Open-plan living was once the preferred layout for homes, now broken-plan living is an alternative to the popular trend.

A guide to broken plan living spaces2

Image: Foxtons (020 3728 2000; foxtons.co.uk)

Knocking down interior walls to form a space that allows light to flow has been the go-to approach for planning during the past few decades. It’s difficult to deny the benefits, from creating a sense of sociability, to enabling multiple functions to be performed in the same area. But there are drawbacks, with open-plan areas often proving difficult to heat, as well as potential noise issues. A new, versatile way of living is set to offer an alternative, which still establishes connectivity between rooms but offers privacy, too.

Broken-plan living is about the clever use of a space. Distinct zones are created by the use of different floor finishes, split-levels and semi-permanent partitions, such as bookcases and screens. These subtle divides retain the spacious feel that open-plan living provides, but also give a sense of separation, meaning people can have their own space away from each other.

For years, our clients have wanted to achieve light, open spaces but now we are seeing an evolution into broken-plan living,’ says Jonathan Woodcock, director and head of the architect and design team at Qualitas (020 8432 1520; qualitasconstruction.com). ‘This concept is about achieving distinct zones that are linked, but that suit different purposes.’

Let light flow

The decision to go open-plan is usually due to the desire to maximise light. A key consideration when embracing a broken-plan concept is how to preserve this same flow of light. Compromises come in the installation of internal windows, which solve the noise dilemma without sacrificing light and also keep a sense of cohesion between spaces. Skylights are another way to allow the sun to reach all areas of a house, as are glass screen doors.

A guide to broken plan living spaces2

Image: Multiliving (020 8090 0909; multiliving.co.uk)

As the social aspect of open-plan is also considered a big advantage, it’s important to preserve this and encourage a connection between spaces. ‘Partitions, steps and changes in decor divide up a space without sacrificing the amount of light, or the social aspect of being able to move easily throughout a property,’ says Robert Swann, sales manager at Foxtons in Earl’s Court (020 3728 2000; foxtons.co.uk). ‘Broken-plan living is flexible and lets people create as much or as little division between different areas as they like.’

Use levels

Mezzanines are a beneficial way of creating extra room in homes, but they can also act as a visual distinction between zones that serve different purposes. This approach works particularly well for kitchen and living areas, where the cooking and eating space is on the lower level and an area for relaxing is located above. The kitchen is often a busy hub of activity, so it’s important to have a separate place for relaxing. Glass balustrades can keep the spaces linked and allow light to reach the upper floor.

A less pricey and involved project is the installation of low partition walls, which form a separation but do not impact on the sense of sociability. Other structural elements, such as columns or steps, divide a space without cutting areas off from one another. Even a minor change, such as widening a doorway between a kitchen and dining room, will unify the spaces.

A guide to broken plan living spaces2

Image: Cuckooland (01305 231 231; cuckooland.com)

Easy updates

If making permanent, structural changes is not an option, there are still many ways in which you can achieve a broken-plan layout. Decor and furniture can play a key part in how the spaces in your home are used, and are less invasive ways of balancing unity with privacy. ‘Pick storage you can adapt in terms of style and add new elements over time, to ensure it’s future-proof,’ says Tony McCarthy, commercial director at Crown Imperial (01227 742 424; crown-imperial.co.uk). ‘Modular furniture is an ideal choice; look out for reduced depths and tiered shelving so you can zone an office or hobby space.’

Using a selection of materials is another way to create division within your home. It can be a simple change, such as painting walls in complementary colours, or laying different types of flooring to show boundaries in open areas.

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