As with all architectural styles, the concept of open plan living has gone from obscurity to dominating home interior design. Though, unlike other architectural styles that have burned brightly but for a relatively short period, open plan homes seem to be sticking around, or at least the experts have differing opinions about whether open-plan should stay or go. A similar development has occurred with open-plan office spaces, which recently took over as the layout of choice, yet certain issues were exposed following implementation. What we have decided is that the success or failure of open plan-living depends on various factors. Things like how big your home is, how many people live in the home and whether you like to entertain or not, will all help decide whether open plan living is for you.
The History of Open-plan Living
At the end of the 19th century, homes were still very much divided by function, however, after the turn of the century, houses began to change, with one general living room for a variety of activities. Homes were mostly divided into a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.
Following the Second World War, houses were smaller but the divide between the dining and living room could fall away, thanks to improvements in building options, creating a sense of openness in the home. The kitchen was still a closed-off area considered a space for work, however, with the evolution of modernist architecture, the open plan concept evolved further. Families were given the opportunity to spend time together in ‘one space’, whilst carrying out different activities whether in the living, dining or kitchen area.
Open plan living as we know it today only really took hold in the 90s, with the idea of one big open space serving as entrance, kitchen, dining and living room and even study. The use of decor elements like screens or task lighting provided visual breaks between areas, though dividing walls and doors were officially out.
The Pros and Cons of Open-Plan Living
While open plan living has taken off around the world, some homeowners and designers are now fighting the concept. While open plan living has added so much to a family’s lifestyle with shared space, it has also provided a few hindrances.
The basis of open plan living is getting rid of unnecessary walls. Taking away walls allows light to shine into areas that previously had no windows and the addition of natural light in all areas creates a better sense of openness, even in a small space. Interior designers in Singapore have mastered the art of making even smaller apartments look open and airy by simply embracing this trend.
Entertaining and Flexibility
When the kitchen, dining and living rooms share the same space, the host of the party is no longer tucked away toiling over a hot stove, leaving guests to entertain themselves. Now, guests can even take part in preparations and everyone can catch up while chopping carrots and sipping wine in a shared experience. This has led to a change in lifestyle, with a more casual approach taking over where shared plates and family-style serving have become the norm.
The space is also more flexible, allowing you to rearrange furniture should you need more dining space on one day or more living room space on another.
When rooms were divided according to tasks, families were segregated if they were doing different things. If the mother was preparing a meal, she couldn’t keep an eye on the kids while they did their homework, or chat to the father who was reading the newspaper in the living room, leading to very little contact time for the whole family as a result. Now the whole family is able to interact in one big space. Even if the activities being done are not shared, the family can still easily communicate with each other
The reality is that open plan houses are dominating the market, especially in countries like Singapore where space is at a premium. By creating an open space in what was once a traditionally partitioned home, you can increase your sales price should you choose to sell.
When all the walls are taken down, the sounds from the various areas and activities combine and can get overwhelming. It is also harder to escape distraction in an open plan home. This sound issue is exacerbated by the acoustics of big open spaces, and unless careful attention is paid to furnishing the room with adequate soft furnishings, the noise can become a serious issue.
Firstly, the mess in each space can’t be closed off from view, so if you have guests for dinner, they’ll be able to see the dirty pots and pans on display right there. Also, clutter needs to be carefully controlled, as it can build up in one space and quickly take over, seeming especially unsightly.
Bigger rooms are harder to cool effectively. This could lead to increased expenses each season, as you no longer have small, individual spaces to cool. These bills can be offset by your interior design company ensuring the walls and ceilings are insulated and by installing specially-designed windows, however, this does mean a high initial cost.
This is possibly one of the most important factors that decide whether open-plan living will be the right choice for you. The most relevant consideration, in this case, is the number of people that share the home. A large family may either benefit from closer contact, or they will become frustrated by the lack of privacy and eventually end up ‘hiding out’ in their respective bedrooms. A couple who share a large open plan home may find the space cavernous and cold, whereas if they share a smaller apartment, it may be the perfect combination of cosy, and light and airy. Your interior designer should take these elements into consideration, but ultimately it is you, as the user that should decide what your priorities are.
As mentioned, open-plan living has affected how we live our lives and interact socially in a positive way. You can now entertain larger parties than you could in the traditional cramped small rooms. Living has become more casual and, in turn, this can lead to a slower, healthier pace of life. Also, having everyone interacting in the same space can lead to closer and more meaningful connections. That said, the list of cons has become more apparent with time and these factors need to be carefully considered.
Perhaps the perfect solution is the new combined concept of open plan living with a twist. Some homeowners are finding a balance by keeping the large open shared living space, but adding rooms like a second kitchen, a closed-off space where all the dirty dishes can be hidden away when entertaining, to avoid embarrassment. Or they’re embracing the idea of sliding partition walls, which allow for a completely open space, or several smaller spaces so that kids can watch TV and adults can entertain guests for dinner, without disturbing each other.
Speaking to a licensed interior designer will always be helpful in these types of situations since they will know what the rules and guidelines are. At Home Guide, we will help you maximise the space available to you and incorporate extra features like sliding walls, if you need them, without any risk of getting rid of that all-important, load-bearing wall. Contact us to discuss your options and a new way of life with an adjusted, open-plan home.