Broken plan – open plan but smarter!

Last Updated on : 30th September 2016

“Broken-plan living” is a phrase coined by architect Mary Duggan and is her description for a series of open spaces which, through the use of variable levels and interior walls, creates distinctive zones creating privacy and quiet.


So what does ‘broken plan’ actually mean?
Kitchens and living rooms may still be open plan, in the traditional sense, but on different levels with, for example, glass balustrading to maintain the sense of space whilst reducing noise.

Or – use split-level floors and sliding partitions to help divide open living spaces, creating snugs, studies and television rooms whilst retaining the open-plan feel.

Why the need for broken plan?
Ubiquitous TV content on multiple devices and the continuing rise of the smartphone and tablet have pretty much killed off the days of all-family TV viewing and, as such, what we need from our homes. Space and privacy requirements are very different from families of even just ten years ago. ‘Broken-plan’ layouts allow couples and families to use their devices in relative privacy or watch different movies or TV shows at the same time, but in close proximity. Parents increasingly ask for quiet spaces, teenagers want independence without isolation and younger children want the space to play on their instruments, iPads or Xboxes without being told to turn the sound down.

1Sliding and pocket doors can be closed when you want to create privacy, and opened when you want to be part of the action.

OK, but what’s happened to open plan?
The last 20 years have seen a flurry of interior wall demolitions in order to make everything open, spacious and on-trend however this often results in one big open plan space that can often be impractical as well challenging to furnish and soul-less to live within.

That’s not to say that open plan can’t work, but it needs planning and design know-how. Anyone can take walls out with the help of a structural engineer, but it takes good design to remove walls and create different areas, moods and functions, making it feel cohesive.

Welcome to Smart Plan
In addition to smart space planning, smart interior design and furnishing is the key to creating an interesting, cohesive and great flowing space. It’s knowing where to have empty space and where to fill it? Where to put fixtures and furniture? How to design your AV/home automation infrastructure to enable this new way of living? How to create a flow using smart ways to change a mood as you walk through a space.

Here are Ensoul’s top tips on how to break up an ‘open’ space:

  • Position key identifiable fixtures like kitchen islands to mark the start or end of a kitchen.
  • Use sofas to create linear divisions.
  • Open shelving units are another great linear divider – either at mid-level or low level. The key is not to go up to the ceiling with them.
  • Just one step down to a lower or upper level can create a completely different sense of zone.
  • Define zones with a change in floor materials or the use of a rug on a hard floor.
  • Use different colours or textures to instantly create a new mood or area.
  • Lighting plans can dramatically alter the mood of a space too. Use down lights in a kitchen, low level mood lighting in sitting areas and chandeliers and pendants for glamorous dining all on separate lighting circuits.
  • Glass panels and glass walls are fantastic at providing a clear separation.
  • Sliding and pocket doors that can be closed when you want to create privacy, and opened when you want to be part of the action.
  • Design in a door in front of sinks, toasters and cookers can hide an entire kitchen from sight.
  • Sunken seating is a great throwback to the 70s and a brilliant way to create a different vibe in an open plan space.
  • Clever fold out / fold away tables and desks for kids to play or work.

Of course there are some downsides to broken plan living so my advice is to really consider the way you live before committing.


Here are a few pitfalls to look out for…

  • If your dinner is being decanted from an M&S carton into your own ovenware, it will probably be spotted.
  • Choose a kitchen design that hides the washing up when you have people over.
  • Baths in the bedroom…. trendy, yes, but actually most people prefer privacy for their ablutions.

So, in short, before you take a sledgehammer to those walls, my advice is to really think through the functionality you want to get from your floor plan. Think about the furniture you need to position within it, which becomes a more creative challenge without walls. And bring in an expert if it’s not your thing creatively.

Viki Lander
Interior Designer & Creative Director

Ensoul Interior Architecture offers a rare combination of specialist talent and experience in what we see as the four pillars to success: architectural and technical design, interior design, project management and procurement. Why work with us? If design is important to you and you’re looking for a contemporary home with every detail thought through from the inside out. If you’re looking to have your project professionally managed from end to end. And if you want something individual rather a stock solution. We are based on Wandsworth Common and take on a range of work, some includes significant extension work such as basements, side returns, rear extensions and loft conversions. And some are pure refurbishment projects with very little structural work. There is no minimum budget with us, but we are committed to delivering beautiful, design led work.






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