The Evolving Home: How the Floorplan Continues to Transform

The makeup of the average home has changed considerably over the centuries, which new technologies and social needs evolving the conventional floorplan. Lucy Ingham hears from Jason Orme, property expert for The Homebuilding & Renovating Show, about how this will continue to change as technology ushers us into a new era

Credit: Hufton+Crow

It’s no secret that the way the average home is structured has changed significantly over the years. While the staples of what makes a living space have remained since the dawn of civilisation, conventional floorplans have evolved over time.

“If we look at the history of the homes since mediaeval times, there’s a definite evolution in how we interact with our houses,” says Jason Orme, property expert for The Homebuilding & Renovating Show.

“There is a natural progression which took us from communal dwellings back in ancient times to properties which have become much more family-centric.”

While these changes are largely gradual, there are catalysts for changes in floorplans that occur infrequently, prompting relatively dramatic adjustments when they do. And at present, we are in the midst of such a transformation.

“Our homes and the way we use them reflect the way society is changing,” says Orme.

“We have noticed that the conventions of how we use rooms is beginning to feel a little outdated. Demarcated rooms are becoming less relevant and a more flexible approach to the way in which we use the house is becoming much more important.”

Societal changes have been key to this, but technology has also played a significant role.

“What we’re asking of our houses is becoming more complex as well,” he explains.

“People aren’t moving as much as they did in the past so they need to change their properties more often to adapt them to their lifestyle. Because of this, they want to take more control over their living space.”

But when it comes to changes, different rooms have seen, and will continue to see, significantly varying rates of transformation. So where are the biggest areas of adjustment, and how will these continue to evolve in the future?

Home and hearth: The transforming kitchen

Cooking spaces have always been at the core of living environments, however in the 20th century the mechanisation of labour saw the kitchen take a backseat to other parts of the house. The mid-century modern aesthetic drove a shrinking of the kitchen, moving the focus of the typical floorplan away from the cooking space and into the living room.

However, the kitchen has seen a resurgence of late, bringing with it a change in floorplans.“This process started 15-20 years ago, with the evolution of kitchens as the main driver,” explains Orme.

“ Cooking has become more of a social affair and it has made the kitchen the central hub of the house. 

“Cooking has become more of a social affair and it has made the kitchen the central hub of the house. Currently, we want to have what I call ‘big magazine-style spaces’: open-plan living kitchens where the living, cooking and eating can all take place together.”

This is also driving the reemergence of hidden cooking spaces reminiscent of the servant kitchens found in Victorian homes.

“New areas emerge such as sculleries or hidden second kitchens for those who want to prepare a lot of the cooking beforehand, while the kitchen section becomes much more of a show area. In many ways, it’s almost like revisiting some of the old uses a house tended to have,” he says.

“A great example is the pantry, which was popular a couple of centuries ago. Because our kitchens are turning into living spaces, we don’t want to have many wall units on display so we have art, light or plenty of windows on the walls instead.

“For outsourcing some of the functions of the kitchen such as cooking or food storage, one can rely on a pantry as a support system. This trend is one that’s cemented itself into the home for most people, but it’s happening in other areas of the house as well.”

The social core: the living room

While the kitchen has taken back some of the role of the social core from the living room, the latter remains central to floorplans, particularly in family homes. However, the defined distinctions between spaces have faded, with these rooms being required to transform for different functions and uses throughout the year.

“The traditional demarcation of drawing rooms and formal reception rooms is becoming much more stretched,” says Orme.

“ The traditional demarcation of drawing rooms and formal reception rooms is becoming much more stretched 

“On Saturday evening the family could gather around to watch a popular TV show, while in the afternoon the room may have been used for the kids’ playing time. During the holidays, the living room becomes a more formal entertaining space, ready to receive guests and be filled to full capacity.”

This evolving environment has increased the need for storage, growing the expectation on architects to include suitable solutions in their schemes.

“Living rooms need to be suitable for relaxing,” he says. “The practical way to achieve a serene space is through adding in clever storage spaces.

“The big TV in your living room could be tucked away in a built-in cabinet or a sliding panel which conceals a whole wall. This allows you to have a tidier house for when friends are over and you want to be more laid back.”

Notably, however, the trend of blending the living room into outside spaces has not persisted in the UK, largely due to the often hostile outside environment.

“From a room usage perspective, we might see less people opting to have an open plan layout with sliding or bi-fold doors overlooking the patio,” he says.

“There’s increasingly a realisation that this might not be as feasible and practical in the middle of a very wet December day. In this instance, Brits might prefer having a cosy, small, enclosed, snug space or better yet, facilitate both for the situation in which it’s snowy and cold for four months and boiling hot for another four.

“Nobody wants to sit in a nice dark, cosy space when it’s lovely and light out; you want to be open and interacting with the outside. Equally when it’s freezing and raining you want to be snug and warm, so the room needs to reflect both situations.”

More work, less room: The decline of the home office?

While the growing numbers of people working from home has cemented demand for home offices, these are increasingly not being used in the manner they were designed for.

“Although there is an increase in people having the flexibility of working from home, you might realise that most people may not use it as often as it was intended,” says Orme.

“ I think we’ll see a real decline in the more formalised areas such as the home office. 

“I, for example, find myself sometimes working from the kitchen table because I want to be around my family, I can see what’s going on in the house and I can prepare a cup of tea with ease whenever I need one.

As a result, this kind of space may well vanish with time, despite the likely increase in home working we will see over the next decade.

“Over the years, I think we’ll see a real decline in the more formalised areas such as the home office. This sounds almost counter intuitive, but if you’re working at 7.30pm at night you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a secluded space; you’ll want to be part of a social area where the whole family is,” he says.

“Being able to have the flexibility of improvising a home office desk is very important.”