Sanders Pace Architecture, original photo on Houzz
The open floor plan — championed by early modernists Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius, among others — is as relevant today in home design as it was in the early 20th century. But modern life still requires, at varying times, functional, aesthetic, visual, and auditory isolation. The following examples explore the intersection of openness and isolation, showing how we can provide separation without losing the openness we crave.
Room within a room. The designer of this loft in Minneapolis skillfully addressed the idea of connected separation. Two freestanding, leaf-shaped, curved partitions conceal an office space in the larger room. The workspace is anchored in the thicker, heavier mass (on the right), while the floating screen wall conceals a collection of books. The freestanding object in space is sculptural and made lighter by the canvas-like floating screen.
The design reinforces the physical separation with different materials used on the inside of the workspace, too. Here the warm backdrop of the wood tones picks up on the floor and creates a more intimately scaled space. The room-within-the-room concept works well when the bounding walls of the space appear to float, as they do here. This allows the larger space a presence on the inside of the smaller space and a sense of the smaller interior space when viewed from the larger room.
Thick wall. A freestanding partition can act as a container supporting the function of spaces. This integrated, thick wall can both conserve the open-plan layout and provide separation when needed. It works well in this kind of configuration, flanked by pocket doors. While the entire space isn’t open to the adjacent areas, it offers a sense of both openness and enclosure. The pocket doors make this marriage possible by lending the ability to completely close off the bedroom.
Thin plane. Using thin planes to suggest subdivisions of activity in a larger space works well, too. Centering the thin plane in the room allows for circulation at the edges and activity in the middle. Another option for the partition is to position it to one side, which would make the subdivided space feel more room-like.
Sliding walls. The flexibility this arrangement offers is really appealing. It allows for the transformation between open and closed as the need arises. This method is possibly the most diverse in terms of the types of problems it can address, including noise, privacy, and how large a room feels. It also can change the amount of light a room receives and alter traffic patterns. Using translucent materials to add privacy, both visual and auditory, while allowing light in is a great solution for interior spaces requiring privacy and daylight.
Fabrics. Fabrics and drapes, such as this metal mesh, are a unique alternative to the standard partition wall. They add a softer edge and come in a variety of patterns, transparency levels, materials and colors. This open mesh defines the stair volume, acts as a guardrail and permits light and air to flow freely between the floors. While this example is fixed, mesh can be used as you would regular fabric to divide spaces. It takes surprisingly little to suggest the boundary of a space. The visual weight of fabrics allows them to define spaces in much the same way as a wall, but they can be drawn out of the way very simply. They can help diffuse and absorb sound in open spaces too.
Open shelving. Bookshelves make excellent spatial dividers. Their density can be altered based on the number of books stored. If the clutter of the book spine activates your inner obsessive, you can use translucent materials to soften the effect, as shown here.
Hybrids. Combining pivoting full-height walls, doors, translucent screens, drapes, and freestanding walls, this project has a variety of elements dividing the space while playfully hinting at their connectedness. Some walls are diaphanous, some are completely solid, and others are translucent. Etched glass walls are left bare or covered by layers of cloth or metal fabric, making for a rich sensory experience.
Eric Reinholdt is a residential architect practicing on Mount Desert Island. Learn more about his approach, and view his projects, at: thirtybyforty.com.