Dividing The Living Area

You may wish to divide a large open-plan living area into component areas, each with its own function, while retaining the unity and communications of the area as a whole.

Traffic lines.

These are the paths which different members of the family take across the living area to do various things. It is interesting as well as useful to plot them on your paper floor plan; traffic lines are crucial to ease and harmony, particularly in a multi-purpose living area.

For instance, if the dining area is best fitted into an annexe, whoever is preparing meals may have to walk back and forth across the sitting area from the kitchen. If this means crossing the television screen, the television set is in the wrong place. When guests are present, the host’s route from the bar or drinks cupboard may take him through the middle of a conversing group. The bar or the grouped seats are wrongly placed.

When drawing in traffic lines, remember seasonal tasks such as replenishing fuel for an open fire in winter or opening French windows in summer.

Dining area.

A structural feature such as a chimney breast or staircase may adequately divide the dining area from the sitting area. Or a room divider positioned along most of the width of the room may serve as demarcation. Or in a wide room, a low L-shaped divider could make a dining annexe communicating with the kitchen through a serving hatch.

There are other possibilities. You could make maximum use of an alcove by fitting shelves at the top and cupboards below; a simple blockboard table top with a single hinged leg could rest against the shelving, one end of the table having a metal tongue fastening into a groove in the shelving. Given enough clearance, two small benches might be similarly fitted to the lower cupboards. The table and benches would swing out for use as a snacks counter or for the children’s tea time.

If there is a passage between the living area and the kitchen, it might serve as a convenient dining annexe, wall-fastened table flaps enabling clear passage before and after meals.

You could make a mobile “dining area” by adding fold-down flaps to the top of a trolley, giving table space for three people.

Other areas.

Meals apart, you can create “specialist” areas by adapting alcoves or simply by grouping furniture appropriately. In an alcove or quiet corner of the room, a desk with cupboards on either side, a chair and an angled light fitment might serve for homework or letter-writing, with perhaps a screen or curtaining to give privacy. Two three-seater half-moon sofas with a small table between them could enclose an area for conversation or card games.

Divider units.

Room dividers have almost unlimited flexibility and are dual-purpose. They not only divide a living area into functional compartments while filtering light through open shelves. They act also as versatile storage units. A typical unit is segmented in open shelving, cupboards and drawers. You can buy manufactured units, adding to them as need arises, and arrange whatever permutation of components best meets your needs. Or you can construct your own room-divider. Opting for open shelves alone, all in the same dimension, simplifies the task. You could make the uprights and shelves from 9 in. by 1 in. (22 cm/2.5 cm) timber. To support the shelves you need aluminium angle cut to appropriate lengths and a quantity of screws.

A divider is most commonly used to separate sitting and dining areas. The living room side of the divider can be used as book shelves, to display ornaments and perhaps to contain the television set and hi-fi equipment. The dining side can accommodate tableware and cutlery and perhaps a drinks cupboard.

The dividing unit need not extend from the floor to the ceiling. In a high room, this is in any case impracticable fbr storage and is over dominating. With the addition of block foam cushions, the top of a low unit can be used as seating or to display, for example, a row of potted plants.


A storage unit is not the only means of dividing a room. Various forms of screen can also fulfil the role. Bamboo screens can be suspended from the ceiling by strong nylon thread. Squares of hardboard, painted either in dramatic primary colours or to harmonise with curtains or wallpaper, can be suspended from the ceiling on thin chains. You can make an attractive paper screen by pasting strong semi-transparent paper on one side of battening frames fitted to runners on the floor and ceiling. Or you can make bead curtains to divide the area.


Far from a need to partition off an open living area, many older houses pose the problem in reverse: a small living room and an equally small or smaller though adjacent dining room. The whole area can be completely opened up by dismantling the partition wall but a better solution may be to preserve their separate functions yet achieve some fusion by removing the connecting door and enlarging the opening to make a square, curved or pointed-top archway. A spherical opening — a “porthole” — can give interest as the open link between two small box-like rooms. Sliding glass doors, louvred doors or sheer curtaining can also be used as filters between rooms.

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