Revisiting The Principles of Open Plan Kitchen Design
If you are planning to renovate, extend or build your own home, it is likely that you are considering an open plan kitchen. The open-plan layout is not a new concept and it is widely accepted as the architectural approach for most modern homes. However, as designers we feel it’s important to assess the history, merits and considerations of any design approach and we hope to pass some of these insights on to you in this journal.
In this article, we share a brief insight into the history of the open-plan layout and what makes it so desirable. We share photos of some of the open plan kitchens designed by Extreme to inspire your design, along with insights from our team on how to create a successful open plan kitchen. Read on to learn more.
A brief history
Except in ancient times, the majority of homes built before the second world war had a basic floor plan centred around the main hallway, which provided access to rooms serving specific functions. These floor plans often placed the kitchen at the rear of the property behind closed doors. Historically, the kitchen was considered a service area and not a space for socialising, partly for practical reasons; with no electricity, running water or gas until the 1900s-1920s, the kitchen would be full of smoke and heat.
Architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, began to challenge traditional domestic architecture in the early twentieth century and are often cited as early advocates of open plan living. Records of these first open plan living concepts can be found in the Ladies Home Journal, in particular the 1901 February and July issues. Here, Wright published plans for a home “in a prairie town”. These ‘prairie style’ homes centred on communal gathering areas with fluid transitions from one space to the next. However, these floor plans still featured a separate kitchen.
In the 1950s open floor plans began to appear regularly and were considered to be modern at the time. Middle-class women were often taking on the household duties that would have previously been carried out by maids, which led to the perception of kitchens as a room that should be beautiful, not purely a functional. Advances in technologies and industrialisation throughout the twentieth century, along with lifestyle changes, have all contributed to the rise in popularity of open-plan kitchens.
WHAT IS AN OPEN PLAN KITCHEN?
Open-plan kitchens tend to be one of the following combinations:
- Kitchen and dining area (with or without a separate formal dining room)
- Kitchen and living area (with separate formal dining room)
- Kitchen, dining and living area in one
WHY ARE OPEN PLAN KITCHENS SO POPULAR?
There are many reasons why open plan living is favoured. Open plan layouts maximise available space by removing any dividing walls and doors that would ordinarily interrupt flow between areas and restrict movement in each room. This concept works equally well for both compact townhouses and apartments or expansive homes and suits today’s more casual and informal style of living.
Open plan spaces are considered to be more sociable, partly because people can spend time in the same room without feeling cramped. The cooking experience is also very different to that of a separate kitchen, rather than the chef being isolated from the main living space, they are a part of the activity which is preferable for many people.
Open-plan kitchens can be well-suited to entertaining, as the larger footprint allows for more guests to gather within the same room. Once again, this offers a more sociable cooking and hosting experience as the host can prepare nibbles and drinks without having to leave the room. If accompanied by an additional dining room, this creates flexibility; casual drinks could be held in the kitchen area while the dining room coudl be the setting for more formal dinner parties. The dining room will often be designed in close proximity to the kitchen and potentially connected by a servery.
Beyond this, an open plan kitchen can also be practical for those with younger children, as the children can play or do homework in the living area while the parents prepare meals within the kitchen.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR AN OPEN PLAN KITCHEN
COHESIVE STYLE & BEAUTY
No longer a purely utilitarian space, a kitchen – and especially an open plan one – must be a beautiful space. A modern-day kitchen must be part of a home’s interior scheme, a place not just to facilitate the function of cooking, but a beautiful place that brings joy to its owners. To suit entertaining and relaxing evenings at home with the family, the design scheme and material palette of a kitchen should ensure that the space feels stylish, comfortable and uplifting rather than clinical or commercial. The kitchen and furniture should be a part of the architecture. If the kitchen is not cohesive with the interior design scheme and architecture of its environment, it will seem like an afterthought and relaxing on the sofa could feel as though you are lounging in your kitchen.
To create a cohesive and intentional design, textures, patterns and layers of colour can be combined with exciting design forms to create a kitchen that is a striking fitted-furniture feature. Unusual forms and shapes create a kitchen that looks like a piece of sculpture; a kitchen that is as pleasurable to look at as it is to use.
Additional fitted furniture in the style of your kitchen can also contribute to a cohesive aesthetic. For instance, an open plan kitchen and lounge may benefit from a built-in media unit, fitted sideboard or other fitted shelving, while a fitted banquette seating area may elevate an open plan kitchen diner. To achieve this, you will need to appoint a company that specialises in both kitchens and fitted furniture.
When considering an open plan kitchen layout, a key consideration is how the family will live in the space. Understanding the needs of each family member will determine the various functions that the room will need to facilitate and inform the layout, furniture and fittings. It may also reveal the need for design features to ensure that the room can serve multiple functions without impacting on comfort.
Some of the main hesitations that we hear from clients considering an open plan layout relate to sound levels, odours and clutter. However, all of these can be mitigated with professional design. An open-plan layout is not about simply opening up space, in fact, this alone can be detrimental. While the principle of open-plan may be at the core of a design scheme, compartmentalising the floorplan and creating zones are vital to create a space that is enjoyable to live in. It is this specialist expertise that determines the success of an open-plan layout.
A successful floorplan offers the benefits and spaciousness of open-plan, whilst also offering the opportunity to create separate spaces, nooks and private areas for people to have their own space away from one another. Some of the ways to break up a floor plan include semi-permanent partitions such as screens, bookcases and shelving, split-levels, pocket or sliding doors and dividing walls. Dividing walls can be designed as fireplaces, storage or aquariums in order to zone the room whilst preserving the open plan layout.
Homes with expansive footprints will often be designed with an open plan kitchen, dining and living space which is accompanied with separate rooms that each serve a specific purpose such as snugs, home offices, games rooms and home bars.
Glazing creates the openness of an open plan layout with added privacy. Dividing walls made from flat panel or crittall style glass allow light to flood through the entire space. Glass also offers views through into the next room, whilst closing the glazed door prevents sounds from travelling and creates a feeling of separation. The addition of a light voile curtain in front of the glass can completely enclose a room and create a truly private, cosier space.
PREP KITCHENS & SERVERIES
Many of our clients that choose an open plan layout, also incorporate a secondary prep kitchen (also referred to as a ‘spice’ or ‘mess’ kitchen). The prep-kitchen offers a separate space for the heavy-duty cooking, giving the central kitchen the role of a social hub, dining, living and entertaining space.
SEPARATE LAUNDRY & BOOT ROOMS
Whether a kitchen is open-plan, broken-plan or closed-plan, our clients prefer to create one or two separate adjoining rooms to function as a laundry room, boot room or general utility room. This functional space is also often designed with a door to the exterior and a designated area to remove muddy wellingtons or football boots – and perhaps a fully plumbed doggy shower.
Ultimately, the success of a kitchen layout is determined by how well it suits you and your lifestyle and how well it harmonises with the environment in which it sits. At Extreme, we have been designing kitchens since 1993 for a wide range of homes from city apartments to country mansions and we specialise in truly personal and bespoke design. We continue to challenge the status quo, advancing design principles, styles and standards in response to ever-evolving lifestyle changes both in the UK and overseas.
To commission an Extreme designer for your project, contact a studio.