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Designs for open-plan living

Designs for open-plan living

A well-designed open plan layout can make for a light, spacious and sociable home  – but planning is key.

Hundreds of thousands of dividing walls have been knocked down in pursuit of open-plan living, joining rooms together to create a light, airy space.  It’s a modern-day trend and mainstay of what many people look for in a home.

“The kitchen-dining-living hub is hugely popular,” said Joann Dove, of Chequers Estate Agents in Basingstoke. “This is what many buyers are asking for when they register with us. It’s a sociable space. It suits many people’s lifestyles.”

Open plan kitchen diner

The benefits are obvious. A feeling of spaciousness and whoever is cooking need not be closed-off Cinderella-style in a separate room. For young families, open plan means parents can cook and keep an eye on their children while they play or do homework.  A large open plan space works well for socialising with family and friends – better than separate rooms.

Open plan is a great choice until you start putting furniture in the room and the space never feels quite homely. Or smells from a fish supper linger for ages in every area of your living space. It needs careful planning to work well.

Choose your open plan rooms carefully

Be wary of a completely open-plan layout. Your architect might suggest this option and it can look great in glossy magazines but what would it be like to live in on a day-to-day basis? There are times when a bit more separation is welcome. For example, if you are trying to have a quiet read and another member of the family is watching TV at full volume. Similarly, the entirely open plan bedroom/en suite is not for everyone.

Many people want a sitting room that is separate from the kitchen-dining-living space that is the ‘heart of the home’, said Joann.  “I don’t think people in the UK want completely open plan like in Scandinavia,” she said. Snug areas and small studies built off an open-plan space can also work well as a place to escape the rough and tumble of family life or as cosier areas for families to watch TV.

Zone your spaces

Swathes of empty floor space, white walls and floor-to-ceiling windows can feel cold and inhospitable. The trick to making it work is zoning for kitchen, dining and living so each functional area has its own distinct space within the open-plan room. For example, a kitchen island can create a subtle barrier between the food preparation area and the dining/living zones. Painting the walls of the kitchen and dining areas different shades of the same colour can also work as can varying floor coverings. A fireplace or freestanding stove can create a focal point in a big open plan space.

Consider flow

Plan where you will put the furniture and lighting. Don’t squeeze too much into each zone. The kitchen tends to sit side-by-side with the dining area, so the cook can chat with guests and dish up easily. “Think about how you will circulate or move through the space from the kitchen, dining and living areas,” said architect Scot Masker, director of Pro Vision. “Think about how it will all work together and how it relates to the garden space. So, you are not only thinking about the internal space but how that extends out to the garden.”

Open living space

Build in natural light

Arrange your room around a large window or French doors to make the most of natural light. Consider bringing in extra light with roof lights – also known as skylights – which are window panes fitted into a sloping or flat roof. Or you could opt for a roof lantern, which is made up of small windows joined together in a variety of shapes and styles from domes and octagons to pyramids.  You could also boost natural light with a large expanse of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bi-fold or sliding doors. The right glazing can make the garden seem like a natural extension of your living space.

Different lighting styles

Different lighting styles can be used in each zone to create character. In the kitchen, spotlights recessed into the ceiling and LED strips under cabinets can emphasis work surfaces, hob and sink. Meanwhile in the dining space low-slung pendant lights over the dining table are stylish while spotlights can highlight notable features. Floor and table lamps provide extra layers of light for living areas.

Choose the right- sized furniture

Think about the scale of new your new open plan space. A large space with sofas and tables that once belonged in a much smaller room just won’t look right. Bigger pieces of furniture can also help to define the various zones within the open-plan space, for example an L-shaped sofa can clearly define a seating area in a multi-functional room. Add a couple of comfy chairs in a conversational grouping and nestle in a coffee table and rug to give a warm, welcoming feel. 

Underfloor heating

Open plan means less wall space for radiators. Underfloor heating suits open plan spaces better for this reason. Giordana Burns, senior architect and interior designer at Pro Vision, said: “Open plan homes often have underfloor heating, especially new-build whereas for refurbishment it will depend on the extent of the building work.  Underfloor heating means a large space will be uniformly heated because otherwise there will be hot and cold spots depending on where the radiators are.”

Utility room

While people value the feeling of space and light in open-plan living, they don’t necessarily want to be able to hear the washing machine on spin cycle while stretched out on the sofa watching TV after a hard day’s work. A utility room to house noisy appliances is essential for open plan living, says Giordana. It also provides useful extra storage for hiding large items like vacuum cleaners.

Cooking smells and mess

Cooking smells can be a problem for an open-plan kitchen-living area. It’s a good idea to invest in an extraction unit that works to the required level and is not too noisy. Mess can be another issue with dirty pots and pans on full view. A good solution to the mess/privacy issue is to divide a room with sliding panels or moveable screens rather than solid doors, said Giordana. “You can have partitions or sliding doors, so it’s still open-plan but you can separate the kitchen,” she said.

Kitchen diner living extension

There are many advantages to open-plan living but also some disadvantages. It takes careful planning to get it spot on.