You may well agree that in every home, there should be “a place for everything and everything in its place.” That philosophy is fine if your building has an impressive list of facilities and separate rooms dedicated to every conceivable activity. However, it leaves a lot to be desired in most people’s circumstances, as today’s lifestyle requires more than a kitchen or scullery and a sitting room or parlor.
For this reason, the ideal modern solution often lies in open plan living as opposed to having a series of rooms dedicated to a specific purpose. Apartments and individual homes might be designed with shared kitchen, dining and living areas, bathrooms that include a bathtub, toilet and shower and a children’s nursery or bedroom that doubles as a playroom.
Open plan principles
The idea that spaces used for different purposes can blend into one another without the need for walls and doors is not new. In the early 20th century, renowned American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright advocated open plan living, having borrowed from the ideas of Ohio-born Frank and Henry Greene. The Greene brothers initially proposed the coexistence of living, eating and food preparation areas in private homes.
In smaller homes especially, the idea of combining living, dining and kitchen areas gained support, and the concept of multifunctional spaces grew, extending eventually to include offices and other types of workplaces.
Features of open plan living
Open plan living creates social spaces designed to make it easy for people to get together. Natural light is improved in homes with larger open spaces, as there are fewer walls and doors, and daylight through windows or skylights is more plentiful.
Of course, larger open spaces are also prone to echoes, and this is one area where you need to carefully consider your décor, including soft furnishings, as it can influence how much and how far sound travels.
To make the most of natural light, you need to improve existing window openings as much as possible. Better still, if you have the opportunity, you should enlarge them or add more. For example, a bay window, whether curved or box-shaped, will let in more light than plain glass plate.
Internal window treatments are also important, as drapes tend to block light to a degree even when they are not drawn. Shutters are an attractive option, as they reveal the clean lines of window openings, provide light control through louvered slats and offer privacy as well as increased security. Bay window shutters are easy to fit, and like all window shutters, they have a stylish look.
Artificial lighting in open plan spaces needs to combine general illumination or ambient lighting with the lighting of specific areas. Ambient lighting should provide your open plan space with a level of brightness that is comfortable and lacks glare. You might like to use classic or contemporary chandeliers or an alternative ceiling fixture. Wall-mounted lighting as well as track or recessed lighting can be effective. Some table and floor lamps, when used together, can also successfully illuminate an open plan area.
When creating your open plan space, you will have designated spots for specific activities such as food preparation, studying, applying makeup or reading. Task lighting adds extra brightness to these areas, making it easier to see clearly and prevent eye strain. Examples include down lighters under kitchen wall cabinets to illuminate countertops and perimeter lights on mirrors in bathrooms or bedrooms. Ensure that your task lighting is bright but not glaringly distracting. Use recessed, track or pendant lighting over your dining table and incorporate appropriate desk, floor and table lamps.
Deciding on accent lighting allows you to get your creative juices flowing. This type of lighting is used to highlight your favorite objects or architectural features. You might use a lamp above or below a striking painting or sculpture, for example, or a subtle, glowing light to show off your houseplants.
While window curtains can be useful to deaden sound in an open plan space, they have the disadvantage of reducing natural light, so turn your attention to other fabric options instead. For example, you can cover hard floors with rugs – in an open plan living space, this provides a practical solution that helps define the seating area as well as minimize noise. Area rugs will make larger spaces feel more intimate. Go for a luxurious, thick pile rug rather than a flat-weave design to improve your soundproofing.
When it comes to furniture, use sound-absorbing textiles on couches and scatter cushions. Leather is shiny and smart, however, heavyweight, plush fabrics are more beneficial for noise reduction. Also, open plan living doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t break up a large space. Clever usage of fabric wall coverings, portable decorative screens and freestanding room dividers allows you to create an open plan living area that can be broken up by temporary or permanent structures.
Another way of defining areas within a large space so that it is not overwhelming is to use color. As with area rugs, color changes can send out signals that differentiate spaces. Office designers have learned that color can be used to great effect, and the same is true in your home.
For example, warmer colors such as orange, red and yellow are stimulating and often used in company meeting rooms and work areas. Cooler colors such as blue, green and purple are associated with calmness and contemplation. These are useful in employee rest areas.
Stimulating kitchens, therefore, should be contrasted with calmer relaxation areas and living spaces. Dining areas should be designed as flexibly as possible by using a combination of color and lighting, especially if the kids do their homework there after school. In open plan children’s bedrooms, you may want to keep the play area bright and busy during the day while ensuring that come bedtime, the lighting and tone is more muted and sleep-enhancing.
Your open plan living space is truly a blank canvas on which you can make your own mark with style and flair.