Bril­liant Ideas for Open Plan Liv­ing

A well-de­signed open plan lay­out can make for a bright, happy and so­cia­ble home, un­ham­pered by solid di­vides — or it can mean vast, cold and echo­ing spa­ces that no one en­joys be­ing in. Natasha Brins­mead shares her top tips for get­ting open plan spa­ces spo

Homebuilding & Renovating - - Contents -

ON THE COVER Top de­sign tips for get­ting open plan in­te­ri­ors right

While we have all thor­oughly em­braced the trend for open plan liv­ing, shun­ning the now old-fash­ioned idea of lots of sep­a­rate rooms, each with their own par­tic­u­lar use, open plan spa­ces do not al­ways work well. There are lots of rea­sons for this, al­though in the main it sim­ply comes down to bad plan­ning and a fail­ure to en­vis­age how the new space is ac­tu­ally go­ing to work on a day-to-day ba­sis. Think­ing through what you will need from this space and how it will serve your life­style, as op­posed to sim­ply copy­ing an idea you have seen in some­one else’s home, is key to mak­ing open plan work for you.

Think in Walls

When de­sign­ing your open plan space, it can help to think about it as though there were go­ing to be walls there. This might sound odd, but vi­su­al­is­ing the space as a se­ries of rooms, as op­posed to just one big open space, will force you to think about proper cir­cu­la­tion spa­ces, stor­age op­tions and where you will place lights and fur­ni­ture. An open plan space can be harder to po­si­tion fur­ni­ture within than one with walls – you can’t just push all your fur­ni­ture up against the walls you do have – and so you need to con­sider how you will move through the space from one zone to the next.

Choose Your Open Plan Rooms Wisely

It just makes sense to com­bine cer­tain rooms. Take the kitchen and din­ing room — most peo­ple these days would pre­fer to have an eat­ing space that is open to the kitchen. A kitchen diner means that who­ever is cook­ing the meal need not feel hid­den away in an­other room. Like­wise, a small liv­ing space that is open to the kitchen diner makes sense in fam­ily homes, mean­ing chil­dren can play or do home­work while par­ents get on with other jobs at the same time as keep­ing an eye on things. How­ever, as con­ve­nient as it might be to keep these spa­ces open to one an­other, it does pay to keep cer­tain rooms sep­a­rate. For ex­am­ple, if you have the space, a liv­ing room or snug that is set apart from the hus­tle and bus­tle of fam­ily life can pro­vide a wel­come sanc­tu­ary, as can a quiet home of­fice space. How­ever, think twice be­fore open­ing up cer­tain rooms to one an­other — the en­tirely open plan bed­room/en suite might look good in a magazine, but have you re­ally con­sid­ered the lo­gis­tics of how this would work for you?

Con­sider Bro­ken Plan

More and more peo­ple are aim­ing for what has been given the name ‘ bro­ken plan’ – some­times de­scribed as semiopen plan – recog­nis­ing the im­por­tance of quiet zones, teenage spa­ces, home of­fices and grown-up liv­ing rooms. The best open plan lay­outs in­cor­po­rate meth­ods for clos­ing off spa­ces when re­quired. Slid­ing doors, or even bet­ter, pocket doors that glide away into cav­i­ties within the walls when not needed, are a great ex­am­ple of how open plan lay­outs can be kept flex­i­ble. Bi­fold doors are an­other op­tion, al­though one that takes up a lit­tle more space than a slide-away de­sign. A more bud­get-friendly op­tion is move­able room di­viders, such as open shelv­ing units on wheels, which act as a way of sec­tion­ing off var­i­ous ar­eas. Glazed walls and doors are a great idea too — keep­ing the ap­pear­ance of an open plan space and al­low­ing light to move through the lay­out, while keep­ing zones sep­a­rate. Par­tial walls are an­other clever means of con­nect­ing ar­eas without opt­ing for an en­tirely open plan lay­out.

Cre­ate Sep­a­rate Zones

For an open plan space to work well, the ar­eas should be clearly zoned. One huge open space with no vis­ual def­i­ni­tion be­tween the var­i­ous ar­eas within it tends to feel va­cant and un­pleas­ant. A sin­gle space that has meth­ods in place to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the func­tions of each area within it, on the other hand, will feel far more wel­com­ing and live­able. There are lots of dif­fer­ent ways to cre­ate zones, both vis­ual and phys­i­cal. At a very ba­sic level, sim­ply choos­ing dif­fer­ent wall colours within the space is a good start. Paint­ing the kitchen area of a kitchen diner a light and bright colour, for ex­am­ple, while us­ing a warmer, more con­vivial shade for the din­ing space, will im­me­di­ately set the ar­eas apart from one an­other. Your choice of floor­ing should also be con­sid­ered. A tile in the kitchen, tim­ber in the din­ing room and per­haps car­pet in the liv­ing area of a large open plan space will vis­ually sep­a­rate the ar­eas while also mak­ing prac­ti­cal sense. How­ever, for some, a sense of con­ti­nu­ity is prefer­able, in which case, choos­ing vary­ing shades of the same ma­te­rial or sim­ply us­ing rugs or sim­i­lar in or­der to vis­ually de­fine the spa­ces can be a good al­ter­na­tive. If you’re start­ing with a blank can­vas, con­sider how the floor­plan and the shape of rooms can be put to good use and to lend def­i­ni­tion. For in­stance, L-shaped rooms can work par­tic­u­larly well — the din­ing area can be tucked out of view from the kitchen (and vice versa), mean­ing the two spa­ces still feel con­nected but the sight of dirty pots and pans won’t spoil your ap­petite when you sit down to eat.

