There’s been quite a big trend recently for open plan spaces – whether that’s at home or work.
For us, it didn’t feel like a radical decision to make but every space is different.
In the flat, the south-facing part of the property was made up entirely of windows, with a glass sliding door leading onto the balcony. When we first viewed the flat, we felt that it was a shame that this view had been broken up by a wall. We wondered whether the view out onto the balcony, and the sea on the horizon, should be a panoramic one.
The trouble was, that involved removing a wall. And when you live in a flat, that can cause some problems.
The first stage is to seek approval from any relevant bodies. Although we owned the flat, we still had to get confirmation that the wall wasn’t load bearing, and provide this to the managing agent for the block. What we didn’t realise was how long that process can be so it’s important to factor that into your planning.
When someone (usually from the council) comes round to inspect your property, if you’re in a flat, the chances are they’ll check fire safety elements too. Listen to the advice they give you and be flexible with your ideas and designs. We had a new door put in to our open plan living area and had to meet certain regulations regarding the glass used. Be aware that the same person will come back to inspect the work once it’s done, so it’s better to meet all the rules in the first place, rather than having to redo anything.
The next stage is to be extra nice to your neighbours. We got old fashioned, posting notes through letterboxes of the entire block, notifying them of the work about to take place and leaving our mobile numbers in case they had any problems. The last thing you want is complaints and we found that by being proactive, explaining our intention and answering questions meant we had a fairly smooth process when the work took place.
One elderly neighbour told me he was going to complain about our renovations because we’d effectively be moving our kitchen directly above his bedroom and he didn’t want to be woken up at 3am in the morning with stiletto heels on a laminate floor.
Trying hard not to laugh (we’re never awake at 3am in the morning anymore!), I reassured him that we’d have the best quality underlay which would soundproof the room and that we had a family friend providing the flooring who was aware of the noise problems that come with living in a block of flats. I couldn’t resist adding in that I didn’t have any stilettos at the time!
Anyway, by listening to his concerns, and answering calmly and in detail, he suddenly backed down and seemed satisfied that we’d thought about the work and were taking liberties to use noise insulation and minimise any disruption to others. We had no problems from him, even after the work was complete.
The next stage is obviously – remove the wall!
This is a really exciting stage but can feel really stressful. It’s noisy, messy and you need a good system for getting rid of rubbish if you’re not on the ground floor.
We sneakily used the lift but also had a human chain of helpers – one person filling a bucket, another running it to the lift, another waiting at the bottom to empty it into the skip and return the bucket back up.
Once the wall is down, it’s normal for you to wonder what on earth you’ve done. Chill. You have a vision, stay with it.
For me, the biggest challenge is always spatial awareness. I often look at a room and wonder how on earth things are going to fit in. With the flat, I struggled HARD.
One side of the open-plan space was going to have a U-shaped kitchen, while the other was going to have our sofa, TV and bookcase, with a dining table wedged somewhere in between. I just couldn’t see how it was all going to fit and I actually remember saying, immediately after the wall came down, that I thought the room looked small.
My oh my how I was wrong.
If you struggle with visualising a room like me in terms of size, get some masking tape, work out the standard dimensions of a kitchen cupboard (usually 600mm wide) and map it out on the floor. At one stage, we even used old cardboard boxes to cut out the shape and size of a dining room table, and a sofa – two things we didn’t have at that time. Doing that meant we could be realistic when we were shopping around for those items – knowing exactly what would fit and give us the most space.
When we mapped out the kitchen though, we did this while the dividing wall was still standing. This gave me reassurance that we could do what we wanted, and still have room to spare. No matter how quickly you want to get things done, allocate time to the planning to avoid making simple mistakes.
Finally, once that wall is down, fill in the crater it inevitably left in the floor, install any supporting steel beams you’ve been advised to, and begin planning how to decorate and fill your new open plan space!