Knocking down walls so kitchen, dining and living spaces merge into one has been a favourite of home improvers and those building their own houses for a while now. But has all that household togetherness proved undesirable when it comes to day-to-day living? Well, maybe. What looks appealing when seen in TV shows such as Grand Designs can – in real life – make for less privacy and the sacrifice of cosiness. These issues cause homeowners enough of a headache that architects are noting a trend towards floorplans that introduce more separation – but not as we knew it before. Welcome to ‘broken plan’ living.
Why open plan?
When houses lacked central heating not to mention double glazing and insulation, separate rooms meant keeping warm. The activities of a household were also confined to the appropriate, dedicated space, and didn’t merge – cooking wasn’t something you did while chatting to your dinner guests (and many more people had servants who would be creating the meals well away from the family anyway).
Modern homes are centrally heated with energy-efficient glazing and insulation. We also live more informally now, so opening up what’s usually the ground floor of a house has become ultra-desirable. Open plan means a more spacious layout, better views through the house and a connection to the garden, plus family members don’t have to be shut away alone in a separate kitchen, front room and so on, depending on what they’re doing at the time.
Sharing a space does have its downsides, though. The sound of the TV can distract someone trying to get on with homework as well as a home worker, and the spin cycle of the washing machine doesn’t necessarily promote easy conversation round the table. However, it’s the growth in the ownership of smartphones and tablets that architects have identified as a major factor in the move away from what’s become the classic open-plan scheme. With family members focusing on their own choice of entertainment, separate areas are coming back into vogue to create privacy and independence.
And it’s not just the draw of the personal screen that’s leading to a call for less open layouts. Many of us crave the intimacy that a small living or dining area can provide. Equally, when we’re working from home, the physical separation of an office can be a boon.
The latest most-wanted layouts don’t mark a return to rooms off of a hall, however. Instead, split levels are a contemporary solution, creating smaller, private areas for family members to view screens or concentrate on a task. When it comes to dining, booth-style arrangements make for the intimacy that a table in the middle of a large room can lack – or can be an additional feature together with a large table that takes centre stage for big gatherings. Meanwhile, for home working, a niche with a desk and dedicated lighting is a good solution.
For some homeowners, even separate rooms are returning into favour for the activities that are always going to be intrusive in an open layout. A utility room with four walls and a door can keep washing machines and dryers hidden away and provide noise insulation, for example. Even the option of a shut-away working kitchen separate from the on-show cabinetry that looks so good in an open-plan arrangement is being chosen by some who have the available budget.
Alternatively, keeping cooking and dining together but opting for a separate cosy living room can create the balance families are looking for. The flexibility to open or separate off individual parts of the ground floor of a house is also a contemporary solution. Sliding or pocket doors, which disappear into a compartment in the wall, allow homeowners to move from a fully open scheme to physically separate areas as required. With the best of both worlds on offer, family harmony might just get the boost it needs.