How do I paint an open layout kitchen/living room so they are distinct?
September 20, 2021 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I am moving into an apartment that is a floor-through, with a kitchen and a living room essentially being one long open space (though how the far wall angles does mark a "break" between the two). I am at a loss as to how I would paint this area so that it looks well-thought-out and harmonious, yet clearly demarcates the living room from the kitchen? Relevant details and snowflake specifics below:

1. Because of the layout of the apartment, the area in question -- the kitchen and living room -- do not have much natural light at all. They comprise the middle of the apartment (the front and back bedrooms face the street and the garden, respectively). The only two windows there face the space between buildings, and don't really let in any light. If the bedroom doors are open, some light comes in from there, but basically these are dim rooms.

2. I really like vibrant, intense colors, even bright colors. I would enjoy being in a red kitchen, for example, or a room painted the green similar to the green shade of the AskMe website background, for example. For more reference, I love deep red, Morocco blue (I believe it's called ultramarine, or Yves Klein blue), moss green, sunny or egg yolk yellow. All that is to say that pale grays or light beige tones are not "me" and not what would spark joy. I am open to fully painted rooms or accent walls. I also like exposed brick (exposing brick is I think a possibility in this apartment, but I am not 100% sure).

3. The kitchen is organized in such a way that essentially everything kitchen-y is along one wall -- the fridge, the dishwasher, the stove, all the cabinets. The other wall only has the front door. That wall continues directly into the living room wall.

I really can't wrap my head around how I can paint this middle-of-the-apartment space so that it feels like two distinct spaces -- here is the kitchen, here is the living room. Do I just shift from one color to another at some random dividing line on the wall? What colors might work well together for this purpose (again, keeping in mind that the space is dim)?

Thank you in advance for ideas, suggestions, and inspirations.
posted by virve to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think you should use paint to make that distinction. I think accent colours, furnishings, rugs and floor coverings, room dividers or room-dividing furniture should do that.

Like you, I love bold colours - yellows, blues, oranges, greens, some reds... and I loathe beige (but like milk and ivory). Maybe use a bold colour in the splashback tiles, and have that accent in other parts of the kitchen decor (utensils, table linen etc) then have another accent colour linking elements of the living space. Can you link a diagram or image?
posted by Thella at 10:39 PM on September 20, 2021 [9 favorites]

I personally think you should use a divider or a tall and narrow pantry cart to separate the two areas, so they can be moved when necessary. I would not use paint.
posted by kschang at 11:10 PM on September 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Paint the lower cabinets, not the wall. And demarcate the floor - if it's the same, the kitchen could use something more stain resistant anyway. Blue lower cabinets and yellow vinyl or stick on tiles floor could look awesome.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:36 PM on September 20, 2021

If you really want to visually separate the areas using different paint colors, and there's no obvious break in the wall (like a corner) in which to do so, you can buy a piece of wall trim to cover the edge where the two paint colors meet. Paint it one or the other of the colors, or whatever color the baseboard trim is, assuming there's a baseboard.
posted by newpotato at 1:37 AM on September 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

Rugs are pretty good at demarcation. We painted our walls a very light grey, which makes the whole place look modern and fresh. Then we used a grey and black rug in the living room area. It looks great.

I wanted color too but there wasn't a way to do it naturally. If I did have a wall to accent, I would have used a color on my same color pallet from the grey wall so I was sure it coordinated
posted by bbqturtle at 2:30 AM on September 21, 2021

Since you have low-light areas in the open space, paint the walls a light color that goes well with the floors and cabinets since those are fixed features. Use large, colorful patterned rugs to define the living and dining spaces.

Before doing that, though, experiment with layout. Most people place their sofas against the wall. In an open space, floating a sofa to create a separation from other functions can work very well. Try floating your sofa with its back facing the kitchen and anchored on a rug. Add a sofa table behind it if you have room for one. This can serve as a buffet and is a transitional piece between kitchen, dining, and relaxing areas. As others have said, use bold, colorful art work, rugs, and pillows rather than wall paint to add a lot of color into the space.

