How to disrupt open-plan and create divided yet connected spaces
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new trend: broken-plan living. With global lockdowns and more of us spending more time at (and working from) home, open-plan is no longer catering to our new lifestyle needs – and we’re now opting to create different zones to fulfil different purposes. Kate Watson-Smyth, author of decorating book Mad About the House, sums it up well: “Everyone’s working from home, and people are thinking “Wall! What a clever idea, now I get it.”
In contrast to open-plan living, the broken-plan trend simply involves dividing up bigger rooms to create more versatile, smaller, interconnected spaces. Open-plan indoor or outdoor spaces are ‘broken up’ into defined zones without using actual walls or other architectural interventions. Instead, a range of clever, more subtle ‘room dividers’ – think fireplaces, furniture and accessories – are used to provide a distinction between zones that serve different purposes while retaining natural light and fresh air.
“The broken-plan trend is driven by a growing desire for spaces that keep elements of open-plan but retain an element of privacy and specific use,” explains Stephane Thomas, Director of MAD Design, whose brands include heating brands EcoSmart Fire and HEATSCOPE radiant heaters, and Blinde Design indoor-outdoor furniture and accessories. “By dividing your overall space more subtly, you can retain a sense of light and space while ensuring connectivity and flow.
“We have worked with many designers, builders, homeowners and hospitality businesses who have used EcoSmart Fires to divide while at the same time connecting different spaces. See-through fireplaces are particularly on trend to seamlessly ‘separate’ and integrate spaces. And, now, with the launch of our Blinde Design range of furniture and accessories, there are so many more options available.”Stephane Thomas, director of MAD Design Group
Why break up an open-plan space?
Breaking up an open-plan space into defined areas or zones enables it to better cater to more people at the same time. In homes, a broken-plan room has a variety of zones for different activities, like watching TV, reading, studying, working, and entertaining. A broken plan can also be created on patios, terraces and in courtyards, to create designated zones for outdoor activities like barbecuing, dining, and doing exercise.
In commercial and hospitality spaces, such as restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, hotel lobbies, lounges and offices, a broken plan creates separate, spaced-out zones that not only offer improved privacy, but help control the number of people sitting together and make maintaining social distancing easier – important in the post-COVID world.
How to convert open-plan living into broken-plan living
Converting an open-plan space into broken-plan needs to be done in a way that enables light to be retained. Rather than having to erect walls or buy unattractive or temporary room dividers, there are easy, stylish ways to transform your indoor or outdoor room – and enhance the ambiance and aesthetics.
“There are myriad ways to create attractive and comfortable multi-functional share zones within an open-plan space without losing the flow of light and air and feeling of connectivity, or interrupting sightlines,” says Stephane. “Whether you have an existing open-plan room or are planning a renovation or new build, consider dividing or ‘breaking up’ your space with easy and stylish elements.”
Divide with a Fireplace
Today’s fireplaces provide even greater design flexibility than ever before and are now playing a pivotal role in the design of homes and commercial spaces. They’re also being increasingly used by architects, designers and builders as dramatic room dividers.
“We never cease to be amazed by the stunning designs – many simple, some more complex – that incorporate EcoSmart Fires to divide and define spaces,” says Stephane. “EcoSmart Fires have been used in a huge range of residential, commercial and hospitality settings around the world as room/space dividers. We have many fireplace solutions that provide a focal point for different rooms or zones, while ‘softly’ dividing and defining them. They’re certainly more eye-catching than a wall or screen – and they really make a statement. Not only that, but EcoSmart Fires can be used to reinvigorate a previously ‘unused’ or less inviting space, bringing them to life with a flickering flame.”
EcoSmart’s Flex Series of eco-friendly ethanol fireplace inserts has been created with versatility front of mind. The collection of 219 fireplaces enables fire features to be integrated within cabinetry or a fireplace setting for residential or commercial/hospitality projects, with a choice of 8 stylish, ready-to-install, zero-clearance fireplace inserts ranging from 455mm (18”) to 4,015mm (158”) in length. The iconic models – Bay, Single Sided, Left Corner, Right Corner, Peninsula, Double Sided, Island, Bench styles – are ventless, free of smoke and soot, and fuelled by e-NRG bioethanol, a renewable energy source.
