Is open-plan right for you?

Refresh Renovations offer design and build services for homeowners seeking to create open-plan living spaces

open plan refresh renovations

Thanks to the plethora of home renovation programmes that populate our various TV channels and the lifestyle magazines that fill our newsagents’ shelves, the concept of open-plan living is high on everyone’s agenda. But despite the impression given on the small screen and the glossy double-page spreads, it’s often not as simple as it seems, especially if you’re hoping to knockdowns walls and move services around. If you’re keen to rethink your internal space this spring, you’ll need a combination of sensitivity, creativity and meticulous planning.
The first consideration is suitability. Open plan is all very well, but it’s definitely more suited to certain styles of property. Barn conversions and contemporary houses can accommodate open-plan spaces brilliantly, but character cottages and period properties are imbued with a different personality, so it’s vital to ensure that your plans won’t damage the spirit of the original building. That said, it’s still possible to rethink the internal space of an older house to give it a modern flow that better suits today’s lifestyle requirements. Terraced houses, for example, are ideal for open-plan living, while country cottages major on cosy self-contained rooms. It’s also worth remembering that restoring an older home to its former configuration can be expensive, if not impossible, so it’s advisable to stop, pause and think carefully before proceeding.
Once you’ve established that your property is suitable for open-plan, ask yourself why you’re doing it. What are the objectives for the rethink? Are you hoping to create space, increase the amount of natural daylight, build a closer connection with the garden or simply enable the whole family to spend more time together? It’s questionable as to whether rethinking your internal space will automatically add value, but there’s no doubt that improving your quality of life is the perfect motivation for refreshing your configuration. In extreme circumstances, it may be preferable to move rather than attempt to force the existing space to deliver what you’re hoping for, but in the majority of cases, it can be possible to realise your dream within the existing structure.
If you’re looking to rethink an older property it’s prudent to check with the local conservation officer to make sure that it isn’t listed as that will bring different building consents and compliance with a range of planning restrictions into play, even if you’re only reconfiguring the internal space. There’s a probability that opening up the space will require the removal or one or more walls, so review the structural implications of whatever you’re planning to implement. It may transpire that creating a design that’s sympathetic to the existing structure might work better and be more affordable, so it’s a question of marrying design with practicality. Fireplaces and mouldings can help divide up the space, and exposed timber beams can also help to create different zones.
Open-plan can offer a greater sense of space with the introduction of natural light, continuous flooring and consistent furnishing, but by the same token that doesn’t preclude zoning. Raised areas, bi-fold doors and furniture such as bookcases and storage solutions can all help to create different areas for different activities without compromising the open-plan philosophy. Colour schemes can have a huge impact on the look and feel of an open-plan space. Neutral tones provide the opportunity for splashes of colour in cushions and artwork, while a strong feature wall can help to define a specific zone. And the type of flooring you select will also have a significant effect. Hard flooring is practical, but can also be noisy. Rugs are excellent for softening but aren’t practical in areas used for food preparation or dining, and they can present a trip hazard for young and old alike, so think carefully about the floor you would like to lay. Dimmer switches and concealed lighting are clever ways of subtly illuminating the space, while the colour and style of your internal doors will also contribute to the overall effect. Wooden doors can become a feature of the space, while painted doors tend to recede into the background.
One area of an open-plan renovation that must be considered is fire safety. A downstairs space that includes an open kitchen presents a greater fire risk, so the standard advice is that all first-floor bedroom windows must be egress windows to ensure they act as escape routes, and they should be no higher than 100cm from the floor. It’s vital not only to fit smoke alarms throughout the ground floor and the upstairs landing, but also to test them regularly.
The design phase should also include some visualisation of the end result. Where will you want to eat? What about the outlook? What will be the focus when you’re relaxing on the sofa? How will you move around the space? How far will the dining table be from the kitchen area? How quiet will the space be? Will you be able to hear the television or stereo when the dishwasher is running or the children are playing? Ultimately, open-plan is about making different rooms work together rather than creating one cavernous space, and that’s where the real design skill comes in.
A Refresh Renovations  specialist believes that if designed and executed well, an open-plan configuration can be the making of a great family home. ‘Within the city of Bristol we’re seeing more and more demand for open-plan living, whether it’s a terraced house or a large detached property,’ comments the specialist. ‘To achieve the best results, we believe that it’s important to adhere to a tried and trusted process that begins with a thorough briefing and review of the objectives for the project, then moves onto really detailed design and concepting, before finalising a budget and schedule. We ensure that sufficient time is spent on each of these areas to make sure that everyone is clear about what we’re aiming to achieve, why we’re carrying out the project and the end result we’re working towards.
‘In some cases reworking the existing space can prove too challenging. Should this be the case it is, of course, possible to add a single-storey extension to create the open-plan lifestyle the client is craving. Subject to any required planning consent, extending provides the opportunity to connect a contrasting contemporary space to an older building with glazed doors, for example, so we believe that it’s sensible to keep an open mind when looking at all the options.’

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Refresh Renovations offer open-plan design and build services for extensions and home renovations. To discuss how Refresh can help with 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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