How to design an open plan kitchen

A kitchen that’s part of an open-plan layout needs to be great looking as well as functional. These steps will ensure your open plan kitchen works beautifully

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Designing a kitchen from scratch is complicated enough, but building a kitchen extension or knocking through to create an open-plan layout, particularly a kitchen, dining and living space is a task that needs careful planning to be successful. Here's how to get your open plan kitchen, living and dining space just right.

Kitchen diner in an extension

Why an open plan kitchen needs careful planning

Considering the layout of the kitchen and how it functions with the rest of the zones of an open-plan arrangement is vital, especially if you're creating a family kitchen, which needs careful planning. Once a kitchen is part of an open space it will impact on every other area – there’s no closing the door on noisy appliances and clutter left on worktops after preparing a meal. Likewise, the cabinetry will be in plain view all of the time, so it needs to look stylish. 

Getting it right needn’t be tricky, though. Whether you’re working with a kitchen designer, architect or builder, use our guide and your kitchen can be a fabulous part of an open-plan living space. 

Zone an open plan kitchen, diner and living space

An open-plan live-in kitchen diner needs to have defined areas – seating, dining, cooking – even if they’re open to one another, so start by planning which zone the kitchen will occupy.

Although not essential, locating the kitchen by an external wall is convenient for both waste water and ducting for an extractor fan, and is more budget-friendly.

An external wall is also useful in the kitchen zone for locating base and wall units against, as well as kitchen appliances.

Where will the dining table be positioned? Bear in mind that you won’t want a long walk from preparation and cooking areas to take food to the table, so kitchen and dining zones need to be thought of together.

Do you want a garden view from the kitchen? If so, it will need to occupy an area of the room near to windows or bifolding or sliding doors. You may prefer to create immediate views from the dining and seating areas instead, though, in which case the kitchen can be located further back.

couple in their modern open plan kitchen diner with exposed brick wall

(Image: © David Woolley)

How will people move through the open-plan room? Circulation space between zones needs to be unimpeded by furniture. It’s also vital for safety’s sake that people aren’t going to pass through the work area of the kitchen to get from one zone to another.

Is the kitchen zone far enough away from the seating area? Watching TV or talking may be difficult against the background noise of clattering pans and worktop appliances, so think about the distance between these zones.

Do you want appliances like washing machines and dryers to be part of the kitchen? Remember that noisy spin cycles will do nothing for the atmosphere of the room. You may wish to plan cupboards or a utility room separate from the kitchen in which these can be kept. Artificial light will suffice for a utility space so this closed-off zone can be located at the centre of an open-plan floorplan.

Top tip: Visualising an open-plan space as a series of rooms can help you plan the space effectively.

Industrial style kitchen with filament bulb pendants and copper touches

(Image: © Malcolm Menzies)

Create a broken-plan layout

'Broken-plan' living is the new 'open-plan' living. What is broken plan living? It's about creating distinct zones within an open-plan layout with different floor finishes, split-level flooring and partitions, such as half-walls, bookcases, glazed doors or screens.

What's the benefit of broken-plan kitchen, diners and living spaces? Visually, you can keep a spacious, bright, sociable feel for your room, but also create a definite impression of separation between the various zones. From a practical point of view, it means that a messy kitchen can be quickly screened from a dining area; or a noisy kitchen diner can be separated from the lounging space.

Devise an open-plan kitchen floorplan 

Once you know in which zone of an open-plan area the kitchen is to be located, it’s time to plan the kitchen itself. For this, your kitchen designer or architect can make scale drawings, or you can create your own using graph paper.

A scale drawing can help you focus on what the space offers in terms of walls against which you can position base and wall units and appliances. You can note the position of windows and any external doors that lead from the kitchen zone, too.

Choose the best open-plan kitchen layout

A linear galley layout can work effectively in an open-plan space, maximising use of an exterior wall for the sink, base and wall units and appliances. 

Linear layouts are often teamed with a kitchen island directly opposite. This can visually and physically mark off the kitchen zone from the rest of the room and helps keep the work area safely apart. An island can incorporate a breakfast bar, leaving kids or guests in contact with the cook but away from preparation and cooking space. Plan in space on the dining side for kitchen island seating to be pulled in and out.

In a small open-plan kitchen layout, the dining table could be positioned opposite the linear run of units to perform the same separation function.

Consider a peninsula to create a more closed-in preparation area.

L-shaped kitchens, using the corner of an open-plan floorplan, can maximise kitchen storage. L-shapes can also be combined with an island.

U-shaped kitchens are also an option if maximum separation without losing the open layout is required.

Be prepared to tell your designer or architect your ideas, but take their advice on combining the kitchen layout with the rest of the zones and on how the preparation and cooking spaces, storage and sink are positioned within the kitchen.

copper tap

Decide on what to include in an open-plan kitchen

 Put together a list of all the must-have elements of the new kitchen so nothing gets missed from the design. Now’s the time to check that all that’s required will fit into the zone:

Pick an open-plan kitchen style

Once you’ve decided on the elements your open-plan kitchen should include, think about the style of cabinetry and the materials both units and worktop are made from. In an open-plan layout these will be on display all the time and be set alongside the dining table and chairs and sofas and armchairs, so you’ll need to consider how the individual furniture choices you make for each zone work together.

Is the overall look of your open-plan layout contemporary? Sleek, flat-fronted kitchen units can be a winner complementing the fuss-free lines of sofas and dining furniture.

Furniture more classic or country? Go for cabinetry that continues the vibe. Shaker kitchen cabinets have timeless style.

Handles or handless? Up the contemporary quotient with ultra-modern handleless kitchen units, or choose handles that echo details used on other furniture in finish or style.

Think unit finish, too. High-gloss cabinetry can maximise light while painted kitchen cabinets are easy to update if you want to change the colour in the future making them a cost-effective choice.

