fb-pixelInterior design tricks that brought calm to a chaotic open floor plan - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Your Home | Relaxing Retreats

Interior design tricks that brought calm to a chaotic open floor plan

Open layouts "can be overwhelming with their multipurpose natures,” the designer says. The goal in this Winchester home was to find simple ways to define them.

The living room furniture layout makes the area feel self-contained even though it is open to the dining space and kitchen. The cabinetry was retrofitted with wood tops for warmth and the framed textile from St. Frank adds drama.Joyelle West/Styling by Kaylei McGaw

Marta and Scott Dragos built their Winchester home with an open floor plan. Not just because that’s how today’s families live, but because Scott, a former NFL player, is a pretty big guy. “We eliminated walls so my husband wouldn’t feel like he was living in a dollhouse,” Marta says.

However, with three young children and a puppy, the first floor felt chaotic. Everyone congregated in the great room, and the television was often left on during meals at the adjacent dining table. Meanwhile the formal living room sat empty, and never mind the mess in the playroom, which was the first thing people saw when they walked in. “The synergies of the rooms were off and not suited to our life,” Marta says.


Enter Liza Kugeler and Laura Ogden of Realm Interiors, who reconfigured and redecorated. Not only did they bring order to the home, they incorporated Marta’s stylish aesthetic in a way that works for an active family. All without undertaking renovations. “Open floor plans can be overwhelming with their multipurpose natures,” Ogden says. “Our goal was to define each space while also connecting them using low-impact modifications.”

The designers started by reassessing what the family needed from each room. They completely reassigned some spaces, while simply tweaking the furniture layout in others. For example, moving the dining table out of the bay window into the center of the great room did wonders. It now anchors the open floor plan and divides the kitchen from the living area. Plus, there’s a clear circulation path around the Scandinavian-style table commissioned from furniture maker Saltwoods, and a new vignette in the bay window. The results are far-reaching, as it’s also a worthy focal point from the entry. “We love the dance between the light wood and pops of black,” Kugeler says.


Reworking the tiny, indistinct kitchen island solved multiple issues, too. Kugeler and Ogden replaced the white marble top with a slab of leathered black granite in a much larger size, adding legs for support, and painting the base in Farrow & Ball Pigeon. The island now makes a statement and serves as a more comfortable place to eat. They also updated the cabinetry with matte black knobs and pulls, put in fashion-forward lighting, and detailed the hood with oak trim.

The most significant change was swapping the living and family rooms. The living space on the other side of the dining table from the kitchen had become the default spot for pretty much everything. Out went the TV along with facing sofas, which made the room much too conducive to comings and goings and also blocked the sliders to the yard. The designers lined the walls with a neutral grass-cloth covering for texture and warmth (the treatment continues into the entry, tying the spaces together), and reoriented the furniture to invite conversation. “The kids can run through and use it — the sofa and chairs are upholstered in family-friendly fabrics — but it’s cozy,” Kugeler says. “You feel embraced.”

The television landed in the underused, too formal front room, which was already conveniently outfitted with pocket doors. Kugeler and Ogden transformed the space with two shades of gray paint, tailored furnishings, and custom artwork by Pauline Curtiss. It’s used as often by the adults for cocktails as it is by the kids for cartoons. “We wanted the room to become part of their home,” Ogden says. “The finishes elevate it, giving it a thoughtful, high level of design that can withstand a family.”


Speaking of which, with their youngest past toddlerdom, Marta conceded to relocating the toys from the playroom to the basement. The small room off the entry, once an eyesore, is now a stylish office with dark, saturated walls, a sculptural bleached oak desk, and a framed reproduction of a jokey fashion photo. Marta loves that it feels like her, though she admits the family is not yet at the point where she can close the door and escape.

These days, she rarely needs to. “The redesign made a huge difference in how we hang out. Everyone roams around less now that every room has its own purpose,” Marta says. “It’s 100 percent more calm.”


Interior design: Realm Interiors, realminteriors.com

Carpentry: Carpenter & MacNeille, carpentermacneille.com

Painting and wallpaper: Patina Designs, patina-designs.com


Painting the trim gray in the family room provided flavor. “The details disappeared when it was all white,” says designer Laura Ogden. A sturdy teak coffee table by Noir sits between sofas upholstered in performance fabric, and RH chairs with seagrass panels offer interest from behind.Joyelle West/Styling by Kaylei McGaw

Brass accented lighting and matte black hardware up the style factor in the kitchen. Durable woven leather stools echo a leather ottoman in the living room.Joyelle West/Styling by Kaylei McGaw
Modern Windsor chairs in the dining room are sculptural yet spare, as is the linear chandelier with crackled glass shades designed by Kelly Wearstler for Visual Comfort. “We love that the light is visible in the living room mirror and from the entry,” designer Liza Kugeler says.Joyelle West/Styling by Kaylei McGaw
The entry vignette includes a Made Goods stacked concrete console and a Selamat painted rattan mirror. Grass-cloth wallcovering warms the space and ties it to the great room. Repetition of textures and neutral tones provide calmness and continuity.Joyelle West/Styling by Kaylei McGaw

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.