Open Plan Living Space Today
Modern life is changing how we use our homes, Architecture needs to catch up.
Nearly all of my projects involve altering existing buildings for domestic clients, regular homeowners who want more from their house. Usually this involves more bedrooms, or more living space, or both. Bedrooms are relatively straightforward, even large luxury master bedrooms don't tend to be spatially complicated.
Living Space in Modern Homes.
Living space is a very different matter. Over the decades our living patterns have changed out of all recognition. The Georgians (those who had money at any rate) were fond of big drawings rooms where they would entertain guests or sit with friends and family, they were flexible. The Victorians had an aversion to mixing it up, they preferred to give different rooms distinct functions; parlour, living room, dining room, study. My Grandparents house had a 'front room', used much like the fine china. Sparingly. Nowadays we all congregate in the kitchen, something unthinkable to earlier generations. We don't segregate children from adults and we increasingly work from home. All of these social changes mean that homes designed even thirty years ago are not well suited for how we live today. We are cramming more functions and more people into one room in the house; Adults, children, guests, work, play, cooking, eating, entertainment and study all enclosed in one room. I don't believe there is another type of room in the whole architectural cannon which is as intimate or as complex as the open plan kitchen / living / dining space. Nothing in an office, school, hotel, art gallery or other type of building tries to cram so much into so little.
How To Design An Open Plan Living Space.
I've blogged in the past about L - shaped open plan living. I have found that this is the optimal layout for an open plan space, because it allows different activities to carry on simultaneously without interrupting each other. This is easy to achieve in a new build, because it can be planned from the beginning but most of my projects involve altering older properties, often originally designed with the Victorian mindset of different rooms for different functions. One such project, finished in late 2013, was to create a hub for family life in a mid-terraced Edinburgh house. As you can see from the original layout, the house was cellular, each room had one function. Diversity was discouraged, the space didn't flow and life was a constant procession, moving from one room to the next.
A Hub For Family Life.
The client were a professional couple with young children, the husband had recently started his own business and wanted to work from home. My brief was to create a hub for family life, a kitchen / living / dining space and a home office. But where to put it all? As you can see from the proposed layout below, we extensively altered the internal layout. All the walls dashed in red were taken down and a new one storey extension was built around the rear, this is highlighted in yellow. The upper floor still had to be supported, this required two substantial steel posts which we incorporated into the kitchen island. The supports helped break up the space into a well defined L - shape. The new layout also incorporates a small gallery on the upper level, only accessible from the open plan space by a narrow stairs. This room is the home office and despite not having any doors between it and the room below, the husbands business is going from strength to strength. A separate utility room to one side keeps noisy appliances locked away and plenty of glazing lets in lots of natural light. Best of all the extension is modest in size, so it doesn't dramatically reduce the rear garden. The project was finished in late 2013 and after 18 months I returned to see how things were going. The client loves the space, their whole family can be in one room and yet not disturb each other. They can entertain, relax, cook, converse and just be together in one space. This walkthrough video shows how the space flows, the quality of natural light and the comfortable domestic scale of what is in reality, a big room. Externally, the design is quite conservative. The new extension looks unremarkable, like its always been there. While I love designing contemporary extensions, sometimes it pays to keep things simple.