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Experts weigh in on how to close up open floor plans

Home Improvement Uncategorized
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Open-concept design has long been on the must-have list for home buyers, but for some, all the romance is gone and the reality of all that togetherness has settled in.

A recent Globe report by Beth Teitell found that there are a lot of people out there who really miss walls.

We asked local experts for their advice on how to close up spaces — inexpensively and not-so inexpensively.

“You could certainly close it off with some kind of drapery,’’ which can easily be pulled to the sides to reopen a space, said Michael Ferzoco, founder of of Eleven Interiors.

Another option is a “wing wall’’ — one that juts out perpendicularly from an existing wall by several feet, he said, noting that it could separate the living and dining areas.

Then, there’s shelving.

“You may have open shelves between those two spaces and you can put books, or you can put objects or even picture frames, back to back, so that further divides the space,’’ he said. “It also provides still a visual connection between the spaces.’’

Ferzoco said his team has used decorative panels, hung by cable wire and attached to the floor, noting that there is a variety of colors and textures. Plus, some look like reeds or tree branches, offering a more Zen-like affect.

On the more subtle side of the spectrum, division of space could mean using smaller design elements, such as lighting, to help better define spaces.

Christopher Brown, founder of b Architecture Studio, said he helped a homeowner design the first floor of a carriage house in which only the half bath had walls.

But how he and the homeowner decided to carve out various spaces was actually very simple.

“We looked at ways of how we were going to introduce lighting on ceilings, and every ‘room,’ even though it was completely wide open, had a different lighting scheme,’’ Brown said. For example, the living room had some lights on the ceiling, but then had some table and floor lamps, too, to add warmth and a cozier feeling. “We just kept bringing this design concept through,’’ he said.

For the dining room, a pendant light was hung from the ceiling where the table would go.

The entire space also had ceilings about 8 feet tall, he said, so the height was a consideration. In the kitchen, a different wood was added to the ceiling to define it, giving the feeling that you’d moved from one space to another. Plus, it subtracted only about an inch from the ceiling height.

If one of the motivations for walls is hiding unsightly things, like dirty dishes, this can be fixed with an island that’s high enough to block the view, said Julie Palmer, president of Charlie Allen Renovations. Another option is adding a small wall to just half of the kitchen.

Digging deeper into your wallet could include adding doors.

This could mean using glass double doors or pocket doors that slide into secrecy when not needed, Ferzoco said.

Palmer recent added 5-foot-wide barn doors in a home.

“That can really help close the space, but then you can open it so it’s not a permanent wall that you’ve put in,’’ she said. “It’s basically a moving wall.’’

For those set on adding walls, there are multiple factors beyond the cost to consider.

When open-concept spaces are designed, the home’s systems — think heating and cooling — have been located to accommodate the lack of walls, Brown said. “You want to make sure you’re not blocking a return grill or a supply grill.’’

Adding walls does provide more options, though, if a homeowner wants to increase radiators. “You’re going to gain some of the flexibility back,’’ Brown said.

When you gain walls, however, you may block light that now pours from one space into the next.

“If you start separating a space, what does that do to the light, the artificial light, from one space to the next?’’ Ferzoco said. “Do you need to add and/or subtract from one space to another?’’

A wall doesn’t have to completely block out light. You can add a wall with an opening at the top to allow the light to shine through, Palmer said. “Open floor plans are notoriously known for being light and airy and bright, and everyone wants that in their home,’’ she said. “So if you’re going to put walls back up, put walls back so that there’s exposure to natural light.’’

Ferzoco said the type of flooring and the pitch of the ceiling also should be taken into consideration when determining where to add walls.

Acoustics bear some thought, as well.

“Depending on the volume of the space, you’d have to consider the acoustics and what is that going to do to each of these individual spaces once you create the division,’’ Ferzoco said. “In your effort to get some intimacy, let’s say smaller spaces instead of larger, open spaces, you may create sound issues that you didn’t count on.’’

Then there’s mobility — maybe a family member or close friend uses a wheelchair. In those instances, Palmer said, openings should be 40 inches or larger.

If you are still not sure where to add walls, test the layout with temporary solutions, such as drapes, bookcases, and screens.

“I think that gives you the most flexible options in your floor plan, so you could close it, you could keep it open, and it gives you more space as well to put up art, to put the TV up against it,’’ Palmer said.

You may find that it’s not time to close the book on that open-concept design completely.

“The open concept definitely affords the opportunity to use space more flexibly,’’ said Treff LaFleche, a cofounder of LDa Architecture & Interiors. “What I do see is people are asking for more creative ways to separate spaces subtly within the open concept. … Spaces within spaces.’’

It’s about finding “more creative, nontraditional ways’’ of defining space, LaFleche said. “They want the openness, but they also don’t want to feel like they’re all on top of one another all the time.’’