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Essay

Are Open Floor Plans Here to Stay?

by Grace Bonney

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I’ve spent the last 13 years reviewing and publishing thousands of home tours and devouring hours upon hours of design-related programming on television. And while most trends seem to wax and wane over time, there’s been one dominant change over the past decade that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: open floor plans.

Real estate agents continue to confirm that most young home and apartment buyers are looking primarily for open floor plans (where the main living space, kitchen and dining room are all open to each other) or to create their own when they renovate, but where does that leave the generations of older houses in America that were built when people wanted clearly defined spaces? Will this craving for openness ever be replaced by a desire for privacy again, or do we think this is the way of the future?

Image above: Anna and Austin’s bright open-plan kitchen in Denver.

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Image above: A chic minimal New Zealand home.

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Traci’s bright and airy California home

 

When my parents put their (very traditional colonial Virginia style) house up for sale, one of the very first pieces of feedback they got from potential buyers and agents was that people would love the house, “If they could knock down all these walls downstairs.” I chuckled at the feedback, thinking of , and realizing how almost every episode starts with a design plan that includes, “Opening up this space and removing all these walls.”

But then I realized, the newest generation of buyers (and renters), seem to all be looking for the same thing: a large open space in the living area where the kitchen, dining room and living room all open up seamlessly to each other.

Having grown up on the east coast in a relatively old home and now living in a much older home, walls were pretty much a given. Living, dining and cooking spaces were usually clearly defined, except for the occasional kitchen opening that let you peek into the dining area.

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Jamie and Mark’s sunny Kansas City home

 

In colder climates, having separate rooms (especially with doors, not just archways separating them) was a practical necessity, too. Being able to close off sections of the house allowed home owners and renters to save on heating costs by only heating areas they used the most.

When it comes to privacy, I remember being very thankful for having separations between rooms so that I could have a quiet moment to read, do homework or just be alone. But these days the feedback we see here at Design*Sponge (and echoed on most interior design TV shows) is that families, especially those with children, want wide open space to ensure that they can keep an eye on their kids at all times.

One of the most common things I hear on design shows these days is a parent telling a designer that they’d like to be able to see what their kids are doing in the living room while they’re preparing a meal in the kitchen. That’s a concept and a request I completely understand — although part of me wonders where people go (other than their bedrooms) for a quiet moment alone when there are no walls or room dividers to provide that?

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Kelsey’s open-concept Seattle apartment

 

So it made me wonder how you all feel: do you like this groundswell movement toward open floor plans and eschewing privacy in primary living spaces?

For me, I see this as something much bigger than a trend. This feels like a major change that is set to dominate the way we see homes for a long time. And while I love the bright, natural light and airy feeling that these designs offer, I do miss some of the privacy that defined rooms provide. And, as someone who loves homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries, where does this leave the incredible community of homes that have been lovingly cared for, walls and all? Perhaps there will always be enough people to support a multi-room design and keep these house styles in creation and preservation? Or I wonder if we’ll look back on this moment in time, 30 years from now, and realize this was the tipping point where open floor plans changed the way houses were designed going forward. I’m so curious to hear about your thoughts on this change: what makes you love this style or what makes you enjoy having separate rooms? Do you think this will be the way of the future? Does it represent a more affordable way of designing houses? Or will this be another style trend that gradually evens out with a combination of more open space but still a bit of division between rooms?

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Comments

  • Open concept looks great sometimes, and can be great for a party. But personally, I prefer separate rooms. I want to keep kitchen smells and mess separate from the rest of the house. I need somewhere to hide my never-ending battle against clutter. And figuring out how to carve out distinct spaces in a large area is hard. Heating and cooling, as you mentioned, are real concerns, and we try to keep our costs down.
    I also have small kids and separate rooms. It’s actually nice to be able to corral them and to keep them out of certain parts of the house when needed. The kids hang out with me in the kitchen when I’m cooking. Sure, it’s noisy and awful and nearly impossible to accomplish anything sometimes, but at least I don’t have to worry about things getting broken or a younger sibling getting bonked behind a couch across the room. If our kitchen wasn’t separate from the rest of the house, I feel like food mess and spilled water would migrate elsewhere, despite best efforts.

