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Is it Over for Open-plan Kitchens?

A combined kitchen-living space or two distinct rooms – which wins? Read arguments for both (and discover a third way)

Houzz UK editorial staff. I’m an interiors journalist and editor, previously for… More

We’re always on the lookout in the Houzz community for the next trends in interiors, and lately we’ve picked up on a lively debate about the pros and cons of open-plan kitchen/living rooms versus traditional standalone cookspaces. It seems opinion is really divided.

Where do you stand on the topic? Perhaps you’re about to start work on an open-plan renovation, or did you inherit a closed kitchen and are debating what to do with it? Maybe you’ve had experience of both layouts and strongly favour one as a result.

Read on to see whether these arguments persuade you one way or the other (and if you’re still not sure, check out the smart compromises at the end).

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FOR: The Arguments in Favour of Open Kitchens

In last year’s UK Houzz Report, which is based on survey results from the Houzz community, 54% of homeowners were making their kitchens more open to other rooms, with 35% knocking down walls and opening up completely. And in a recent Houzz poll, which asked, “Yay or Nay to Open-plan Kitchens?”, the result was overwhelmingly in favour of the idea, with 840 voting “yay” to 230 voting “nay”.

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Here’s what you had to say
“Open-plan kitchens get my vote. From experience, they tend to be more sociable spaces and allow the family to come together in a single room (parents can be cooking and kids doing homework etc). I’ve opened up a few kitchens in my time and it’s surprising how often clients tell me it’s changed the way they use their house.”
N7 Design Studio

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“My own experience with opening the kitchen to the living space has been very positive. I’m not affected by the smell of food, I actually love it. For me, the kitchen is where a lot of the social interaction of the house takes place, and the smells quickly go away by opening windows and using an extractor fan connected to the exterior. Some people are more sensitive to smell than others and this subject of opening the kitchen and living room is definitely one of individual preference. Do get the wall checked by a qualified structural engineer before you knock through!”
Cupola Design

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“As a designer who’s integrated open-plan kitchens in many projects, I can say that the space it helps to create in connection with the other living spaces is just a fantastic addition to home living.”
John Wratten Associates

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“An open-plan kitchen is the heart of the house. This is not just a fad, it’s a design here to stay.”
Kirkup Build

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“I like the social aspect of having the kitchen and seated guests etc in one area. Nowadays, rooms are being built smaller and smaller, and the answer is to open up these rooms. If I could do away with doors I would do so, as I don’t like the feeling of being enclosed.”
Ensign Accessories

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There are, however, some provisos that those involved in the debates put forward to ensure an open-plan space works beautifully.

Have a separate utility
“I’ve created many open-plan kitchens and so far nobody has regretted it. It creates a new feel to the home, which is great for gatherings. The only advice I’d give is to have a separate utility room if possible, as the noise from a washing machine can be overwhelming in such an open space.”
Sam Davis Interiors

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Prioritise good ventilation
“[Due to the cooking smells] a separate kitchen is sometimes thought to be necessary. However, this can be resolved through a robust ventilation system in an open-plan space.”
Studio O+U Architects

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Consider the noise level of appliances
“If contemplating an open-plan design, it’s even more important to choose your appliances carefully, paying attention to the noise levels quoted, particularly for dishwashers and fridges, as well as choosing an extractor that’s matched to the size of the room. A good extractor with a correctly specified motor should extract the odours as well as keeping the grease off the soft furnishings while not intruding on the conversations in the room.

“You should also consider choosing a boiling-water tap [as seen here] to eliminate the concerns many mention about the noise from the kettle when it’s boiling.

“We’ve had many clients commenting on how they noticed they started spending a lot more time together as a family after they created an open-plan room, rather than each being shut away in different rooms (kitchen/study/living room).”
Jaga Designs Ltd

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Leave out the TV
“What becomes a real disaster (in our view) is when clients decide to add soft furnishings and a TV into the kitchen, particularly when there’s space for them to go elsewhere. Once this happens, principle living rooms become redundant, children ensconce themselves into the kitchen full time, and then there’s no escaping. Kitchens are for cooking and eating in.

“By all means have somewhere to have a glass of wine and a social [such as the soft seating above], but we would definitely suggest not merging a living room and kitchen together unless the architecture offers no alternatives. Those that do live to regret it (particularly if they have children).”

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If you’ve space, install a larder
“Open-plan is great, but make sure you have somewhere to hide away the mess – a larder works great!”
LSM Architecture

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AGAINST: The Arguments in Favour of Closed Kitchens

Despite the evident love for open-plan kitchen/living spaces among so many of you, the voices against them are strong. In another discussion, “Do you think closed kitchens are making a comeback?”, and a poll,
“Open or closed layout?”, lots of you commented positively about having a separate cooking space and living room.

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Here’s what you had to say
“I can live without cooking smells, dirty utensils, dishes, noise. My kitchen has solid brick walls, a door, and a long hall to the dining room. Heaven.”

