Is open-plan living a ‘broken’ concept?

Open-plan living has become a popular modern-day feature of homes across the country, maximising space in smaller new-build homes and opening out areas to create a family hub. 

In the first decade of the 21st century, one fifth of British homeowners demolished a downstairs wall and there was a 50% rise in the number of kitchen diners. A further 20% of Britons planned to combine a separate living room and cooking space in the near future.

Fast forward another 10 years, and the trend has gone full circle. Our love affair with open-plan is over and instead, homeowners are reverting back to breaking up large rooms in favour of more private and cosy spaces – the broken plan concept. 

The reason? We are spending more time than ever at home – an extra eight hours a day in fact. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic has played a big part in that, with many of us having no choice but to embrace the sense that ‘there’s no place like home’ and use living areas as work spaces. 

A 2016 study found that one of the main reasons we avoided eating at the dining room table was because it reminded us of work, especially if it was strewn with notes and documents. Now, with the comeback of formal dining – because let’s face it, that’s one of the few social pleasures we’re able to enjoy risk-free – and more than a quarter of the UK workforce planning on working remotely for the long-term, open-plan living no longer accommodates hybrid lifestyles. 

How to go from open-plan to broken plan

Broken-plan is the perfect compromise between open-plan and closed spaces, and can be achieved without the expense and inconvenience of erecting internal walls and doors. 

Some of the ways you can reintroduce individual areas into an open space include: 

  1. Being creative with furniture and colour – high-backed sofas and tall freestanding shelving units can work really well for breaking up large spaces. They can also act as useful sound barriers. Different wall colours and flooring can enhance the sense of division too. 
  2. Using partial walls – half width or half height walls can create effective partitions between different living spaces, and you will still benefit from fluidity. 
  3. Having more internal windows and doors – many older properties will still have their internal door frames or serving hatches in place, so installing glass doors or windows will be easy and allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds. In purpose-built open-plan living areas, consider folding or pocket doors that disappear into the wall when not needed, or temporary, decorative partitions.
  4. Level up – where your ceilings are high enough, you could put more distance between spaces with a slight mezzanine floor or even a balcony, using the area beneath for storage (or even a den for the children). 

The Great Divide

If you’re still struggling to see how broken-plan can help you effectively compartmentalise areas of your home to facilitate different aspects of your life, then going back to brick – or basics – might be your best option. 

Installing internal walls will not usually require planning permission but building regulations will still apply. This is to ensure the alterations you are making do not have a detrimental impact on things like fire safety, ventilation, lighting and access. 

In addition, it may not be as expensive as you think because if walls were effectively removed in the first place, they were probably not load-bearing and therefore a stud wall rather than solid wall can be put in its place. The same goes for purpose-built open-plan areas. 

So do not fear if your open-plan space is no longer fit for purpose – there are plenty of options to close the gap(s). And if you feel the only option is to move to a more suitable property, get in touch and we can show you some alternatives.