15 Open-Concept Kitchens and Living Spaces With Flow

Perfect for casual family living or easy entertaining, these bright, airy, stylish spaces are multifunctional and fun. But for an open layout that’s both inviting and efficient, it helps to understand the art and science behind top designers' choices. Here, 15 pros share their best strategies for heart-of-the-home cooking and living centers.
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January 15, 2016
By: Amanda Lecky

Photo By: Jodie Cooper, Jodie Cooper Design; Photo by D-Max Photographers

Photo By: Robert Wilson, Granit Chartered Architects; Photo by Andy Beasley

Photo By: Stuart Disston, AIA, Austin Patterson Disston Architects; Photography: Peter Murdock

Photo By: Carlton Architecture + DesignBuild; Photography by David Dietrich

Photo By: Robert Wilson, Granit Chartered Architects; Photo by Andy Beasley

Photo By: Julie Soefer

Photo By: Jason Arnold, Jason Arnold Interiors; Photo by Steven Long

Photo By: Matthew Collins, Uptic Studios; Photo by Oliver Irwin

Photo By: Robert Wilson, Granit Chartered Architects; Photo by Andy Beasley

Photo By: Jodie Cooper Design; Photo by Joel Barbitta

Photo By: Nelly Reffet, Twinkle & Whistle Interior Design; Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography

Photo By: Wendy Perring, PAD Studio; Photo by Nigel Rigden

Photo By: Sophie Gunnersen, Studio Stamp; Photo by Tony Mott

Photo By: Matthew Collins, Uptic Studios; Photo by Oliver Irwin

Photo By: DHV Architects; Photo by William Goddard

Creative Solution

In a new home, designer Jodie Cooper took the concept of dramatic lighting to new heights, using a custom-made "bulkhead" suspended from the ceiling by chrome rods to light the kitchen and dining area. "The bulkhead also helps to visually define the kitchen area without losing the loft-style feel," she says. And, she notes, "having a modern kitchen doesn't need to translate to having modern decor. By blending pieces, such as retro dining chairs, Chinese antiques and a rustic dining table combined with Turkish patchwork rugs, we created texture and layers, which add a kind of Bohemian style to the home to create what I call a 'Global Eclectic' interior."

Details Matter

In a contemporary addition, architect Robert Wilson chose materials and fixtures carefully to create a multifunctional space with a unified style. For example, a row of pendant fixtures over the kitchen island not only acts as a visual punctuation mark, dividing the workspace from the adjacent seating area, but also "injects a glow of bright yet polished radiance," he says. Tile flooring throughout the entire room keeps the look simple and pulled-together.

Indoor-Outdoor Appeal

Perfect for casual weekend living, this Hamptons beach-house dining/family room has a close connection to the kitchen, as well as to outdoor living areas. Glass doors on the ground level slide all the way into the walls, opening the family/dining room and living room to an expansive deck area. The rooms can be entirely open or protected from mosquitoes with a screen system, allowing for summer breezes, ample entertaining areas and restoring connections to nature. "A consistent — but not overwhelming — thread of blue follows throughout these ground-level spaces: blue kitchen cabinets, blue custom rug and touches of blue walls," note the architects.

Unifying Design

In an open-plan concept, designers strive not only to create separate zones within one large space but to make the end result feel cohesive. In this home, the designers at Carlton Architecture + DesignBuild did both with finesse. "We divided individual spaces with furniture groupings and circulation. Common materials such as steel, rift-sawn white oak cabinetry, and dark stained oak floors are used to unify the three areas," they explain.  

Let There Be Light

Large glass sliding doors with clerestory windows above stretch across the whole rear elevation of this open-plan space, maximizing daylight in the kitchen, living, dining and study areas. "Light cascading through from the rear of the property lends an airy and fresh feeling, creating an enjoyable space to entertain family and friends," says architect Robert Wilson.

Cozy Character

For a family home in Houston, the designers of Laura U Interior Design created a comfortable seating area just off the kitchen. The team used color and accessories to create a cohesive look throughout the wide open area. "While the majority of the color palette is neutral, we weave a lively turquoise through each space: pillows and an area rug in the family room, bar stool frames in the kitchen and a show-stopping chandelier in the breakfast space," they explain. "The entire space is further unified through the window treatments which are a combination of Hunter Douglas Silhouette shades and custom drapery with a turquoise band on the leading edge. A cheerful yellow and just a dash of orange set off the color scheme while touches of gold and a natural wood (teak root table and driftwood at the island) add eclectic charm."