    • Malia,
      I totally share your sentiments. I learned to cook by being in the kitchen watching my Mom when I was growing up. I have such fond memories of our large family hanging out in the kitchen, and when dinner was over, all seven of us (5 children and two parents) migrating to the living room for an evening of watching television. Imagine that. The whole family watching the same show. We ate in the dining room on Sundays and when company came over. I currently live in an old Victorian on the East Coast much like the one I grew up in and I would never want to tear down the walls and compromise the integrity of all the beautiful architectural details of my home. Open concept is beautiful on all the home shows and in the magazines. But the defined spaces suit my lifestyle. There are so many cozy spaces on the first floor that not only promote privacy but also provide enchantment with varying moods. I tend to move around as the light changes, enjoying the morning sun in the back of the house and sitting in the sun room in the front of the house to enjoy peaceful sunsets. Just saying……

  • The open concept floor plan is certainly not new. It got started in the fifties in a pretty big way. Think about all those Eichler homes and other California modern homes. Even relatively ordinary sixties’ homes had their dining area open to the kitchen and to the living room. My parents built their house in 1959, in a very unflamboyant suburb of Chicago, and it had a very open plan. When I was house hunting in the eighties a formal dining room was unusual in newer construction and was always in addition to the eating area between the kitchen and “family room” (a separate formal living room usually came along too). However, the trend today seems to take the openness to the extreme. I know that some of the very open plan homes I’ve seen (built in the early eighties to today) look not so much inviting as “barnlike” and sort of unfinished. I expect there will be a trend toward more coziness eventually, but I doubt that the truly enclosed spaces of the forties and earlier will make a big comeback.

    • Funny, I was thinking about Eichler homes as I read this article. I live in the Bay Area. When I first moved here and was looking for a house, I looked at quite a few renovated and original Eichler homes. I honestly love the Eichler homes, and I would have bought one if I could have afforded it (the original Eichlers are going for around 800K around here, and they need work). But, as much as I love the open floor plan/glass walls/concrete floors Eichler pioneered, I don’t think it’s really suitable for every climate. It works well in Northern California due to the temperate climate. If you tried to build this home (with all the glass and open rooms) in upstate Michigan, I think your heating/cooling bills would be outrageous. I realize that modern efficiencies in building supplies, construction techniques, etc. can do a lot to offset the heating/cooling issues, but I still believe at the end of the day certain architectural styles are better-suited to certain climates, both for practical and aesthetic reasons.

  • My husband and I used to own a sprawling 1880s Victorian with lots of narrow doorways and closed off spaces and not enough nice open flow between rooms. Now we have a cozy 1917 bungalow. The sunroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen all have 6-foot archways between them so there’s a lovely flow but still not completely open-plan. And the sunroom has french doors when I want a little more quiet. I prefer that to one huge open space. I think the craftsman era often got it right with a compromise between the closed off nature of the Victorian era and the completely open plan era seem today.

    • I agree with you SO MUCH. Our first house was a modest Craftsman foursquare. We loved the combination of flow and privacy. The downstairs rooms were all linked with generous openings, and upstairs, all four (small) bedrooms opened off the spacious landing.

      • I also own a 4 square and LOVE it! It’s is open enough, but each room still has it’s own personal space. I understand parents who want to see kids all the time, but how do you keep your little ones from getting into everything?!? One our rooms we can close off so our 18 month can just play in there and we don’t have to worry about what he’s getting into in the kitchen, going up the stairs, etc.

  • Among luxury homes as well, the need for separate areas is important depending on the amount of household staff– as the popularity of household staff has decreased, there isn’t as much desire to have more enclosed spaces. I, personally, really love a separate kitchen especially (it’s really nice to leave dirty dishes behind closed doors while entertaining) and a formal dining room definitely lends a formality to an evening meal that can be rather nice. Then again, if square footage is at a premium, you might get more for your money by having fewer walls! Although NYC apartments always try to tell you how great it is that they have an ‘open kitchen’ when by that they mean the kitchen is IN the living room.

  • I agree with Malia about the desire to keep my kitchen-mess out of the view from other rooms. How do you throw a dinner party in an open floor plan? I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself- I would be eyeing the mess in the kitchen the entire time! Also, I don’t have kids yet, so while I may not fully understand the “keep an eye on them” concern, I also think keeping the kids the kitchen while I cook is a valuable lesson in and of itself.

    That said, as a Realtor, everyone wants an open floor plan! It gives the illusion of more space but – to play devils advocate- much less wall space to put large storage-type pieces of furniture up against. I don’t think the trend is going anywhere but I personally don’t want all the beautiful old homes out there to have their “walls removed to open up the space”.

