Design Solutions: Zoning Large Spaces

When you strip away the frills, my design expertise essentially revolves around recognizing and solving problems. Large rooms are usually considered ideal, but they also require smart space planning to assure comfort and functionality.

My client's custom home at Mason's Neck was designed to make the most of its proximity to a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River. The homeowners value intimacy and relaxation in their daily lives, but they also entertain frequently, sometimes throwing dinner parties for six and other times inviting dozens of people into their home for the holidays.  An auxiliary cooling system was designed to kick in during their widely anticipated summer barbecues, when guests stream in and out constantly to cool off inside or catch the sunlight on the water.  My clients are researchers who sweat the details so that in this instance their guests will not have to sweat literally.     

Below is a side by side comparison of the living area both furnished and unfurnished. At about six hundred and fifty square feet, this space extends from the shady front of the house to the river view in back.  It was important to create a functional seating area at the heart of this room, while still making the outer portions useful and inviting.  The homeowners did not want space for space's sake; they envisioned a house that didn't feel empty when they weren't entertaining large. 

  Left , the large living room unfurnished, and,  right , the space imagined as three distinct zones.

Left, the large living room unfurnished, and, right, the space imagined as three distinct zones.

By dividing the space into useful subparts, I was able to determine the best furniture scale and map color and pattern for visual harmony.

The space was divided into primary seating, an intimate dining and gaming area, and a front bay for extra seating and bar service during larger winter events.  In the primary seating area, the hearth and television are located on the central wall.  Placed side by side, they allow furnishings to honor both the architectural and media focal points.  A pair of swivel chairs help define the parameters of the area, but easily pivot for relaxed viewing of the sun dappled back terrace and sparkling water.  Generous entrances from the front and center halls allow the sofa to span the space between a pair of columns without limiting access to the room. 

 Fawn colored velvet on a pair of swivel chairs provides a soft visual transition from the primary seating zone to the smaller dining and gaming area. Photo: Matthew Lofton

Fawn colored velvet on a pair of swivel chairs provides a soft visual transition from the primary seating zone to the smaller dining and gaming area. Photo: Matthew Lofton

In the bay area, the oval table is scaled for board games or small dinners or breakfasts. On this waterside property, catching the shifting light and movement of birdlife is a joy for the homeowners, so having more than one spot for sharing a meal means getting to experience all that a day on the river offers.

Large spaces lend themselves to mixed motifs and pattern scale, although maintaining consistency with color is crucial to ensure a cohesive final aesthetic.

Because this room is so generous in scale, I chose high contrasts between upholstery fabrics.  A glass top table with a whimsical and elegant silhouette allows the eye to meander over the patterned heirloom carpet. In a large room and open floor plan, a patterned rug can be a grounding element to help delineate the primary hub from the related areas.

 Bold patterns and vivid color are given plenty of room to hold their own in this large and sunny space. Photo: Matthew Lofton

Bold patterns and vivid color are given plenty of room to hold their own in this large and sunny space. Photo: Matthew Lofton

In the front hall, which was zoned for additional seating and occasional use for temporary bar service, I flanked a beautiful alter table with a pair of ottomans in a dynamic flame stitch motif.  The ottomans are generous enough for extra seating and fit easily into the larger area during parties.  Their fabric is repeated elsewhere, detailing the arms and base of a statement wing chair that grounds the front corner of the main grouping. 

Large rooms come with their own challenges, but by using furnishings to establish zones, even a vast area can be transformed into a comfortable and livable heart of the home. In my first post in the Design Solutions series, I tackled the opposite problem: how to furnish a smaller space for optimal comfort while creating a sense of greater space.

Paul Miller


Want more Design Solutions? See the first post in this series - Furnishing The Modest Living Room - here

If you are interested in our design services, please tell us about your project!