5 Case Studies: Decorating Large Spaces with Zones

Americans have long been known for living large, and our home sizes reflect it. At almost 2200 sq. ft., we log the second highest average home size in the world in the U.S., second to Australia with 2500 sq. ft., notes Elle Décor. But these figures are peanuts in our business, where our team of interior designers deals with luxury projects in Chicago (and beyond) that are usually double—or even triple—this number.

Urban Loft Living Dining

#1. In a Chicago loft, a sprawling space becomes a series of clean, tailored and above all—effective—spaces for eating, working, relaxing and entertaining thanks to astute furniture placement and a handsome area carpet. Photo: JLI Urban Loft

That means we see a lot of very large rooms, as well as a healthy dose of open-plan places, from lofts to softer takes on the form. This is especially true in Chicago, home to infamously monumental skyscrapers, enormous deep-dish pizzas, titanic windstorms and expansive luxury homes. Our interior designers have found that Chicago’s oversized homes are often bright, airy and architecturally intriguing spaces, but aren’t always warm, inviting and most significantly—effective at meeting their owner’s wants and needs.

Vintage Living1

#2. In the rambling formal living room of a gracious 1920s coop, two bold decorative gestures—the use of different but complementary area carpets and a wall swathed in hand-painted silk—strengthen a layout that divides the space into a home office and entertaining area. Photo: JLI Vintage Lake Shore Residence

Given this reality, we’ve become quite adept at decorating large spaces by designing layouts that optimize all that sheer square footage. Our go-to M.O. starts with creating floor plans based on zones. We’ve found this is one the most essential interior design strategies to embrace when we're charged with decorating large spaces. To prove the point, we’ve showcased five mini-case studies in this blog to illustrate how we’ve accomplished this feat for our clients.

Matz Trio

#3. With right-sized, carefully chosen furnishings and three different but complementary area rugs, a contemporary living area is divided into a formal entertaining area, a dining room and a study for consuming media, playing games or informal meals. Photo: JLI Streeterville Residence

But here’s what’s most special about using ‘zoning’ as an interior design strategy: it offers us a coherent and consistent way to carve space into manageable chunks. Once we break large spaces into zones, we can assign them different functions through the use of architectural details, furnishings and lighting. Some of our favorite ‘carving tools’ includes abridged walls, pocket doors, coved ceilings, area carpets, bold color and shrewd furniture positioning.

Gold Coast living1

#4. A low-slung dropped ceiling to house recessed lighting and a track of pendant lamps strengthen furniture placement that divides a large, modern great room into formal conversational and dining areas. Furniture that outlines the dropped ceiling elegantly underscores the living room’s boundaries. Photo: JLI Gold Coast Residence

Yet zoning is like every other design principle; it takes acumen, practice, ingenuity and that indefinable quality—a good eye—to get it right. There are downsides to avoid, such as sprawling zones that don’t maximize precious square footage, feel empty instead of cozy, offer little privacy and aren't clearly defined or purposeful. When any of these issues ensue, a zone—or series of zones—can feel disjointed, chaotic and uncomfortable. And this makes them ineffective.

Fullscreen 01

#5. To maximize comfort and capacity for frequent entertainers who need all the space they can get for conversational occasions and dining, a living room was caved into two distinct zones—and one seamlessly converts into a full-blown formal dining area. Photo: JLI Gold Coast Pied-à-Terre

Our goal as interior designers is to use zones to make expansive spaces meet our clients’ lifestyle needs with sophistication and grace. See the way we’ve used zones in a range of structures—from edgy contemporary lofts to gracious historic coops—to accomplish this, and avoid permanent boundaries that can impede the way space flows or diminish the reach of a home’s natural light.

For more inspiration, see below and check out our Pinterest.


17 Nov 2015

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