How to make open-plan work for you

It's important to understand that – however straightforward it may appear in magazines or on home makeover programmes – going open-plan requires vision and skill in both design and execution.

Open-plan design black and wood

By Philip Saich
Pick up any lifestyle magazine and the chances are that you’ll see a proliferation of images of open-plan living, and its popularity shows no sign of abating. It’s important, however, to understand that – however straightforward it may appear in magazines or on home makeover programmes – going open plan requires vision and skill in both design and execution.
As with any home renovation or extension, creating a successful open-plan space starts with careful planning. As well as understanding the area you have to work with, it can actually be helpful to visualise that space as separate rooms, and even delineated by walls. This approach will enable you to ensure that the final result ticks all the boxes in terms of the different zones that you’ll need to continue your day-to-day life. In reality, the first question to ask yourself is ‘What do I really need from this space?’. Deciding what you need where to carry out everyday tasks as distinct rooms will result in you effectively having more space and clearly assigned zones when the renovation is completed. Zone planning might lead to an L-shaped configuration, split-level living or a ‘broken plan’ design where different areas are created using partial walls, storage solutions or specially-selected furniture.
Much of the clamour for open plan derives from the desire to add space without increasing the building’s footprint, and that is certainly achievable, but it’s important not to waste any space whatsoever. Meticulous planning and creative design can help with this, while clever storage can enable you not only maximise the floor space but also ensure that the look and feel of the final renovation is elegant and uncluttered.
Many open-plan spaces include the essentials such as a kitchen diner, a lounge space and a quiet area for play or study. Key considerations here are, among others, the resulting smells and noise. In an open-plan setting, it can be challenging to limit the circulation of cooking smells, so it’s advisable to factor in a powerful extractor fan and to plan to position your oven close to one of several windows in order to keep the whole space fresh. Noise may also be an issue, in particular, if you have a potential conflict between the ‘social area’ for dining, the ‘lounge area’ for watching TV and the ‘quiet area’ for reading, working or studying. Inevitably it will be necessary to compromise to some degree, but sliding doors, room dividers, soft flooring and plentiful cushions and throws can all help to absorb noise.

In common with all renovations, going open plan creates an opportunity to rethink your lighting. It’s helpful to remember that a large open-plan area which is nominally divided into different zones will benefit from being flooded with natural light. Whether you’re preparing a meal, dining with friends or family, or settling down in front of the TV, it will all seem much more appealing if the space is light and airy. A glazed internal wall can help avoid dark screened areas while also providing a degree of privacy, while bi-fold doors can give a panoramic view of the garden, French doors can offer easy access and contemporary roof lights can all help to lighten the space. And when the sun goes down, up-lighters and dimmable lighting can deliver lux levels to suit the required mood throughout your open-plan design. Remember, though, that the lack of wall space can limit your lighting options to some degree so standard lamps and side lamps may need to feature in your thinking.

The colour scheme will feature prominently in the planning and design process, and while the current preference is for light and neutral there’s still an opportunity to introduce a bolder signature colour for a feature wall. This colour can then be picked up in furnishings, accessories and artwork to tie the design together. It is, of course, also possible to use different colours to divide the space, but it’s advisable to avoid too many different shades in order to prevent clashes and visual confusion. The choice of floor covering will complement the colour scheme, and the choice between carpets and wood is a very personal one. Carpets will help to reduce the level of noise but wood can deliver a more contemporary look while also offering practicality, especially if the space will be used by young children and pets. A central or double-sided fireplace might present more of a challenge in terms of design, installation and budget, but it can work as an elegant divider between two separate zones. Equally, a freestanding wood-burning stove can serve a similar purpose.

Storage is a crucial aspect of a successful open-plan configuration. Bookshelves can create a more serious look, while funky storage boxes can add colour while also enabling you to stow away children’s toys and all the clutter that can quickly accumulate. Sufficient storage will help to keep your space cleaner, safer and more inviting, so take time to think this aspect through thoroughly. Bear in mind, too, that some of the furniture will need ‘float’ as the absence of dividing walls can limit the scope for placing sofas and chairs against a vertical surface.
Vincent Smith of Nottingham builders, Refresh Renovations, is a big fan of open plan projects, but only if they are planned carefully and designed in detail. ‘At Refresh we talk to lots of clients who throw open plan into the conversation when discussing their renovation,’ says Vincent. ‘We’re always delighted when this happens, because it gives us a great opportunity not only to emphasise the importance of thorough planning and clever design, but also to demonstrate the benefits of the Refresh approach. We’re experienced renovators, and that enables us to listen to clients’ ideas and requirements, translate them into an attractive but practical solution and then carry out the build to the very highest standards. We believe that the best projects – and especially ones where we are changing the layout to open plan but working within the existing footprint – are those that have been planned, designed, costed and scheduled in detail. Taking time in all these areas ensures that everyone is on the same page throughout the project and that the final outcome exceeds the client’s expectations.’

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Refresh Renovations are Nottingham builders offering design and build services for open-plan home renovations. To discuss your project, please get in touch today using the enquiry form listed alongside, or if you would like to submit a more comprehensive enquiry, you can do so on the Get In Touch page.

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