Effective Room Dividers:

Effectively Split Up Space with Room Dividers

Most rooms in the house have to serve more than one function -- whether you have open-plan areas or not -- all of which are equally important. The living room may embrace a host of different activities, from quiet reading to music practice, from watching television to formal dining. The kitchen is often the place where family meals are eaten as well as prepared. Bedrooms double as dressing areas, playrooms, or studies; children's rooms are often shared.

Multi-purpose areas require some form of internal organization to avoid chaos and confusion. Room dividers don't increase the space at your disposal, but they make better sense of it.

A room divider can be as permanent as a half-height wall or as temporary as a freestanding screen.

Furniture that you already possess, such as a shelf unit or sofa, can be pressed into service to distinguish one part of a room from another. Dividers that provide practical advantages of their own multiply the benefits. For example, a counter that hides kitchen clutter can also serve as a breakfast bar; open display shelves offer additional storage space for ornamental pieces and books while partially enclosing a section of the living room.

Make sure the dividers don't undermine the basic qualities of the room - you need to plan carefully to avoid blocking light or creating traffic bottlenecks. Equally, it's important to work with the inherent proportions and decorative character of the room so the final effect appears well considered rather than makeshift.


Before you begin, make a rough sketch of the room to assess how best you can divide it. Pay special attention to entrances, windows, and traffic routes through the space. Ideally, place dividers so that each portion of the room receives natural light. This means the position of the windows is a crucial factor in your layout. Also take care not to obstruct main entrances or make it difficult to move around the room.

Think about how much space to allocate to each activity. Study areas can be quite compact, for example, whereas a dining area requires more space so that chairs can be moved comfortably back from the table. Dividing a shared bedroom usually means splitting the room in half to provide each person with an equal amount of space.

Dividers don't have to follow straight lines. A curving counter is an attractive way of separating a kitchen area in an open-plan space. In a similar way, a pair of narrow dividers projecting out from opposite walls to frame an area can provide more visual interest than a single divider extending some way across the room.

Permanent Dividers

Permanent dividers make sense if you can commit yourself to a fixed room arrangement for the foreseeable future. Low walls are relatively simple to construct and you can finish and decorate them to match the rest of the room. Alternatively, you can fit one side of the divider with built-in shelving or cupboard space to provide additional storage. Counters to screen the cooking and preparation areas of a kitchen may need to be slightly higher to provide effective concealment.

Half-width, as opposed to half-height, partitioning is also a possibility. In a bedroom, a narrow partition at right angles to the wall can separate a bed from a study alcove. On the study side, you can add shelves for books and files.

Display shelves make effective dividers when you want to make a visual distinction between areas but don't necessarily want to block views. Sturdy storage units, open on both sides, are good for separating living from dining areas and provide extra storage space for books and knickknacks. Bear in mind that units must be sturdy enough to withstand being toppled over if you accidentally knock into them. Alternatively, you can construct an open wall of shelving that is fixed securely to both the floor and ceiling.

Improvised Dividers

One of the simplest ways of dividing space is to position a dominant piece of freestanding furniture, such as a sofa, cabinet, sideboard, or chest, strategically across a room. If you place a table or console behind a sofa that has its back to a portion of the room, the effect will look more considered.

Plants make good improvised dividers, too. You can mass together groups of large plants, such as croton, coffee plant, schefflera, or podocarpus, or use a freestanding weeping fig tree or palm to divide the area. Plants trained on wooden trellises, stakes, or canes, such as philodendron, creeping fig, or grape ivy, grow over time to create a wall of green between two areas.

For a subtler effect, construct a trellis by running lengths of string or wire from the plant pots or floor to the ceiling and train the plants to grow up the framework.

Hanging baskets can also be used to divide the space. Suspend two or three from strong ceiling hooks. House plants such as hoyas, Swedish and grape ivies, and spider plants make good hanging displays and are easy to look after.

Flexible Dividers

In some circumstances, permanent dividers are too restrictive. If you want to retain the option of changing the focus of the room at a moment's notice, movable dividers make better sense. Display units on castors provide one solution; standing screens are equally versatile.

Folding screens can offer just enough privacy for a reading corner or dressing area, without committing you to a fixed arrangement. The advantage of screens, aside from their flexibility, is that you can buy them or decorate them yourself to suit the character of the room.

Choose Japanese-style screens paneled in opaque paper and framed in black wood molding for a contemporary setting; fabric-covered screens -- either upholstered or with tied or ruched-on fabric panels -- for a countrified look; or cover a plain screen with a collage of decoupage images to create a Victorian-style accessory.

Sliding panels or folding screens that retract into a door or window jamb or special housing or open accordian-style flat against the wall allow you to partition a room in an instant. This solution makes good sense for children's shared rooms, for example, where you may wish to provide a degree of privacy for each child at night, without sacrificing the use of the entire space during the day.

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