Alan Crawford, of the Crawford Partnership, an architecture and interior design practice, said: “There’s been a drive over the past few years for clients demanding open-plan homes.
“That changes things like staircase design – previously staircases were enclosed, now they have become almost a piece of sculpture. It is then difficult to position a staircase as a possible route of escape.”
Sprinkler systems can address this problem, but they are pricey. Mist systems are “the Rolls-Royce”, but cost around £3,500 per tap, said Mr Crawford. Sprinklers are less sophisticated and require more pipe work, but are cheaper.
Interior designers sometimes have to get creative to ensure fire safety. To make an open-plan house in Belgravia fire-safe, interior design practice 1.61 London, run by brothers Michael and Alexander Christou, installed fire curtains.
These look like rolling blinds and descend automatically to form a wall-like partition if there is a fire. In a Park Lane project, the firm worked using fire-rated glass partitions.
Listed buildings can also present problems. Michael Christou said: “19th-century listed buildings don’t necessarily conform to current fire safety standards.
“There’s a conflict between planning and safety requirements – for example, needing to retain the existing listed doors, and fire safety guidance that requires fire-safe doors.” One solution is painting the old doors with two coats of thermo-guard paint.