The Great Divide with Keith Mazzei

If hippie-inspired beaded curtains come to mind when hearing the words “room divider,” consider this a formal introduction to the sophisticated, modern version of that longstanding design concept. The strictly utilitarian partitions of the past have been reimagined to live up to a high-design standard that has the power to redefine interiors, add architectural interest, serve as a bold decorative accent or all of the above.

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“The popularity of open floor plans and the ‘great room’ trend was for bigger, brighter spaces and a more relaxed vibe,” said Keith Mazzei, an interior designer whose eponymous design firm is based in Syosset. “These spaces have multiple functions. But sometimes too much space is just that. Room dividers help delineate a space and better define its function without the feeling of a clunky wall.” Mazzei is a great proponent of room partitions. In fact, he’s been using them throughout his 25-year career. He shared his tips for making the most of the functional and visual potential of these dividers.

The Bookcase Wall

Equal parts room partition and shelf-space enhancer, the bookcase wall is an ingenious design element that can be customized in as many styles as there are problems for it to solve. It comes in a variety of styles: double-sided or wall-to-wall, with open and closed shelving, even with a hinged panel to create a “secret” door. Its sound-muffling quality makes it ideal for carving out a home office or a child’s bedroom within a large living area.

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A fixed-panel partition in glass with a transom window design creates two light-filled rooms out of one large space. image: jean-marc palisse

Sliding-door Partitions

Taking its inspiration from traditional Japanese shōji doors (that consist of translucent paper over a wooden frame), this type of room divider can be as decorative as it is functional. When the quest is to divide a space without closing off natural light, Mazzei looks for translucent panels or opaque glass. “The colors, designs and materials available today are amazing,” he said. “Frosted glass provides just enough privacy while still letting light filter through.” The ability to slide these temporary-wall designs make them a perfect fit in spaces too tight for a traditional swinging door. Think: breakfast nook, dressing room, even a spare closet. Stacking-door systems are a clever variation. When folded closed, they offer the same room division. When open, they practically disappear. “These are great for creating an occasional extra room, like a guest bedroom,” Mazzei added.

Fixed Panels

Similar to a bookcase wall, this creates two spaces out of one large room. Sturdy fixed panels can offer a “real” room feel with the addition of a single sliding, pocket door or a pair of French doors. This is a formal means for carving out a private dining room within an amorphous open space. Mazzei prefers fixed-panel partitions for creating foyers. “Since privacy isn’t a requirement, an open decorative design works beautifully, adding drama and texture. It changes the personality of the whole house.”

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Fabrics can easily transform a large space into a private makeshift bedroom when an unexpected guest pops in. image: simon upton

Decorative Dividers

As the name suggests, this category of room dividers features those that are true design elements, useful for jazzing up large open spaces or adding an extraordinary focal point to plain, boxy rooms. The selection is vast, fabrications mirror the imagination from open metal fretwork to colored resin panels, elegant bamboo slats and everything in between. Custom designs can be created to suit the home’s look and architectural period. Sizes vary too. Decorative dividers can be less than ceiling height and don’t need to fit the full width of the room since they aren’t meant to be literal room dividers. “These are really artwork,” added Mazzei, “but at sizes and specifications homeowners can justify.”