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Your Guide to Open Plan Living Space

MARK DAVIES, MCIAT - DIRECTOR of Arc Design

The Sunday Times – Ask the Expert with Architect Mark Davies

A reader writes: We are an elderly couple living in Shannon, Co Clare. Ours was one of the first houses built in Shannon, in the late 1950s. It is a detached two storey house over a basement and has three eight-step sets of stairs. The ground floor has an L-shaped living room and conservatory overlooking a fairly large garden. The kitchen was added on this floor along the left side of the living room also facing out into the garden. If the ground floor could be all one space (open plan) it would make life easier. Can you offer us some advice?

Open-plan living is one of the biggest trends in Irish homes: knocking down walls, moving away from traditional cellular room spaces and creating a sense of space, light, sociability and fluidity. While complete open plan gives a great space and sense of light, it is not for everyone. Internal walls can play an important role in holding buildings together, so before ripping them out you should get in the experts. Complete open plan can also reduce privacy and quiet spots. For example, the view of dirty dishes in the kitchen from the living area — you just can’t wish them away.

What my company Arc Design seems to find more appealing to its clients is a compromise, which we call broken-plan living. So, you get to keep things you love about open plan but let your rooms retain an element of privacy. It denotes specific areas such as a dining area, relaxation area or kitchen area. You achieve broken-plan living by dividing your overall space more subtly. You use half-walls, smart shelving, split levels or mezzanines. You create zones for privacy and relaxation but you still get that sense of light and space. Once you introduce walls and closed doors, you can be left with dark, small rooms. An open shelving unit allows light to filter through and helps retain connectivity and flow between rooms.

Another alternative could be to use different floor levels and ceiling heights. These give the impression of an increased distance between the zones demarked for different functions. You could have an ultramodern kitchen, separate from the snug TV area. You could further divide these by a partial wall or a double-sided see-through stove. The spaces flow together while allowing comfortable relaxation.

Not every room will have height, and I know in your case you may not want to be climbing stairs, but another way to get the feeling of open space without compromising on privacy is by using a mezzanine. This can be a good way to insert another living area into a dead space. The lower-level lounge area can be elegant and more formal, while the upper mezzanine level can be a snug for watching TV and reading. A glass balustrade helps to maintain the flow between two distinct areas while keeping the upper level as light as possible. If you have any other queries for us send them on via our contact form below.

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