The perils of open-plan living
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?