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Open Plan and Multi-functional Living

Creating open plan living and multi-functional space in your home. The UK has thoroughly embraced the idea of open plan living over the last decade. One fifth of all homeowners, for instance, have demolished a downstairs wall in their quest for a sprawling, light-filled living area.

TV programmes like Grand Designs have inspired Britons to create their dream homes where larger and brighter spaces provide convenience and sociability. Read on to see our 10 amazing ideas to create your own open plan and multi -functional living experience.

Open plan design seems the obvious choice for modern villas or barn and loft conversion projects. Yet all types of property seem to have embraced the concept. A recent survey of 2000 UK homeowners found that one third of all work to period properties (Victorian, Georgian, Edwardian) was for open plan kitchen diners. Learn more about the latest renovation trends at houzz.

Modern, hectic lifestyles have certainly had an impact on our living habits. Mealtime traditions have changed, with families less likely to sit down to eat regular meals together. With more of us working from home, office space has become a priority in many homes. It is not then surprising that many homeowners have chosen to sacrifice a barely used dining room for extra living space. 

Currently, one third of all UK homes have a kitchen diner. A recent homeowner survey (Halifax Home Insurance) suggests that separate dining rooms are slowly disappearing. In the next year, we plan to demolish 559,000 more dining room walls. You can read more about the death of the dining room here.  

One fifth of us plan to combine our separate kitchens and living rooms. In fact, 190,000 living room walls are planned to be scrapped. 170,000 utility walls are to be knocked down. And upstairs, 125,000 study walls are coming down.

The trend does not, therefore, seem to be slowing down, with one in ten owners spending over £35,000 on alterations. 

Time to move on?

At the current time, there are more homes in England built before 1900, than from any other era. But of the twentieth century builds, it is homes from the 1930’s that are greatest in number (check out some interesting stats ). Over three million of them still stand today and they are as popular as ever; more so than their modern counterparts. 

The 1930’s was a boom time for housing. There was a large increase in the number of houses, flats and apartments built as new suburbs shot up around UK towns and cities. The average married couple could now afford a realistic mortgage to buy their dream home and millions of families moved into new houses on estates, often small and semi-detached with bay windows (which councils did not allow).  By the end of the decade, home ownership had increased from well under a million (late 1920’s) to three million.

Houses would usually have a front hall with a living room leading from it, with another living room and kitchen to the rear. Upstairs would be three bedrooms, two large and one small. Houses would often have a garage and would be identical to the adjoining house. Many 1930’s houses had diamond leaded windows which made the interior seem dark (especially with interior wood-panelling). 

Exterior | traditional | House tour | 1930s house | PHOTO GALLERY | 25 Beautiful Homes | housetohome

A typical 1930’s house

The compartmentalised home was at its best and available to the masses. Characterised by a clear division of environments and functions, the more rooms, the better. There were obvious benefits: closed rooms offered privacy, organisation and functionality. Doors could be closed on mess and noise. Speciality rooms were decorated to suit purpose. On the down side though, these homes could feel small, enclosed and cramped. And unless they were south-facing, rooms could be quite dark. Family members were cut off from each other if doing different things, unable to communicate between rooms.  

Why bother?

Today, the costly process of house moving continues to result in many Britons staying put and improving instead. So, is it surprising that today’s homeowners are choosing to tear down the walls and let the light in?

Flexible and fluid in their arrangement of space, open plan homes offer some significant advantages.

Designers have long argued that open plan design means fitting more usable living space into the same square footage. It avoids that feeling of being cramped and closed off in smaller homes. It also enhances spacial perception; smaller rooms can appear far more substantial. 

The removal of walls and barriers creates an abundance of natural light which minimizes dark corners and dead spaces. The flow of light through a larger spacious area just makes everything seem bright and airy. 

Fewer walls lead to the increased flow of conversation, which adds to the feeling of sociability. You can chat to your dinner guests while preparing a meal for them or watch your young children from the kitchen sink. In a main open space, everybody is together even though they may be doing very different things. 

It is an intimate, sociable way of living together; wherever you are, you are part of the group.

10 amazing ideas for creating your open plan experience:

1. Zones

Whilst you want fluidity and ease of movement around your large open area, it is important to define certain spaces within it. There are a few ways to do this. Placing the backs of sofas alongside the outer edge of a lounge area increases the definition and intimacy of that particular zone. 

Constructing a  breakfast bar or work island can help to define your kitchen area.

Similarly, a dining table set apart with seats or benches in a corner becomes the dining area. Use of different wall colours or coverings can further help to define a zone, as can the style of wall features. Avoid placing large solid objects in the centre of the whole space as it might obstruct your view across the room.

