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.
- 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.
- 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.