“Broken-plan living” is a new trend to replace open-plan living. A phrase coined by architect Mary Duggan, a judge of the RIBA House of the Year award 2015 to describe open spaces which feature different levels or retain some walls to create distinctive zones and areas with quiet or privacy.


What does ‘broken plan’ mean in practice?


  • You may still have an open plan kitchen and open plan living room next to each other, but on different levels and perhaps with glass balustrading between them, to reduce sound transference between them.
  • You may knock the wall down between your kitchen and dining room, but choose to retain a partial wall perpendicular to this, to create a snug area around the corner. The snug hasn’t got a door, but it is broken off from the main throng of the kitchen/diner.
  • You could put sliding doors across an area or retain original shutters if you’re lucky enough to have them. This provides the flexibility of having a space open or closed off at a moment’s notice. Great for home office working.

Why the need for broken plan?


There has been a huge rise of smartphone and tablet use in the home. ‘Broken-plan’ layouts allow couples and families to use their devices in private or watch different movies or TV shows at the same time, but in close proximity. Parents are asking us more and more for quiet spaces to work from home.

Teenagers want independence but still want to be at the heart of the family rather than in isolation. And kids want to play on their instruments, iPads or Xboxes without being told to turn the sound down.

Broken plan living home office

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


What’s happened to open plan?


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.

The last 20 years has seen a flurry of wall demolitions in our desire to make everything open, spacious and on-trend. However, this often results in one big open plan space that can often be impractical for the reasons outlined above, as well challenging to furnish and soul-less to live within.

Ensoul was recently asked for comment in a Sunday Times Home feature which explores the topic of broken-plan living. The feature claims that there “is a growing backlash against these cavernous spaces.â€

I would argue that open plan can still work well with 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”, says Viki Lander, Creative Director at Ensoul Interior Architecture.


We call it 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 and how to create a flow around it, using smart ways to change a mood as you walk through a space.


Here are some of my 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.
  • 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.
  • Designing 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 open 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.

For more information about how we go about creating these spaces, have a look at our Architectural Design Services