Photo: Pinterest 

2. Lighting

Carefully planned lighting can help to create an interesting space with character. Overhead lighting can be useful to draw the eye to the centre of a particular zone. For instance, an attractive pendant light could be the central focus to a living or dining area. A change of lighting in the kitchen area will help mark the separateness of that zone. Small spotlights are a good idea over food preparation and cooking areas. With reduced wall space, think carefully about use of floor and table lamps. Soft or dimmer lights will help create an ambient area for relaxing in.

3. Flooring

A change in flooring will define the area in a kitchen diner used for cooking and food preparation. A more hard-wearing surface in the kitchen area, such as linoleum or tiling, is a sensible choice. Use of rugs under furniture like chairs and sofas can mark out, for instance, a TV or gaming area. Why not mix things up? Tiles in the kitchen, carpet in the living area and wood flooring in the dining zone would be a practical choice giving a clear definition of function. 

4. Levels

Gorgeous sunken living room with shiplap paneled walls and gray washed hardwood floors layered with a braided sisal rug.Photo : Pinterest

A split-level floor is a great way to mark out clear areas in your home. Stepping down to a dining area or taking a couple of steps up to a kitchen can greatly add to the definition of space.  Accessed via a few steps, these areas become a simple area to organise, within your open plan space. This might be easily achievable when adding an extension, on a new level to your original layout. Do not be afraid to vary ceiling heights too. Having a slightly lower ceiling in a certain zone can give it a more intimate feel than the other areas. Again, if extending this may be an easy option for you. 

5.  Barriers

Kitchen features have already been suggested as a type of barrier. Partial walls can also help create separate spaces whilst maintaining a sense of flow. A half glass wall is a great barrier which allows maximum light between areas. Stud walls can be built as wide or high as you wish and are relatively inexpensive.  Low walls could perhaps span over half a room to separate a dining area from the main living space. 

When renovating, why not keep structural pillars in place to divide two areas? Alternatively, make use of temporary barriers like curtains, bi-fold or sliding doors which provide a sense of privacy when required. Growing in popularity, broken plan design provides a happy medium by striking a balance between the open and compartmentalised home. You can find out more about this here.

6. Glass

Increased light flow is a wonderful benefit from knocking down walls. Glass panels, whilst separating living spaces, enable this flow giving homeowners the light, airy feel they desire. Glass partitions or panels will help keep your home as light and bright as possible. If you’re lucky enough to have room for a mezzanine floor, why not create a glass panelled balcony around it? 

 Photo:  Pinterest. 

Or of you prefer to maintain a barrier to your staircase, why not replace old panels or spindles with glass? The sociable feel of your home is greatly increased when you can see from one area to another. If you want to bring even more light into your home, replace traditional windows with floor to ceiling ones at the rear. 

7. Appliances

Add to your home’s fluidity by incorporating everyday appliances into your kitchen. If everything is stored behind closed doors, which blend into the scenery, your home will have a more streamlined, seamless feel to it. 

So, where possible, match the doors of washing machine, dishwasher and fridge to your regular kitchen cupboard doors. Also, why not store smaller loose items out of sight, closed off with a curtain or matching panel, instead of on your kitchen bench?

8. Textiles

Within a large space, it is important to create smaller areas to avoid a cavernous feel. Use of soft furnishings and tactile textures can entice you into a more intimate space. Also think about wall surfaces; use of prints/artwork can add extra layering, increasing the homely feel to your open space. To minimise noise, opt for softer flooring.  Soft furnishings such as heavy curtains and upholstery can also help with this. Parents of young children may especially want to consider this!

9. Features

A freestanding stove or central fireplace can work brilliantly between, for example, a living and dining area. Great for separating zones whilst allowing light through, these features bring a cosy feel to your open plan home. 

Open Plan Living: Modern FireplacesExposing natural wall or ceiling beams can effectively mark a change in function between zones. They become the visual barrier between the kitchen and living areas, for instance. If replacing an existing wall with a steel beam, why not use it as a divider of your new living space. Photo : Pinterest

10. Outdoors

Maybe you are lucky enough to have some private outdoor space or garden. Incorporating this natural space into the home environment increases the feel of fluidity, size and expanse. Glass bi-folding doors are great for opening up your home to those outdoor areas. A patio and dining furniture will only increase the feel of bringing the outdoors inside, extending your home beyond its outer walls. 

Frameless bifolding doors offer several advantages over sliding patio doors.As with all projects, planning and preparation is key. Before spending any money, seek good advice and think about exactly what you want from your home. 

For most internal alterations, planning permission is not a requirement. However, council approval of building regulations is a must. 

Major internal works have to adhere to strict structural as well as fire regulations. A load bearing wall, for example, could be supporting the roof, a wall above or floor joists. So, it is vital to talk to a surveyor or structural engineer about your plans, well before work begins. See our surveyors here

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