For a few years now, a number of Brits have embraced the idea of multi-functional rooms around their homes. There are problems as well as benefits to opening up an abode’s downstairs space as opposed to choosing a series of small rooms though, as designer kitchens specialist Harvey Jones has explored in the following guide:

What are open-plan living spaces?

An open-plan living space project could be something as simple as knocking through an under-used dining space into a smaller kitchen — the result will be a more open space and the goal to bring more light into an area. For multi-functional rooms that include a kitchen, the benefits are clear. It prevents the cook from feeling isolated for a start. No more retiring to the kitchen for half an hour on your own to prepare meals. A bespoke kitchen scheme that includes an island or peninsula that looks out onto the rest of the space means that cooking and preparing food need no longer be a solitary process.

You may also look into open plan living spaces when you want to keep an eye on children in your home. From toddlers playing to teens doing their homework, for busy families a space that performs several functions allows the family to spend time together even when they’re performing many different tasks.

Homes are getting smaller in general, which has led to people seeing space around their abodes as becoming a lot more valuable. A room allocated just for formal dining can seem an extravagance then, while a well-designed kitchen-diner allows you to prepare, cook and eat in the one room comfortably. However, you do have to be canny when planning a multi-functional room to ensure all zones work well together and recognize that this kind of layout will reduce privacy, particularly if you’re opening up the whole of your downstairs. Having nowhere quiet to retire while the kids watch TV or play can become a problem.

Add to this a scenario like trying to sit back and enjoy reading a favourite book or magazine but being unable to because of appliances making noises or a pile of washing-up catching your eye. Fewer walls also mean less space to put furniture, which can lead to a room that’s crammed around the walls or jumbled in the centre. 

The case for broken-plan living spaces

Broken-plan living spaces could help to solve some of the problems set out in the last couple of paragraphs. Seen as a compromise because of the potential pitfalls which could be realised from undertaking an open-plan living project, the idea is to retain all the things you love about open-plan – particularly the light and openness – while at the same time zoning the space to allow for more privacy should you need it.

Rather than doing this with colours and textures as you would in a true open-plan arrangement, broken-plan employs structural elements such as half-walls, dividing shelves, changing levels, walls of glass and even mezzanines to delineate and formalize areas for different uses.

Tips for making a broken-plan living space work for you

A simple way to get on board with broken-plan living is to erect a set of ‘walls’ around a space that’s already open with the help of some open boxed shelving units. This will define the space between a kitchen and chilling out area. Of course, you don’t want to regress back to small poky rooms so don’t cram the shelves full of books – instead, artfully arrange a few favourite pieces to signal the change between one room and another and leave some of the shelves open to allow light to freely cascade from one zone to another. If you’re just starting your project then consider just knocking down half a wall and leaving the top open, allowing sight-lines through but at the same time giving you more wall space to play with. While hatches should remain a distinctly 70’s invention, a larger aperture in the wall between a kitchen and sitting room, for example, is a workable and modern substitute.

Instead of knocking out all of the sides of an open space, also consider keeping a ‘block’ of wall intact at each side. This will enable you to station pieces of furniture against these walls to signal different uses clearly but subtly. Also consider building in pocket doors that will slide out of sight into the walls when you want to join two rooms but can be closed quickly to create separation when needed.

For the perfect finishing touch to a broken-plan living space, think about adding Crittall-style windows into the design. Metal framed windows and sometimes doors traditionally used in industrial spaces or as exterior walls onto gardens have celebrity fans such as TV presenter and architect George Clarke, who celebrates their ability to cleverly divide an internal space without shutting off one room totally from another. When joining two rooms together, different levels will often be an issue but broken-plan schemes can actively embrace changing floor and ceiling heights.