Going open plan
These days, many people are opting for larger living spaces and aren't averse to knocking down the odd internal wall or two to make their home more open plan and spacious. Theoretically, adding any sort of extra space should add value to your home, although you should bear in mind that potential buyers may value their privacy more than you. Before attempting any work, seek professional advice from a structural engineer, architect or building surveyor.
Can I do it myself?
Unless you are a competent builder, attacking your internal walls is not a good idea and if it's not done properly you could risk invalidating your Home Insurance. Do you know which walls are load-bearing, or support walls and which are not? Always seek professional help - try The RIBA to search the Royal Institute of Architect's database, or call 020 7307 3700.
To find a builder try the Federation of Master Builders. Get at least three quotes from reputable builders as it's a specialist job and replacing a load-bearing or support wall will require a reinforced steel joist (RSJ) put in above the new opening to support your house.
Do I need planning permission?
Purely internal works do not need planning consent, unless you live in a listed building. But, as your alterations are structural, you will need to apply for Building Regulation Approval before any work can begin.
Where can I find more information on planning permission?
For extensive information on planning permission in England and Wales, including links to local websites, a glossary and online application forms, go to: Planning Portal.
Planning permission in Scotland is dealt with by local councils, while appeals are handled by the Scottish Executive. For more information see: The planning System in Scotland.
And what about Buildings Regulations?
For England and Wales, the Government has technical information and links at: www.communities.gov.uk
In Scotland, regulations are dealt with by the Scottish Building Standards Agency: www.sbsa.gov.uk
Who should I hire?
Taking on a professional, such as a good architect or builder, will help minimise the mess and disruption that such a large project is going to cause. A reputable builder, like those used by the Direct Line Home Repair Network (Available to Direct Line Home Insurance Policyholders only. Applies to claims between the threshold values stated on your policy documents) will be able to help you get what you want on time and on budget and can tell you what building regulations need to be adhered to.
What else can they do?
One large space will let more light into your home than two rooms with a dividing wall but, to really open things up, why not employ an architect to design your open space and plan in lots of windows and skylights for even more light? Of course, only if you can afford it.
Well, I am on a budget
And no bad thing - always watch your wallet and plan accordingly. It's surprising how quickly the cost of materials and all those little finishing touches can add up.
What's the best thing to opt for?
A kitchen diner is one of the most popular open plan spaces. It allows you to cook and talk to guests at the same time. But, keep the two spaces separate by using a natural divider, such as a kitchen island unit. That way, you can cook and still talk to your guests, but they won't be under your feet.
How should I plan the layout?
Think about access, especially if you are making a kitchen diner. Do you have easy access from one end to the other? What shape of table will work best? Is your dining area going to be just a dining area or something more, like an office or a TV room? Try making little sketches to see how things might work.
What should I do about décor?
When you have knocked your two rooms into one, you should co-ordinate your décor to promote unity and harmony. Matching furniture with walls, for instance, is one way. Adding textures and colours that visually link the two spaces will also help. If you have a colour on the wall in the living area, try to reflect this in the colour of the kitchen tiles or in your appliances and gadgets.
Possibly - a larger room will carry sound more and even a small dinner party can seem like a barn dance if you don't have enough furnishings to absorb the noise. Choose flooring that has strong sound-proofing qualities. If you want wooden or laminate floors, include a rug. Use plenty of soft furnishings and keep hard surfaces to a minimum.
Cooking and living in one place
Have you thought about ventilation? Don't forget that cooking smells travel and, in an open space, can quickly permeate your furnishings and walls. Fit a good extractor fan in the kitchen or, failing that; keep the kitchen area as far away from your living area as possible.
The same goes for moisture - think about whether moisture from cooking or washing will cause dampness in other parts of the house, so check that your walls and floors are damp-proofed and ventilated.
I seem to have more clutter now I've gone open plan
When you take down a wall or two, you will be left with much less storage space. So, when creating an open plan area, you should design in at least 50 per cent extra storage to prevent clutter from ruining everything you have achieved. Be as creative as you can and, as a rule of thumb, paint walls, ceilings and cupboards the same colour to retain that minimalist look.