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The rise of broken-plan living

The rise of broken-plan living

Broken-plan living is a top trend in home design

Knocking down interior walls to create vast, open-plan, multifunctional living spaces has transformed countless homes over the past few decades. But while more and more people like light-filled, sociable spaces - they also want privacy and cosy corners. The result is the evolution of broken-plan living.

open plan living

Photo supplied by Pro Vision

What exactly is broken-plan?

Broken-plan is the best of both worlds. It’s the clever use of structural elements, such as extra-wide doorways, glass partitions and half-walls, to keep the light and spaciousness of an open-plan layout but with some delineation and separation. It creates distinct zones for different uses rather than one enormous, shared, multifunctional living space. So how do you create a broken-plan layout?

Glass partitions

The beauty of open plan living is the sense of space and light.  So, a key challenge is how to keep the room as bright and open as possible when you re-zone the space. A glass partition wall between the kitchen and living space or kitchen and dining area can be a clever solution as it divides up the room without losing natural light or blocking sightlines. Interior glass partitions can include multiple panels, so there is no limit on size. Styles include fixed, folding, hinged and sliding.

Architect and interior designer Giordana Burns, of Pro Vision, recently used floor-to-ceiling glass partitioning to cordon off the cooking area in a new extension. She said: “The kitchen is in the middle of an open plan space, measuring 120 metres square - about the size of a large flat - and obviously cooking smells and sounds could be an issue. I came up with the solution of a glass partition wall that blocks off any kitchen odours and noise.” Glass partition walls can also carve out a quiet home office space, TV room or even bedroom.

Open plan kitchen

Photo supplied by Pro Vision

Wooden panels and screens

Smaller, intimate areas to relax, eat and work can be created by adding semi-permanent partitions, such as perforated wooden panels or screens. They’re light and subtle which helps to keep the room open and spacious feeling while helping to separate zones for study or socialising. Giordana said: “The perforated panels can be fixed or sliding, so they can be opened or closed as required. When I design open plan or broken plan spaces, I try to create solutions that are flexible because peoples’ needs change. For example, families with children.” Perforated panels are best employed when noise between the areas of a broken-plan room isn’t a problem. 

Half walls & sliding doors

Inserting half walls into a large space can help you achieve the broken-plan look. For example, a low wall between the kitchen and living space divides up the room but still allows sociability.  Partial walls allow you to add features that are often missing in open plan schemes, such as storage or where to put the TV. However, there are downsides. “In Italy, it’s quite common to have a 1200mm dwarf wall with a few plants on top to separate the living area from the dining room but I don’t like it because it completely lacks flexibility and you lose the open plan feel,” said Italian-born Giordana.

Folding doors or even pocket doors that disappear into the wall when not needed can keep the layout flexible and are a great way to maximise space, especially if connecting rooms are on the small side. Other ways to create a broken-plan design, include an extra-wide doorway between a kitchen and dining space instead of knocking through.

Varying floor and ceiling heights

Split-level layouts can also provide a distinction between zones that serve different purposes. The cooking area is often a hive of activity, so it’s important to have a separate space for relaxing without being completely cut off. Varying floor levels can work well, perhaps with a slightly lower floor level for the cosy seating area to that of the kitchen. Each zone can have its own vibe. Ceiling heights can also be varied to show a change in use from area to area.  Consider also how furniture, such as low cabinets or freestanding glass shelves, can be carefully positioned to break up an open plan space without interrupting sightlines or losing light.

Varied ceiling heights

Photo supplied by Pro Vision

Freestanding fireplaces

A fireplace is an eye-catching centrepiece and the heart of many homes. It can also be used as a room divider in broken-plan layouts. Fires can be freestanding or built into a chimney. There is a wide range of styles available - both contemporary and traditional. Contura design and manufacture modern, Scandanavian wood burners. Phil Wood, Contura country manager for the UK and Ireland, said: “Not only is a stove a piece of ‘hot furniture’ that ticks the design or aesthetics box in a slick new extension, but it is also practical and functional, fulfilling the home’s heating needs and creating a cosy focal point around which to plan the room layout.”

Broken plan is sometimes described as semi-open plan or the new open plan. It’s the perfect option for those who love the light and space of open plan but want some separation like a cosy TV snug or book corner.