Loft Living, Anywhere

Although this open-concept kitchen and dining area is in a loft — in a converted bag factory in Nashville — the principles designer Jason Arnold followed will work in any setting. He says: "The kitchen is opposite the living area, in a large, open space that automatically lends itself to entertaining and family living. We painted the walls, trim and cabinets the same soft grey to make the spaces feel as one. Because it's essentially a large room with a kitchen at one end, I wanted the kitchen to blend seamlessly into the space which is why there are no upper cabinets. Instead, there is a large pantry armoire to the right. The dining table acts as the visual separation from kitchen to living."

Twice as Nice

Designing a home for one family can be a challenge, but designing a home to be shared by two brothers' families? That's another proposition altogether — and one architect Matthew Collins of Uptic Studios met with the help of an open layout. "The goal of the project was to create a modern log cabin on Coeur D'Alene Lake in North Idaho," he explains. "Uptic Studios considered the combined occupancy of two families, providing separate spaces for privacy and common rooms that bring everyone together comfortably under one roof. And we not only had to take into account the space itself, but also all of the people who would be living there. One of the brothers is a chef, so we kept that in mind when designing the open kitchen and living room. We made sure to create a common room just off the kitchen, to bring everyone together. A delicate balance of natural materials and custom amenities fill the interior spaces with stunning views of the lake from almost every angle."

Going With the Flow

For a family home, open, flowing spaces offer plenty of room for together-time, without anyone feeling cramped. "Large bi-fold doors from the kitchen and living area lead onto a landscaped garden creating the perfect link from inside to out for this family," says architect Robert Wilson. "The glass doors ensure natural daylight reflects though the living space across the polished floors, creating a wonderfully bright space."

Divide + Conquer

Creating separate zones within an open layout is simple, but making them feel at once distinct and connected can be more complicated, says designer Jodie Cooper. Here, she manages this delicate balance deftly, using material — a transition from the practical kitchen flooring to the warm wood in the eating space — and color: A soft blue-green accent wall helps differentiate (and add drama to) the dining area.

Family Friendly

For a family with three boys under the age of 12, a sprawling family center that opens out to the backyard was just the ticket. "An open-plan living space made sense to them as they really wanted a room that would be the 'heart' of the home and where they could all gather together and interact, even if they are doing different activities," says designer Nelly Reffet of Twinkle & Whistle Interior Design. To give the space an inviting feel, Reffet took care with her choices of color and material. "One of the possible downsides of open-plan living, especially in contemporary homes, is that the room may feel a little cold and impersonal," she says. "Using 'warm' or earthy materials and/or colors, as well as a mix of textures is a great way to achieve balance, and to create a more lived-in space."

Natural Approach

For a home set within an ancient woodland and heath in the New Forest National Park, designer Wendy Perring of PAD Studio took care to maximize the connection between the home and its surroundings, while minimizing the impact of the structure on the site. "The main living space is open-plan and designed to cater not just to the changing physical needs of its occupants but to provide nourishment and stimulus to the soul through close contact with the home's natural setting," says Perring.

Scaling Up

In a large, open interior — and this is especially important when the space has soaring ceilings — it's essential to choose furnishings and details that fit the large scale of the room. Says stylist Sophie Gunnersen of Studio Stamp: "All the pieces in the room are rather big and bold, and everything has a purpose. The custom-made dining table sits at bar height and is large and chunky. The black AGA cooker is really the key piece in the space — it adds ambience and attracts most people with its warmth. The vertical bookshelf along with the softer green tiles divide the room."

All Grown Up

Open-plan living can work on any scale. Case in point: This stylish home Uptic Studios designed for a retiree. "After living on the family farm for decades, our client was ready to move into town to be closer to her children and grandchildren," say the architects. "Always the entertainer, she requested an open great room to accommodate dinner parties, as well as plenty of wall and shelf space for family photos and various mementos."

From Small to Spacious

Combining two or more spaces can create a sense of flow that makes each individual room seem larger. Case in point: A tight galley kitchen that got a new lease on life thanks to a clever reconfiguration. The architect recaps the project: "Knocking out the wall of an attached storage unit transformed the dark and cramped kitchen into a clean and light-filled space complete with a dining room and garden view. A galley layout makes efficient use of the small kitchen and allows for plenty of worktop space. The kitchen walkway leads the eye to the dining room — which has the same width as the kitchen — and the garden end of the space."

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