When it comes to furniture layout, the pieces themselves usually dictate the space. Your sofa may be against the longest wall, and tables or seating can be arranged to accommodate your personal style preferences. Friendly, open floorplans are great for entertaining, while closed, intimate spaces are well-suited for solitude.
Sometimes the problem is not so much what to use the room for, but how to dictate its flow. Small spaces are often in need of distinct sections as much as large rooms are—but both tasks can present their own challenges. Whether you need to divide a small living room or upgrade your bedroom flow, interior designers have a solution for every layout. With that in mind, we reached out to Max Humphrey Interior Design, Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design, and Edyta Czajkowska of Edyta & Co. for some ideas on how to divide a room.
Below, read on to learn pro tips about using furniture to divide a room, and make your space both navigable and functional.
Use Furniture to Divide a Room
"Small rooms don't have to have small design moments," says interior designer Max Humphrey. "If anything, each decision you make is more important than in a large room because every piece is focal." Depending on where you style your furniture, you can visually divide the space to create specific areas. "I like furniture that can be used in multiple ways, like a sofa-back table that’s wide enough to pull out and use as a dining table if you don't have room for a formal dining space," he says."
Consider Folding Screens
"Dividing rooms can be tricky, but with the right products, they can turn out beautiful," says designer Edyta Czajkowska. "Upholstered folding screens are a classic choice, and can add so much interest and fun to a space. Another option is to use a ceiling-mounted curtain track and drapery fabric to bring softness and movement into the room. An added benefit of this option is that it can easily be opened if need be."
When styling your folding screen, place it away from the wall between two separate areas to create a dynamic design that allows each room to stand alone.
Create Multi-Functional Areas
If you're working with a small space, the room layout isn't always as important as function. Incorporate furniture that can be used in multiple ways: You'll save space by using a desk that doubles for extra storage that's designed to work in other areas. This corner feels like its own room, but can easily be styled in a living room or open dining room to define its area while complementing the rest of the space.
"Dividing a room by way of your furniture layout is a great way to subtly elevate a space. It creates divisions that blend seamlessly into the overall design, calling virtually zero attention to themselves," says designer Caitlin Murray. "If you can create strategic vignettes—each serving to strengthen the different ways in which you'll be using the space—with your furniture arrangements, any needed room division will come to the space almost by default. Plus, you'll add that much more polish to your space!"
Use Shelves as Dividers
"Being able to create a room within a room is helpful, even in a small living space," says Humphrey. "For this effect, I like to use bookshelves that can float in the middle of the room; they act as a divider and a storage solution." In this space, a floating shelf styled with hanging strings separates the kitchen from the living area while adding storage for plants and decorative items.
Separate by Function
When it comes to open living and dining areas, styling the room by function is as important as the furniture itself. In this design, Humphrey separated the dining space from the living room by using mix-matched rugs for a chic effect. The matching seating around the table brings a uniform look to the space, which helps to divide each area thanks to the difference in styles.
"In general, when decorating a living room, I like to float the furniture in the middle of the room. This creates a flow around the furnishings, and actually can make a small space look bigger," says Humphrey. "People have a tendency to push all their furniture up against the wall, but even pulling your sofa out from the wall will give you more of a designer look."
Use Rugs to Divide Small Spaces
"Rugs are another great way to help divide a small room because they can be used to define an open space," says Humphrey. In this space, a sleek gray rug is styled underneath matching furniture to make the living room feel like a cohesive unit. "Using one rug under your seating area and a different rug under your dining area gives definition to each zone—even when they're in the same room."
Avoid Small Sofas
"I try to avoid apartment-sized sofas, even in a small room. No one likes napping on a two-seater settée, and sometimes a normal-sized sofa in a tiny room can create the mood of a larger space," says Humphrey. "Just be mindful of the overall depth of the sofa, and maybe stick with one that has a tight back instead of loose cushions, which gives you a little more sitting room."
Build a Dividing Wall
For a look that truly divides two areas, build a dividing wall that doesn't completely close off the space. The idea isn't to create two separate rooms with a wide wall—but rather, to add a bit of separation between two open spaces with a slim divider. In this design, extra storage in the kitchen is hidden behind a sleek white wall to allow the dining area to stand on its own.
When building dividing walls, leave open space between the top of the wall and the ceiling for a free-flowing look that doesn't feel too closed off.
Style With Shapes
For a style that keeps everything in its place, style your living area with shapes. This designer uses a grid-like layout with individual squares for the sofa, double ottomans, and accent chairs to complete the room. Plenty of open space between each piece of furniture lets it feel airy and open while separating formal and casual seating areas.
Contrast Your Flooring
Contrast floors aren't just a hot design trend—they're also an excellent solution for dividing two rooms in style. This mudroom with bench seating is beautifully separated from the formal dining area, thanks to built-in wood beams and two separate types of flooring. The rooms flow effortlessly together while complementing each style, while soft green colors add depth and dimension to the bright white dining space.
Use Large Furniture to Divide Rooms
Building on Humphrey's tip about styling your furniture away from the walls, it's also helpful to use your sofa (or other large furniture) to visually separate two rooms. Rather than placing it against the longest wall, your sofa can actually act as a middle point between the living room and dining area or open kitchen. Opt for large designs with a sleek backing, like this white sofa with a clean back that adds to the bright, airy vibes of this space.
Create Visual Depth Through Color
Color can play a major part in the feel of a room. In this kitchen, black storage shelves are placed along the wall behind the island for an added element of depth. Rather than placing the kitchen island in the center of the room, it's pushed up against the cabinetry to create an L-shaped counter space with an open bottom for extra items. Black pendant lights hang above the island for a modern touch in this eclectic kitchen.
Introduce Extra Seating
This living room opens directly up to the backyard with its wide french doors, but to keep the spaces from blending too much together, the designer styled a bench seat at the edge of the room. By choosing a low-to-the-ground piece, the seating doesn't take away from the room's open look, but rather adds to its style. Minimal lighting, soft colors, and simple décor make this the designated meditation space of our dreams.
Work With the Architecture
If you're lucky enough to have built-in openings in your architecture, use it to your advantage. This bench seat isn't a permanent fixture in the house, but it does create plenty of depth in the living room by making its own space. Dark paint colors are contrasted by light-filled windows and bright furniture, while a simple potted plant acts as the focal point between rooms.
Style From Wall to Wall
Because this living room is open to the rest of the house, it's important to make it feel styled as its own area. As the oversized wall-to-wall console stand fits perfectly in the space, it defines the edges of the living area in a minimalistic design. Smooth colors flow from the stand to the walls and built-in cabinetry, while the furniture itself acts as a divider to separate the room from the kitchen.
Fill in Empty Spaces
A great way to make a room feel more cohesive is to use your furniture to fill in open spaces. Rather than letting it flow as an open area, this designer styled two accent chairs in the empty space aside two sofas facing each other. Because the layout of the furniture is designed in a closed shape, the seating area feels like a uniform whole defined from the rest of the large room.
Use Lighting to Your Advantage
This seating area sits directly inside a wide-open kitchen layout, but thanks to an oversized pendant light, it feels separate from the rest of the space. By hanging a light directly above the center of the table, the eyes are focused on the furniture itself (not the room around it). Lighting can almost act as an arrow pointing down at a dining area—it draws attention to a specific space without overwhelming the rest of the design.
Define Space With Décor
When you're working with an all-white room, it can be hard to create dimension between different areas of the house. This designer excellently separated the living room from the open floor plan by contrasting a white background with natural wood tones. This freestanding table is styled against the back of the sofa, acting as both a room divider and open shelving for matching décor.