How to nail open plan
One of the biggest trends of the last 10 years has been open-plan living. The concept of a large, fresh and airy room, where the whole family can go about their daily activities yet still spend time together, is so appealing.
Open plan means more space - no weaving through rooms that are divided by walls - while an increase in natural light only adds to the attraction. Decorated correctly, an open-plan space is the ultimate design success story; but get it wrong and you'll have a messy, cluttered space with no identity.
"Open-plan spaces have to be zoned correctly, so you always feel like you're part of a thought-out room within a larger interconnected space," says Declan O'Donnell of ODKM Architects. "If you don't do this, you'll end up on a sofa in a kitchen, or feel like you're cooking in the dining room - this is not open-plan living.
"If you have some height to play with, think about stepping the ceiling levels. This can help make the different spaces - living, kitchen or dining - feel like separate enclosures but they'll still be part of one large space."
If the ceiling isn't an option, then look to the floor. Declan suggests varying floor finishes; for example, tiles in the kitchen and carpet in the sitting area. "This will add an extra layer and make the spaces feel very different."
Paint can also play a big role in open plan living, adds Aoife Rhattigan, creative director of RESTLESS.DESIGN.
"Don't limit yourself to one colour with open-plan living. One of the potential pitfalls of doing this is that your interior can feel stark, so use colour to define the different areas," she says. "Bold hues and patterns can make a large room feel more comfortable."
Aoife also suggests using social media for research; Instagram accounts by companies such as Dulux can be useful for inspiration.
"Each area can be defined by a slightly varied shade. Imagine colours that get gradually warmer as you move from kitchen through to the dining area. Each section of the space can offer you a slightly different, yet cohesive, experience," says Aoife.
Colour isn't limited to paint alone and expressing yourself through furniture and accessories is another way to break up the space. "Think about the furniture that's needed to make the rooms work," says Declan. "Consider its scale and ensure that it's appropriate. Don't force issues or try to fit in too much in - keep it simple."
There's always room for too much of a good thing, however, and finding the balance between open plan and smaller, cosy quarters is also important. "If you can, make sure you have another support space in the house that isn't part of this open plan," Declan says.
"We all need time on our own, especially in busy families, so allocate a separate room so you can have the flexibility to get away from it all, if you want to.
Anna Shelswell-White is editor of House and Home magazine