Friday, 22 January 2016

The End of Open-plan Living?

Open plan. It's a term we've all become so familiar with, I'm not even sure when it properly started becoming fashionable. TV shows about property improvement seemed only to re-inforce the idea of knocking down walls and opening up your kitchen/dining room/living area into 1 big space. Walls = bad. Open plan = good. However, the pressures of family life and the ready availability of technology appear to be driving a change in how we live.

Open plan living was once sold as a dream, as the ideal a homeowner should aspire to. And boy was it such a good one. Born from the ambition to create the appearance of space in ever-increasingly cramped modern living conditions, it represented the perfect family idyll: A parent could be cooking dinner while able to keep an eye on a child playing, someone working from home could still be part of family life, a couple could be pottering in the kitchen while watching tv or entertaining guests.... It meant all members of the household could stay connected at most times of the day. In theory, this is a wonderful state, no-one missing out, everyone sharing the space and going about their business interdependently.

In practice however, it can be quite stifling. It forced some people out of the communal areas into their bedrooms if they felt they needed some time away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. It meant that the parents sitting down to dinner together would not be able to speak without also listening to the film/music/tv programme their children were watching. Those entertaining guests might not want them to see the build-up of dirty pans and plates (or the packet food they were just about to open and palm off as 'home-cooked'). The reality can be far too intense. There is no-where to escape to, no-where to retreat for some peace and quiet or just a change of scene. 

Add to the above the boom in technology. Most members of each household have 1 or more of the following: an iPad, personal computer, sophisticated mobile phone, ipod, kindle, gaming device... Everyone needs somewhere to read/watch/play and indulge in their technological hobbies/interests. If all of this was going on in one room, there would be a lot of noise. Those wanting to read wouldn't be able to concentrate. Those needing to work wouldn't be able to focus. Those watching/talking wouldn't be able to do so without turning things down.

So what's the answer? Does it mean we'll all become more anit-social? Is it good thing?

No, this doesn't mean the end of family time or of living communally. It's much more complicated than that and not simply a tug of war: open plan living vs independent rooms. Mary Duggan, one of the RIBA House of the Year judges has suggested more of a compromise:

"Broken-plan is a term we are using a lot at the moment," she said. "It deliberately challenges open-plan living, encompassing all family activities and allowing them to function in tandem."

Broken-plan describes a property which has a free-flowing layout, but with separate rooms, such as snugs, to which family members can retreat.

For example, the Stackyard House in Norfolk by Mole Architects keeps its living room separate from its kitchen and dining room, and also has a separate study:

The Flint House in Buckinghamshire by Skene Catling de la Pena has rooms which are loosely divided and also includes a separate study and library:

Private spaces are vital to this new layout, little nooks you can hibernate to. But equally it's important to recognise the benefits of incorporating some open-plan into your homes.

Duggan continued: "But there is still a demand for grand kitchen and dining spaces, featuring large countertops well-suited to entertaining large numbers of guests. The idea of having big theatre rooms where families can cook and eat and talk are a constant part of the sequence," she added.

Broken-plan living then is about flexibility. It means that as your family grows and changes, you have the living space and living areas which can also adapt to suit these changes. It means there are areas for work, for family members to indulge their interests, use technology without disturbing others, while still offering a communal space for all to gather. In order to achieve this, architects are not only using separate rooms, but also incorporating split levels and sliding partitions.

If you're reading this in your open plan kitchen/living area and you want to include a bit of broken plan into your space, you can still create that same sense of division and intimacy with clever room dividers, glass partitions or changing furniture layout.

And if that's still not enough, perhaps it's time to put back the walls.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Focus on: Baths

Welcome to the first 'focus on' post, throwing a spotlight on a particular area of the home or item in it. This time, it's baths. They're necessary, traditionally quite boring, but are they now becoming more unique?

Since Ancient times bathing has been a very public affair. The Romans built specific public baths for cleanliness and socialising. In the Middle Ages there were also public bath houses in many towns. It wasn't until the 19th century that middle class houses had their own bathrooms and now a bath is not just a necessary place where we get clean, but also somewhere we relax, unwind, read a book and get away from all the stresses of daily life.

