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Open plan living: a good idea?

2nd May 2017
Open plan living

I really like the idea behind open plan living – and if TV programmes such as Grand Designs are to be believed, the concept is very much in vogue.

However, I also like the idea of being left alone to get on with what I have to do – be that watching The Real Housewives of Cheshire in peace or secretly raiding the cupboard for sweets.

So, where do you stand on open plan versus separate spaces? Do you think that everything needs its own separate space or do you like the freedom of living with fewer walls?

Whether you’re pondering some home improvements that will bring down the barriers or looking for a new abode and deciding which style to choose, I’m investigating the pros and cons and of open plan…

You’d be forgiven for thinking open plan living was a very modern concept, but apparently it has been growing in popularity since it was made possible by considerable changes in architecture styles in the mid 20th century.

In the past (I’m talking many moons ago) rooms often fulfilled multiple functions, for example, providing cooking and communal space in one.

But this was mostly due to compact living requirements rather than any purposeful design feature – and was often associated with making the best of cramped conditions.

Now, open plan living has come to be associated with homes at opposite ends of the spectrum. Sprawling apartments with serious square footage along with small, new build homes that need to draw in light are both accommodation types that frequently make use of some element of open plan design.

So let’s examine the pros and cons and hopefully, if you’re making a decision on whether or not to knock down that interior wall, this will offer more clarity…

Open plan living

Open plan living pros

Perhaps the biggest factor that makes open plan living appealing to so many design enthusiasts is its ability to make decorating your home a much more logical process.

While being ‘open plan’ doesn’t mean taking down all the walls or physical barriers between spaces, it does usually ensure logical links between spaces where activities can be related.

This is usually (but not in all cases) a link between the kitchen and dining room for example – or living room and dining area. Along with enabling easier entertaining of guests in connecting relevant rooms, areas can then be associated through a décor theme that’s at least partially unified.

Fewer walls generally makes for better flow of light, which is why open plan design is often favoured in smaller homes that can otherwise feel dark and dingy – and with our unreliable English weather, it makes sense to make the most of the light!

Where people want to retain this benefit while retaining some element of separation, modern bi-fold doors like these from Vufold can provide a convenient compromise.

Otherwise, more temporary solutions can be provided by furniture placement. For example, living room-diners in many new build homes have contributed to the popularity of L-shaped sofas in recent years.

We had one ourselves until very recently but as our lounge is a separate area from the kitchen and dining room, it dominated the space too much and we ended up opting for three- and four-seater sofas.

There’s also the argument that by joining two spaces together you naturally have a bigger area to work with. This in turn allows for use of bigger pieces of furniture (such as the L-shaped sofa again) or large standalone shelves or even experimentation with statement walls and murals.

So it’s not just being able to link interior themes together that appeals to architects and designers, there’s also the possibility of going large with the decorating too.

Open plan living

Open plan living cons

However it is styled, open plan living rarely feels ‘cosy’ and the reality is that opening up a space may mean it needs a clever lighting set up along with higher heating costs.

Newer homes are often better insulated to compensate for this, but it’s not just fewer warm nooks and corners you risk missing out on; having an open plan living room and dining room could mean giving up a space away from the TV to enjoy eating or working in peace.

Likewise, you may prefer to prepare for a dinner party without the pressure of cooking in front of your guests.

I know that I definitely feel this way; I mean, what happens if you burn the meal? I’m someone who would definitely opt for a cover-up job rather than coming clean, but you can hardly be faffing around scrapping burnt bits into the bin while they watch and pretend everything’s okay can you?

Anyway, I’ve come across one writer who believes open planning is falling out of favour (and claims in her experience the layout style can encourage people to linger too long in the kitchen at parties).

In homes with kids in particular, there can definitely be advantages to having defined spaces. As a family of four, my experience is that we don’t all want to be watching the same TV programme – or I might actually to chat on the phone with a friend and be relaxed about using expletives knowing the kids can’t hear.

Also, you don’t always want to be eating around the TV or settling down on the sofa with the smell of food wafting around.

And I don’t think I speak for myself when I say those with doors to shut are often grateful of the small mercy of being able to hide mess in other rooms when guests arrive unannounced.

So, I hope that by offering all sides of the story you’re in a better position to make an informed decision.

But what do you think? Do separate spaces feel disjointed or do they help remind and reinforce the different elements of family life?

This post has also been featured on Blinds-Hut 

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18 comments

Kathleen Calado 7th July 2017 at 4:42 am

Very informative article. Loved how you described open plan spaces and I agree with Healthy & Psyched about privacy. Great read. Keep it up!

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Jess 4th May 2017 at 7:28 pm

I do like the idea of making the most of the light but I think I like my own space too much for open plan to work for me! I like to be able to get away from the TV or whatever everyone else is up to.
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LaurettaCWright 4th May 2017 at 7:42 pm

Thanks Jess – yes, I can totally appreciate that.

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Lindsey 3rd May 2017 at 9:30 pm

If I was living alone, then this option I would certainly go for. But I have a daughter and we need the space

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LaurettaCWright 3rd May 2017 at 10:01 pm

Yes, our situations will usually determine what layouts work best for us.

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Sarah - let them be small 3rd May 2017 at 6:27 pm

I’m not a fan of open plan at all. I like having separate spaces. not sure why exactly but I just feel it works better for us that way

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Caroline 3rd May 2017 at 9:39 am

I love open plan and I think you can make it cosier by zoning each area carefully – adding rugs is great for this. Although our home isn’t quite open plan we don’t have any doors on our living room or kitchen dinner so it has a similar feel.

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LaurettaCWright 3rd May 2017 at 9:51 am

I love the idea of zoning Caroline – I suspected you’d have some great tips to add to this too! If I had the money I’d keep the front of the house in zones and the back of it as open plan – best of both worlds!

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Ali Rost 3rd May 2017 at 1:44 am

We just moved into a new condo and love the open floorpan. Especially for the kitchen and living room areas .. it’s so nice to be together and talk while we’re cooking dinner or hanging out.

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LaurettaCWright 3rd May 2017 at 6:10 am

That’s super the open plan living is working for you Ali!

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Anosa 2nd May 2017 at 5:43 pm

The concept of open plan space is one I love but not available to me at the moment due to the current living space in my apartment. But when I do buy a property I do want open plan

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LaurettaCWright 2nd May 2017 at 8:01 pm

That’s interesting Anosa – thanks for this!

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kerry 2nd May 2017 at 3:01 pm

I love the look of open plan, airy, spacious living. However, in my home its not practical as I live in a house with teenage sons haha. I love that I can limit what unexpected guests see. If im doig my ironing in the front room and someone knocks, we can shut the door and go in the kitchen, no one sees my mess! I also think its cosier to have rooms in the colder months. I like both, but rooms suit my lifestyle

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LaurettaCWright 2nd May 2017 at 5:22 pm

I have to totally agree with everything you’ve said Kerry!

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Jenni 2nd May 2017 at 2:35 pm

I do like the look of open plan but also love that I can close doors on untidy rooms when it isn’t open plan x

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Amy 2nd May 2017 at 11:34 am

I love our open plan living/kitchen area. The only problem is the noise if the washing machine is on, you can’t hear a thing! It’s great for cooking whilst watching the children because you don’t have to leave the room!
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Healthy & Psyched 2nd May 2017 at 7:47 am

Really interesting article. I am attracted to homes with open plan spaces because they can be so light and airy. But you make a good point that sometimes privacy is a good thing.

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LaurettaCWright 2nd May 2017 at 7:51 am

I think the ideal is to have the best of both worlds – but most of us just don’t have the room to be able to achieve that.

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