  • So many feelings about this. I grew up in homes with distinctly separated rooms. Then when we bought our last house we knocked down the wall between the kitchen and dining rooms and punched a doorway between the playroom (previously an attached garage) and the kitchen/dining area to unite them. This let in much more light, felt more open, but still left some separation between the formal living room, kitchen/dining areas, and playroom. The home we live in now is older and sits on a smaller footprint. Hoping for casual living space open to the kitchen we knocked down ALL the walls on the main floor. Voila: foyer, dining, living, kitchen all open and flowing. I LOVE the light and the ability to entertain in the space. I’m still struggling with some other aspects of the openness, though (especially with small children). Thankfully we have enough bedrooms plus a finished attic playroom that allows for retreat when necessary, but let’s be honest…everyone is usually sharing the (now very open) space on the main floor which can be hectic, messy, and/or annoying at times. In short: I’m a fan of open floor plans, but also appreciate the ability to keep some separate spaces.

  • In new building, couldn’t part of this open room ‘loft living’ concept be driven by a need to offer affordable living in smaller homes and living spaces? As housing costs increase, creating one main room will help to make the home feel bigger, while in fact it could be even smaller that a traditional ‘small’ home or apartment might be. That it supports modern family lifestyles is just a bonus of this design trend.

    • I couldn’t agree with this comment more. I know with our mid sized home (under 2000 square ft, downright tiny compared to some of the huge midwestern suburban homes around us) opening up the walls between the living room, kitchen and dining room made our home look huge. Not only does it look larger, but it functions like a larger home when entertaining, and creates a great space for the whole family to gather.

  • I love reading/talking about this kind of thing – I agree that it’s way more than a trend, and actually is a new way of live in the home! I read a lot of history in the home books at the moment (Lucy Worsley’s ‘If walls could talk’ and Bill Bryson’s ‘history of the home’ are fantastic), and it’s fascinating to see the ways we formerly used spaces in our home, and how they’ve developed to the modern day.

    Personally I like open plan kitchen/dining areas, but I prefer a closed off living area so that I can quietly curl up in front of the TV, read a book or just leave washing the dishes for a little longer without looking at them.

    :)

    Flora

    • Flora-
      This is what my preference is lately; kitchen/dining + separate living.

      It seeems rare here in Portland, OR, but I see a lot of eat-in kitchens and separate living rooms in the homes featured in “Escape to the Country” and they make the most sense to me.

  • I feel like knocking down walls and creating an open concept has become some sort of weird status symbol. Our first house was a 1955 rancher/rambler with a dining room open to the living room (a big L shape) with the kitchen and stairs down to the basement in the crook of the L. We had SO many people ask us if we were going to knock down that L shape of the wall! Uh, no! Why would we expose the basement stairs? and lose kitchen wall space? That makes no sense!

    But in our current house, a 1964 modern 4-level split, the second level is the living/dining/kitchen, which has a vaulted/beamed ceiling. currently there is a wall between the living/kitchen and the upper cabinets divide the dining room and kitchen. As a result, it’s pretty dark! And the one wall doesn’t make much sense anyway–no cabinets on it or anything, it’s literally just hiding the kitchen from the living room. So while I was previously very anti-open concept, I think I’ve discovered I’m actually anti-open concept when it doesn’t make sense for the house. If knocking down that wall makes it function better AND is in keeping with the architecture of the house, I’m going to do it. Otherwise…nah.

  • My husband and I are renovating and one of the big changes we made in our extremely open-concept home was to actually REBUILD a wall to define a living room space. Before, we had one massive room with two-story ceilings that was a kitchen, living room, dining room, and mud room. When my sisters would come over for wine and girl time, for example, my husband literally sat in the same room with headphones on to try and give himself “space.” It was absurd- and I loathed it. I do think “open concept” can go way too far.

    The new design allows the foyer, kitchen, and dining spaces to “flow,” with a differentiated living room area. It is much cozier while still creating a great entertaining space.

  • I definitely can see the appeal of an open floor plan, but it’s just not for me. I grew up in a house that was technically open, but it’s an-L shape and the kitchen is around a corner so you can’t see it from the living room space (which is still great for entertaining! My parents host Christmas every year). My current home has a shared living and dining area, but the kitchen is separate. Bottom line: I don’t want to see my kitchen from the couch. Since I live in a city with a lot of very old homes, it was still nice and easy to find a house with my preferred layout.