“I love a separate kitchen, both for noises, smells, tidiness etc, as others have said, but also because I like the real higgledy-piggledy feel of old houses with their original layouts and lots of interesting little rooms. But in an ideal world, I’d have a kitchen big enough for an informal farmhouse table, as well as a separate dining room.”
Jen Tindall

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“It wouldn’t work for me. Entertaining my husband’s work boss in the room where my kids’ toys, dog bed, reading matter, slippers etc are kept and the room that gets ALL the wear and tear and so needs decorating regularly to keep it looking pristine is a no-go.

“My friend lives in such a space and her furniture smells of cooking, she gets migraines from the TV being so loud so as to be heard above cooking sounds, the room always seems to look cluttered and messy – if she leaves it she doesn’t feel relaxed and if she makes her family clear up they joke about her being a nag! I have a separate room for the playroom/TV room/family time room, a lounge/diner (adult space only) and a kitchen, which although it doesn’t have a utility room, means that every room looks spotless when visitors pop round (except the playroom, but I close the door on that).

“Also, when entertaining I don’t want to be on display as I try to rescue my cooking! My husband is there to look after guests and keep the conversation and wine flowing, so I get a little down-time when preparing.”

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“I love the look of [open-plan] – spacious and sociable. However, I like to shut away the clutter and don’t like talking over the noise of the kettle, washing machine etc, so I like my kitchen in a separate room (I’m sure this will come back into fashion soon).”

Discover the most common kitchen design problems – and how to tackle them

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“We had extensive remodelling works done to our Victorian house and opened up the kitchen to incorporate the lounge and dining room. Biiiig mistake!

  • Nobody can watch TV in the lounge because of the noise of banging pots/extractor fan/dishwasher etc.
  • I don’t have my own space to dance to the radio while cooking.
  • The house always smells of food, even with our powerful extractor fan.
  • When we have dinner parties, we have to plan the menu according to how much mess would be visible on the worktops.
  • The lounge has lost its cosiness!

I would certainly have an open-plan kitchen-diner, but definitely keep the lounge separate.”

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“Oh for a separate cooking area… [I’ve] lived in two places with separate kitchens and diners and two kitchen-diners (separate lounge). Kitchen-diners suit our family set-up, but how I wish for my compact kitchen with all I needed in reaching distance. I could close the door and be on my OWN just with a sharp, ‘There’s no room in here. You’re under my feet.’

“I had a half glass door between kitchen and diner so I could see the children and they me. I came out and joined them at the table and closed the kitchen off, so I didn’t have to clean or tidy up until I fancied. Privacy and peace and quiet in the separate kitchen even with kettle boiling, extractor extracting, dishwasher washing, pots and pans rattling and rolling. Can’t hear the kids, TV or phone above that noise – bliss!”

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Several users, including some professionals, also put forward some interesting suggestions that merge both ideas together to overcome some of these issues.

Make it an L-shape
“We are just in the process of remodelling our new home. We’ve gone with an L-shape, with the kitchen out of sight of the living area, but with the dining area in-between both. There’s a utility room off to the side of the kitchen, though, with a closeable door, where the washing machine, tumble dryer and fridge-freezer will be. Hopefully we’ll have the best of both worlds.”
Jan Thomson

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Open up, but keep the living room separate
“While I would love a separate dining room, and a kitchen with a big table for family dinners, most of us just can’t afford that anymore. So kitchen-diner gets my vote. [But] a separate living room, always.

“Sometimes you just want to take your guests (or yourself!) away from the dishes. Also, if you have a housemate, or a partner/teenager, you can do your own things in separate rooms (football on TV?) without having to go to your bedroom for peace, which no adult should have to do!”

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Use glass to separate your spaces
“There is a third option: a glass wall that separates the kitchen area from the living room but gives visibility. It’s a growing trend and is often a favourable choice, as it provides balance between having some privacy and the ability to interact/have more visibility (children, guests).”

“We’re about to create an open-plan kitchen and diner in our 1950s bungalow. We’re separating the living space with glass screens though.”
Paul Smith

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THE COMPROMISE: A ‘Broken-plan’ Design

“Broken-plan is a good compromise. That’s what we recently did. The positives are a brighter space with much better flow and sightlines, yet no view of the kitchen from the living space or dining area. The negatives can be the noise and the inability to prevent the cat from bringing prey into any downstairs room. Happily, the positive side is experienced daily, whereas the negatives occur only occasionally.”

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The same space from the other end.

Read more about broken-plan living

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“I prefer broken-plan created with dwarf walls and sliding doors. You still have the bright, airy feel of open-plan, but with zoned areas. It’s perfect.”
Mary Mary

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“With two teenage sons, a fully open ground floor wouldn’t work for us. So while I like the look of open-plan, sometimes it can be more practical to have separate living areas. We do have an open kitchen-dining-living area, which is great for entertaining and having the whole family in, but they still each have their own areas (albeit compact!) to retreat to. Two of our other rooms have double doors, which can be opened out to create nearly a fully open ground floor though – maybe the best of both worlds!”

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Could any of these arguments make you reconsider your renovation plans? Let us know which side of the fence you’re on in the Comments below.

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