“The Flex Series enables endless design flexibility and installation freedom for builders, architects, interior designers, homeowners and landscapers. The Flex models are perfect as room dividers while also servicing multiple spaces and creating a focal point from different angles,” says Stephane.
EcoSmart Fire Burners have also been used in customized settings to create dividing units or ‘fire walls’, with the flame viewed from different rooms. “Our ventless ethanol burners have been installed into bespoke cabinetry, partial walls, and fireplace settings within apartments, condominiums, houses, restaurants and bars – and more – to define separate zones while also joining them together,” Stephane adds.
Use See-through fireplaces to divide, connect and attract
An enduring fireplace trend is for ‘open viewing’ fireplaces – for example, double-sided, triple-sided and even four-sided. Not only can these fireplaces beautifully divide a room, but they provide a focal point for two adjacent rooms for a single installation cost. They also add an element of warmth without compromising open space and natural light.
“If you want to maintain a visual connection between two spaces but still have a fireplace dividing a room, then a double-sided fireplace – or a fire with three, four or all open sides – is perfect,” says Stephane. “Whether it’s dividing an indoor room or an outdoor space, or connecting the two together, having the see-through element ensures a stunning aesthetic.
“The fact that our ethanol-fuelled Flex fires have been used in a myriad of residential, hospitality and commercial settings to create different zones is testament to their flexibility. And they’re ideal for condos or apartments where it’s not feasible to install traditional fireplaces as a room divider. Our ventless Flex fireplace inserts in tailored settings can add warmth and ambiance to a space and give the illusion of being a room divider while still interconnecting the spaces.”
Fire Table inspiration
EcoSmart’s portable, multi-functional fire tables are ideal to create zones in indoor or outdoor spaces. And with EcoSmart’s Triple Fuel options, you can choose between eco-friendly ethanol, pumped natural gas or liquid propane*.
EcoSmart’s freestanding fire tables are equally at home in residential or commercial/hospitality settings, and with a range of styles, heights and sizes, they provide the flexibility to create zones in a wide variety of settings, from courtyards to patios, terraces to poolside. Cleverly engineered, the fire pit tables are multi-functional, with several models featuring ample dimensions to accommodate a glass or small plate, and others high enough to pair with bar stools or dining chairs.
Strategically place your furniture and accessories
The best thing about broken-plan living is that it just requires imagination and not necessarily a big budget. For example, you can easily break up a room with furniture, such as easy-to-move chairs, modular or sectional sofas, or concrete coffee tables, which enables you to effortlessly create the zone you want, when you need it, to suit everyday living or a special occasion.
Use large furniture to divide a room
A simple and clever way to visually separate two rooms is by installing a modular sofa or other large furniture.
Blinde Design’s low-back modular, or outdoor sectional, sofas and upholstered teak armchairs can be moved with ease to divide open-plan spaces and create stylish and comfortable zones, in the configuration of your choice, indoors and outdoors.
“With their inviting curves, supreme comfort, and sections that can be easily separated and re-connected to create a variety of lounge shapes – or a combination of lounge and stand-alone chairs – it’s no wonder the modular sofa is enjoying renewed popularity,” says Stephane.
Blinde Design’s versatile modular sofas feature clean lines and are robustly made with strong and durable coated aluminium frames and are upholstered in all-weather Sunbrella® Fabric. Blinde Design Chairs are also created for durability and design freedom. Framed in teak wood and also upholstered in Sunbrella® Fabric, they effortlessly blend with any setting and create an eye-catching statement. “Chairs are an easy, flexible room divider solution,” says Stephane. “The placement of furniture can make a big difference when it comes to creating separate zones in an open area.”
