Open Plan Kitchen Extensions

Update your kitchen by opening it up to the family room or dining area

To-days housing are built to a higher insulation standard than previously. Double glazing, draft proofing around doors and the use of oil or gas heating all contribute to a well insulated and draft free dwelling. The days of separate dining room and kitchen are now a thing of the past. Today, the entire family pitches in to prepare meals and spills into the adjacent area to eat. Combined Kitchen, Dining and Living areas are becoming more popular, the open plan approach gives the sense of space that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

This same sense of open space can be enjoyed if the walls of your kitchen don't get in the way. While it calls for careful planning, building permission and the demolition of a wall or two, opening up your kitchen to an eating area and even the family room isn't as daunting a process as it sounds if a kitchen remodel is already in your plans. And the results are worth the effort.

Plan to expand

The first step is to decide which room to expand into. The best and most common rooms for conversion to an open plan are family and breakfast rooms. By removing the wall that separates the kitchen from one of these areas, you've opened up the space without changing the function of the rooms. Opening up the dining room to the kitchen is another possibility as long as you don't mind losing a separate, formal dining space. Stay away from expanding into a room where privacy is important, such as a study or home office.

Get Organized

open plan kitchen

Removing walls might mean sacrificing some of the existing high level cupboard space in your kitchen. Compensate for the lost storage with an island or peninsula outfitted with deep drawers and shelves. An appliance cupboard can help cut worktop clutter.

Open plans also put dirty dishes and cooking utensils in plain sight of family and guests at meal time. But there are ways to partially screen the kitchen from view without cutting it off completely. A tall back splash on a peninsula or island, which can also support a breakfast bar, is a proven trick for hiding food-prep areas and dirty dishes. Avoid hanging cabinets are an effective partition as these tend to separate the rooms.

Noise and cooking odours can be a concern in a family-room kitchen. Soft materials, like carpets, drapes and upholstery, muffle TV and video-game volume as well as kitchen clatter. Hard surfaces, such as wood, tile and glass, reflect sound. Modern appliances such as the dish washer, washing machine and clothes drier add unwanted noise, ideally, with the exemption of the dish washer, these appliances should be moved to a separate utility room.

You do need effective ventilation ducted through the roof or an exterior wall to keep odours from moving into the rest of your home. Range hoods and down draft vents are sized to fit the cook top. You may find, though, that removing interior walls creates new cross-breeze patterns because windows and doors that were once separated by walls are now open to one another.

While you want the kitchen to be comfortable, you don't want it to be a chaotic space. Fortunately, defining activity areas without floor-to-ceiling walls isn't really very difficult. Furniture groupings are an obvious space-organizing tool. Lighting, too, can create subtle boundaries. Track lights can be adjusted to outline a specific area, for instance.

Architectural features will also do the trick. For example, a picture window, different ceiling heights, floor borders or a fireplace all provide natural focal points that can anchor activity areas. In fact, in many cases, the sitting and eating areas don't have to be relocated once the walls come down. But experiment to find what is best for your household. You might want to swap the dining area with that of the sitting space or the other way around. Just be sure that people can move freely and logically, with minimal intrusion across foot-traffic paths.

Whatever sequence you choose for your living, eating and cooking spaces, it's a good idea to include a nook or alcove in your plans. This space will serve as a retreat for doing homework, reading or using the computer. It brings out the maximum benefits of a family-room kitchen: privacy combined with a space designed for socializing.

Removing Walls

Opening up a kitchen to an adjacent room usually involves removing a wall. Although swinging a sledgehammer at a finished surface is a lot of fun, there are two concerns that have to be addressed before demolition starts.

The first is checking for plumbing, ducting and wiring in the wall that must be disconnected and then rerouted or capped. The second is determining if the wall you're about to remove is load-bearing. If it's not, you're almost ready for that sledgehammer. But if it is load-bearing, you're in for quite a bit more complication.

Simply put, bearing walls support the structure of your house, the floors and the roof above them, and transfer the load to the foundation. If you remove a bearing wall without providing replacement support, you threaten the integrity of the house itself. All exterior walls are load-bearing, as are many that run lengthwise through a house. But there can be others. How do you determine if a particular wall is load-bearing? It can be as easy as heading to the attic to see if any joists, beams or rafters rest on the wall. Or it can be a lot more complicated.

Actual demolition begins with removing the plaster. This is done carefully and systematically to avoid damaging existing plumbing, ducting and wiring. Depending on the plans, these utilities will be capped off or rerouted.

In the case of a bearing wall, temporary walls have to be nailed in place beneath ceiling joists on either side of the wall. Then the studs and bottom and top plates are removed. Finally, new support posts and a header are installed.

Obviously, dealing with a bearing wall is not a learn-as-you-go project. Unless you're very experienced, call a pro to help with this phase of the work. Once the site is ready for demolition—utilities to the area turned off and doorways sealed against dust—the contractor will strip away the plaster and then support the ceiling joists on either side of the bearing wall with temporary walls. Then he'll dismantle the wall and replace it as soon as possible with a permanent header and support posts sized for the span that's been created.