Vary Floor Lev­els

A change in floor level is the per­fect way to sep­a­rate rooms without us­ing walls — and is prac­ti­cal too when it comes to slop­ing sites. Cre­at­ing a step down to more in­ti­mate, cosy

“A change in floor level is the per­fect way to sep­a­rate rooms without us­ing walls”

spa­ces, such as a snug or liv­ing room, works par­tic­u­larly well, while rais­ing a small area off a din­ing space, for in­stance, and cor­don­ing it off with a half-height or glazed wall is a great way to cre­ate a quiet study space. Vary­ing your ceil­ing heights can have a sim­i­larly use­ful zon­ing ef­fect. A lower ceil­ing will make a space feel more in­ti­mate, while higher ceil­ings are great for cre­at­ing a fresh, dra­matic and free feel.

Use Light­ing to Sep­a­rate Ar­eas

Us­ing dif­fer­ent light­ing styles within an open plan space is key to cre­at­ing char­ac­ter and in­ter­est. Within the kitchen, task-based light­ing makes sense — this means lights po­si­tioned to il­lu­mi­nate the work sur­faces, hob and sink. Spot­lights re­cessed into the ceil­ing work well as gen­eral light­ing in a kitchen and are all the bet­ter if they can be set on dim­mers or zoned. Within a din­ing space, pen­dants hang­ing rel­a­tively low over the din­ing ta­ble are a great idea, while wall lights will pro­vide an added level of am­bi­ent light­ing. It is of­ten nec­es­sary to think cre­atively when it comes to light­ing open plan spa­ces where the re­duced num­ber of walls can once again cause is­sues when it comes to your op­tions. Floor lamps and side lamps will help to add an- other level of light­ing, while con­cealed LED strip lights can be used to help cre­ate char­ac­ter at the same time as defin­ing var­i­ous zones and high­light­ing notable fea­tures.

Buy the Right Sized Fur­ni­ture

One of the big­gest mis­takes made by own­ers of open plan spa­ces is to try to use fur­ni­ture that is out of pro­por­tion to the spa­ces they are now work­ing with. Think about scale in your open plan space — a large space with so­fas and ta­bles that look as though they be­long in a much smaller room just won’t look right. Larger pieces of fur­ni­ture can also help to de­fine the var­i­ous uses of the spa­ces within an open area, for ex­am­ple an L-shaped state­ment sofa that also acts as a di­vide be­tween din­ing and liv­ing ar­eas, or a long, so­cia­ble din­ing ta­ble that clearly sets the din­ing space apart from the kitchen.

Un­der­stand What No Walls Means

Open plan spa­ces might look great, but a lack of walls can cre­ate is­sues — con­sid­er­ing what these are be­fore com­mit­ting to an en­tirely open plan lay­out should help you to avoid any nasty sur­prises. Firstly there is the need for proper ex­trac­tion and sound­proof­ing. Quite sim­ply, any space that is open to the kitchen will be ex­posed to hu­mid­ity, steam and cook­ing smells. An ex­trac­tion unit that works at the re­quired level is es­sen­tial — as is one with low noise lev­els. Sec­ondly, min­i­mal walls means min­i­mal sound­proof­ing — and hard floors and swathes of glaz­ing only add to the prob­lem. In­clud­ing plenty of soft fur­nish­ings, such as cur­tains and thick rugs will help a lit­tle, al­though do con­sider sec­tion­ing off a few quiet spa­ces with sound­proofed walls. A util­ity room to house noisy ap­pli­ances such as wash­ing ma­chines and tum­ble dry­ers is an open plan ne­ces­sity. No walls also means ra­di­a­tors are out — un­der­floor heat­ing suits open plan spa­ces much bet­ter for this rea­son, as well as be­ing a more ef­fi­cient way to heat open lay­outs. Fi­nally, fewer walls means fewer wall shelves and makes it harder to find a spot to hang your favourite piece of art­work — for­ward plan­ning is key.

How to do Open Plan The com­bi­na­tion of vary­ing floor lev­els, par­tial wall, the L-shaped floor­plan, a good light­ing scheme and strate­gi­cally placed fur­ni­ture means this open plan space, de­signed by Granit Ar­chi­tec­ture + In­te­ri­ors, ticks all the boxes.

Open Plan vs Bro­ken Plan The ‘ bro­ken plan’ pro­vides the ben­e­fits of open plan liv­ing (light, con­nec­tion with other rooms, etc), without some of the draw­backs. In this new oak frame home ( right) by Bor­der Oak, the kitchen is con­nected to the liv­ing space by a wide open­ing — the oak mem­bers pro­vide vis­ual sep­a­ra­tion. While a par­tial wall pro­vides con­nec­tion be­tween the kitchen and sit­ting area in this project by JM Fairhurst ( be­low).

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