How does Open Plan Living Work for You?
It is important to make reference at this point to home safety; this blog is about the aesthetics of open plan living and of course, if you are contemplating making any structural changes to your home you need to get the appropriate advice on regulatory matters.
In the UK it is likely to come under Building Regulations, which your Local Authority Development Management Team can advise on. One of these vitally important aspects of safety is that of fire precautions – by opening up the floor space of a building the fire risks change and appropriate assessments need to be undertaken. This report looked at this topic in detail.
Open plan is the generic term used in architectural and interior design for any floor plan which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices. The term can also refer to landscaping of housing estates, business parks, etc, in which there are no defined property boundaries such as hedges, fences or walls.
In an office it is about creating efficient and effective team working, making everyone more equal, discouraging privacy (which may mean an employee is not work focused?) and so on. How does this translate into a home environment though?
In our Homes?
The principle is the same, no small compartments and an open space with purposed zones – is this workable? Well for starters many of us are uncomfortable having our sleeping space on show and having an open plan bathroom would be considered improper – so straight away there are barriers to open plan home design.
Has this always been the case in human habitations? Quite simply, no it hasn’t.
In this example I was trying to recreate the feeling of living in a Blackhouse. These were a single room dwelling which included space for the family’s animals, living space for themselves and sleeping spaces. Often built using locally available materials which could include animal bones where timber was in short supply. Poorly lit they would have been quite unpleasant places – but they were still home!
Although this example is from comparatively recent times, historically people have lived in small multipurpose spaces. Traditionally Inuit igloos were generally a one room space housing one or two family groups, although bigger igloos divided into rooms for more people are known as are a series of igloos connected with tunnels so that each group has some privacy.
Igloos are currently fashionable as an artic circle holiday home away from home and if you fancy trying out igloo living but don’t have much snow do a web search for “milk jug igloos”; an example of recycling and it looks fun too! In accounts of our cave dwelling ancestors lives they are described as having family hearths and of observing the custom of not looking into another family hearth – privacy by avoidance rather than physical obstacles. So mankind has a long established history of open plan living and has adapted to the issues of privacy in shared space.
That was then – but why now?
An example of creating new living space in a redundant industrial scale building
Whilst open plan can be used to make a very specific style statement, perhaps turning redundant industrial buildings into modern day living accommodation and the ubiquitous loft, it may also be a practical lifestyle choice.
Modern families are often smaller with fewer generations sharing the same space. There is increasingly ready access to online activities, which may if there are no controls/limitations in place lead youngsters into hot water? More disabled and older people are to be supported to live more independently in their own home for longer and we are generally living longer lives.
So can Open Plan Living support some of these aspects of modern domestic life?
- With fewer adults in the house keeping tabs on the kids would be easier in an Open Plan environment It is much harder to sneak off to watch television rather than finishing homework.
- Computers in a family area require less need of formal high tech controls on the online access and offer an opportunity for young people to learn about their online safety and gain the trust of their parents.
- Learning not to bombard the entire home with heavy rock stands a young person in good stead for becoming a considerate citizen of the future.
- Shared experiences are a valuable education.
- As more people remain independently at home for longer it makes adapting the space more straightforward as their needs change and may reduce feelings of isolation for older people.
- Making the living spaces more accessible can be a definite bonus – adapting traditional housing for a disabled person can be very costly and often is unsatisfactory when completed.
- Although Open Plan can include mezzanine levels we generally use it to refer to an open space on one level which is in itself more accessible.
- Installing flooring can be simpler in one large open area (although costly to replace all in one go).
- Energy efficient heating systems such as wood fuel stoves can work well in large open spaces and modern electric heating such as infra heating panels can work to target heating if not everyone is home.
Next time I will raise some of the challenges to Open Plan Living and consider some ‘rules’ to make it work better. This will include looking at the modern desire for glass walls; does size matter? how to make the rooms flow and how to keep it looking open!