    • I agree – no desire to see the entire kitchen from the living room. We have a midcentury home, very open in its feel but I appreciate that the kitchen, while open from two directions, is not fully open to all living spaces.

  • My husband and I (late 20s) just purchased our first home. We are VERY grateful for the walls in our house! All of the open floor plan homes reminded us of our apartments in Chicago. We were thrilled to finally have defined space. Sometimes you just need quiet time!

  • We are planning to take a wall down in our 1930s London terrace. Apparently the trend in these houses used to be to knock through living room and dining room, to create a big living space, leaving the small kitchen separate. Fortunately the previous owners of our place didn’t do this, so we can open up the kitchen/dining room. We are doing this because it seems like cooking is more sociable now and we want a house that reflects that. We have a baby on the way and think keeping the living room separate will help create a calm, more grown-up space.

  • I like walls! I recently had my kitchen and enclosed back porch rejiggered, so that the porch is now a small inside dining area with a laundry closet. This involved a lot of money (!) and a partial wall removal, but there is still a separation between the kitchen and living room, and part of the dining area is out of view until you get back there and look to your right. I think that a small house like mine (about 1,000 sq ft) feels larger when the space is separated. In my case, though, there’s a “corridor” running through the middle of the house, so you can see the sliding door at the back when you’re standing at the front of the living room. My neighbor a few doors down has a much more open plan (and a slightly smaller house — about 850 sq ft) and it feels like a studio apartment.

    Then again, my house gets a lot of light, and I’ve always liked small spaces.

  • Another vote for walls! I’ve never lived in a place with total open plan as an adult. Probably because of my preference for older houses.

    First rental (1970s villa) – kitchen onto dining room, but living room totally separate.
    First purchased house (1890s worker’s cottage) – eat-in kitchen, separate living room.
    Rental once we moved (early 20th century SF apartment) – kitchen separate to open plan living area (I quite like this – maximises the space in our apartment, but no looking at dirty dishes!)

    I prefer rooms for all the reasons others have mentioned.

    One thing that does make the current trend for open plan worse is the trend for the kitchen island. I think back to the 1980s open plan house I grew up in, and the kitchen still had like, a brick divider behind the bench that would have been about five foot tall. So it hid everything going on in the kitchen. No breakfast bar then, of course.

  • I’m an architect working primarily on mid- and hi-rise multifamily projects and all our market research confirms that open plans (mixed kitchen, dining area, and living room) are here to stay. However, we’re also seeing a greater desire for an additional space – a flexible area that fulfills the need for a home office, a hobby studio, a media room, a guest room, or some combination thereof – that can be open to expand the main living area or closed off to give that quiet retreat we all need. It’s a ‘best of both worlds’ mentality that we are mimicking in the renovation of our closed off 1950s ranch.

    My husband sells luxury new construction homes and I don’t think his company has a single floor plan with a fully separate living room. It’s always the combined family room, breakfast nook, open kitchen, and then you can add a fully separate dining room, a separate study, and a separate game room or media room.

  • I love the concept of open kitchen/dining/casual seating spaces. Our kids, their kids and our few remaining elders all live at some distance apart. When any or all of us have a chance to be together, there is plenty of cooking going on and I can’t imagine anyone having to be isolated in a closed-in kitchen from all the camaraderie and hoopla. The wide-open and well-lit spaces bring us all together without feeling like we’re crowding each other. There is always the small living room around the ell or an even smaller reading nook for a little separation when needed. I do think the open concept is here to stay, but reasonable design is always key.

  • Before I lived where I currently live now, we had what was commonly called “the great room.” It was completely open to all family activities. Ugh. Try washing dishes, running the dishwasher, cleaning the sink and stove while hubby is trying to watch TV. And of course you couldn’t leave anything out on the counter for awhile. Just glancing back at the pots and leftovers annoyed me to distraction. Couldn’t even sit down to enjoy a glass of wine to relax after preparing and eating a hearty meal. Now the home I live in is a vintage 70s ranch style. It is very open but the kitchen is off to the corner and somewhat contained. It only connects to the very large dining area and is still open enough that I can peer over the breakfast bar to see the goings on in the large family room. People are very complimentary on the layout. They especially love the small butcher block built-in island that everyone likes to gravitate around. Some people where I live have enormous great rooms and the acoustics are terrible. The volume of voices keeps getting louder and it almost echoes. So I feel fortunate to have a compromise of design with the open feel but with a practical semi-enclosed space.

