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Broken-plan living is changing the way we live


Broken plan livingIt was hailed as the perfect solution to the modern lifestyle, but is open-plan living now falling out of favour?

It seems the answer is a qualified yes. Open-plan living is still seen as a good idea when you have limited space, but it's not the solution for an increasing number of architects and homeowners embarking on a new home project or major renovation.

Today, it's all about creating a range of connected living spaces for the family – areas that may be linked visually but are distinct from each other. Frequently, this involves a change of levels, which has given rise to the term "broken-plan" living.

This probably conjures up images of 70s-style spilt-level homes and sunken lounges. And that is exactly what is happening, albeit with a lot more style.

UK architect Mary Duggan came up with the term while judging entries in the RIBA House of the Year awards. Duggan says that while examining the shortlist of entries she noticed many of her preferred designs featured a change of level.

She puts it down to lifestyle changes and devices. "Greater iPad use is causing a demand for more private spaces around the home, and 'grand lounges' are becoming snugs," she says. "Home workers want studies, and older children want greater independence within the family home."

Here in New Zealand, architects have taken the concept to heart over the past couple of years, and it's their clients that are demanding change.

Wellington architect Simon Novak of Novak + Middleton Architects says people are wanting a range of spaces that can be used simultaneously in different ways.

"The children may be doing their homework in a quiet space, or gaming, and be close to the family for interaction and supervision, but not in the same room.

"There's also an increasing need for a study as more and more people use computers and work from home. These areas may be linked to the family space, so you can have a conversation with someone in the living room, but not actually be in the same room. We often put in sliding doors to give a family the flexibility to use the spaces in different ways. This also makes a room a lot more interesting, visually."

Novak says comfort is another driver behind a growing demand for more intimate, cosy living areas and "nurturing" spaces. "These living areas may have a fireplace and a bookcase, but the days of a television over the fireplace are gone – the tele has moved out of the living room."

Architect Gerrad Hall recently won an NZIA award for a villa renovation project. His new extension at the rear of the old villa features a "broken-plan" design, with the living area set lower than the kitchen-dining space, and off to one side.

Hall says the living area was set down below ground level to anchor the room visually, providing an intimate cave-like space that is simultaneously connected yet separate from the family area.

"I think the initial appeal of open-plan living was the way it democratised a space so everyone could share it," says Hall. "It was a very optimistic '50s thing where everyone could live together in harmony. The reality is people want to do their own thing in different spaces in the home. Forcing people to come together can be quite dictatorial."

Hall says today it's more about providing for self expression and giving parents and kids separation, which is precisely what the villa renovation offers.