How to make one room from two.

In wooden frame houses the blending of two rooms into one should be a very simple process. Why then do so many get it so wrong?

Often when visiting a house, a proud owner will explain that ‘these used to be two rooms but we made them into one’ – an architectural operation the scars of which are all too obvious. There is nothing uglier than a clunky join between two rooms.

So here are some things to think about:

First of all you have to ask yourself is this really an option? Can these two particular rooms be made into one room satisfactorily? To understand you need to look first at the proportions of the eventual room. Are the two original rooms of similar scale are their ceiling heights the same? Examine the position of the doors and windows. Will the finished room look like it was supposed to be, or will it resemble a stitched together Fanken-room?

If the rooms are unlikely to work as a whole, then you need to think about how you might retain the wall between then but reshape the opening. The classic way of doing this is by an arch, but proceed with caution.  There was a fashion some years back for Spanish Mission style interior (inspired by TV westerns like Bonanza and Zorro) inserted into older houses. The result was usually/always disastrous and left any sort of semi-circular arched opening with a bad rep.

In most cases a strong square opening is the better option.  To do this you need to start with the proportions of the top section, i.e. the space between the top of the proposed opening and the ceiling. Once decided, this will determine the scale of the protruding sidewalls, those that will support the overhead structure. Where mistakes are made is in eliminating the sidewalls to maximise the width of the opening. This makes it appear as if someone has placed a large beam through the room.

Note: if your wall is a structural one ­– and requires a large beam through it – this is a really good indication that these should not be made into one room but retained as two. In this scenario you need to turn to decor solutions rather than structural ones.

Back to the goal – two rooms blended into one. First step is to demolish the walls that separate the two rooms. The framing needs to be removed entirely so that you can see what needs to be done.

It’s important that you start from the top. Usually, and mistakenly, we don’t pay much attention to ceilings. However we spend more time looking at them than we think – particularly in bedrooms or living rooms. In New Zealand, where 90 % of ceilings are painted white (one 1930s decor writer hoped this was a short-lived fad), ceilings often catch the eye and particularly if there is some sort of glitch in their otherwise smooth surfaces.

When we demolished the wall between onetime kitchen and maid’s room we discovered that the ceiling planks were not continuous (and the battens long removed). This put an end to the idea of a board and batten ceiling of any authentic type.

Instead the old cornices were removed (to be put back up later), new gib-board was put up over the old boards to make a new continuous ceiling. Then with the cornice put back, new battens were laid over. Because the room is long and slender what was two rooms look very much like it always was.

Similarly the wall finishes of the two room – both different – were covered with new wallboard. A quick assessment of doors and windows – led to a slight shift of one door to the left by a few feet, this was more to accommodate the layout of the room that leads off the new room. Now the only suggestion that there were ever two rooms are remnant lines on the old wooden floor – and these will be covered by carpet.


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