Open plan living

Smashing down all one’s internal walls to create a big open space is a trend that’s been around for a long time now. The gods of the interiors and architectural world are now saying that ‘broken plan is the new open plan’ and I have to say, I’m totally on board with this. However, despite that, I sincerely doubt this is the end of open plan living.

The beauty of the open plan space is that you can maximise the room you have by essentially overlapping what would be separate rooms. This gives the look and feeling of more space and a larger home. One large area also means that everyone can be in the same room doing different things, which encourages sociable living within a home. Yet another bonus is that the lack of walls allows you to optimise the natural light levels.

As with everything in life, it’s not all roses. Despite it’s benefits, open plan living can be tricky to get right. It’s hard to make a large vacuous space feel cosy and homely so it can feel cold and exposed. Plus there’s the risk that your different areas feel disjointed, furniture can look lost and trying to design around so many different factors means everything is compromised.

Ok, that was a really long intro so I’ll move swiftly on…

Featured image from Walls & Floors Ltd

Create zones

Nothing new here, you’ll find this tip on every article and blog about open plan living. The idea is to create the feeling of separate spaces but without the walls dividing them. Be careful not to pick ‘themes’ – this is not the Crystal Maze. Your interiors style should run throughout an area so that it all feels like it’s unified, but different zones can incorporate a different feel.

A bold geometric rug is used here to define the living area but the style is still cohesive so doesn’t segregate it from the rest of the room. Image from helsingHouse Fastighetsmäklare.

Try to decide on a style for the overall look. If you try to create a classic country kitchen with a formal contemporary dining area next to a quirky living space for the kids, it’s going to look a bit confused. Keep it all casual, all minimalist, all eccentric and colourful, whatever you want! Just keep the basics similar and tweak each area to suit your space.

Lighting levels

Using light is a subtle yet very effective way to create different moods in different areas. I’d strongly suggest having multiple lighting zones and also lighting levels. Yes, this means you’ll have a hell of a lot of switches that may require labels but the results will be worth it.

This kitchen by IFUB* features a large pendant to flood the worktop with light but the hidden lighting strip within the cabinets provides a soft glow for the evening

Within a kitchen or bathroom you will want to be able to fill the place with light, making sure there is task lighting where you need it (over the worktop or around a mirror for example) but also low-level lighting to glow in the background. Dining tables look stunning with pendant lights above and living areas will need both bright and ambient lighting. A desk lamp in a study area allows someone to work even though the lights in the adjacent living area are turned down for a movie night. Careful consideration of a lighting plan allows you to utilise each zone independently without them conflicting with each other. Functional and beautiful – that’s the dream.

Statement pendants highlight the dining table while lamps provide a softer level of light in the living area in this Parisian apartment by Tatiana Nicol
Colour and texture

The safest and most obvious way to create flow using colour is to paint all walls the same colour throughout your open plan space, then use furniture and accessories to add character to each zone. There’s nothing wrong with this, it isn’t boring. It’s the safe way because it works. There’s no need to randomly paint walls different colours just to be ‘interesting’.

The striking blue bench along the wall of this otherwise neutral space by Brian O’Tuama Architects adds another dimension to the scheme. The red chair stays true to the bright style of the bench without being matchy.

Creating flow is about sticking to a general style, but you don’t have to be too prescriptive about it. It’s more about sticking to a palette than having a colour scheme. The danger with a colour scheme or theme is that it can look a bit too styled, like a showroom. You do not want your home to be a obsessive display of how to work mustard yellow.

This open plan extension by Fine House Studio incorporates a lime green splashback echoed by the sofa at the other end of the room but the mismatched chairs complement rather than match. Lime green chairs would look far too ‘done’.

If you do want to use the same colour throughout, make sure you vary the textures to provide some level of interest. An all white scheme, for example, is a strong look but varying textures and shades of white will keep it interesting and less stark. Accents and accessories in natural materials can also complement a monochrome scheme.

This room by Staples Design Group features black and dark wood accents to contrast with the light scheme. Glass lamps and natural wood add texture and interest without introducing another colour.
Focal points

When you’re dealing with such a large space it can sometimes feel like everything is floating around. For maximum impact, pick one or a few (depending on the size of the room) statement pieces as focal points. Having something in the room to immediately draw the eye will ensure a stunning ‘wow’ effect as you walk in. Plus, it gives a sense of confidence to the room and gives structure to the layout.

This stunning fire is a magnificent focal point in this space by Artichoke while also creating something of a partition between the living space and the kitchen (see next point)

Your focal point could even be outside the room. Many open plan spaces are at the back of the house leading out to the garden and what could be better than expansive glass doors framing your outdoor space or an impressive skylight in the ceiling?

This kitchen features a fantastic skylight mirrored by the extensive kitchen worktop and long dining table which seem to lead you through to the full width glass doors and out to the garden. Image by David Butler Photography.
Screens and partitions

All in one room as a big happy family is a lovely idea, but sometimes, you just want some bloody privacy. Screens and partitions are a compromise for those who like the spaciousness of open plan living but also want to segregate the areas just a little bit. I think it also helps make the areas feel a bit cosier.

This half wall creates a partial divide between the living area and kitchen. Image from Domus Nova.

Losing all your walls can lead to storage issues so you can also use partitions to create much needed storage space.

The partition wall in this open plan bedroom and bathroom by AR Design Studio Ltd functions as a wardrobe too 

Pocket doors provide the flexibility of open plan or separate areas. When open, they disappear into the walls giving the effect of an open space running from one room to another. Then, if you want some privacy, just close the doors to turn them back into separate rooms. This works particularly well with kitchens to contain food smells or study areas for peace and quiet.

A country living room in a renovated farmhouse by Rafe Churchill

What are your thoughts on open plan living? Perhaps this post has swayed your view? I’m not sure if I could live in a completely open plan space but it certainly has its benefits, as well as having more potential for visual impact. With modern day technology fuelling a more secluded, fragmented way of living then perhaps open plan is the key to maintaining a social family life. In any case, I think it’s a trend that’s here to stay.

J x

Featured image: Amazonias Wildwood tiles from Walls & Floor Ltd
All other images from Houzz

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