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The clutter challenge of open-concept living

'We're under greater and greater stress, and we're looking for calm when we come home," says Dale Storer, owner of Greentea Design in Toronto, specializing in Japanese contemporary furniture. "Clean lines are fabulous, but it can't work if you have stuff everywhere. You need a place to put it all."

Natural light, convivial entertaining, an airy, loft-like feel – open-concept layouts are definitely a thing these days. A survey of U.S. designers last year by the International Furnishings and Design Association found that 90 per cent believe that separate rooms – one for cooking, one for dining, one for serving tea to the Queen – will go the way of the avocado bathroom suite by 2020.

But it's hard to see how the minimalist, über-chic spreads in design magazines can work in real life, especially with kids, hectic schedules and – let's face it – way too much stuff. Consumer culture encourages us to buy, buy, buy, but modern design demands that we pare down. Opening up your living space sounds great until you realize that the first thing you'll see when you walk in the front door is that stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.

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The solution is storage. Storer says adding a makeshift room-divider-cum-storage-unit – like Greentea's step chests, which have drawers on both sides – can break up the view without compromising the open plan and provide a place to stash TV remotes and tchotchkes.

Interior designer Connie Braemer always makes sure to incorporate storage into an open-concept space, adding built-in shelving and touch-latch cabinets that blend seamlessly into the walls. The key to keeping clutter out of sight is to make it easier for your resident pack rats to tidy up after themselves, she says.

"For one recent client, I put in low storage units that slide out, so the kids could easily put their toys away," says Braemer.

Going open-plan might provide the perfect motivation to purge. Having to stare at all the stuff you don't really love could force you to get rid of it.

"The whole 'less is more' concept gives you an opportunity to better appreciate the things you have, because they aren't competing with a million other things," Braemer says.

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