As homeowners look increasingly to broken-plan rooms, which offer far more privacy without the compromise of committal walls, Steph Siegle looks at the pros and cons of room zoning
There’s a trend sweeping interior design right now, an evolution of open-planned living that allows for a more sociable experience – the broken-plan room, or zoning. What’s spearheading this trend? Director and architect at Giles Pike, Tom Pike, suggests one reason could be down to the way families now tend to interact with one another; gone are the days where you only had one TV in one room, we now have iPads, laptops and phones, which allows those living with one another to do their own thing in their own space.
So, what does zoning mean for your home interiors? It’s about creating subtle divides between rooms, through the use of half walls, or furniture. While still offering the space of open-plan living, the use of contrasting textures, finishes and materials can create a sense of warmth and sociability that may not always be achieved with large-scale open spaces. Zoning also offers a sense of privacy, yet retains that important connectivity and flow between rooms.
Neptune co-founder John Sims-Hilditch believes this trend has multiple benefits. “Well-thought out zones make life more efficient, the whole room just flows,” he says. “Factoring in primary zones for cooking and socialising allows the kitchen, for example, to become a multi-purpose hub, bringing the whole family together. It also lets you make the absolute most of a room. With zoning in mind, every nook and cranny are explored. A window ledge suddenly becomes a cosy window seat for curling up on, and a kitchen island with stools added turns into your new breakfast table.”
“This is going to be a big trend in 2018,” agrees Hub Kitchens co-founder Daniele Brutto. “And, in terms of kitchen design, as people continue to strive for more flexible spaces, the movement towards zoning open-plan areas will also see kitchen furniture evolve into versatile systems that can move and alter in form and function.”
Your selection of materials is important too and can be a simple way to achieve zoning. Painting walls in complementary colours works well (think subtle darks for a living room area, whites for the kitchen). “Specifically, if we’re talking about kitchen zoning, one effective way of doing this through the use of materials is by changing the work surface,” John suggests. “For example, you may choose to have a run of natural marble in a cabinetry-focused section for storage but a tougher stone like granite in the food-prep section, where it can withstand stains and spills much better. Zoning should still mean that your kitchen feels naturally balanced, considered and harmonious in terms of style and ergonomics.”
Don’t forget to factor in your family lifestyle when designing broken-planning, however, such as the age of your children. “Would a low-level shelving system cause havoc with three toddlers? Could a floor-standing lamp not provide the light you require when working on your computer at night? Would a beautiful wall of fabrics not be practical enough?” Daniele adds. “As broken-plan rooms bring in more variables than open-plan living, these questions become even more crucial.”
One of the easiest ways to zone is to create subtle divides between rooms. “Distinct zones can also be created by the use of different floor finishes, split-levels and semi-permanent partitions, such as bookcases and screens,” says Tom Pike, director and architect at Giles Pike. “These subtle divides retain the spacious feel that open-plan living provides, but also give a sense of separation, meaning people can have their own space away from each other.
With many south west London homes built in the Victorian or Edwardian style, does zoning work well within these type of period houses or does it suit a more modern-style home? “I wouldn’t say it was easy for period homes, but you can follow fairly simple formats that would achieve the desired results,” Daniele explains. “It can be trickier to design this style into period homes as they tend to be narrower with differing ceiling heights. As modern-style homes tend to be squarer with cleaner lines it makes it easier to use this style, you have more freedom to influence the space as opposed to working around certain compromises that period homes can present. However, broken-plan living gives homeowners the freedom to evolve the existing spaces, the homes that they have loved and lived in for years, into more modern spaces that otherwise may not have been possible with their current layout.”
Naturally, there are pitfalls to avoid. For example, using too many varying types of materials can clash and cause the space to be confused. Broken-plan areas can often prove difficult to heat, and there’s the potential noise issue. With broken-plan living the space needs to be themed well, with all the zones related in some form or another. “And don’t try to incorporate too many zoned areas,” Daniele advises. “We often have clients who want to include a sofa in their new kitchen/dining room extension and, more often than not, the space just isn’t big enough for three zoned spaces. Broken-plan living can make this issue more complicated by adding even more furniture and fittings, so it’s not for everyone or every space.”