Revealed: easy color tricks that cleverly zone multi-use, open-plan rooms

These smart techniques define separate areas without sacrificing the flow of open-plan spaces

open plan living room, kitchen and diner
(Image credit: Nat Rea)

The last two years may have made us regret open-plan layouts somewhat, but this inclusive element of house design remains ever popular. However, what is gaining popularity is the zoning of these open-plan spaces – without enduring a large-scale renovation project. 

The secret, say design experts, is in the way you use different tones of color and paint ideas to create distinct areas or 'zones' within one open-plan space. It’s the multifunctional room color idea that will bring order to your ever-busy home life. 

‘There is no easier, quicker, or simpler way to cleverly zone a room than through paint,’ says Helen Shaw, UK Director of Benjamin Moore. She explains that zoning is a ‘clear-cut and non-negotiable way’ to designate an area for a specific task and make your room feel more organized and structured – without the investment. Here’s what you need to know before browsing more open-plan living room ideas.

How to zone open-plan rooms with paint 

Bookshelf in living room with painted shelving

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovati)

This decorating idea depends on how you want your open-plan space to work, but the starting point remains the same for every style of home. 

‘Consider the different functions that the space needs to perform, as well as the natural structure of the room,’ Helen explains. Whatever you want from your home, she suggests drawing from the ‘architecture of the space’ to lean into your existing structure, and using paint to solidify the boundaries. 

‘Following the existing divides of the room is the easiest way to seamlessly zone the space, avoiding any awkward clashing lines and making sure the room flows,’ Helen explains. ‘If the existing structure of the room works for you, then paint allows you to easily distinguish between the zones, making it really simple to separate areas within the home.’

Homes & Gardens' Editor in Chief Lucy Searle agrees: 'You needn't use color as dramatically as demonstrated in the spaces below; you could, for example, swap out the yellow in both spaces for a neutral, even white, but the visual link created by the green in both rooms performs exactly the same job as it would in an open-plan space – creating unity, or zones.'

Yellow color of the month

(Image credit: Nicola Harding)

How to zone open-plan rooms with furnishings

converted coach house kitchen diner

(Image credit: Future / Penny wincer)

Using paint is one of the most effective ways to zone your home, but as Helen suggests, you can accentuate the distinction through your furnishing choices too. 

‘Complement this technique with cleverly placed dining tables, sofas, or rugs to help further define separate areas within the home,’ the expert explains. And when it comes to choosing accessories, Helen recommends investing in a desk lamp (in your office) or color-coordinated cushions (in your living room) to ‘create a pleasant, unbroken flow within the room and throughout your home.’

'The trick to creating zones with furniture, such as the placement of a high-backed sofa to divide a living space from a dining space, or a rug beneath a dining table to define a dining zone,' says Lucy Searle, 'is not to labor this use of accent colors; subtly matching tones rather than one overt shade is much more effective.'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.