Thursday 14 November 2019

The problem with open plan...

greg tisdall

Q I bought a semi-detached house a decade ago. The downstairs is open plan, which suited us when we had a young family. Now we have three teenagers and clearly the space doesn't work anymore for us. What are my options?

A Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was an early proponent of open plan design in the late 19th Century. In Ireland, the mainstream introduction of double-glazed windows in the 1980s and 1990s with their improved draught-proofing and insulation brought increasing desire and opportunity for people to change their homes from multiple smaller rooms with defined functions towards larger multifunctional spaces.

Open plan living has become very popular, but it doesn't suit everyone and its success can be dependent on your individual circumstances. As a couple it is a great space for entertaining, then when kids arrive and slowly take over the house sharing open plan spaces can be problematic. Once the offspring leave the house to pursue independent living, the open plan layout may regain its purpose. But it's the in-between years that can prove challenging.

We have had more than a few clients who wanted their open plan house to be subdivided when they discovered it wasn't suited to their needs. In some cases the solution was to modify the open plan space with a subdivision to create a separate lounge or den, while keeping the open plan living spaces to the rear of the house, where family living space has a connection to the rear garden.

For your situation there are several starting options:

1 If the house was divided into multiple rooms originally, it would be reasonably straightforward to revert to the original layout by reconfiguring the internals of the house. But these layouts were usually quite restrictive and you may find that it doesn't suit your needs.

2 Carry out a contemporary makeover internally and extend if required (possibly to the rear and/or side) to create a separate lounge or teenage den in the front of the house (near the front door, so they don't have to disturb you when coming home late or with friends). This will allow you to have the open plan space in the more private areas at the rear of the house for your nice kitchen/living/dining - ideally with a visual connection to the garden.

In both cases you can be creative - for example by using contemporary sliding or folding walls to keep that flexible space if required. In all cases, except for the simplest of makeovers, it is a wise idea to obtain advice from a registered RIAI architect to make sure your work complies with current planning permission and building regulation directions. You can find a registered architect on

Boris de Swart MRIAI and Greg Tisdall MRIAI set up Studio D Architects in 2007 and are founders of Home Architect, a service that provides a pay-as-you-go menu for home improvement projects;

Do you have a design dilemma we can help you with? Email Advice provided is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.

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