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Still trend or already standard: open-plan living

Generally, open-plan living refers to the main living areas of the home – i.e. the kitchen, living room and dining room – which are combined to create an open, flowing layout with few internal walls and fewer traditional individual rooms in favour of a communal living space. German architect Bernhard Kurz says, ‘[In Germany], there’s a strong tendency towards open-plan living. It’s been a request in almost all of our renovation projects – in some cases to a greater and in others to a lesser extent. But it generally refers to living rooms, dining rooms and the kitchen – home offices and bedrooms are still preferred as separate, smaller rooms.’

Three reasons why open-plan living is great
So what is it that draws us to this style of living? British architect Andrew Brown says, ‘Open-plan living remains extremely popular in the UK, as it seems to sit comfortably with the way most people (and in particular families) live nowadays. There has been a marked downturn in the popularity of formal dining and this has tied in with the rise of open-plan living.’

In the UK, where space is often at a premium, architects are frequently called upon to ‘open up’ small Victorian or Georgian homes by knocking down internal walls, joining rooms together and creating light and airy social spaces. Brown adds, ‘While it’s common to be asked to design open-plan spaces, it’s unusual for clients to request the opposite.’

Discover open-plan kitchen designs on Houzz.

1 It encourages sociable living
As a design style, open-plan has an impact on the way homeowners use the space and interact with each other. Melbourne-based architect Anthony Clarke says, ‘The majority of our clients love the idea of living within their homes in a more communal and connected way. Primarily, it allows the occupants of a space to become more open and engaged in dialogue.’

See more sociable living spaces and open-plan living rooms.

2 It promotes indoor/outdoor living
Clarke also describes the impact an open-plan living space can have on increasing light and the connection with the outdoors. ‘Our Engawa House project in North Fitzroy [Melbourne] is a clear example of open-plan living,’ he says. ‘The concept essentially allows every occupant in every part of the dwelling to experience great northern light and a connection to a private landscaped courtyard.’

3 It’s a good solution for small-space living
Knocking down walls to open up small homes is a popular solution to create a feeling of space. Bernhard Kurz says, ‘In those areas determined by a highly competitive housing market, an optimisation of small flats is more likely – as there is less space.’

Russian architect Alexandra Fedorova agrees it makes sense for small and medium spaces. ‘If we’re talking about apartments smaller than 300 sq m, an [open-plan] solution is more than rational,’ she says. ‘More and more people want to get an airy, spacious and well-lit apartment when purchasing a property. In Russia, many of us grew up in small apartments with tiny kitchens, and people desire new standards of living.’ Proving her point, she adds, ‘Personally, I chose an open-space option for my own apartment and [have] never regretted it for one second.’

How did it gain such popularity globally?
As design influences become increasingly global, the flow of ideas from one country to another enables concepts to become international trends. Has this influenced the open-plan trend?

Spanish architect Enrique Espinosa thinks this global exchange of design ideas has had an impact on the rise in popularity of open-plan living. ‘Spanish architecture, following the Mediterranean tradition, has always stood for the non-open-plan space,’ he says. But things are slowly starting to change. ‘Living in a global world and seeing different types of houses on television, specifically American and British ones, and also more accessible room models, like those displayed in the Ikea stores, broadens the type of house we are used to.’ Espinosa thinks this access to global trends has had a drip-feed impact on local design. ‘Step by step,’ he says, ‘we start to think these models are more appropriate to a contemporary way of living,’ which he describes as being very different from the traditional Spanish model of ‘a married couple with two children who used to leave the nest in their early twenties’.

Discover dining tables for open plan living space.

How open-plan might look in years to come

1 The future is half and half
‘Our project at South Crown Street, Aberdeen, has an open-plan kitchen-diner,’ explains Andrew Brown. ‘Initially, the clients wanted all three main rooms on the ground floor to be open to each other, but due to issues with listed building consent, permission could only be given to open the rooms at the rear of the house. However, with hindsight, the clients are pleased the living room has been retained as a separate space, and as a result the house has the best of both worlds.’

2 The future is multi-functional
PKMN Arquitectura has come up with a clever solution to bridge the gap between open- and closed-layout spaces: they’ve developed buildings with rotating walls that allow spaces to be used in multiple ways, as pictured here.

Company partner Enrique Espinosa says, ‘The future of the home is about optimising the space and making it multi-functional, much more now that every square metre is extremely expensive. Being able to use the whole space of the home every single second, instead of just half of it, increases, among other things, the value of the property.’

3 The future is bespoke
Interior architect Julissa Medina Moreno says, ‘French homeowners want to live in a space that’s as open as possible to keep the natural light and circulation.’ But, she adds, ‘The loft trend is over. Now, [homeowners] don’t want walls, but they want to [zone] the spaces using furniture. So they ask more and more for tailor-made furniture, which is conceived by architects or interior architects, and then made by specialists.’

Homes need to adapt to changing family needs
‘Buildings have to adapt over time to meet the occupants’ ever-changing needs,’ Andrew Brown says. ‘It’s very difficult to predict how family life will be structured in 20 years’ time. It will be interesting to see how the changing make-up of households, with an increasing number of multi-generational families living together due to house price increases etc, will impact on the current trend for open-plan living.’

First published on Houzz