Wall not only solution to separation issues

Professional designers usually advise their clients to establish a clear continuity of color and style from one room to the next. While it’s true that such a design direction can lead to harmonious spaces, there’s also a danger — not often noted — of producing a repetitive look. And in my view, the only thing worse than a dissonant interior is a dull interior.

Q: The new house we recently bought contains a great room that’s meant to include the kitchen, a breakfast area and a section for family activities. This open layout has its appeal, but we want to separate the eating and the food-preparation parts from the family area. We’re planning to build a wall to prevent noise from echoing all over the space. It would be nice, though, to retain the sense of openness. Any suggestions?

A: It is possible to make a section of a home private as well as public. And there are a number of ways to achieve that, depending on factors such as the size of the overall space and the size and location of the opening in that wall you’re planning to build. The amount of available wall space will help determine where furniture can be situated and whether built-ins should be added in the family area. I would therefore sketch the furniture and cabinetry layout for the room you’re enclosing prior to making a final decision on the location of the wall and the size of the opening in it.

Assuming a wall as a separation between the sections of your great room will work, the opening must be fairly large to allow clear views while at least limiting the spillover of noise. A successful application of that strategy can be seen in the accompanying photo from “Home by Design,” a Taunton Press book by Sarah Susanka. It shows how two adjacent spaces can be visually connected yet functionally separated. In this particular case, the pine flooring acts as a unifying element, as does the wall color. But as I noted above, it’s not necessarily preferable — and certainly not essential — for the floor and walls to look the same in both segments.

The size of the opening here does allow for ample visibility between the spaces. At the same time, the placement of the bookcases and shelving works to separate the two areas not only in their use but in their atmosphere as well. The breakfast area, which includes lots of windows, has been given a white painted finish. The more personal space adjacent to it has a much different look due to the choice of wood-stained furniture and the geometric patterns on the fabrics and area rug. Shaded floor lamps enhance the more sedate mood of this setting.

My main piece of advice is to think carefully before making an alteration as permanent and as definitive as a wall. It could still prove to be a good move — provided that you make the right choices for the lighting and furniture layout, as well as for the traffic patterns in your reconfigured great room.

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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