8 Tips for successful open-plan kitchen design: keep it laid-back and luxe

12/01/2015 12:26:00 am Unknown 4 Comments

laid-back luxe kitchen brass
So, this week my dilemma is open-plan kitchen design. I have a pretty good kitchen. When we moved in 5 years ago, we ripped out a horrid dark and dingy affair, (lilac walls, yellow cupboards, damp laminate flooring, resident mouse colony). We knocked down a couple of walls, extended and created the now ubiquitous open-plan living, kitchen, dining room. Which is great, and I'm very lucky. So why the dilemma? Well, this weekend I'm hosting Christmas drinks for lots of lovely ladies I know locally. And we all know that the kitchen is the heart of a good party, right? But suddenly I am oh so conscious of all the jobs that I haven't got round to...I've been hit by a serious bout of interiors anxiety!

I mean a year ago, I was (merely) a busy mum, working full-time (and more) in my career in telecoms (yawn!) I would have tidied up, mopped the floor, bought the drinks and been happy. But this year, things are a little different. I am a newby interior designer, blogger and small-business owner working in the field of interiors no less. So now the pressure is ON. How can the girl* in interiors NOT have finished her own interiors??? (*Yes, I realise that I am no longer technically a girl...but I wouldn't class myself as a lady either! Woman? Sounds too matronly. Lass? OK if you live in Edinburgh, not East London. Anyway, I digress...) The point is I'm panicking that everyone is going to expect my house to be fantastic, when the truth is that a) I'm not very tidy; b) I always have a major to-do list and seemingly never enough time/money/inclination to get through it and c) when it comes to my own home, I am not a completer-finisher! I get 80% of the way there and then I get distracted. (I might add I don't have this problem when it's someone else's house!)

So I thought I'd focus myself by running through my top tips for decorating an open-plan kitchen. I've recently been asked for my advice on this very topic – specifically what I like about my own room and what I'd do differently next time. So I won't pretend that I followed all my own advice to start with, but here's what I've learnt which will hopefully prove useful to anyone else currently wrestling with this particular design dilemma. It might also spur me on to renew that to-do list!

So how do you create a really cool open-plan kitchen? In theory, open-plan kitchens are a great idea. It is lovely to have a big sociable family space, and to be able to chat to guests whilst cooking or mixing a cocktail. But open-plan spaces are also difficult to get right. Focus too much on the kitchen and the whole space can end up feeling a bit cold and utilitarian. Focus too much on the living area and the dining space gets a bit lost. Get the dining set-up wrong and it all starts to feel too formal. Then there's the whole question of style. Do you love industrial? Mid-century modern? Ultra sleek? Country farmhouse? And what if you want lots of those things all in one open-plan room? How can you make it work as a kids' play area and formal dining room? See? DIFF-I-CULT!!!!!

So, here are my tips for getting a laid-back luxe open-plan kitchen-dining-living space.

1. Zones. Think about how you will actually use the space and zone it accordingly. Don't treat it as one enormous room, but consciously try to create smaller zones. This is key to making it feel cosy, inviting and relaxing. You can't just plonk a sofa at one end and a dining table in the middle and expect it to feel welcoming. You can use furniture to break the space up - put a sofa across the middle; add coffee-tables, side tables, lamps and plants to create different areas. Be honest about how the areas will be used – if you have children, then figure out where they can play (we built in a large toy cupboard so that we can hide all the coloured plastic at the end of the day and actually enjoy the sitting area). This image of Jonathan Adler's amazing holiday home shows great zoning that still works well together. The living area in the foreground, dining area in the centre and kitchen at the back. Very cool.
jonathan adler laid-back luxe open-plan kitchen design

2. Eating. Create a dining area for how you actually live. I know you might think you'll be hosting dinner parties every Friday night, but if the reality is that you eat dinner in front of the telly most of the time and only entertain a couple of times a year, then don't waste space on a huge dining table. Get something that extends. Or position your table in a corner, rather than the centre of the room. Consider adding a banquette and you've suddenly made if feel far comfier and softer too (definitely one on my to-do list).

3. Choose simple kitchen units. Plain and simple doors are less likely to date. If you tire of the colour or finish, there are great companies offering door-spraying services that will transform the look. Or swap some of your wall cabinets for open shelving for a look that is more relaxed and less 'kitchen like' – helping to blend the kitchen with the rest of the room. If you have the wherewithal, then by all means splash out on a handmade wooden kitchen – but the cupboards don't have to be the stars of the show. You can still create a fabulous room with far more down to earth cabinetry. In fact in an open-plan kitchen you have far more scope to add personality elsewhere, and if you blow all the budget on the kitchen units then the rest of the room will suffer.

