More homeowners are looking to maximise space by creating open plan living. Interior designer Jamie Hempsall reports.

Traditionally the British property market has been obsessed by the number of rooms a house has, valuing these over the actual amount of space on offer.   However, the busy lives that people now lead mean households are increasingly placing emphasis on the time that they can spend together at home.

Subsequently, many people are looking to re-design their homes to create more open-plan living areas.   If successfully planned, this can be the key to unlocking to true potential of your dwelling. Ensuring you feel connected, whilst at the same time not feeling overcrowded.

So what are the key considerations to ensure a wonderful integrated space, rather than an aircraft hangar? Without a doubt, the two most important are sight lines and heating.

The attraction of open-plan design is the feeling of living in a capacious environment: something that really comes into its own in the midst of a depressing British Winter. Therefore, you want to ensure nothing foreshortens your sight lines.

Consider carefully the placement of any tall furniture or items such as freestanding shelves. The latter can be effectively incorporated if there is sufficient visual space through the shelves so you are able to see to the area beyond.

Anything that blocks your view, such as a low hanging extractor in a kitchen, immediately gives the impression of a boundary. You can overcome the visual impact of an extractor fan by installing a downdraft extractor: a relatively new type of cooker hood that is hidden away below your kitchen work surface when they are not in use – perfect for a cooking island.

Enjoy the feeling of open space in your home, with downdraft extractors providing a stylish solution for kitchen islands

Heating is vital, as a loss of walls means a much wider space to warm up. When planning this type of area consider whether under-floor heating may be appropriate for you. The major benefit of this is even heat distribution throughout your space with hot air rising directly from the floor. Alternatively, planning in the central placement of the correct size of stove (either wood-burning or multi-fuel) will provide a cost-effective and extremely efficient way of heating the entire space.

Excellent heating is an essential ingredient of making space comfortable

The layout of your open-plan space is important and you need to ensure there is a logical flow between areas to suit your daily living requirements. In the example pictured, we designed the flow with our clients’ love of entertaining in mind. The proximity of the kitchen to the dining table allows guests and chef to interact whilst preparations are underway. At the end of the repast everyone can then easily move through to the Sitting area to relax and chat in comfort (perhaps partaking of a small nightcap from the strategically placed drinks station immediately behind the sofa).

Placement of furniture is crucial

When it comes to designing your spaces it is important to integrate your different areas, without having them matching entirely. Link the designs of each area by picking up on key tones, textures and finishes. Subtle links between spaces will provide logic to the beholder and ensure that your design delights, rather than devastates.

You can use different types of flooring within the space to define distinct task areas.   You will be able to incorporate different types of flooring easily, provided you ensure that there are no changes in height on a given plane (to avoid trip hazards) and that there are links in tone. Alternatively, create different living areas by grouping furniture around key pieces, such as a table or rug.

Group furniture around key pieces, such as a table or rug

Above all open-plan living should give you a feeling of space – so do not feel that you have to fill every inch available. Interior space is a luxury in the UK so, if you can, build in areas between your furniture groupings to allow you to celebrate it in all its glory.


Open plan living spaces can be disorienting for new visitors. If your area is created with significant changes in floor levels signal this with different flooring finishes.

In the project illustrated the steps were in constant use and we wanted to limit the chance of an accident occurring. To visually emphasis the steps we dressed them in a transition stone to the tiled floor of the kitchen and dining areas, choosing a finish that had golden flecks to reference the wood finish of the sitting room. This also illustrates how different natural floor finishes can make terrific bedfellows.

Wood and stone make attractive companions on floors

Jamie Hempsall, BIID, is a multi-award winning interior designer.