The future is wide open

Urban loft apartments pioneered the idea of open-plan homes. Now even bathrooms come without doors. Jo Smit examines the pros and cons
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Small children bump into them. They get in your way when you are carrying mugs of tea from kitchen to living room, and every few years you have to go through the laborious process of repainting or varnishing them. These are just a few of the downsides of doors.

Small children bump into them. They get in your way when you are carrying mugs of tea from kitchen to living room, and every few years you have to go through the laborious process of repainting or varnishing them. These are just a few of the downsides of doors.

They are such a conventional part of the inside of our homes that we seldom stop to wonder whether doors are more of a help or a hindrance to modern living. But a house move has given surgical trainee Dr Kavin Andi the chance to make a comparison. Two months ago, Andi and his partner Data Bell-Gam moved from a traditional home with doors in all the usual places to a modern townhouse with an open-plan ground floor and the bare minimum of doors.

The couple fell in love with the home more or less at first sight and are now fans of open-plan living. "I was attracted by the light, the design and the space of the homes. As soon as you walk in, it's vast," says Andi. "It is amazing how taking walls and doors out makes a place look bigger." The free-flowing, ground-floor living space is ideal for entertaining. "In effect, we have 1,000sq ft of party space - we could have a good party here."

Andi and Bell-Gam bought a four-bedroom house at Abode, in Newhall, near Harlow, Essex, where homes are ultra-modern in design, both inside and out. The development by Copthorn Homes includes houses with free-flowing, ground-floor spaces with hallways leading into open-plan kitchen, dining and seating areas. Staircases are open, too, and they lead up to galleries that are visible from the ground floor through cut-out sections in the ceiling.

These are not the kind of homes where you'll find dark corridors and dingy corners, but you do have to be prepared to have a lot of your home on public display to visitors. "I'm quite tidy anyway," Andi says. "We're very minimalist. I can't stand clutter."

It was the minimalist, open-plan styling of trendy loft apartments that made us all feel there was something quaint about separating our home into cell-like spaces with walls and doors. Since then open-plan apartments have become a hit with buyers. "There's been a big demand for them, especially from younger buyers in areas like Bermondsey in London," says David Galman, sales director of Galliard Homes, which is currently marketing open-plan one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at its 548-550 Chiswick High Road development in Chiswick, west London.

It has taken housebuilders some time to transfer loft-style living from apartments to houses, however. Initially, they opened up houses simply by taking out the walls and doors between living room, kitchen and dining room. Now they are going further by ditching those poky corridors and hallways with doors on every side.

CALA Homes had been planning to build a conventional sitting room, dining room and corridor set-up at its Midsummer Mews scheme in Stratford-on-Avon, but it has now ditched the doors and is turning the whole area into a single space. "It gives us better use of space and eliminates the intrusion of doors and corridors, which make up sterile space," says sales director Sue Parry.

Sir Terry Farrell proved that open-plan living can still provide privacy in his modernist design of the exclusive Three Houses courtyard enclave for the developers Berkeley Homes (as seen on our cover). An abundance of glass on both internal and external walls means living space melds seamlessly with each private courtyard garden, but floor-to-ceiling sliding walls enable the open-plan ground floor to be subdivided into separate areas if required.

The architect behind the Abode homes, Stephen Proctor of Proctor & Matthews Architects, believes that such flexibility is becoming increasingly important for our lifestyles. "Spaces labelled for specific uses are getting less and less relevant," he says. For future schemes, he is looking beyond living areas to eliminate doors elsewhere in the house. Among the ideas the firm is toying with is a bedroom that has its own open-plan en-suite bathroom. "If your partner is in the bath and you are reading a book in bed, why shouldn't you be able to chat?" says Proctor.

A year ago Linden Homes put that idea to the test. It built a home on a site in Wallingford, near Reading, that had a door-free and almost wall-free en-suite bathroom incorporated into the master bedroom. The housebuilder used the home to research a whole lot of new ideas about living, asking its buyer to keep a diary of what they thought of the innovations. "The buyer liked the feeling of luxury and opulence of the open-plan bathroom," says Gerard Price, group sales and marketing director with Linden Homes, but he admits the housebuilder has not put them in any more of its homes. "It is not an innovation that we think has got mass-market appeal. In homes, one member of the family generally gets up earlier than the other, so running a shower could then be a nuisance."

Linden is developing plenty of houses with open-plan living areas, however, like those at Queen Elizabeth Park in Guildford, Surrey. "I don't think open-plan en suites will ever be a standard feature of new homes, but open-plan ground floors are here to stay," says Price.

There are other reasons for separating some spaces within the home. Central heating and improved insulation may have taken away much of the need for doors to be closed to keep in the heat, but regulating temperatures within larger spaces can still be problematic. Noise may reverberate around large spaces, particularly if they have hard finishes like ceramic flooring instead of soft, sound-absorbing ones like carpet. Building regulations also require doors to be included in homes to minimise the spread of fire.

There may also be times when you simply want to shut out the world, or at least the rest of your family. Housing design lobby group Design for Homes recently researched people's perceptions of privacy and found that in larger homes, where there was plenty of space, people welcomed door-free, open-plan living. But people living in smaller homes wanted separate rooms, says chief executive David Birkbeck. "People often get rid of doors in smaller properties to make them seem larger, but that's exactly where you need privacy."

Copthorn Homes, 01279 639309

CALA Homes, 0121 629 1335

Galliard Homes, 020-8956 2486

Berkeley Homes Southern, 01403 211230

Linden Homes, 01483 577506