The Five Rules of Designing Open Plan Living

Last week we joined a group of architects and interior designers at the gorgeous Bulthaup showroom in Clerkenwell to learn about designing open-plan living. Specifically, how to create an open plan living area that doesn’t feel like you are living in the kitchen. While Balthaup gave pointers on furniture design, John Cullen Lighting was there to demonstrate the impact of thoughtful lighting .

In planning our new open-pan kitchen/dining/living area, two things are important. Firstly, that it doesn’t feel like we are living in a kitchen. Secondly, that there is a good ‘flow’, a space that is easy to walk around and everything is easy to access. After months of moving things around a paper plan and acres of graph paper, we have a final layout.

If you are going through the same process, here are the top five things we learnt along the way.

1. Think & Plan – Take time to think carefully about where things are going to be done and how you will use the space. Consider everything that matters to you, from where you will do the cooking and washing up, to where will the children do their homework. Maybe it is important for you to be able to see a TV or listen to the radio while you are cooking. If you are a keen cook, where you will serve up food and what is the path from the serving area to the table.

The aim is to make life as easy and as efficient as possible. By keeping the fridge near the preparation area, which should be near the hob and the sink, everything needed to cook a meal is to hand. When things are hard to access, it quickly starts to feel like a chore and before you know it, you are calling the local take away!

Some standard kitchen layouts showing ‘the Golden Triangle’ – an German idea in which the hob, sink and fridge are positioned to make cooking as efficient as possible. It is a useful concept to help you plan your kitchen.

2. The Flow – A crucial part of the planning process is understanding ‘flow’. This simply means how people move around the space. You don’t want children running past the hob to get to the garden. But you might need them to get to the fridge without getting in the way of the cook. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. It is mostly common sense and needs to be planned. Have pathways through the room and enough space to move around.

3. Tidy, Tidy, Tidy – Keep the kitchen area as tidy and clutter free as possible. If you have the space, consider an appliance warehouse. This is a cupboard that stores all your daily appliances – kettle, toaster, food processor – in one cupboard. You just open the doors, use what you need and close it up when you are done. This allows the kitchen to ‘disappear’ so it just looks like furniture in your room, rather than a kitchen.

An ‘appliance warehouse’ at Bulthaup – this breakfast unit stores everything you need to start the day. The doors open and slide into the side, while the pull out larder makes everything easy to access. When you are done, it all closes up into a beautiful piece of furniture.

4. Consistency – Keep the style of furniture consistent across the room, using colours and textures to create zones or sub-rooms with the space. For example, if you pick shaker style kitchen cabinets, then choose shaker style sideboards and bookcases, but change the colour or texture to zone an area. Chose consistent flooring to give a sense of unity across the area, and rugs to mark out different uses.

The Bulthaup showroom in Clerkenwell shows how one design in different textures can be used to create a cohesive design with individual zones.

5. Layer Lighting – Plan lighting from the beginning. Think about the type of lighting that is needed in each area. In the kitchen, clear task lighting is needed so that cooking is carried out safely. In the seating area, you might need soft ambient lighting for when you are entertaining, and task lighting for reading. The key to success is to create layers of lighting.

The lighting for this kitchen was designed by John Cullen. This view shows the classic spotlight effect. Spotlights are really helpful for task lighting or to focus on a particular feature.

For example, in the kitchen bright task lighting is needed while cooking, but once you are in the dining area, soft ambient light is better. So layer lighting so that you can adjust it to meet you needs. Remember to give each zone its own controls for maximum flexibility.

John Cullen created layers of lighting in this space by adding lights in interesting places – such as the rooflights – to create drama and interest. The kitchen island and seating lights create soft ambient lighting. The feeling of a space changes dramatically with different effects.

Designing an open-plan living area can be daunting, but with careful planning it is possible to create a beautiful space that works for you and your family. There are limits and drawbacks to this kind of space, so take the time to consider everyone’s needs. If it isn’t going to work for your family, then consider a different approach.


Useful Links: Bulthaup, John Cullen Lighting

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