Is broken-plan the new open-plan?

For years, contemporary home design has been characterized by open-plan living spaces. But the tide may be turning. Perhaps it’s that our homes are having to fulfill more functions than ever before. That more of us are working from home and families are increasingly becoming more complex. Or simply that we’re expecting our homes to deliver on multiple levels. Whatever the underlying reason, broken-plan is set to become the new open-plan design.

What is broken-plan living?

The concept of ‘broken-plan’ living combines the flow and openness of open-plan design with partially segregated zones. In a world of cavernous spaces, broken-plan brings back coziness and privacy.

The term ‘broken-plan’ was first used by UK architect, Mary Duggan while judging entries in the 2015 RIBA House of the Year awards. Many of the homes shortlisted had open-plan living spaces, but with elements of segregation – such as changes in level – built in. Duggan put this down to lifestyle changes that have created a demand for multiple linked spaces in homes.

Why is broken-plan the new open-plan?

Open-plan living provides a huge amount of flexibility, but sometimes being faced with a large, empty space can be overwhelming. There can be such a thing as too much flexibility.

When designing your home, you should also take into account that your needs will change over time. While open-plan spaces may be ideal for large dinner parties and entertaining, as your family grows you may need somewhere quiet for kids to play or do their homework. (Or somewhere to chuck the pile of washing out of sight of last-minute dinner guests.)

Changes in our use of technology also puts different demands on our homes. Greater use of tablets and mobile devices creates a demand for multiple quiet spaces around the home. Families may also have one or two people working from home who require productive office spaces.

Broken-plan design provides the opportunity for people to have their own space whilst retaining the light and flow of open-plan living.

How can it improve your life?

Having a communal family zone is all very well, but everyone needs some time alone and some space to themselves. A broken-plan layout allows children and adults to do their own thing while still feeling together as a family.

Privacy is also important, particularly as children get older. Having separate zones can reduce friction from conflicting demands for space and provide a more harmonious family environment. If older children or teenager feel that the only place they can get privacy is behind the closed door of their bedroom, then that’s where they’ll go.

Another downside of open-plan living is the acoustics. The last thing you want when you’re slaving over an important work project is a blaring TV or a food mixer in the background. Features such as large internal windows or glass walls can block noise but still keep a feeling of airiness and space.

This is also the case if you’re a social family. Having some segregation in living spaces means you can have your friends round for a coffee while your kids play on the Xbox.

How to create a contemporary broken-plan layout

Broken-plan living is characterized by a collection of inherently linked smaller spaces, often created on different levels. It’s a more subtle division of space than simply creating a wall between two areas – remember you want to keep the feel of light and space that you get in an open plan environment.

Owners of studio apartments are probably the masters of broken-plan living. Trying to cram a bedroom, living space, and kitchen/dining area into one room forces you to get inventive with separation devices, so look to these for inspiration.

Oversize chimney breasts or room dividers can separate a kitchen and dining space from a living area and create a design feature.

Open shelving units are ideal for dividing up large spaces whilst keeping light flowing through the home. Check out this post for more innovative ideas on bringing natural light into your home.

Split-level is a key element of broken-plan design. Even a few steps can mark a boundary between spaces with different functions. For example, having a dining area that’s set down a couple of steps from the kitchen allows you to stay in touch with guests whilst you’re cooking, but means you don’t have to look at the pile of dirty dishes when you sit down to eat.

Taken one step further, mezzanines are a great way to add another living area if you have the ceiling height. For example, you could have an elegant living room on the main level, with a den or kids play area on the upper level.

Glass walls or internal windows are ideal for creating an acoustic separation between areas while allowing light to flow through the house.

If you’re keen to keep the option of an open-plan environment, then consider more flexible separation devices. For example, retractable doors can be used to section off or open up parts of a room. Get imaginative: a pull-down cinema screen could be used to transform an open living space into a cozy TV room.

If you’re designing a new home, then think about how you and your family will use different spaces and move around the house. The key to an effective broken-plan design is to create clear boundaries between certain areas but keep the space as a whole fluid.

What do you think? Is the move to broken-plan living just another fashion trend or a reflection of changing demands on our homes?

Looking to build your own home? Whether you’re a fan of broken-plan or open-plan, we specialize in designing custom-built, high performance homes. Get in touch to find out more.