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Open-plan living has been a staple of contemporary design for more than a century—here as part of Christie’s Luxury Defined Report the experts open up about the advantages of a home without walls ...

Lifestyle trends come and go, but there is one interior design movement—open-plan living—that has stood the test of time. Doing away with walls in kitchens, dining rooms and living areas is one of the most popular requests of interior designers, whether working in historic, countryside properties, or new-build apartments in city centres.

Homeowners want light-filled, fluid spaces that help them live in a modern way—and some of the most desirable, beautifully rendered homes of recent years incorporate a simple principle: keep walls and closed-off rooms to a minimum. But it’s not a terribly new idea.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park, Chicago, designed in 1910, had a radical new layout for its time with an open-plan living and dining space separated by a sculptural fireplace. The kitchen was still considered a service area, but after World War II, the rigid use of rooms in a typical American home made way for the great, open spaces prevalent in Mid-Century Modern architecture. New ideas about entertaining made the soaring, vaulted ceilings, full-height windows, and multilevel, open-plan living areas of the modernist era possible.

Fast forward to the 1980s and the next surge in open-plan living, when the glamour and grit of New York City’s SoHo loft-living revolution captured the imagination of city dwellers around the world. Once derelict industrial buildings latterly occupied by artists and musicians in the 1960s and 1970s became desirable real estate for the city’s financial elite, who descended in droves during the Reagan era. They transformed sprawling warehouses into stylish abodes that were splashed across the pages of interiors magazines and immortalized in films like Big, where Tom Hanks famously careens around his airy loft on a skateboard.


Through the 1990s and 2000s, the idea of open-plan living seeped beyond cities to become a ubiquitous feature of upscale suburban homes. Today, kitchens are showpieces and places to entertain family and friends, while communal living areas are flexible zones for modern life.

South African design and architecture firm SAOTA has created luxury homes all over the world including Los Angeles; Lagos, Nigeria; Sydney, Australia; Mallorca, Spain; and Senegal in West Africa.

Open-plan living is at the core of our ethos… we prefer the versatility of open plan to insular, compartmentalized rooms,” says director Mark Bullivant. Bellagio, a stunning villa in the LA hills that blends indoor and outdoor living in the spirit of Brazilian Modernism, uses architectural features like ceiling plane and different levels to define the home. “This reduces the vastness and distinguishes living areas from one another,” says Bullivant. The results are often spectacular, with Bellagio a contemporary take on the easy, breezy Modernist vernacular that LA is famous for.

In fact, some of the most thrilling residential architecture of our time is pushing open plan to the extreme, as with Pam & Paul’s House in Cupertino, California, designed by Craig Steely Architecture. Its spare, thoughtful design is an ode to the genre, showing that honest materials like wood and concrete, endless natural light, and a visual connection to nature are as much, if not more, of a luxury than conventional interiors with ornate roomscapes. But open-plan living has its downsides, noise and cooking aromas can be hard to contain, and sometimes light and openness come at the cost of privacy and rooms reserved for formal occasions.

Ultimately, for better or worse, open plan is here to stay, and will continue to evolve. But the benefits of a free-flow home seem to outweigh any disadvantages.

Article provided courtesy of Christies Luxury Real Estate – Luxury Defined Report

Published in Perfect Homes International Magazine - Summer Edition 2019


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