London modern house, architect designed with open plan kitchen and living room

Thoughtful design can unlock the benefits of open plan and broken plan living, but are there any drawbacks?

An open plan design allows for the merging of communal areas within a home. Free from partitions, this aids in free-flowing movement and an increase in space. Open plan living started in 1930s America at the beginning of the Great Depression. This period of economic decline contributed to a shift in attitudes toward space planning in homes. 

Before this, 19th-century homes were larger, with each room designed to serve a particular function. The kitchen was traditionally kept at the back of the property near the servants’ sleeping areas. However, as residential properties became smaller and domestic help could only be afforded by the very wealthy, servants moved out and electrical appliances moved in. 

Open plan living became a viable way to satisfy the desire for beautiful, functional homes on a budget.

The Willey House

Open plan living is commonly attributed to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He started designing homes that adapted to the daily life of the 1930s and as a result, he continued to employ open-plan living spaces into the 1950s. His first open plan home, was designed and built in 1934 for a middle-class professional couple, Malcolm and Nancy Willey.

The design was progressive at the time due to its open-plan arrangement of living and dining areas. The kitchen is separated only by shelving for glasses, creating a broken plan arrangement in this zone. Lloyd Wright considered the traditional kitchen as the ‘workspace’, this previously concealed and serviceable room was now visible from the living area to create a multi-functional space.

Willey House open plan living design

Open plan living in practice

Both our Primrose Hill House,  Low Energy House and this full-width rear and side extension projects feature open plan living, cooking and dining spaces at ground floor. 

Primrose Hill House

Primrose Hill House is one of only two detached properties in a Modernist estate consisting of painted brick courtyard houses and small terraces.

The proposal removes unsympathetic alterations, creating open-plan living spaces that provide flexibility on the ground floor. The kitchen and dining areas are combined into a single space and the living room is separated only by the form of the L-shaped plan. An integrated drinks cabinet is located at the junction between the two spaces.

Low Energy House

This Edwardian terrace in Muswell Hill was transformed from a dark and damp house to a calming family home. 

To enhance the natural lighting in the dark existing rear reception room, the living spaces were reconfigured to create an airy open-plan layout. The new continuous space allows daylight to fill the entire ground floor of the house.

The ground floor also now caters better to the needs of everyday family life, with improved sightlines and free-flowing movement between the kitchen, living and dining area.

Kitchen and dining room

Open plan living ideas

There are many ways open plan living can increase functionality. As in the Willey House, this comes down to which rooms are used the most and whether the merging of spaces improves functionality.

Outside of function, this arrangement can add to the property’s atmosphere and value greatly. This may be by taking advantage of natural light or capitalising on the perception of additional space given by removing partitions.  

Consulting with your architect in the early stages of design will ensure the most appropriate arrangement for you and your property. At Architecture for London, we offer Design Sessions to evaluate potential layout changes.

Open plan layout considerations

Advantages

Without barriers, movement between communal areas can be done with ease. This improves interactions socially while also allowing a variety of activities to happen within one space. A host can utilise the kitchen while guests lounge in the living area. Parents can watch over the children while sitting at the dining table.  

Disadvantages

Open-plan living can be less desirable for certain uses. There can be a lack of privacy between spaces, and acoustic separation may be an issue. Often a separate secondary living area for both TV and kids activities can help to solve any acoustic issues.

In most cases, the drawbacks of open-plan living spaces can be remedied by discussing the use of space in detail at the beginning with your architect. Simple measures such as choosing the right appliances and acoustic curtains can aid in minimising noise or cooking smells between areas.

Open plan living in an architect designed home

Open plan practical tips

There are various factors to ensure functionality, comfort and harmony throughout the space. Here is a selection of design elements to consider when planning your open plan living space.

Flooring zones

Using different flooring types helps to zone each area, creating clear spaces within the open plan. Timber floors covered by a large rug in the living area and durable ceramic tiles in the kitchen will establish a sense that each space serves a distinct function. When using one material throughout, zones can be created by the use of steps, partial partitions and distinct wall finishes. 

Furniture

Optimise versatility with modular furniture that can be configured to suit a variety of activities. Modular furniture maximises space and long term can adapt to suit the evolving needs of a family. It can be arranged to provide informal divisions between spaces.

Soundproofing

In open plan living spaces, hard materials can significantly increase noise transmission. Use softer materials like curtains, rugs, carpets and upholstered furniture to provide sound absorption.  

Circulation and privacy

Ease of movement can be encouraged by minimising obstacles. Routes of circulation need to be carefully planned with particular attention to heavily used areas. Allow for several entry points and ensure privacy screens, curtains or partitions can be neatly retracted.

Visual cohesion

One approach to creating a very seamless space would be to using one material or colour scheme throughout. Although each area may have its own function, the interior is unified and well-integrated.

Lighting

Where available, enhance natural light with reflective materials. When natural light is scarce, consider accent, ambient and task lighting. This ensures darker areas are more inviting and can be utilised all day. 

Storage

Integrated storage helps keep the open plan living space clean and tidy. Increase storage with built-in cabinets and furniture with concealed storage.

Sustainability

Incorporating sustainable practices into space planning contributes to an energy-efficient home. Prioritising low-toxicity materials, natural ventilation and low-consumption appliances create healthier and more comfortable living spaces for families. 

architect designed living kitchen and dining room

Breaking up: The future of open-plan living spaces

Open plan living is still popular as it lends itself to sociable family life. However, more people are adopting broken-plan living solutions. This allows privacy to accommodate working from home and daily family life.

Broken-plan living retains the positive elements of open plan spaces whilst creating some visual speration. Broken plan spaces can be acheived with level changes, projecting nib walls, glass panels, freestanding fireplaces or freestanding tall storage units.

FAQ

Will I need a structural engineer?

Creating a new open plan space in an existing property will involve the removal of walls. It is worth engaging a structural engineer to ascertain whether it is load bearing. For load bearing walls, structural steels or timbers are needed to support upper floors.

How much will building works cost?

There are a number of variables to take into consideration, such as the location of the property, access to the site and the level of structural interventions required. Average construction costs can vary depending on this and other factors. To gain accurate cost estimates, it is best to seek the advice of a quantity surveyor.

Do I need planning permission for open plan?

Generally planning consent is not required if all alterations are internal. If the property is listed, listed building consent will be required from the local authority to remove internal walls for an open plan space.

Do I need to consider building regulations?

While planning permission might not be required the design will still need to comply with the building regulations, including fire safety regulations also known as Approved Document B. This outlines fire safety standards a building must meet to satisfy laws in England and Wales. This includes important safety issues on escape routes in case of a fire. There are instances where the design chosen could mean you’ll be required to install a sprinkler system.

Does open-plan impact the property’s resale value?

Many people are attracted to the open plan way of living, especially young families, for flexibility. Open plan living spaces may even add up to 15% to your property value!

 


For more information about working with Architecture for London, please contact us on 020 3637 4236 to discuss your requirements, or visit our architecture project portfolio to see a selection of our previous projects.