The rise of ‘broken plan’ living: how to divide and zone your home for office, study and personal space

They’re calling it “broken plan”. With more of us now working from home, possibly for the long term, households want personal space for office, study and leisure — so Londoners are carving up their old open-plan homes into personal hubs.

“Dividing and zoning space is the new norm,” says Merlin Wright, design director at British Standard/Plain English, which has been installing kitchen-diners for decades.

“The old trend for knocking through and opening up no longer works, and in winter big spaces are expensive to heat.”

At London architectural design and build practice Zulu Fish (, Felix Milns confirms: “Our clients are reorganising. They are dividing homes, converting spare rooms into offices and generally creating multifunctional spaces where parents and kids can operate.”

Meanwhile, a new report from John Lewis ( reveals one in five customers is rejigging open-plan space to accommodate many different activities throughout the day, including room to be alone, and plans to spend from £1,000 to £3,000 to achieve it.

Industrial chic

The Rolls-Royce of fitted room dividers, screens and doors is Essex firm Crittall ( Dating back to the 19th century, it did the windows in the Houses of Parliament and later in the Thirties was adopted by the avant-garde. Its trademark industrial look, with slim metal frames and unobstructed glass, is now fashionable even for period properties.

Nationwide, just a handful of approved Crittall suppliers and installers include D&R Design (; 020 3051 0552).

Orders are bespoke and handmade, with black and grey the most popular colours — though you can have any shade.

The price for doors and screens is about £1,200 per square metre, but cheaper Crittall-style versions abound.

Pick a pocket door

Or consider custom-made joinery, says Zulu Fish’s Felix Milns, such as a timber door sliding into its own “pocket”.

Substantially cheaper are DIY kits for timber dividing doors — check out Door Superstore ( Find traditional glazed panels at Spaceslide (, which currently has a sale on.

“Bottom-weighted” doors have enhanced stability, however wide. Draks sells a clever German system, only 6mm thick, with a floor track that can be rebated or surface mounted ( Quite apart from the cost, however, fixed partitions will take time to install, and might not adapt to changing household needs.

“So think about zoning,” says Vickie Nickolls of design consultancy Interior Therapy (

“Many of my clients and members of their families are working from home. They want a pleasant environment, not an office space, which will blend in with their environment.”

Screen saviour

An old-fashioned screen could do the trick, so try Wayfair ( or Room Dividers UK ( “Roll-out bamboo or folding Shoji screens are low cost,” says Felix Milns. “The Japanese have been dividing space like this for thousands of years.” Or there are flamboyant florals, or mirrors that give the illusion of more space.

“Ideally separate work and home life,” says Andrew Griffiths of London interior design studio Andrew Jonathan Design ( He also uses dividers and screens, “or even a well-placed open shelving unit, which can zone an area without blocking off the light”.

For clients of the company in Tooting, doors under the stairs open on to a built-in desk space, then close away when work’s done.

Wonder walls

Wallpaper can define a space — “but avoid a feature wall if your room is already crowded,” says Abby Hesketh, colour and trend specialist at Graham & Brown ( the Lancashire family décor firm.

Brooke Copp-Barton, of Chiswick’s Brooke Copp-Barton Interiors (, says: “When you divide up spaces, think about lighting, worktop, storage and connectivity. Then organise, organise, organise — baskets, folders, pen tidies, box files.”

A desk within a cupboard is sold by The Dormy House ( but you could build your own into an old wardrobe.

“Young renters don’t have the luxury of designated workspace,” adds Stephen Clark, furniture designer at Sainsbury’s/Asda. “So they need foldable tables, dual-purpose ladder desks, or even dressing table/desks.”

Searches for folding and standing desks have exploded. A screen in a bedroom can create a neat workplace, especially if it’s by a window.

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