  • Someone may have already mentioned this, but I heard that our desire for “open concept” houses stems from our sitcom television shows, which needed kitchens that opened into the living spaces so the characters could continue to banter while doing normal things like cooking or cleaning up. These fake realities now define the way we think of space in real life.

    • this is very interesting.. i am all for the open kitchen and main living space. being someone who loves to cook and entertain — having one larger space makes things easier and more enjoyable for me. i have a giant family and when we get together in homes that have too many small, separate rooms it just doesn’t really work and everyone is uncomfortable. when i get my own house though i want to have at least one other place like a studio space or an additional sitting room where someone can “escape” and have some time alone.

      one thing no one is really talking about is how having a finished basement can help with this. growing up, we would play down there for hours or have friends over and my mom could get things done. my dad would also hang out down there after work. since then my parents have moved from ohio to pa and they were shocked at the fact that hardly any of the homes had basements.

  • I love that rooms give me more walls to style and more chances to try new things. My bedroom, living room and office all have different styles and tones for their different purposes. The bedroom is tranquil, the office is bright and colorful, and the living room is a cozy library with lots of warm tones. I wouldn’t know where to begin with a totally open-plan space that demands a more unified aesthetic. I imagine I’d feel deprived of the opportunity to give each living space a personality.

  • We have had both kinds of homes. While I agree it is nice to have the kitchen in a separate space for some things (not seeing the dishes, mess etc), everyone always ends up hanging out in the kitchen no matter what you do. Having it more open to the living space is far easier for casual gatherings. Our Victorian home had a uncharacteristically open dining/living area, and we would have 20 people standing in the kitchen.

  • I think open floor plans are here to stay, but I wish they would go away! Defined spaces and walls are so much more comfortable to me than sitting in one large room, sometimes practically the whole footprint of the house. In our last house, we had an open floor plan, and I felt like I was essentially sitting in the kitchen when I was actually on the sofa watching TV. It took all of the coziness out of how you should feel in your living room.

  • I also like “rooms” and would have kept more divisions in our home if we had the square footage to do so. Our home is a 3 1 and was just under 1100 sq ft for 4 folks (two teens and their parents) before our remodel. Now the kitchen, dining, living room and hall are wide open. Before the remodel I was able to have the walls painted different colors, but now I have gone all white with the exception of a couple of kitchen walls which are around the corner from the sight lines from the front door. We added fewer than100 sq ft but the house feels (and acts) much larger now and we can comfortably entertain, which has been a lot of fun.
    That said, the acoustics are pretty unforgiving. We had to build a “man cave” in the garage for football watching before we could host Thanksgiving. Now that we have a second space for TV or studying the house is just one more bathroom away away from perfect :).

  • I like how open floor plans look, but it can get SO loud, especially in two story homes with high ceilings. That’s my only complaint! I live in a studio right now which is the ultimate open floor plan, hahaha.

  • I like my walls. I highly value my quiet time, and I have two young kids, so being able to close a door on them and their noise and mess is invaluable to me. I live in a Craftsman in the Bay Area, so while we’ve got a large opening between the living room and dining room, the rest of the rooms are pretty distinct. The one thing I *do* wish I had, however, was a small lounge-type space in my kitchen. When we have people over, EVERYONE always ends up hanging out in the kitchen, and it would be nice to have a space for sitting that was a little more comfortable…

    • This is how I feel. I love old houses and walls to separate spaces, but the only thing I would want in my house is a bigger klitchen with an area where people could hang while I’m cooking. That said I don’t want to lose the coziness of the living room or the kitchen. Never going to happen in my 1890’s mill house on a tiny lot, but I wish I had room to add a fireplace and couch in the kitchen… my dream goal since I saw a much MUCH larger version in Oprah’s kitchen.

    • Yes. This exactly.
      I dislike open floor plans for the many reasons stated above: mess visible to everyone, cooking smells wafting around, lack of privacy, noisy, not enough walls to hang art on, kids careening through the open spaces, the list goes on.
      However I want a kitchen big enough for people to be able to keep company while cooking– room for a bar with stools, or a breakfast nook, or even just a cozy chair. This way the kitchen can be the warm center of a home, a great place for kids to eat less formal meals like breakfast, and comfortable for conversation.