Some suggestions for defining separate functions in an open space.
posted by Elsie at 3:35 AM on September 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What if you didn't do a straight horizontal line between the two spaces? Meaning, what if you got more decorative with the painting? I guess I'm envisioning a diagonal/geometric design like this or this or this. I've been seeing so much creativity and fun with just paint on plain walls lately and it could give you a modern and intentional way to delineate the different spaces without it being just a weird break in the middle of a long straight wall.

In fact, this Pinterest board where I found some of these images has a lot of ideas for bringing bright and even dark color into spaces in a way that doesn't feel as heavy as painting all the walls.
posted by misskaz at 4:37 AM on September 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

Tiles. Choose a bright, energetic color for the kitchen area. Could go all the way to the ceiling or just to 'splash' height. They can be serious and regular, one color, one size, or you can be more playful, mix colors, etc.
posted by signal at 4:41 AM on September 21, 2021

A friend of mine painted their kitchen and breakfast nook. They painted the kitchen orange, then mixed the orange paint with some white to get a lighter shade of the same color with which to paint the nook. So the two areas were distinct but coordinated.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:31 AM on September 21, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the great ideas so far. Someone asked if I could link to a floor plan -- here is the link below.

Please note that in the version of the apartment I will be living in, there is also a staircase to the bottom floor that is not included on this floor plan, that is to the left of the front door. I feel like that makes divider furniture (like a breakfast bar, for example, unless it's a really really small breakfast bar) a little more tricky since I don't want the "neck" area to feel like an obstacle course.

Reading the responses, I have a few thoughts:

1. I love the idea of separating spaces through intentional use of color elements and area rugs. The entire apartment has hardwood floors. It wouldn't have occurred to me to use a rug in the kitchen...but maybe that's fine?

2. I have read in numerous design blogs that light colors actually make a dim area look even dimmer, counter-intuitively. So while that would be my intuitive choice too (as per the response that suggested that), I am concerned because of this oft-repeated design "wisdom".

3. The diagonal lines look really cool, that is a fantastic idea that would not have occurred to me in a million years, and I am intrigued by it, but I am having a hard time visualizing how it would work in my space -- like, which wall/where on the wall(s) the diagonal would go.

4. Tall and narrow pantry cart is a definite possibility -- any suggestions for a good one?

Thank you all -- and please keep the ideas coming, especially if the linked floor plan helps clarify my concerns!
posted by virve at 6:48 AM on September 21, 2021

In your floor plan, I would paint "kitchen colour" on the wall behind the kitchen equipment, going clockwise round as far as the corner between the bedroom/bathroom. Everything else in "living room colour" ie. big window, heading anticlockwise round over the left-hand end wall, and round again along the bottom wall as far as somewhere around the frontdoor/bathroom/right hand bedroom corner.

Use corners/angles in the walls as the change point for the colours so you're not left trying to paint a dividing line somewhere random on your own.

You'll obviously need to find colours that you think will be complementary, but I think that would work, and will make the living area feel larger than the kitchen area, which is probably what you want unless you're massively into cooking.
posted by penguin pie at 7:01 AM on September 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don’t know about this wisdom of lighter colors making things seem dimmer. The corollary of that is definitely not that darker colors make things seem brighter. And what is a “lighter” color anyway? Just more white? I’ve found sage green to be a total light hog. I can’t imagine rich full reds and blues as doing anything other than making the space feel smaller and darker. A cozy space, for sure but practically, a kitchen needs some level of brightness in order to comfortably prep and clean. You definitely have a challenging space to work with paintwise. I like the creative “mural” style ideas linked above. Regardless of what colors you go with, I think you should use warm undertones rather than cool. Talk with the paint people at the store. I know that our local paint shop has a weekly free interior paint pro that you can bring your questions. Maybe yours does, too.
posted by amanda at 7:17 AM on September 21, 2021

My understanding of the light color/dim room "wisdom" is that dim light can make light colors/whites/light grays look "dingy," but can make the right saturated color look rich and cozy. Ultimately if you have a small dim room it's hard to make it look big and airy, so sometimes it's best to lean into the design.