It's this idea of treating your bathroom as an experience, of your bath as your own personal sanctuary, which is driving the trend for highly personal and unusual baths. 

At the end of last year I loved watching Grand Designs because they featured all the houses listed for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) house of the year 2015. There were so many beautiful homes and ingenious architecture shown, if you want to see the houses for yourself (and the winner), click here.

What caught my attention was one of the long-listed buildings, Grillagh Water House. It's a quirky house made from 4 shipping containers joined together at unexpected angles so the result is unconventional but still very homely. Inside the house it was just as creative, with the bathroom featuring a floating, hammock-style bath made from carbon fibre.

So if the idea of a white plastic bath tub is a bit predictable, here are some alternative materials and designs you could choose from:

Copper baths are increasingly desirable, although one could set you back at least £2,000. The good news is that they are highly durable and any scratches they may incur will 'heal' on their own accord.

The earliest types of bath were made from wood and now the latest ones are too. Soaking in wood can add luxury and a touch of the exotic to your bathroom. When combined with techniques learnt from boat building, modern wooden baths look good and stand the test of time.

Luxury home owners are currently kitting out their bathrooms with transparent bathtubs. Glass allows the maximum amount of light through and can make a small bathroom appear bigger.  Although you may end up feeling a little exposed once in it... If you like the look but want something more intimate, glass can be coloured to fit with your bathroom's decorating scheme.

For £17,000 you could even buy a bath shaped like a high heeled shoe, straight from Italy.

Or if money and space are no object, use neutral shades and tiling to turn your bathroom into your own personal spa.

Whatever your bathroom size, whatever your bath is made from, the most important thing is that you enjoy it, whether it's lighting a few candles or taking in a glass of wine and a good book. Or  perhaps the only addition you need is a flake. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

2016 Interior Design Trends

No matter what the style or age of your house, you'll find something to suit it with this year's versatile design trends. From the glamour of the 1930's to pared back Scandi style, from retro 70's to dark floral inspired design, from light geometrics to clashing patterns, 2016 promises to offer much to inspire and has something to cater for every taste and budget.

Here are the 6 design trends to watch out for:

1) Simple Minimalism
Think of functional furniture, stripped back to their bare beauty - no fuss, no fancy finishes. Pale wood, plain walls, light filled spaces. Colours are muted; soft greys, gentle blues, warm whites. All together the look will be relaxed, calming and uncluttered.

2) 1930's Revival
More grown-up than the decade preceding it,  this revival brings together colours of black and gold against a back-drop of curves, hexagonal patterns and honeycomb design. Think round edges, a velvet sofa or a brass accent piece. Feather and fan motifs, animal prints and an angular mirror complete the look. Glossy and mirrored metallics add luxury and elegance.

3) Moody Florals
A trend reminiscent of the old Dutch Master paintings, key colours are charcoal, rich teal and midnight blue. Add bright florals or something light as a contrast to make the colours pop. In the bedroom take your inspiration from nature and combine dark forest green walls with a patterned floral quilt, keeping linens white. In the living room, painted wood and flowery cushions will give a nod to the look.

4) Clashing Patterns
Create a bold statement with this trend. This might be concentrated on one item, such as a covering a chair in an abstract fabric, or be spread across a room in a mix 'n' match of design. Keep it modern by using white as a backdrop or unify patterns along a specific colour theme. If combining two patterns, make sure they are of different scales.

5) Back to the 70's
Beautifully brought back to life, this is sophisticated 70's. Soft rugs, tan leather upholstery, dark wood and smoked glass. Bring it together with neutral tones, copper details, mustard, burnt orange, mink and chocolate brown. As a final touch, be sure to incorporate a house plant or two.

6) Light Geometrics
This trend puts together elements of mid-century modern and Scandinavian design. The result is a monochrome colour palette layered with geometric pattern. Colours are white, pale grey, dark blue, a hint of black. Choose chevrons, elongated hexagons, deconstructed geometrics. If this all sounds a bit too mathematical, warm it all up with honey-toned wood with lots of curve and splashes of yellow and candied orange.