Creating good flow – in other words a successful open plan layout that looks as good as it is practical – takes some skill and lots of planning. Here, architectural designer Greg Toon tells us how to create a logical layout with good connection between spaces, creating a well-thought-out home that works exactly how you want it to – a must-read for anyone who's going to be knocking down walls in a house renovation or who is building an extension.
What is 'flow' in house design?
‘Flow’ operates in two main ways: the position of rooms and their relationship to each other, and the detail of how a room is laid out in terms of doors, windows and furniture, including fitted solutions such as kitchens and bathrooms.
For design success, think about your ‘route’ through the whole house and each space early, as these decisions will be reflected in the final plans.
Considering flow in an open plan kitchen diner
As open plan or partially broken-plan living continues to be popular, flow is now more critical that ever. Not only is it important to ensure a space is suited to its purpose, it’s a good idea to think about how this area flows from outside in and vice versa, often through large windows or bi-fold doors. Remember, good flow is compromised when something awkward interrupts the openness of a space – a kitchen island or a sofa that blocks a route to the rear doors, for instance.
The same applies if you decide to keep individual rooms separate: make sure you position spaces that make sense for you. For example, avoid putting utility rooms in a prime position, as while it’s great when one has an exterior door, you shouldn’t include this at the expense of sacrificing a connection to the garden from the kitchen, dining and living areas. Site these rooms in the best locations and make sure those that function as a pair – dining room and kitchen – are not too distant.
Think about hallways, stairs and landings
The term ‘flow’ also encompasses other areas, too, such as hallways, staircases and landings. Many designers may try to design-out corridors as a waste of space, but when they are necessary, try to avoid corners and use a comfortable width.
Go for a glazed door at the end of the corridor to give a sense of the room beyond, so the passage appears as part of the whole space and not a stand-alone area.
Position furniture for good flow
Always consider furniture layouts during the early design stages. While a plan doesn’t have to be fixed, it is good to have an idea for a layout that works from the off. Ignoring furniture placement is a recipe for disaster – you may end up with a room that has family members traipsing through the sitting areas to get to the kitchen, or that makes watching TV awkward.
Moreover, kitchen or bedroom entrances that open onto the end of cabinetry or a wardrobe contribute to clunky flow and are best avoided. Try to minimise the need to change direction when walking around a property, or if you do need to, consider a curved wall to guide you through in an organic way.
Consider building regulations
What about building regulations? These can play a restrictive part in the flow of a house. A three-storey home, perhaps with a loft conversion, always needs a ‘protected route’ from the top floor to an external exit to use in case of an emergency, so fire-rated doors are required for all rooms as well as a corridor – consider fire-rated, glazed doors so a space doesn’t feel too enclosed.
In general, doors are an interesting part of the flow principle. A closed door acts as a pause point when moving around a house, so consider sliding pocket doors as a compromise, which can be closed or hidden within a recess when you want the feeling of openness – great for wide openings.
Greg Toon is the founder of architectural design business Potential etc.