How to create an open plan house

If you’ve recently extended your home or are looking to update an open plan space, follow Jude Tugman's guide for help and inspiration

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Extending the kitchen gave Rosie and Tom Carter the perfect opportunity to create this eclectic open plan space

Creating an open plan space is a desirable home improvement, but furnishing and decorating it is very different from working on individual rooms.

With fewer walls, more open floor space and a greater area to work with, even confident home improvers can feel some trepidation. This guide will help you get your open plan space looking fabulous and working for your needs.

Live in a period property? Read our guide to going open plan in an old house.

How to design an open plan layout

If your open plan room contains a kitchen – or a bathroom in a bathroom/bedroom arrangement – this area will frequently be located by an external wall for convenience when expelling waste. After that, though, a bit of visualisation is called for to decide where everything should go.

It’s useful to design the space while imagining the walls in place. This ensures circulation space is properly considered and allows each space to have its own sense of importance. You’ll need to think about both the areas where things are – the dining table, sofa, storage pieces and so on – and spaces that you will use to move through the room.


Related articles: How to link a bedroom and en suite | Interior design tips for open plan spaces | An open plan extension to a 1920s home | Open plan FAQs

open plan bedroom with a dressing room and bathroom

This open plan master bedroom has an en suite bathroom at one end and a dressing room at the other

Don’t forget to allow space to open doors or drawers, move chairs away from a table and so on. A scale plan can be useful if you aren’t confident thinking that way. If you prefer to work with the actual space, then newspaper sheets cut and taped together to represent the furniture will show how much floor space everything will take up.

Planning an open plan room

  • Think about your view: what do you want to see from the sofa? Perhaps you want to have the dining table overlooking the garden. Decide early in your planning which area gets the window position.
  • Allow sufficient circulation space through the room. How will you move from area to area without tripping or being blocked?
  • Consider how far you want to walk from the kitchen space to the dining table. Walking any distance with hot food isn’t going to be convenient.
  • Think about noise. Is the television going to be struggling to be heard above the clatter of pans in the kitchen area?
  • Think about replicating a series of rooms rather than working with one giant room – an open-plan space won’t work if everything is against the walls.

Decorating ideas

For the open plan space to flow naturally, it is important that there is a consistency to the decoration. Keeping the colour scheme fairly neutral provides an easy backdrop to work with.

Neutral doesn’t mean colourless, though. A pale colour can perform the same function, so think about muted blues and greens as well as off-whites, biscuit and coffee shades.

Industrial style kitchen with filament bulb pendants and copper touches

Lisa Noble and Alex Bramwell extended to create a stylish open-plan kitchen that’s ideal for entertaining

(Image: © Malcolm Menzies)

Your scheme also needs to help you distinguish individual areas and an addition of colour and pattern will help you do this job. This is your opportunity to be as bold as your tastes. Rugs and feature wallpapers are easy ways to introduce these distinguishing elements.

To succeed, though, all the colours and patterns you choose should work with your neutral backdrop and have elements in common, otherwise they will spoil the consistent feel of your open plan space.

How to choose flooring for an open plan layout

Remember the main reason for creating an open plan space is to maximise the floor area available to you. Therefore your floor finish is of key importance. You will need to choose flooring that is up to the job for all areas of the room. A kitchen in a downstairs open plan area, or a bathroom in a master suite open plan space are going to create the most exacting demands on your flooring.

open plan kithen diner with parquet flooring

The parquet flooring in this kitchen diner adds texture to the room and compliments the vast glazing opening out onto the garden

Remember that you can soften the space with carpet or rugs in seating areas, but they won’t stand up to splashes in a kitchen. And always consider how noisy the floor will be in a big, open space — carpet absorbs sound, but hard surfaces won’t.

You can also use rugs to define different areas of the room. For example, think about grouping the living room seating around a rug, or defining the dining space with one. Make sure the rug does not pose a tripping hazard in high traffic areas.

Flooring choices

  • Carpet: warm and comfortable, and with a huge variety of finishes, it’s a great option if you don’t have a kitchen area to consider in your space.
  • Laminate: plenty of choice in terms of appearance. Make sure you check with the manufacturer that your preference is suitable for a kitchen if this area is part of your open-plan space – some aren’t.
  • Linoleum: easy to keep clean and made from natural ingredients. Good choice of designs. Suitable for any open-plan combination.
  • Tiles: a hard-wearing choice, and enormous selection of designs and sizes. You will need to take into account whether your choice is non-slip enough for all areas. Can feel colder than other options – so think about combining it with underfloor heating.
  • Vinyl: with its ability to look like wood or ceramic tiles and easy-care credentials, this is a sound choice for whichever open-plan areas you want to incorporate.
  • Wood: beautiful, natural choice for living and dining areas, with a huge variety of options in terms of colour, plank size and design. In the kitchen, it can get damaged if a heavy item is dropped, but wood does have the advantage that it can be refinished.

Expert advice by Jude Tugman – Architect your home