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How to ace open plan living

The way we live today has changed so dramatically from the past and so many of us have moved towards open plan living at home but how do we make it work for everyone AND look gorgeous all at the same time?

There's some key things to consider when planning your open space that will mean you get a fabulous, well-functioning and feel good home. Read on for some great tips on how to approach it.

Zonal Thinking

You'll have heard of designing your open plan layout into zones. But before you get to that think about who is using the space? What are their daily needs? How will each household member want to use the space? What are the storage or practical solutions that you need to solve?

Once you have a family checklist that answers those questions, you can start thinking about layouts. A great trick for this is to imagine each 'zone' as it's own 'room' with invisible walls. You can then use these invisible walls to put furniture against to help you figure out the best layout. Don't forget to consider thoroughfares as you want to make sure the space flows easily from one zone to the next. Another trick is to map your layouts on paper to scale and cut out your furniture (to scale) so that you can move them around the space until you are happy. Then try it out on the floor with chalk or cardboard cut outs to size for your key pieces of furniture. It's amazing the difference when you can see it in the space! Always remember to keep enough space to move around freely and play in.

If fully open plan is a step too far, then consider broken plan as an option. This idea has been growing in popularity as it helps make the space more flexible with hideaway areas and the option to open up the space when needed. Sometimes having a space that can be closed off with doors can work really well. Suddenly giving you two separate zones for when different activities are happening at the same time. Great for all of us working from home these days. Or when you have kids watching a repeat of their favourite TV show for the 1000th time!

The Practicalities

If you are just starting out and looking at knocking down walls then do get a structural engineer involved. It will pay dividends and save you from any dangerous or costly decisions. Next there are the practical considerations that also impact the aesthetics. What do you actually want to see when you are in your open space? Such as will your staircase be part of your open plan living? Do you want it to take centre stage or to disappear from view? There are tricks for both from lighting, materials you use, to packing in additional storage with doors or even cladding. And your kitchen area, would you conceal it when not in use, so you can hide away the dirty dishes when you socialise, like this dreamy option from Minosa Design?

Another key consideration for both comfort and looks is heating. If this is a newly built open plan extension then go for the best insulation levels you can. Also consider using underfloor heating which will then free up your walls and make rooms more flexible in their layouts. A final point to consider is soundproofing. If you have lots of open space it can sound very loud. You need to consider layers of texture to deaden the sound; from rugs and soft furnishings to soundproof wall panels. There are numerous options out there.

Floors that sparkle

When it comes to flooring the options are endless! Stone, tiles, vinyl, wood, rubber and cork the list goes on but what would suit you best? That's a whole blog on its own! Just don't forget your zones - you can have fun and mix things up here. Have a tile 'runner' in the kitchen with wood elsewhere or any combo you like. Just make sure you consider the daily use of the space and make it hard wearing.

Stone will last a lifetime but comes at a price, tiles have such varieties now and are robust but beware of your acoustics, wood is beautiful but be prepared for the annual upkeep and watch out for water and food stains in the kitchen area. Rubber and vinyl have both extended their ranges in recent years and cork is having a real resurgence with it's Eco sustainable credentials.

Let there be light

Now you have decided on your zones and layout, you can think about how light will work in your space too. If you have an opening on to the garden it can flood light into your space. Or opt for lanterns or skylights to give a sense of height and overhead light. Then you need to think about levels of artificial lighting throughout. The more you layer your types of light, the more flexibility you will have to create moods in the different zones. From task lighting in areas that need close work such as kitchen counters, desk spaces and reading areas. Bring in softer lighting via wall lights or central pendants on dimmers to suit the mood. And lamps, both table and floor lamps to help define the spaces and make them cosy. You can use lighting to ramp up the wow factor, as this image from The Houselights shows, with low hung pendants over an island or dining table.

Storage storage storage

An open plan space needs to work even harder with its storage as everything is on show. So really think hard about how your storage will work for you and where you can fit it in. Go back to your checklist of how people will use your space and work out what will need storing, then work up from there. Multi use storage such as benches with hidden storage, cupboards which house a desk or islands with bookshelves can be life savers when you are trying to keep everything in check! You can look for ready-made options or bespoke joinery. When you have an awkward spot a cupboard made for the space will often give you lots more storage so I always suggest considering it as an option.

Colours and views

Now you have all the basics lined up, try and have a think about your view from each zone. It's a clever trick that will ensure you have a cohesive design as it makes you think about sight lines and balance. No more disjointed zones!

Colour can also play a huge part in making the space feel one. Try using colours to zone the different areas - just keep within a similar palette or go bold and use a contrasting shade on the colour wheel to make an area 'pop'. Or you can bring the whole space together with a paint effect such as the half wall of colour. This horizontal line will wrap around the edges of the open plan area linking all the spaces together as one.

Add your personality!

This is the fun bit! Think about flexible furniture from modular sofas to islands on wheels that can be pushed back when the dancing starts! Don't be afraid, just go for it. This is your space so if you love it - then display it! From vintage collections, fabulous artwork, handcrafted gems to scavenged finds and kids artwork - it all adds up to you, your home and your personality. Just be aware to group items (3's and 5's always work well) and think about the 'feel' of each zone. So add your crazy pieces in the high traffic through areas and calmer bits where you will sit back, relax and enjoy your open plan space!

Photo Credits: DEN LIFE interiors, SOCIAL.CUT, Josh Hemsley, Minosa Design.

If you are looking for someone to support you through your next interior update then get in touch for a chat at

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