Broken-plan v Open-plan: What's the difference?

Different zones in a living room with a grey fabric sofa, an industrial coffee table and a big light rug

You’ll have heard of open-plan living. It became the architectural style of choice in the 1970s with many homes built with few interior walls and this resulted in a trend for knocking down walls and joining rooms in period homes to create a better space for the way we live today. For some, it is the epitome of style and luxury, but the latest buzzword in interiors is broken-plan. Have you heard of this? Is this a style that could suit you?

What is broken-plan living?

It is the clever use of space in which the open floor is zoned into areas by the use of various floor finishes, split levels and semi-permanent partitions such as a display unit or bookcase.

These subtle divides give a sense of division to a room without closing down the open space. It gives a semi-private feel to some of the zones, something that can be important for families. 

Livia Oak Display Unit

Why did people fall in love with open-plan living?

Modern lives are busy and multitasking is an everyday necessity. Light and spacious, open-plan living promotes flow and fluidity in a home, but also allows us to perform different tasks at the same time. Preparing supper while supervising the kid's homework or being part of the conversation when friends are over for dinner. 

But there are downsides and it is from these that broken-plan living has started to come to the fore as it attempts to find a compromise.

Some people find open-plan living just too ‘open’ with a lack of privacy. It also tends to be noisier. Contrary to what you may think, dressing and styling an open space can be hard too; even gargantuan sofas can look timid and lost in such a cavernous space.

How broken-plan living differs

It attempts to retain all the good things about open-plan – fluidity, light and space – while bringing elements based on a room-by-room basis. You can retain a large open-plan seating area, for example, but use various pieces of reclaimed wood furniture and ceiling pendant lights to create a small nook for reading or listening to music.

No doors or walls

Like open-plan living, there are few doors and permanent walls in a broken-plan living scheme because it relies on semi-permanent structures instead. In other words, when the need for change arises, you can move the items of rustic furniture to create new spaces and zones.

An industrial style Mitcham Large Oak Squared Sideboard

What can you do to achieve this?

  • Different floor levels – you don’t have to use a large oak bookcase or display unit as a partition on their own. You could use them in tandem with a change in floor level. A floating floor is simply a step up but instantly denotes a different space. 
  • Half walls – partitions don’t have to be full height but if you find open-plan living too noisy or soulless, a half-height sideboard or display unit would make the perfect alternative.
  • Shelving – this allows you to break up a space but without too much impact on light levels. They can, however, be perfect for filtering sound, especially if you opt for hard floors and the sparsity of industrial furniture, a great choice for both open and broken-plan living.

Is there a future for open-plan living?

There will always be a place for the open-plan style, just as there will be fans of the new way of doing things, called broken-plan living. We’re in favour of both. What do you prefer?


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