Looking for inspiration? 25 kitchen cabinet design ideas will give you plenty.

Open-plan kitchen design know-how

  • Think about the style of extractor you choose if you’re positioning a hob on an island. An island hood may compromise views across the room. Would a ceiling extractor be better?
  • A breakfast bar or peninsula with a raised side can provide an effective screen between a seating or dining area and the kitchen so the remnants of meal preparation aren’t on show.
  • Look at the noise levels of appliances when you’re buying. Even if it’s in a utility room, a louder washing machine might be heard, and a dishwasher could be intrusive, too, if it’s not designed to be quiet.
  • Half walls, changes of level and banks of kitchen storage can help to zone the kitchen area further from the rest of the space if you like the idea of extra privacy without losing the benefits of a 21st-century layout.
  • Some kitchen companies offer storage furniture for living areas in the same style as kitchen cabinetry, which can create a cohesive feel. 

(Image: © Chris Snook)

Select an open-plan kitchen unit colour

Choosing the right colour for cabinetry can help distinguish the kitchen as a zone within the open-plan layout so don’t be afraid to choose hues such as blue or green for units. This can be repeated in accessories or soft furnishings in other zones to create a subtle link across the open-plan space.

Prefer white? White’s a popular choice in an open-plan layout, reflecting light to keep the overall impression airy and spacious. If you’re worried it’s too cool, try adding in wood finishes – for example for wall cabinetry, or on a kitchen island unit or bar stools.

Grey is as popular for open-plan kitchens as in other kitchens and can tone with grey upholstery in the seating area.

Cream and off-white tones can look softer than white in classic and modern country-style homes.

Black or black and white units combined can make a striking impression if you want an attention-grabbing design without using colour.

A bespoke seating area inspired by Japanese design

(Image: © Bruce Hemming)

Opt for the right open-plan kitchen worktop

Choosing the right kitchen worktop is vital. The whole gamut of worksurface options are available from economical laminate through natural stone, manufactured composites and wood, together with other materials such as stainless steel and concrete. Bear in mind that each has its own maintenance requirements as well as qualities. 

Once again, the important point to note is that the open-plan layout means the worktop is on permanent show and is also set against other surfaces across dining and living spaces so consider the aesthetic qualities alongside the room’s other materials as well as thinking of the look of the kitchen. 

Choose open-plan kitchen splashbacks

Consider the splashbacks in the context of the whole open-plan space, too. A simple upstand on the worktop may be enough in the preparation area with more protection behind the hob. Metro tiles here will give the room an industrial twist that can be picked up in lighting and dining furniture, or try a stainless-steel panel instead.

Alternatively, for a minimal finish, choose clear glass, which will be an unobtrusive presence in an open-plan room.

patterned stone worktop on kitchen island with pendant lights and flowers

(Image: © Mowlem & Co)

Get the right window dressings for open-plan kitchens

Dressing windows for an open-plan kitchen, diner and living space need to suit and complement all zones in the room. They might also need, for example, to be fitted to a bay window at one end of the room and folding sliding doors at the other. 

Ideally, the kitchen window dressings for each part of the room should work together, which makes window shutters or kitchen blinds an obvious choice. They come in various styles, can be colour matched to suit your scheme, are easy to keep clean and needn't cost a fortune if you opt for DIY-fit designs. If you want to add a softer touch to your scheme, café-style shutters look wonderful matched with curtains at a bay window, for example.

Tier on Tier Shutters in a kitchen

(Image: © The Shutter Store)

Plan open-plan kitchen lighting

Kitchen lighting should be planned for individual zones in an open-plan space and operable on a separate circuit. This way, when you’ve moved away from the kitchen to the dining area the lights won’t be shining brightly on the accumulated cooking dishes and pans.

Light the zone just as you would light a kitchen elsewhere: task lighting is necessary to provide good light for work areas, and there should be effective overall ambient light, too. What about hanging pendant lights above a breakfast bar as well? They can create a fantastic focal point.

Consider open-plan kitchen flooring

Most often the flooring in an open-plan layout extends across all areas to emphasise the proportions of the space and help it feel unified. Kitchen flooring needs to stand up to floor traffic, splashes, and dropped items, so make sure the floor you choose across the whole space meets its demands.

Another alternative is to mark the kitchen zone with a change of flooring – for example patterned tiles that introduce a more decorative element to a work area. If you’re taking this route, make sure there’s a style or colour link with other features in the open-plan space.

Natural Carrara Marble Tiles

(Image: © Walls and Floors)

What does a new open-plan kitchen cost?

Prices start from around £3,000 for good quality units for an average sized kitchen. Add in worktops, which will cost from £100, and appliances and fitting, which can vary from a few hundred pounds to more than £2,000, depending on the kitchen design. 

Bear in mind that an open-plan space tends to be larger than the average kitchen, and includes more elements that need to co-ordinate for a cohesive feel; this means the cost of refurnishing and accessorising the room will be incrementally greater. However, there are clever ways to cut the cost of a new kitchen to help you keep to your budget.

Will you need planning permission for an open-plan kitchen?

Demolishing walls to create an open-plan layout doesn’t usually require planning permission. If you’re extending to create an open-plan layout, this can often be achieved under the permitted development regime. However, you should check with your local authority’s planning department to verify that this applies in your case.

Structural changes will require the input of a structural engineer, and the building regulations will apply to aspects of the work, too.

Who can fit an open-plan kitchen?

If you’re working with a kitchen company, they may provide a fitting service, and kitchen designers can also take charge of the entire process from design to final fit out, managing the trades involved.

It’s also possible to find a reliable builder yourself to install the kitchen, or even take on some aspects of the work yourself if you are a competent DIYer.

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