The per­ils of open-plan liv­ing

Taranaki Daily News - - Property Weekly -

Idon’t know who first sug­gested the open-plan lay­out, but they clearly hadn’t tried it. When we bought our twobed­room semi in Syd­ney’s in­ner-west, I couldn’t wait to jump on the ‘‘open­plan’’ band­wagon. My hus­band wasn’t quite as en­thu­si­as­tic.

He pleaded to leave ‘‘just a lit­tle bit of wall’’, but it fell on deaf ears.

I was de­ter­mined to trans­form our tiny liv­ing room, pokey kitchen and mi­cro­scopic study into one big space, filled with nat­u­ral light and a view over the gar­den. So we did. And it’s beau­ti­ful, there’s no doubt about it.

How­ever, it’s our only space for all fam­ily liv­ing, eat­ing and tele­vi­sion watch­ing.

Our chil­dren are now 10 and 7, and no longer play qui­etly with a few toys on the rug.

Now they talk, ar­gue, do home­work, lis­ten to mu­sic, play board games and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments – and never the same thing at the same time.

While one is danc­ing to mu­sic, the other wants to read. One wants to prac­tise flute, the other vi­o­lin.

Not only is it chaotic, but it’s also noisy. Fam­ily life is loud enough, but when one space ac­com­mo­dates a range of ac­tiv­i­ties and de­vices, the sound lev­els be­come un­bear­able.

Then, when you can’t hear your­self think, there’s ab­so­lutely nowhere else to go. My hus­band, who claims he’s ‘‘liv­ing in a scout hall’’, has nowhere to lis­ten to mu­sic or read the pa­per in peace.

And, I have no space to work and have be­gun to take my lap­top to the bot­tom of the gar­den, just so I can meet a dead­line.

En­ter­tain­ing is cer­tainly easy, but our din­ner party guests ba­si­cally sit in our kitchen-din­ing area, with not only a view of the gar­den, but also of the dirty dishes on the bench.

Plus, it’s hard to chat when all the kids are watch­ing a DVD in the lounge area – es­pe­cially when they ask you ‘‘to keep it down’’ be­cause they can’t hear the movie.

It’s also ex­pen­sive to heat a big open space, es­pe­cially with all that glass cap­tur­ing the beau­ti­ful gar­den view.

Cre­at­ing a sense of warmth and cosi­ness be­comes chal­leng­ing, de­spite ef­forts to sec­tion off the liv­ing zone and in­cor­po­rate rugs, throws and sea­son­ally in­spired cush­ions.

There’s lim­ited room for fur­ni­ture pieces and you can for­get about art­work.

With less avail­able wall space, we’ve had to find al­ter­na­tive stor­age for pic­tures, such as un­der beds or hid­den be­hind the few re­main­ing doors.

Sud­denly, older-style lay­outs have be­come far more ap­peal­ing.

Not only is there an escape from the ev­ery­day hub­bub, but also a sense of pri­vacy – a place for a quiet adult con­ver­sa­tion (or heated dis­cus­sion on the fail­ings of open-plan liv­ing).

Five years down the track, I hate to ad­mit it but my hus­band was right to ques­tion the whole open-plan con­cept. It was all a trick to lure un­sus­pect­ing space-de­prived first home-own­ers.

Yes, it of­fered open­ness and abun­dant light, but it came at a price. Now we dream of that elu­sive other space, a sec­ond liv­ing room, a par­ent’s re­treat per­haps, even a me­dia room.

Some­where sep­a­rate, quiet and cosy.

For­tu­nately, we need to ren­o­vate again so maybe we can have that spe­cial space, as well as our beau­ti­ful open-plan liv­ing area.

The kids do need their own rooms, but they might just have to share for a lit­tle longer. At least they’re used to it.

Open plan liv­ing may look great, but do you want to hear ev­ery noise your kids make?

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