4. Too much storage can be as bad as too little. We all want lots of storage in the kitchen, but just remember that you will fill every extra cupboard you add (a bit like motorways – keep adding lanes and the cars keep filling them up). Make sure you have enough space for everything you actually use, but don't add so many cupboards that you end up feeling as though you're sitting in a locker room at the end of the day. Floor to ceiling cupboards throughout look dull (which is why you see so many kitchens with open wall shelves at the moment). If the completely open look is a bit much for you (I'm not sure I'm tidy enough to pull it off) then look at using different pieces of furniture as storage, so that is feels more laid-back. An old sideboard, bookcase or just a bar-cart will break things up a bit. Or go bold like this amazing open-plan kitchen design by Retrouvius – a repurposed museum cabinet has become a beautifully unconventional kitchen island (everything they touch is amazing – check out their website for more interiors to seriously lust after).
retrouvius laid-back luxe open-plan kitchen design

5. Add texture and textiles. So often kitchens are lacking in texture. When you're designing an open-plan kitchen, it can lead to a room that never feels relaxing or welcoming. There's generally a proliferation of hard and shiny surfaces in kitchens (doors, taps, tiles, worktops) so offset this with texture and textiles for a more laid-back luxe vibe in your open-plan kitchen. Yes, there will be steam and cooking smells, but you can always wash cushions and throws – and have rugs and curtains professionally cleaned every once in a while. Roman blinds, curtains, rugs, cushions and throws all help to make open-plan areas feel cosier and more like living spaces. They add personality, colour and texture as well as benefiting the acoustics no end. (Another item for my to-do list, make a new roman blind). I love this picture from Amber interiors - the leather, wood, wicker barstools, rugs and brass break up what would otherwise be a bit of a bright white box.
 laid-back luxe open-plan kitchen design

6. Rugs. I know I've just mentioned rugs above, but in an open-plan space, they are great for helping to visually and psychologically separate areas. In an open-plan kitchen-diner, the floor can look like an enormous expanse without a rug or two to break things up. Anything goes really – vintage, modern, plain, patterned. We have a huge afghan rug in ours – it was never destined for the kitchen, but when we moved house it was the only place it really worked, and now it does make the living-area feel much more welcoming (as well as being great for the kids to play on). I'm still planning on adding a cowhide rug too (see my post on cowhides for dining areas).

7. Lighting. LEDS in the ceiling are great for background lighting, but you really do need lots of different lighting types and sources in an open-plan kitchen. This is one thing we got seriously wrong in the rush to finish our extension. We have LEDS and little else - which feels really soulless in the evening. It's definitely on my to-do list to solve! You can make a real statement with lighting - whether you opt for cool pendants over the island (odd numbers, please), funky wall lights, a statement chandelier over the dining table or even quirky table lamps on the island. Just look at all the lights Abigail Ahern uses in her open-plan kitchen here – from a chandelier over the island to candles on the wall and a vintage Pantella on the worktop. I've had my eye on a lamp for our island for ages...I just can't make up my mind which one!
abigail ahern open-plan kitchen design
 7. Art is a great way to add some personality. We have a huge painting in the sitting area of our kitchen, and it has helped to make that end of the room feel warmer, more relaxed and generally more of a space you want to sit in. It was a lucky find on eBay and probably one of my favourite things in the whole house. We also have art propped up on the worktop (hiding some ugly sockets) and I have my eye on another vintage eBay find - it keeps being re-listed and I know I'm going to kick myself if it disappears, but with so many other priorities I've just not managed to make myself hit 'buy.' People don't always think of adding art in the kitchen, which is why even something small and simple sat on a shelf can look unexpected, stylish and interesting.

art in open-plan kitchen design

8. Add some luxe. If you follow most of the tips above, then you should end up with an open-plan space that feels relaxed and laid-back. So finally, you need to add in that dash of luxe. Whether it's sheepskin throws on the sofa or dining chairs or a few metallic touches, finish off your room with a few luxe finishes! I just love this pale green and brass kitchen (I can't find the source, I'd love to know whose it is). It is so laid-back and understated with its simple lights, painted floorboards, muted colours and wooden accents – but then those gorgeous brass units are just SUPER COOL! I'm dying to add some brass to our kitchen. I know that brass taps, lights (and even cutlery) are everywhere right now, but I'm thinking of going bolder and doing something with our wall cabinets. More on that in the next post...
open-plan kitchen design brass

So, there you have it. 8 steps to the perfect laid-back luxe, open-plan kitchen-dining-living room. (If only I followed all my own tips...!)  I'll follow up later in the week with a peek into what I've actually got planned to finish off my own kitchen. Until then, I think all I will actually do is tidy up, mop the floor, buy some drinks and be happy!


  1. Awesome information about kitchen interior.beautiful tips for interior designing,thanks for sharing this information.

    residential interiors

  2. Niece article. Cool advice. I will definitely use some. I wonder how such solutions would fit in my kitchen :D

  3. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.