Consider all the pros and cons before opening up your house
Q: I have just bought a house and would like to have a more open plan living/ kitchen and dining arrangement. Do you have any advice or tips?
A: To make an open-plan arrangement may require considerable changes to your home and it's advisable to engage a registered architect who will start by surveying your house and then develop a design solution. The first thing your architect will check - before any works begin - is whether any of the existing walls are supporting the structure. Properly detailed supporting beams will need to be inserted if these walls are to be removed to make an area open plan.
Keeping open plan spaces tidy
The next most important detail (unless you are extremely neat) in open-plan living is properly designed storage - again an architect can advise you on this. You want to aim for a calm, uncluttered space and it is a case of providing storage, storage and more storage. If the overall width of the space allows, I recommend a deep storage unit, running ideally the full length of one wall. This can be designed to 'disappear' into the wall by painting the unit the same colour as the wall and using doors without handles. If your space does not allow for a full storage wall, try to maximise storage wherever you can, for example, through ceiling-height presses, storage hidden in window seats or in partial room dividers. Depending on the detail of the new open-plan layout, you could also consider a mid-height partition wall or a mid-height bar or kitchen island to hide the often untidier areas of the kitchen from the living area.
Reducing sounds and smells
If your new open-plan space is to incorporate the kitchen, you need to ensure that there is proper ventilation and extraction to eliminate smells as quickly as possible. A silent and powerful extractor is a must. I advise comparing the decibel levels on extractors. More silent extractors tend to be more expensive and, if money is an issue, the extractors that are hidden within the kitchen units are generally less expensive. One also needs to invest in more silent appliances such as dishwashers and washing machine if they are part of the open-plan space. Whilst more hardwearing surfaces suit family living, it is important to consider the noise factor associated with open-plan living and ensure that some sound-absorbing materials are incorporated, such as soft rugs or wall hangings.
Placing furniture in open plan spaces
Furniture selected for open-plan spaces needs to be properly scaled - larger sofas or corner sofas work better here than a two-seater. Try to define different areas within the open-plan space either through furniture such as an L-shaped couch or through clever design devices such as partial walls, open shelves, rugs, change of levels and floor finishes.
Colours and lighting
Try spending some money on the lighting to give you greater flexibility of use - this is an area that can really improve the quality of living and is often ignored/ under resourced. I also recommend using calm and unifying wall colours and flooring in open-plan areas, with the interest coming from punches of colour in the soft furnishings.
Open plan or semi-open plan?
Depending upon your future needs, you may consider that it might be more suitable to have a semi-open-plan arrangement. I'm a big fan of large sliding doors that disappear into the walls and permit you to divide up the open space into a variety of arrangements. If space allows try to keep a smaller room - in addition to the open-plan area - either for the TV or as a quiet room or home office.
A large utility space also adds to the success of the open-plan arrangement.
There is plenty to consider but the main key to successful open-plan living is in the detailing of the space to cater for your needs which may change as your lifestyle changes.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. You can find a registered architect on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
Paula M Murphy is an architect working primarily in Tipperary and Dublin; paulamurphy.ie
Do you have a architectural dilemma we can help you with? Email your problem to designclinic@ independent.ie. Advice provided is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.