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
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).