapes cascading from a bed canopy – while lightweight or sheer materials will create a gentler sense of separation. Italian architect and designer Cristina Celestino opted for fabric by Rubelli and Torri Lana to sequester this seating zone in her relaxed studio. cristinacelestino.com

3 Try a bold boundary
polish design firm paradowski studio warsaw home
Pion Studio

Wielded well, colour can mark out boundaries as well as alter mood. Polish design firm Paradowski Studio has utilised sheets of orange glass, which then run behind a bookshelf, to create a clear shift between the living spaces of this Warsaw home. paradowskistudio.com

4 Extend upwards to shape space
studio lawahl stockholm apartment
Kristofer Johnsson

Look beyond the lateral plane – playing with height is a clever way to guide the eye. For this Stockholm apartment project, interior architects Studio Lawahl integrated a custom shelving unit into an island to provide an extra barrier between the cooking and dining areas. In the same rich teak as the cabinetry, it’s a seamless extension of the kitchen and offers versatile display space. studiolawahl.com

5 Draw attention to sliding doors
madrid apartment project by spanish studio patricia bustos
Montse Garriga Grau/Photofoyer

Though industrial styles still reign supreme for some, sliding (or folding) doors can be a brilliant way to inject decorative drama. A striking stained glass room divider is the rightful centrepiece of this Madrid apartment project by Spanish studio Patricia Bustos. patricia-bustos.com

6 Try a bookcase as a room divider
david lopez quincoces for living divani
Living Divani

It feels bold to bring a bookcase into the centre of a room, though it requires a modest footprint and makes for an impactful partition. With its streamlined frame and tapered posts, the ‘Sailor’ design by Spanish architect and designer David Lopez Quincoces for Living Divani is a case in point. The best shelving systems are built with flexible components that pave the way for future customisation. livingdivani.it

7 Use colour to create zones
italian studio marcante testa project
Carola Ripamonti

As well as marking transitions, colour can be a clever way to frame sections of a space. Here, the pink hue of the custom lime plaster partition from Italian studio Marcante Testa helps define a snug seating area – and plays beautifully with the cobalt blue sofa. marcante-testa.it

8 Up your frame game
interior designers alexandra ogonowski and jesper nybord
Kristofer Johnsson

For this home in Stockholm's Ostermalm district, interior designers Alexandra Ogonowski and Jesper Nybord created a Crittall-style curved frame that smartly echoes the tone of the dark oak cabinetry by Nordiska Kok. The result is a simple yet impactful threshold. aojnd.com, nordiskakok.com

9 Opt for an oversized rug
stéphan bidoux and julien villeneuve paris apartment
Stephan Julliard

Once an afterthought tasked with tying a room together when all else was in place, rugs have rightly been granted new status and importance (‘go big’ is invariably the interior designer’s mantra). Paris-based designers Stéphan Bidoux and Julien Villeneuve used the ‘Snake’ design by Rug’Society to amplify the feeling of separation for this home office. stephanbidoux.com

10 Call on crafted details
ace hotel kyoto commune design and textile designer akira minagawa
Yoshi Makino

At Ace Hotel Kyoto, LA firm Commune Design drew focus to the shoji sliding doors, which separate the sleeping and living area of the suites with a grid of paper panels by textile designer Akira Minagawa. communedesign.com

11 Experiment with structure
marcante testa turin apartment
Carola Ripamonti

Clever divisions are something of a signature for Italian studio Marcante Testa. In this Turin apartment, a custom metal framework overhead creates a point of connection between a far doorway and the kitchen, while subtly sectioning off a dining space. Coloured glass panels at the room’s entrance shape the home’s flow by gently guiding arrivals into the main living area. marcante-testa.it

12 Use a screen for separation
modular node screen by patrick norguet for natuzzi
Natuzzi

Searches for room dividers rocketed last year, no doubt fueled by our sudden need to set up makeshift work zones. The smartest options do more than carve up space – take the modular ‘Node’ screen by French designer Patrick Norguet for Natuzzi, which offers soundproofing and fitted shelves. natuzzi.com

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