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Pro Spotlight: To Open Up Your Living Areas, Think Big

A Bay Area interior designer shares tips for spacious transformations

Who: Juliana Linssen
Where: San Jose, California
In her own words: “Creating an open floor plan, where everything flows from room to room, is often less costly than adding square footage.”

Wondering how to expand your home without getting involved in a major addition? It’s easy, according to interior designer Juliana Linssen. “You can rework the existing spaces and make them more open, inviting and modern, without having to build the house out or up,” she says. As the founder and principal of her eponymous design firm in San Jose, Linssen specializes in revitalizing homes in ways that create flow, bring in light and make them feel more spacious.


Dramatic background. Originally from Brazil, Linssen came to the U.S. to study film production with an emphasis on set design, but she soon fell in love with interior design. She moved to the Bay Area and completed an advanced interior design degree at the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (renamed in 2006 as the Council for Interior Design Accreditation). She then worked for interior design and design-build firms before founding Spaces by Juliana Linssen Interior Design in 2014. “I love helping my clients make their dreams of beautiful homes come true,” she says.



Modern look. Transforming your living areas typically requires changes to the floor plan, materials and furniture. “In most projects, you’re opening up the floor plan, making cosmetic changes to connect the rooms and also adding light,” Linssen says. “Very often you’re working with a situation in which previous owners have done remodels of individual rooms, and now the challenge is to make those spaces look cohesive.”

Follow Linssen’s tips below to transform your outdated living spaces for contemporary living.


1. Connect the Kitchen and Family Room

Opening an old-school, boxed-in kitchen is one of the best ways to update your home. And one of the most effective approaches is to create an open layout for the cooking area, an informal dining area and a family room, Linssen says. 

For a Willow Glen family, Linssen designed an open, light-filled space that combines modern and rustic elements. “We removed the kitchen wall, added the crossbeam and took it from a low, flat ceiling to a vaulted ceiling with recessed lighting,” she says. “The materials, furniture and fixtures are modern, but the beadboard on the island, the hickory flooring and the tiled fireplace are rustic.”


2. Let in the Light

Another way to open up your living spaces is to bring in more light. Installing windows and glass doors can make a dramatic difference. No room for additional windows in your small house? Consider using skylights and transom windows above doors. “Adding natural light makes rooms more welcoming,” Linssen says. 

The owners of this Willow Glen home wanted a better space for entertaining friends and family. Linssen first removed a wall to open the small kitchen to the large family room. Then she added three skylights, a big sliding door with access to the patio and trapezoid windows above the door. “The result is an inviting place for people to gather,” she says.

















3. Reconsider the Dining Room

Is your formal dining room squashed into a small nook near the kitchen? Linssen urges you to consider moving it to a larger space, even if that means taking a few more steps from the kitchen when you entertain.

For this Almaden Valley home, she seized on a secondary family room the clients were making little use of and transformed it into an entertainment space. There’s room for a live-edge dining table and a buffet with a wine cooler. “It’s the perfect serving space for a party,” Linssen says. 

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