Open plan living is a trend that is both stylish and practical for family life, but if you fancy the idea for your home how do you get started? DIY guru Julia Gray offers tips on open-plan living.
ONCE upon a time, we were all happy to live in small rooms, each duly fit for their own purpose but not much else. In recent years though, the trend for open-plan living has become unstoppable. Now, we all want integrated homes, where multiple rooms blend into one to give the ultimate feeling of space and togetherness.
As a nation, we’ve especially come to love kitchen-diners – a perfect sociable space for entertaining guests, or for all the family to be together, even if they’re doing different things.
Separate dining rooms also tend to only be used on ‘special’ formal occasions, and tend to lie empty the rest of the year, but a kitchen-diner will be used every day, making the best use of your home’s potential.
So, if you have a separate kitchen and dining room (or another room that could be put to better use) adjacent to each other, creating one big kitchen-diner is a great way to improve your home and add value – but it’s not simply a case of getting out your sledge hammer and letting the wall have it.
The first thing to establish is what sort of wall it is – both stud partition walls (plasterboard over a wooden frame, or old-fashioned lath and plaster) and partition walls (bricks or blocks) are usually straightforward to remove.
The former are rarely load bearing (although they can occasionally become load bearing over time) while the latter can be structural.
Main supporting walls, which are made of bricks, blocks or stone, are also structural.
Structural walls should never be taken down without using proper supports and inserting a steel beam to take the weight the wall was supporting.
Identifying a plasterboard stud wall is easy – it sounds hollow when you knock on it, but note that other walls can sound similar, so don’t take any chances.
Look at the floorboards too (if they are original): if they are parallel to the wall, the wall is structural because the floor joists will run under it at a 90 degree angle.
Consult a structural engineer if in doubt though, because it’s just not worth taking a risk – removing a structural wall without supporting it properly could make your home liable to collapse. A structural engineer will also be able to calculate what size of steel beam is needed in place of the wall you’re removing.
Unless you live in a listed building – in which case, you’ll need consent from your local council’s conservation department – you shouldn’t need planning permission to remove an internal wall.
You may, however, need the permission of the freeholder if your home is leasehold, because knocking down a wall could potentially affect the whole building.
Work like this must comply with building regulations. A building control inspector (either from the local council or a private company) will want to see the steel beam in situ (it must be covered in fireproof plasterboard) and check that everything complies.
Even removing non-structural walls can be a matter for building control, if, for example, it would create a layout that breaks fire regulations.
Removing a wall can also impact on your neighbours’ homes if the work affects a shared wall, boundary or floor/ceiling.
In this case, you’ll need to comply with the Party Wall Act – a party wall surveyor will be able to advise you.
As well as taking down the wall, there’s a lot of other work associated with going open-plan, which is easy to overlook.
You may have to replace the flooring and move radiators, pipes, sockets and switches, as well as replastering and repainting the mess around the removed wall.
So, ultimately, there’s no denying an open-plan dream can involve a lot of work and expense.
But balanced against the space, light and better standard of living you’ll gain from it, it’s probably a challenge you’ll want to take on.
Product of the week
One of the problems with masking tape is that the paint often bleeds under the tape, ruining the finish and basically making the tape pointless.
With green FrogTape Painter’s Masking Tape (from ￡7.98, B&Q), this isn’t the case: it contains PaintBlock technology, which cleverly forms a barrier against emulsion, producing a sharp edge when you peel off the tape.
I recently used FrogTape on walls I‘d painted a month before, and there was no paint bleed and no damage to the already painted walls.
Green FrogTape can be used on different surfaces and should come off cleanly up to 21 days later (seven days in direct sunlight).
Even the bright colour is handy – pale masking tape can get lost on pale surfaces.
Ideally, you should remove masking tape when the paint is still drying, and reapply it just before doing the next coat, otherwise pulling the tape off can tear the dried paint.