Blinde Design also has a range of linear and circular concrete coffee tables that can be used to easily and cleverly define an area. They come in a choice of low and medium heights and are designed to withstand the effects of the weather and UV exposure, making them a convenient, stylish solution for enhancing and configuring both indoor and outdoor environments. “Furniture is a perfect way to break up a room without affecting sight lines and light,” says Stephane. “And because it can be moved, furniture ‘dividers’ can be a temporary solution, so you can see if you like the way a broken plan looks and functions before you commit to it – and change the configuration whenever you desire.”
Another easy way to create separation is to use a bar cart, which divides a space organically and economically. Blinde Design’s Bar Carts are practical, contemporary serving trolleys that combine form and function. Handcrafted from teak wood, which is naturally resistant to moisture, heat, light and UV rays, they’re perfect for use indoors and outside – and being on wheels, they can be easily maneuvered!
Style with Concrete Accessories
With clever placement, accessories like planters can effectively define zones within a room and outside while also being decorative and functional.
Blinde Design’s sculpturally-shaped and lightweight STITCH Fluid™ Concrete plant pots, with their unique stitch embellishment and natural hues, are an affordable way to create and enhance zones. “They can be lined up to create a break or clustered in groups of three or more to define a zone and create an eye-catching decorative element. And by incorporating plants, you bring the garden inside, giving any interior a fresh look,” says Stephane.
Broken-plan gardens: the latest garden design trend
It’s not just our interiors that are benefitting from the broken-plan trend! According to the Summer 2021 report from online landscape design platform Yardzen, garden zoning has replaced open-concept gardens. It helps us to make the most of our outdoor spaces by creating distinct zones. Like many trends, this one was also driven by the pandemic, which “fast-tracked the desire for more walls in the home”, given we’re sharing work and social spaces with other members of the household. More walls give us more privacy.
Today, our yards are no longer single-serve spaces: they’re multifunctional extensions of a home, they’re trans-seasonal living spaces. And the Yardzen report suggests one of the best ways to create a broken-plan garden is to create an outdoor room for every season.
“Summer isn’t the only season for backyards. As a result of 2020, we’ve seen a deep desire for year-round backyards and increased requests for all-weather designs - from outdoor fireplaces that serve as a gathering point in winter, to covered pergolas that provide shade in the summer months,” the report says. “In places that experience harsher winters, clients are trading their fire pits for outdoor fireplaces - a more permanent structure that invites outdoor entertaining, even in the middle of winter.”
It’s a trend that MAD Design’s Stephane Thomas says has been rapidly gathering momentum over the past 18 months - both in residential and hospitality settings. “More and more people are wanting solutions to be able to work, relax, dine and exercise outside - and they want outdoor rooms that aren’t off limits in the cooler seasons. In the hospitality sector, COVID-19 has redefined outdoor dining experiences, and restaurants, cafes and bars have transformed their spaces,” he says.
To help achieve this, installing effective and attractive outdoor heating solutions is vital. “It’s interesting to read the Yardzen report where it says that clients are trading their fire pits for outdoor fireplaces. It’s important to note that not all fire pits are created equal - and we have a perfect solution that provides both comfort and ambiance,” Stephane explains. “We call the concept “Better Together”. It involves combining an EcoSmart Fire with a HEATSCOPE radiant heater, which enables you to create the ultimate outdoor space and ensures year-round enjoyment of your outdoor space.
“The golden, flickering flames of a permanent, tailor-made EcoSmart Fire, or a portable Fire Table or Fire Pit provides an alluring focal point, a gathering point for family, friends, guests or patrons, and by also installing a discrete, award-winning HEATSCOPE radiant heater, you can keep everyone pleasantly warm. HEATSCOPE heaters directly reach people, floors and furniture with a quiet and adjustable sun-like warmth. The air remains cool and clean, but you enjoy a natural and pleasant temperature. It’s the perfect patio heater.
“EcoSmart Fire + HEATSCOPE: the perfect combination to create a trans-seasonal space.”*fuel options vary depending on country regulations.