Is this the end of open plan?

Could this be the decade we see the long-awaited return of the humble wall?

open plan kitchen area

Drop that sledgehammer!

Before you go knocking through any more walls, listen to what architects and interior designers around the world are saying – open plan design could be on its way out.

That’s right – the future could be all about cosy spaces and functional ‘zones’ instead of wide-open rooms.

Let’s take a look back at the history of the open plan trend to see how we got here, and where we go next…

Where and when did open plan begin?

The open plan trend started in the 20th century, spearheaded by designers such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

It was all about creating vast, open spaces indoors. These spaces accentuated light and air, bringing a sense of freedom to the home and making it feel more like the great outdoors.

Midway through the century, as the world switched from working in factories to offices, open plan became a staple of the corporate world too. It brought the social atmosphere of the industrial space to the white-collar world and allowed businesses to fit more workers into a limited amount of space.

At the same time, people started to experiment with open plan designs in their own homes. The act of ‘knocking through’ walls became trendy as people sought to maximise the spaces within their houses.

Demand for privacy

The downside to having all this space was that it came at the cost of privacy.

This became particularly apparent in open plan offices, where it was almost impossible for workers to escape the gaze of their colleagues – and their bosses.

Then, in the early 21st century, sudden changes in lifestyle made the idea of open plan homes much less appealing too.

One such change was the decline of the television as the central feature of the living space, as more and more families started to watch media on their own, personal screens. This meant there was less of a need for a single living area, and a greater need for personal space.

Then, there was the rise of urban living. As people started to trade space for proximity to the city, furniture and interior design became increasingly minimalist. Smaller pieces and less clutter were suddenly in vogue. This, however, made big, indoor spaces start to feel somewhat empty.

Finally, perhaps the greatest catalyst for the decline of open plan was the COVID-19 pandemic. With people spending more time than ever at home during lockdown, they started to view their spaces in a whole new light.

With parents working from home while children went to school online, the need for peace, quiet and privacy suddenly became greater than ever.

New spaces

Now, many homeowners are looking to create specialised ‘zones’ within their homes. Home offices, home gyms and play areas – once considered a luxury for people with extra space – are becoming an everyday essential.

It seems, therefore, that in the post-COVID age the kitchen-lounge-bedroom model will no longer be enough to satisfy some homeowners.

And it also seems likely that homes boasting a greater number of rooms on their floorplan may be a little more sought-after than those with big, wide, open spaces.

So, what comes next?

Well, one thing’s for sure – this is going to be a big decade for the plasterboard industry. But in all seriousness, there’s no need to start planning where to build stud walls in your home. The good news is, there are plenty of changeable options when it comes to creating new zones within your existing space.

Interior doors are one such option. Bi-fold doors in particular allow families to open and close open plan spaces as necessary.

Another trend could be shōji, also known as screen walls, which are a staple of Japanese interiors. They consist of wood lattices with cloth, paper or glass tiles in between. They are lightweight, easy to install and can be rolled side-to-side to create or take away space.

Or, for an even simpler option, room dividers such as free-standing screens or storage units may appeal too.

What do you think? Is this really the end of open plan interiors, or will they still be a popular trend throughout the 2020s?