Making the decision between open-plan and broken-plan spaces


Multi-functional rooms have been a growing trend in the home improvement market for a while now. However, there are problems as well as benefits to opening up the downstairs space instead of making do with a series of small and cramped rooms. Join kitchen design experts Harvey Jones as they explore whether a room that is zoned into specific areas for cooking, dining and relaxing is as much a dream as we envision…

Reasons why people are opting for open-plan spaces

The decision to knock through rooms, like an under-used dining space into a smaller kitchen, will be made with the intention of bringing more light and openness into the whole 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.

Keeping an eye on children is another reason why many opt for open-plan spaces. 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 too, which means that space is becoming more valuable to occupants. A room allocated just for formal dining can seem an extravagance, 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.

Also factor in any appliances that can be noisy, as well as a pile of washing-up nagging at you when you’re trying to have a relaxing evening. 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. 

These issues could be solved with a broken-plan living plan.

Understanding broken-plan living spaces

One of the latest trends in the home improvement industry, many people have turned to broken-plan living spaces due to the potential pitfalls associated with open-plan living projects. 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 arrangements, 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 creating an effective broken-plan living space

Creating ‘walls’ by using open boxed shelving units in an already open space is broken-plan living in one of its simplest forms. 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 to the sides of a space, another concept is to leave a ‘block’ of wall intact at either side of the room. 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.

Crittall-style windows have rapidly come back into fashion in the home improvement scene too, with these able to be easily incorporated into a broken-plan living plan as well. Metal framed windows and sometimes doors traditionally used in industrial spaces or as exterior walls onto gardens, they 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.