Challenge of great room is organizing space

As another indication of how architecture and design reflect styles of living, many of today’s American homes include multipurpose spaces. That’s as it should be, of course, given that so many of us are constantly multitasking.

What used to be separate spaces — the dining room, living room and even the kitchen — are now often combined into a single great room. A distinctive approach is required in furnishing this communal space, one quite different from what’s done when these various functions are performed in individual rooms.

Q: Our new home has a great room consisting of three family-oriented areas: for cooking, eating and watching television. We moved all our old kitchen, dining and living room furniture into this large space, but it looks awkward and disorganized.

The floor is made entirely of wood and the walls are all painted white. Can you suggest how to make our great room look great — without adding partitions?

A: I suspect that the style of your furniture may be more formal than what’s appropriate for an inherently informal space. Buying lots of new pieces might not be possible, however, so let me make a couple of less far-reaching suggestions.

The addition of area rugs can be a highly cost-effective way of bringing order to a large, disorganized interior. They serve to delineate spaces with specific functions — a seating area from the dining space for example.

Color schemes are also helpful in this regard. While there’s a case to be made for coordinating all the colors in a multipurpose space, it’s also OK to emphasize the TV-watching area by giving it a brighter treatment. The choice of area rug can be an important first step in that direction.

This photograph shows a large room full of traditional furnishings and details that looks attractive because its contents are coherently arranged. Its styling retains the charm and warmth that separate rooms would exude.

Also, note how the wood pilasters give additional focal separation. They create a needed visual division that’s accentuated by the ceiling beam and the decorative corner pieces. You may wish to consider some similar application as a better way of organizing your great room without sacrificing the benefits of a large open space.

The photo is contained, by the way, in “New Rooms for Old Houses,” a Taunton Press book by architect Frank Shirley. It offers plenty of ideas and illustrations related to modern makeovers of older homes.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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