Ensoul luxury apartment open plan living and broken plan living kitchen diner sitting room

History and evolution

Viki Lander, Creative Director & Interior Design Lead for Ensoul gives her top tips on creating both privacy and connection to suit the modern lifestyle. This article discusses the history of open plan living and the evolution towards broken plan living spaces.

For those of us not living in new or modern housing, the history of our home was to live with a series of completely separate rooms with distinct functions. A typical Victorian ground floor would feature:

  • A kitchen.
  • A separate scullery.
  • An outside toilet to the rear of the property.
  • A front parlour.
  • A back parlour.
  • An entrance hall to the front of the house.

The reason for this was a reflection of a more formal lifestyle with servants out of sight in the scullery and guests entertained in the front parlour, the showplace of the home. However, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his “Prairie” style circa 1901 believed in combining multiple rooms together into a continuous space. In other words, he was an early innovator of “open plan living”.

So, let’s fast-forward through the decades and our technological achievements. We now have improved structural materials, glazing and central heating combined with a desire for more sociable and informal lifestyles. This has seen many of us take a sledgehammer, literally, to our homes. Most commonly, this has been happening to the ground floor of our homes. The Telegraph recently cited that one in five have had a downstairs wall demolished in the past decade.

The benefits of open plan living are clear:

  • The ability to socialise more with friends and family.
  • We can disperse light across bigger areas with walls removed.
  • A more contemporary and informal atmosphere.

Broken plan living

However, a completely open plan living approach can translate into big cavernous spaces. These spaces are difficult to heat, incredibly noisy and frustrating if you like a bit of quiet time and/or privacy. We need a new approach for today’s hectic, live/work, multi-hobbyist, smart phone led lives. Therefore, families want to feel near each other as well as being able to do different things without disturbing each other.

So, the answer was broken plan living which is a phrase coined by Mary Duggan, a judge of the RIBA House of the Year award. Her idea was to describe open spaces which feature different levels or retain some walls to create distinctive zones and areas with some quiet and privacy. It’s about smart, flexible, interconnected spaces with the option to close off some areas on demand.

These types of new space configurations are mostly desired in main living areas, i.e. kitchen, dining room, family rooms. However, master bedroom suites are following suit with more and more being modelled on hotel suites. These spaces have lounge seating, integrated music, TV, dressing areas and occasionally open plan bathrooms with a separate, closed off WC.

It’s about achieving the best of both worlds. Interesting and flexible spaces that function well for today’s fast paced life.

Top tips to achieve “broken plan living” spaces

  • Take out sections of walls or reduce their height rather than removing them completely.
  • Put in glass panels or walls to give the sense of being together whilst providing separation.
  • Use pocket, folding and sliding doors to enable areas to be closed off or opened as and when you like.
  • Invest in some freestanding screens – great for delineating space and for adding texture and interest.
  • Position furniture pieces as room dividers. Sofas, sideboards and open backed bookcases are great at doing this.
  • Fit different floor materials, light fittings and change paint colours to define different areas within a large space.

For more examples of broken plan living, have a look through our project portfolio .