How about an open plan?

How about an open plan?


Ever despaired at your inability to supervise the kids as you slog on in the kitchen? Or, when you’ve had to both handle the kitchen and entertain guests at a party you’ve hosted? No wonder, then, open-floor plan buildings are becoming increasingly popular today!

Ascending to the favourites’ pedestal post-1950s, the open-floor plan (an absence of walls segregating the building’s different portions- house/office) is almost the norm today owing to transformed living/working trends.

Modern amenities like huge plasma TV-screens and modular kitchens also lend themselves better to this floor-plan type. The emergence of working couples/small families and home-partying demand roomy but compact homes, especially since gigantic bungalows housing sprawling halls and huge kitchens are beyond most wallets’ reach.

Folks with a casual lifestyle and given to cooking and entertaining on their own find this design ideal unlike wealthier people maintaining a live-in-staff.

Usually, the kitchen and adjacent living areas are combined into a large, seamless space where family members/guests enjoy an unobstructed view of each other, as they go about their daily tasks or party. Instead of solid walls sealing off each task-related area, beams, columns and arches structurally segregate the areas, allowing visibility of all the spaces.

Result? An appearance of spaciousness, despite the total square-foot area remaining unaltered. Doors/walls lend privacy to the bedroom and bathroom. Some open-plans also feature a loft-bedroom leading to a spa-like bath.

Demarcating areas

A single, large space needn’t confound. Furniture, throw-rugs, carpets, shoji screens, carved wooden partitions, low, open bookcases and potted plants can be arranged to segregate disparate areas, say, the TV-viewing corner from the dining area.

But, don’t place delicate pots or thorny cacti at heavy foot-traffic spots. Appropriate lighting also helps focus attention at particular points. Spotlights over wall-art and floor-lamps/table-lamps in the lounge-corner in the living-space, chandeliers above the dining-table and track-lighting or hanging lamps above the cooking area are examples.

Dilute high ceilings’ acoustics effect using large furniture, suitable window-treatments and soft floor-coverings that absorb sound without marring the roomy feel.
Choose the colour-scheme carefully. One option is to pick three colours (or perhaps, three different shades of the same colour), one each for trim, walls and ceiling.

Retain the same colour for the trim throughout, alternating wall and ceiling colour for adjacent spaces.  Else, pick complementary shades, neutrals or earth tones. Reserve the lightest or white for the ceiling for an airy effect. Darker ceilings lend a warm and compact look. Use darker colours for walls where plenty of natural light streams in. But, avoid colour-coordinating all objects placed in one space with those of another!

Advantages? A semblance of spaciousness, greater opportunity for interaction, convenience of furniture-rearrangement, economy of money and space, better natural light and ventilation, easier wheelchair access and a more eco-friendly house.

On the flip-side

The downside? Lack of privacy, difficulty in confining pets to one area and increased coldness in winter owing to absence of chill-blocking doors.

In offices, open-floor plans enable better communication and provide adequate space for all. But, noise distractions, lack of privacy, confidentiality and security, greater scope for chatting/lazing, easier spread of infections and food aromas and uneven heating/air-conditioning are serious problems hampering productivity.

If you’re renovating an existing structure for openness, first calculate whether the renovation is cost-effective. Will the alterations diminish the house-value?
If you still feel the open-floor plan’s appropriate, consider the constraints before smashing walls or carving away ceilings to accommodate open staircases.