How can you make an open floor plan feel sophisticated? The problem is that when you have a kitchen, dining and living room open to each other, you can easily end up with visual chaos. It can appear as if you are always sitting in a workspace.
Think of a small studio apartment that can present design challenges or a loft condo. Even the tiniest one-bedroom cottage has similar issues.
If your budget allows, aim for quality interior finishes. That is to say, use real materials if possible. For example, select wood instead of plastic laminate. Choose natural stone instead of a composite. Construct a simple color scheme for an exposed kitchen with stainless and solid surfaces in the kitchen.
If you are not a fan of stainless, then look at wood panel inserts for dishwasher and refrigerator instead. Consider black front appliances if it works with your color scheme.
Keep it smooth and seamless. Avoid a lot of pattern, such as with mosaic tiles.
Consider different stain colors for wood cabinetry that might define each function, but make sure they are friendly together. Think about two different woods for cabinets or flooring.
In the installation shown, bleached maple and walnut have been installed in a graceful shape that helps to define the space for two uses. This is an elegant way to divide without the use of walls. Possibly incorporate large-size porcelain tile with wood to accomplish the same idea. Maybe use two different colors of the same carpet style to accomplish a differential.
Custom built-ins are another way to raise the bar in a contiguous space and achieve better function at the same time. Imagine an entire wall of shelves and storage cabinets made out of the same material.
When you reduce the amount of negative space between objects in a room, you are able to achieve a smooth look. Instead of several cabinets with floor space between each, multiple storage compartments are joined together by one continuous top. Obviously, not every budget allows for this, but you can try to get as close to this look as possible with "off-the-shelf" components.
Pay attention to a series that can allow you to mimic the look of custom woodwork. Check into various series offered by IKEA, Room + Board, Plummers or The Container Store.
Try to put yourself into the shoes of a stranger who might enter your living space for the first time. Look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes! Notice if you need to repaint. Notice scrapes and soiling.
Reduce clutter by putting away all unnecessary stuff: mail, magazines or projects. Do you have the right furniture pieces or just what you moved into the place with and never bothered to replace? If a sofa is too large, force yourself to get rid of it. You will be amazed at how much better a small room will feel when the proper proportions are used.
I intend to paint in the next three months, and so I have been going through each cupboard and closet. One by one, I'm slowly eliminating any object that I don't use. I have donated about 15 boxes.
I've tried to sell some better furniture on Craigslist. Some of the things I really like are admittedly hard to toss, so instead I have given special items to a neighbor, my sister and to a good friend. It makes it easier to know that my better possessions will be living with someone who will love them! This way, I can visit them once in a while.
My point is, if you don't use something and have no room for it, part ways. It is nearly impossible to create a fluid and sophisticated look in a confined space littered with stuff.
• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.