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By Emma Smith

By Joanna Tovia in association with 

Sunken space provides some advantages that open plan living does not. Come find out more.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes, and the same is true with our homes. Letting in the light, blurring the boundaries between inside and out, and creating communal areas to gather with family and friends are almost always at the top of homeowner priority lists when it comes to renovating. But adding a box-like open-plan living/dining/kitchen isn’t always the way to go. As you’ll see from the houses below, a sunken room can not only make for a far more interesting home, it can also bring people together. And sometimes it just makes the best design sense.

Photo by MK Properties – Look for modern kitchen pictures

In-between rooms
Locating a sunken kitchen between two rectangular volumes achieved two aims. Architect Marmol Radziner designed it to maximise available space, and to create additional opportunities for indoor-outdoor flow. Two offset rectangles sit at either end of the narrow site, and the kitchen serves as the bridge that unites the two. The design effectively splits the home into thirds.

Photo by Elan Kitchens – Look for your next dishwasher

Space saver
Apartment dwelling is on the rise as cities encourage higher-density living over urban sprawl, but creativity is often needed to deliver the needs and wants of the homeowner within a confined footprint.

Split-level dwellings can make the most of the available space. In this London apartment on the ground floor, sinking the kitchen allowed for a mezzanine level overhead for extra living space.

Designed for comfort
Sinking a living room ‘pit’ below floor level creates an inviting, ultra-comfortable place to hang out in this beach house on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and doing so also provides bench seating much of the way around the room. Designed for architect Rachel Nolan (of Kennedy Nolan) and her young family, the pit edge is wide enough to house a futon – her favourite spot to take an afternoon nap in the winter sun.

Photo by Kennedy Nolan – Find ceiling fans with lights

The sunken living area has been carpeted for extra cosiness, while the adjoining dining/kitchen area has polished concrete underfoot. Like the rest of the home, the living area is simple and sparsely furnished, designed for relaxed family weekends spent doing not much at all.

All lit up
Sunken spaces aren’t restricted to the indoors, of course. Sinking circular garden beds into the soil enables your backyard to become a work of art both day and night, with the help of lighting.

Photo by Matt Gibson Architecture + Design – Browse LED strip lights

Lighting has been used to great effect in this outdoor area too, and sinking it below floor level creates instant bench seating for a crowd. A smart move for a small backyard.

Photo by Dean Herald-Rolling Stone Landscapes – Browse contemporary patio photos

Split-level lounging
The three zones of this outdoor area have been divided into clearly defined spaces – an outdoor kitchen (complete with pizza oven), dining space, and lounge area. Dropping the lounge area down a level turns it into its own welcoming escape.

Photo by Dean Herald-Rolling Stone Landscapes – Discover contemporary deck design ideas

Cushioned hardwood bench seating surrounding a wood-burning fireplace makes the area
entertaining-ready all year round, and there’s even a built-in icebox to keep chilled drinks within arm’s reach.

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