Over the last quarter century there has been a definite trend towards the ‘open-plan’ home. This has seen a move away from separate lounge, dining room, and kitchen towards a multi-purpose cooking, dining and living space. In principle, the idea is that you get more usable space from one big room than you do from a series of smaller rooms. In practice, that’s fine until you try living in a space that pits the TV against the stereo or food processor.
More recently families (and designers) are recognising the need to separate noise producing activities in the interests of family harmony. This doesn’t mean a return to the Victorian approach of a separate room for every activity (tea in the parlour anyone?), but it does mean that designers are becoming more inventive with creating spatial flexibility, finding new ways to allow spaces to be opened up to create room, or shut down into discrete areas.
Cavity sliders are the easiest way to create flexible spaces. A solid timber slider becomes a moveable wall, containing noise, and allowing a smaller, more intimate space to be created. This also has the advantage in winter of being easier to heat.
Moveable shuttered panels are another way to create a flexible separate space with the option to open up the shutter to allow ventilation and light through.
Large pivoting doors that sit back against the wall are another great option, and can create a dramatic effect if you have the wall-space to accommodate one.
When designing a room that opens up and shuts down, be aware that the spaces need to work in both configurations. This may have an impact on the way you arrange furniture. It is also important to consider how you will light and heat each space.
Use flooring to create integration or separation of spaces. Using the same flooring throughout will help create a visual flow, when the room is opened up, but by using a different flooring you can create a different mood. For example, carpeting will help to create a more cosy ambiance in a smaller area off a larger room with hard flooring.
If you don’t want to divide the room physically, there are many other ways to create a sense of separate spaces within a larger area:
Raising or lowering ceiling heights within one space will create different ‘zones’. A lower ceiling will create a more intimate dining space for example. A double-height ceiling will create a sense of space even in a small area.
Change the floor level. A couple of steps up or down makes a big difference to the way we perceive the space.
A change of wall colour can be used to define a separate area. For example, a darker, warmer colour in the dining area will help to create a sense of intimacy.
Lighting can also be used to create different zones. Make sure your lighting plan gives you flexibility to define individual areas and create different moods within the same room.