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Open-plan living: How to avoid the most common mistakes

open plan living

Open plan living often gets a bad rap. But I think that’s because when extending a home to create a multifunctional space it’s easy to make mistakes. Open-plan living spaces need careful planning in how they are laid out otherwise the end up turning into a big room that’s difficult to furnish, noisy and full of stuff.

Despite the risks it’s still a popular choice for family living and if you get it right can really enhance your quality of life. Here are my top dos and don’ts for planning an open plan space.

Open Plan Living


Just stick a big square box onto the back of your house. This may seem obvious but often the focus is on adding space rather than enhancing what’s already there. As soon as you extend you’ll be changing the quality of the space in the existing house. Form the amount of daylight it gets to the flow within the space, these rooms will need to be reconfigured to work with your new addition.


Plan the space to suit your lifestyle. Do you need to build some flexibility into the layout? Will you need to be able to close the space off at certain times?

Think about how you want to feel when you are in the open-plan living space, do you want it to be calming and relaxing or an energizing space?

This is where your needs, the stage of life you’re at and your personality all come into play. Really spend some time thinking about all of this to create the feeling that you want to evoke. You’ll be surprised how having this clear in your mind will help you to make much more informed decisions as you go through the process. From choosing flooring to designing the layout, this is what underpins a successful outcome.

open-plan living space design


Forget about storage. This is the secret to maintaining a clutter free open-plan living space. If you don’t have the right kind of storage and haven’t considered exactly what you need to store you‘ll be facing a constant battle of where to put your stuff. Designated storage is far more efficient and useful than general store cupboards where everything gets thrown into and it is impossible to find anything in. The old saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ for open plan really is the key to success.


Opt for designated storage solutions rather than a one size fits all approach. Think carefully about what your storage requirements are and let what you need to store dictate the kind of storage that you select. For example, are the items that you need to store being used every day? Things that need to be accessed frequently should be stored in a way that allows you to get to them easily.

Open Plan Living


Over light the space with too many fixed downlights – the result will be harsh and will tend to create glare. Instead, position directional fittings so they light the walls to reflect light back into the room.

Don’t rely solely on ambient and overhead lighting – this kind of lighting is purely functional and gives an overall illumination for a space. It is generally achieved either by overhead pendants or spotlights. Make sure you include some secondary lighting such as floor and table lamps. Not only will they help to dress a room but they will also create atmosphere.  


Have seperate circuits so you can control the mood of the space and make sure that you can dim the lights. If you are considering smart or automated lighting controls this is the area to go for it. In a large open plan area you will find that you have multiple light switches. By opting for an automated system these would be replaced with one switch plate on which you would have each setting programmed, giving you effortless control to create the perfect atmosphere whatever the occasion.

When planning your lighting scheme for an open-plan living space you should do so with the location of your furniture in mind rather than simply focusing on the ceiling. By doing this you will be able to light the different zones more effectively.

open plan living advice


Forget about the garden when planning the space. When you extend your living space outside, you gain additional living space and by carrying the internal finishes outside you create the illusion of both your internal and external spaces feeling larger. Working your garden into your home improvement and linking your ground floor living space with the outdoor space is also a guaranteed way to add value to your home.  


Try to make the transition between inside and out as seamless as possible. Your choice of finish will have a big part to play in how successful this transition is. Choosing a floor finish that can be used internally as well as externally works wonderfully well. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors are another successful way to link inside and out. Whether the doors are left open or closed, the boundary between the two areas is blurred.

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Denise O'Connor

Author Denise O'Connor

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