Studio Living: To Divide or Not To Divide?

The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine who's about to move cross-country for grad school. She'll be going from a spacious house shared with roommates, to a tiny city studio all her own. The concept of living and working (with a dog, no less) in one open-plan space was understandably challenging her, and we starting talking about ways she could make her new home, all 400 square feet of it, work for her all her needs. 

My friend is considering a loft bed with a desk space underneath it, to delineate her sleeping, working and living areas. I think this will work well for her, though I'm not always a fan of physically chopping up a small space. There are many different ways you can define areas in an open-plan home according to their use, from physical barriers like bookshelves, curtains or screens to subtler ones like area rugs, lighting, and furniture layout. 

So, to divide or not to divide? If you're struggling with this decision, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind, as well as some examples from the 2012 Small Cool Contest

Pros

  • Zoning. The obvious plus point of physical room dividers is the creation of defined areas for sleeping, living, working and/or eating. Those who live and work in their homes may find it easier to switch off if their "office" is behind a curtain, bookcase or similar. 
  • Privacy. Studio-dwellers have houseguests just like everyone else. If you have guests staying over frequently, physical dividers (even temporary ones, like folding screens) offer everyone the privacy they need. 
  • Focus. This one is entirely personal, but I think there's something wonderfully cozy about a snug sleeping nook or a curtained office area. Sectioning off these spaces may even help avoid distraction from their intended purpose. 
Cons

  • Lighting. Studios come in all shapes and layouts, but many have all their windows along one wall. To physically divide this space is to disrupt the flow of natural light, and risk creating dark spaces which must always be artificially lit. In a studio with windows on more than one wall, this pitfall can be avoided. 
  • Crowding/Flow. Even when you use otherwise-useful items like bookshelves or storage cabinets, room dividers are always going to be another piece of furniture in a small space. Stop to think if the overall feeling in the space, and traffic flow through it, might be improved by keeping furniture minimal. 

Examples

First Row (Not Divided)
1. The minimal, open-plan arrangement of Geoff's Southern Exposure makes great use of the abundance of natural light. 
2. Jessica's Little Sanctuary places everything in one space, but uses a patterned floor rug to delineate the living area. 
3. The four-poster bed in Christina's Cooking Lover's Studio doesn't need much further zoning, and sits happily next to a seating area. 
4. Michelle's Dream Space mixes up sleeping, living and eating areas, and manages to keep it all cohesive with a dark color scheme. 
5. Tatiana's Living Lightly is another space which doesn't take zoning too seriously; the color scheme keeps everything looking calm and consistent, though a rug marks the living area as separate. 

Second Row (Divided) 
6. The famous IKEA Expedit bookshelf separates living from sleeping area in deRaismes' Vintage Finds
7. Mel's Complete & Balanced uses vertical space to create different areas, with a loft bed and office space to one side, and a small sitting area next to it. 
8. A small bedroom is created by a simple curtain in Jennifer's Gathering Place
9. Another instance of bookshelf-as-divider, Dane & Leah's Craigslist Kingdom is the best of both worlds, with separate areas and an open-plan feeling. 
10. The folding screen in Alexa's Paris in Park Slope can be taken away and slashed, making it a versatile divider. 

(Images: As linked above)