Ten tips for the proper design of rooms without borders

Kya deLongchamps considers the hidden demands of an open-plan lifestyle, and reminds us that getting it right at the planning stage can make all the difference to that great wide open.

Open plan, as we know is a floor-plan in living areas that does away with some traditional internal walls that would in the past have divided rooms into smaller function pockets.

With the exception of fire safety (for example ensuring there’s a second escape route if the main stair terminates in the open plan living space downstairs) there’s really nothing you cannot do once the engineering and architectural logic allows. With the addition of load bearing RSJs, even traditional or period homes can open to the light.

Bright, modern, sociable-open-plan never the less demands a certain level of life-styling to succeed once you enter stage left (or right). Get the design nailed down first time, and all the uninterrupted wander can be everything you dreamed of and more.

1. Open plan rooms in standard family homes offer the heart stopping drama of mansion scale spaces, but keep in mind, this is a large indulgent bite out of every metre you own. Once you have the dimensions you can afford decided upon, it’s time to divide it up to replace the lost intimacy, privacy and practicality of those separate rooms with their hearty walls, compartmentalised styling and clearly designated function. The need for the old fashioned values like a focal point still stands even if the dining room walls are gone.

2. Varying floor and ceiling heights and finishes is one way to zone a larger open plan area unequivocally into open yet interconnected areas. Where the rest of the room is double height, a cosy area with a deliberately lower ceiling can not only alter the mood but can get the very best from a house with a variety of aspects. Coffered ceilings and immense lighting bars hung low to the table are a popular choice in for marking out the dining area for example.

3. Corridors and halls even those delineated with one or two glass walls, can offer opportunities for storage. Constructing a house from scratch or seriously renovating, ask your architect to include built-in storage tailored seamlessly into the wall. Recessed shelving with integrated lighting can also break up otherwise dull conduits in dramatic showcases.

4. Every piece of available wall really does count and with a popular wall- of-glass extension, you’ve given up yet another. Keep in mind that walls are what we tend towards when placing furnishings. Columns, half walls and partial walls and even kitchen islands and peninsulas can anchor, divide and screen areas of the room, providing a sense of protection and of course giving us extra hanging space for shelving, artwork and radiators. Think about how you really live (off the pages of OK magazine) and where you think things will go in a renovation.

5. Furniture in an open plan space may well be seen from the front as well as the side and back. The line of the piece and its success as a statement piece of design is crucial if it’s staged in the middle of a relatively large room. Lower backs to chairs and sofas allow light and the view to flow, amplifying the grandeur or the open plan ideal. L shaped seating units and sofas can wrap around and fence off a lounging area. Look for furniture with integrated storage to keep the floors and surfaces clear of hum-drum clutter like magazines and remotes.

6. Divide and unite. Two rooms can live as one with the addition of folding or pocket doors that just glide out of position as needed. This works beautifully for a mid-terrace house with windows on only two aspects and a standard arrangement of two-down. Galway based Pocket Doors have some exciting products that can be delivered as kits for installation by your builder. Pocketdoors.ie.

Ten tips for the proper design of rooms without borders

7. Those implied corridors will be used to travel across an open plan space.

Don’t place the kitchen at the epicentre of a narrow rectangular downstairs floor-plan. Everyone, including your children will have to push by you by as you cook to get anywhere. Think about how you will reach the three zones of living, cooking and dining day to day, including entering and leaving the house. Sacrificing a few square metres to passage ways and the physical and emotional pause of a real entry hall makes sense.

8. The tension of private to open space is vital in any building. Adults soon resent having to ‘hide’ in their bedroom to get alone time. A study or small snug for quiet time is a Godsend. A utility room is a must-have for me, where washers can beat out their racquet in seclusion. Think about restraining the open plan ideal to the kitchen/diner before doing a Wreck- it-Ralph to the entire house.

9. Sight-lines. Your eye will travel further in a larger space, and it’s worth wondering where it will stop. Placing something like a thuggish American fridge-freezer in the wrong part of the kitchen can make it more present than you intended when seen from an adjoin living room/diner. Modern kitchen cabinetry with lots of blind storage (behind doors) can read as storage furniture and live quietly with adjoining spaces. A majestic central hearth for an enclosed twin sided stove?


10. Balancing light. The room may be opened up into a large area, but reaching from say south to north, different areas may well receive different levels of natural light. Can you include a roof window or increase the volume of glazing at the darker end of the room to even up the score? Glazed doors can steal light from bright corridors.

Simply painting and papering with lighter colours where needed can make a subtle but perceptible difference. If you can afford the expense of a lighting designer for the artificial ingredients- it’s money well spent.


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