Open-plan living — is it for you?

The inspiration behind many home renovations in recent years is the rise in open-plan living. The beauty of a multifunctional room has become a luxury space in many homes. As more and more of us open up our downstairs from a collection of small cramped rooms into one huge space though, the problems as well as the benefits of this kind of living can become obvious. One room zoned into specific areas for cooking, dining and relaxing appears to be a dream but is the reality somewhat different?

Why choose an open-plan?

By removing walls between rooms, a space can be created that brings light and fluidity. For multi-functional rooms that include a kitchen, the benefits are clear. It prevents the cook from feeling isolated for a start. No more retiring to the kitchen for half an hour on your own to prepare meals. A modern kitchen scheme that includes an island or peninsula that looks out onto the rest of the space means that cooking and preparing food need no longer be a solitary process. Often given as a reason for going open plan is the need to keep an eye on children. From toddlers playing to teens doing their homework, for busy families a space that performs several functions allows the family to spend time together even when they’re performing many different tasks.

It’s well-known that homes are getting increasingly smaller. So the need for separate dining space has become less of a priority and instead people are warming to the idea of a well-designed kitchen-diner that allows you to prepare, cook and eat in the one room comfortably. However, you do have to be careful when planning a multi-functional room to ensure all zones work well together and recognize that this kind of layout will reduce privacy, particularly if you’re opening up the whole of your downstairs. Having nowhere quiet to retire while the kids watch TV or play can become a problem. There are also the issues of noise from appliances that might disturb you or that clearly evident pile of washing-up nagging at you as you sit down for an evening of TV or a quiet read with your favourite book or magazine. Fewer walls also mean less space to put furniture, which can lead to a room that’s crammed around the walls or jumbled in the centre.

If you’re considering open-plan living, but are not 100 per cent sure, why not try broken-plan living? Yes, broken plan living is a thing. It is the latest trend that living might well be for you.

Looking ahead 

There are some down sides to having an open plan. The idea of broken-plan living is a compromise between separate rooms and completely open-plan spaces. The idea is to retain all the things you love about open-plan – particularly the light and openness – while at the same time zoning the space to allow for more privacy should you need it. Rather than doing this with colours and textures as you would in a true open-plan arrangement, broken-plan employs structural elements such as half-walls, dividing shelves, changing levels, walls of glass and even mezzanines to delineate and formalize areas for different uses.

Creating broken-plan living 

You can create a broken-plan in most open-plan spaces. Create ‘walls’ using open boxed shelving units to define the space between a kitchen and chilling out area for instance. Of course, you don’t want to regress back to small poky rooms so don’t cram the shelves full of books – instead, artfully arrange a few favourite pieces to signal the change between one room and another and leave some of the shelves open to allow light to freely cascade from one zone to another. If you’re just starting your project then consider just knocking down half a wall and leaving the top open, allowing sight-lines through but at the same time giving you more wall space to play with. While hatches should remain a distinctly 70s invention, a larger aperture in the wall between a kitchen and sitting room, for example, is a workable and modern substitute.

You don’t need to fully destroy all of the walls. You can retain parts of the walls to station pieces of furniture against to signal different uses clearly but subtly. Also consider building in pocket doors that will slide out of sight into the walls when you want to join two rooms but can be closed quickly to create separation when needed.

When there are windows in a room, it can create an open feel, whilst bringing more light into the space. Recently, Crittall-style windows have come back into fashion. Metal framed windows and sometimes doors traditionally used in industrial spaces or as exterior walls onto gardens, they have celebrity fans such as TV presenter and architect George Clarke, who celebrates their ability to cleverly divide an internal space without shutting off one room totally from another.

Why not mark out the end of one room and beginning of another with different levels? Broken-plan schemes can actively embrace changing floor and ceiling heights. A few steps from the kitchen to the dining area for instance can provide a clear physical divide as well as a mental one, allowing you to leave the kitchen behind to concentrate on enjoying your meal without fear of what the sink might hold.

Put your own spin on your room too. For a bit of wow factor, why not consider adding a bespoke fireplace in the middle of a large room, which can be viewed from either side. It’s another inventive way to create that cosy, private atmosphere in an essentially open room.