This space doesn't seem small, though. So to my mind, using a LOT of saturated color will be overwhelming. I agree with the philosophy of using the rich color as an accent in the kitchen--on the backsplash, on that small kitchen wall, in a rug/kitchen linens. Then, I would suggest using a very light tint (adding white) of that color in the living room.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:27 AM on September 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Our kitchen doesn't have a natural delineation from the rest of the house. It also has a similar layout. We just have a hard line on the wall. (photo of house during remodel). We think it's fine.
posted by adamrice at 7:28 AM on September 21, 2021

Standing mats are really nice for working in a kitchen and they now come in more colors than "industrial" - maybe you’d like those instead of a rug. Plus, washable.
posted by clew at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

The staircase to the bottom floor…is it a spiral staircase? Or regular straight stairs? Is it walled in with a door, a solid half wall or bannisters? Is the top step facing the living room or kitchen or window wall?

As a demarcation, a tall etagere with plants, a few objects, a few books. It’s still see-through/not blocking light. Perpendicular to the wall between the two windows.

Opposite, next to the stairs, however they’re configured, a tall tree/plant and a couple shorter ones ones, different levels. If light is insufficient, buy good silk fakes.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2021

Response by poster: To TWinbrook8: here is what it looks like (from both sides)


(the floor plan is from another unit in the building that is single-floor, and the layout is actually "mirrored"/flipped from the one I will be living in, but I figured it would be fine for AskMeFi purposes since the walls/space continuity issues are basically the same).

To everyone:

Loving the tall plant/etagere possibility, and also standing mats are an intriguing possibility I have never heard of.
posted by virve at 10:17 AM on September 21, 2021

I also like the rug-island effect on hardwood floors; anti-fatigue mats can bring in a lot of color and delineate the kitchen area. Vivid walls and a lighter-color rug in the living room, if your household activity can bear it, will brighten up the space (as would art and layered lighting, if you went with a 'bland' wall paint). A deep, rich paint color in a gloss finish bounces light around, too, whether on a wall or on a large piece of furniture.

You could divide the long space with a column/wall-hugging half-column/moulding/other architectural feature, and have complementary wall colors on either side. A ceiling-height cupboard or bookshelves would do the same. If you want to lean into the coziness, a faux fireplace (with LED candles, or electric) with a tall mantel could break up the long wall and provide a paint-color transition point. Looking at your photos -- if the angled kitchen window, end of the counter, and the stair rail line up right, your "non-kitchen" paint color could start at the flat wall adjacent to that window, where the baseboard heater is, and on the opposite wall past the railing. (I would still avoid sharply contrasting paint colors without some object providing a visual divider behind that rail? Pierced, light-permitting hanging room dividers.)

Re: light, and that If the bedroom doors are open, some light comes in from there -- One of the ways to get more light into dim rooms is via windowed (frosted glass or stained glass) doors. (As these are bedroom doors in your flat, you'd want thick/solid wood around any glass panes for noise reduction and privacy. Architectural salvage might be a way to go.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2021

Based solely on watching the first five episodes of a BBC design-show reboot called Changing Spaces, what about a lush, saturated ceiling color for one or the other space?

It could be in a shape, e.g. a circle/oval/inset rectangle, so as not to be so abrupt - also could be done in a tone-on-tone way to imitate the look of a recessed panel (smaller circle in lighter color inside bigger circle with darker color).
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 4:15 PM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

That wall between the two windows is probably where I would put my geometric element and I'd do a bright color for the kitchen (I'm partial to yellow, but not sure how it would go with that wood color) and a lighter version of it in the living room.
posted by dame at 12:13 AM on September 22, 2021

I think you can do fun stuff with paint, and I’d lean into a geometric vibe, maybe painting the wall around in and around kitchen something similar to #5 on this geometric wall paint round up

Or use the diagonal suggested above with something like #14, which uses dark blue nicely. Keep in mind that dark blue actually goes incredibly nicely with honey colored cabinets and white, so I think that could work in your space.
posted by larthegreat at 4:54 PM on September 22, 2021

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