Part 3 – Alternatives to open plan living
In Part 1 of this blog we discussed whether open plan living is right for you and your home. In Part 2 we looked at how you can make open plan living work for you. But what if you’re still not sure and are wondering what alternatives there are? Then Part 3 is especially for you!
If money is no object, you’ve found your forever home and you just feel a big open space would be the icing on the cake, that’s fine. But for many people a building project this size will mean choosing this over other things you might do with the money, so let’s make sure you make the right choice. In order to find the best solution for you and your home, you need to answer to this question: What problem (or problems) are you hoping to solve by creating an open plan living space?
Here are some possible ‘problems’ you might be looking to solve:
Space & Storage
- You want more storage space
- You need space to run a business from home
- You have hobbies or interests that take up space
- The kids need somewhere to do their homework
- The number of people living in the space has increased (new baby, elderly relative, combining of families, older children returning home)
- You don’t have enough space for the family to eat together
- You want flexible dining – suitable for weekday meals & entertaining
- You love cooking but feel ‘cut off’ when preparing meals
- You like holding parties
Shape & Layout
- You have rooms that are not well used, and maybe others that don’t have enough space.
- You have an old house with strangely shaped rooms or lots of small rooms
- You’ve moved house and your old house had an open plan living area
- Everyone else you know seems to have one
All of the above may be perfectly valid reasons for creating an open plan space – except the last one, I only left that in to check you’re paying attention!
You might think that space and storage would go hand in hand, but they don’t – not automatically anyway. Ironically a change to an open plan layout can lose storage. This is because much useful storage in our homes is normally sited against walls – built in cupboards, wardrobes, media units, kitchen units. Kitchen appliances are also often on a wall. If you remove walls, create large multi-purpose rooms, or add large windows and doors, you’ll have fewer walls available for storage. This is why large modern kitchens often have large island units in them. It’s also why sometimes open plan layouts look better on a magazine page, carefully styled for the photos, than they function for a busy family living normal life.
The important thing to consider with ‘Life Stages’ is how long they are likely to last. The needs of the youngest family members in particular change fairly quickly. And ‘multi-generational’ homes need careful planning to work for everyone. So here are some suggestions for alternatives to one large open-plan space. Which is most appropriate will depend on the issues you are trying to solve.
- Declutter – it sounds obvious, but we all collect so much stuff over the years. Before you pay to create storage, check you’re not storing things you no longer need or want. Feeling like you don’t have enough space can simply be a symptom of having too much stuff.
- Seek out the additional storage possibilities in your home as it is – alcoves or under stairs that could take a cupboard, loft space that could be made clean and useable, garage space that could be organised. Check whether existing storage is being used effectively.
- Use the proportions of your rooms. If you are lucky enough to have high ceilings, go for taller storage to make use of the height. Older homes with chimneys often have alcoves to one or both sides of the chimney which can be ideal for creating really big cupboards. Use a local joiner to create something tailored to fit. Use the space in long rooms – just because no one sits or sleeps at one end of the room doesn’t mean it can’t take a bookcase, wardrobe or cupboard.
- If you have the space, consider an outbuilding – a large shed or summerhouse. They can make better spaces for home offices or hobbies than a corner of an open plan room.
- Go upwards rather than outwards. Do you have a big enough loft to turn into habitable space? Could it house a bedroom, home office or teenagers’ den?
- If sociability is the issue, use technology to link spaces. With multi-room audio and TV options the days of the cook feeling they’d been ‘banished’ to the kitchen are over. Create a space where a couple of guests can perch with a drink or add extra worktop so others can help with prep without getting in the way.
- Make a couple of rooms open plan – for example a kitchen and dining room – but leave a separate living room. Avoid the one big space which has to be all things to all people.
- Create a pantry or utility cupboard.
- If you have a large garage consider if some of it could be used for living or hobbies. Could you have a room above it?
- If you currently have a guest room, work out how often it actually gets used for guests. Could it double as a home office, TV / games den, or hobby room (with some decent storage)?
- Look for doors that are leaching space. Sometimes the position of a door turns part of a room into a corridor or stops you from placing furniture where you’d like it. Are there alternatives?
- Use partitions to divide spaces, so they can be opened or closed according to need.
And finally – if you’ve moved house and you’re thinking of creating an open plan space because your last home had one – wait a while. We use the space in different houses in different ways.
When we moved to our current home I was convinced we needed a conservatory as we’d had one in the old house and I was sure we would miss it. We ate breakfast and lunch in there at the weekends (the kitchen was an L shape and its tiny table looked at a wall) and I took work in the conservatory because I enjoyed the view to the garden (my office was small and faced the drive & garage). In the house we now live in the kitchen is a different shape, which better suits a table, and I took a bedroom with a view of the garden for my office. Within a week I realised that adding a conservatory onto the dining room would turn that room into little more than a corridor. I saw that fairly quickly, but it can take a while to really settle into a new property, so don’t feel you have to rush.
If you need help, call or email us. Just remember – a poorly designed large space is so much less than a well designed small room.