  • I too have noticed that the open floor plan trend hasn’t diminished but continues to be embraced. My husband and I purchased a 1940’s home which has separate living spaces. We plan to renovate when funds allow. Call me old school but I love the separate living spaces well because each serves a certain function. I think the kitchen is the main space I would like to keep separate if possible. I cook a lot and I imagine the aromas absorbing into the couch, curtains, and etc if we had an open floor plan. Plus, I’m not keen on having too many people hanging out in the kitchen. I haven’t warmed up to the open floor plan yet. I guess I’m old fashioned and I appreciate the fact that I get to own a home.

  • Grace, I’m not sure I have much to add in terms of discussion. Except to say… something about this essay feels very much like After The Jump (RIP ) . I believe it’s because your voice and the way you convey a point/engage in a conversation with your readers/listeners radiates through. 1 heartfelt vote for bringing back After the Jump !

  • I enjoy the coziness and utility of separate rooms. In our rambler we remodeled our kitchen and bumped out a wall, so now it has more windows and sunlight and it is large and can comfortably seat more people around a peninsula. When we entertain we can cook and have appetizers and easily host a group, then if we want we can move into the dining room which does not have a view of the kitchen. I also like the walls for artwork options. And with walls, I can listen to the radio while cooking while my hubby is watching the news in the living room without interference. When the grandkids are here we can close the pocket doors to the kitchen to contain them and they have plenty of room to play. I grew up in an open concept home and it was noisier and seemed messier even though we were doing the very same things as we do in our current home. Big vote for walls!

  • Such an interesting question. When I bought my 1819 house, I loved the arched door between the dining area and the living room. It also had a big airy room with windows on 4 sides as part of an addition in 1929. That room is my kitchen. However as I started removing linoleum and plywood from the floors, I realized that at least twice people had knocked rooms into each other. The first was In the 1850s when they moved to franklin stoves and no longer needed a birthing room with bedrooms off it. They put in a fashionable arch then. Later the small bathroom and workmens entrance were removed n the 1960s or so to make my large sunny kitchen. I’ve replaced some walls to allow for heat zones, but use old glass windows to keep the open flow. It seems these patterns are cyclical. How many grand townhouses became apartments, and the houses again.

  • I’m a fan of the large, double pocket doors (or French doors). They allow you to open up a space or close it up at will. In New England, heating concerns are no joke. For that reason, I’m also not a fan of lofted ceilings up here. But when we are deep in winter, it’s great to be able to open all the doors/dividers to have a glimpse of sunlight from anywhere in the house.

  • I do not like open floor plans aesthetically or functionally. My husband and I are moving to a new city soon with older housing stock in the neighborhoods where we’re looking and I am appalled at how many of the houses have been totally ruined with an open concept. It doesn’t improve the layout, make the rooms flow better or actually increase the space. To some extent it just feels like a semi-luxury thing that people seem to feel they need, like dual sinks or a soaking tub and a shower, or gray paint (which isn’t a luxury thing, but is so ubiquitous that I want to scream feedback at the homeowners). The open floor plan houses I’ve been in are noisy, painfully so, and you can see the kitchen mess and smell the cooking, plus I’m an introvert. Much as I like getting together with people, I like breaking off with one or two people for actual conversations, not a forced march through listening to the usual family blowhards talking over everyone. I have small kids and many’s the day I’d just like to be able to close a door and cook.

    My dream kitchen is thoughtfully laid out eat-in kitchen with room for a small couch. One of my sets of grandparents had that in their farmhouse as did a few great aunts and uncles and it seems to be the best of both worlds. And a completely closed off library!

  • I used to be for the open floor plan, but it’s lost its appeal to me. Part of it is seeing the same type of floorplan over and over on HGTV, part of it is I’ve become drawn to colonial homes and the coziness of separate rooms. I have a feeling the trend is here to stay, but for me personally I’m trying to find a good balance that has some of the best parts of both (for me). We’re house-hunting now and I’m hoping to find something older with the opportunity to create a large kitchen/dining combo and forgo a formal dining room, but leave other downstairs rooms (living room, den, office, etc.) as they are. I’d like a kitchen that can accommodate the desire for open space/entertain/have the kids running around, but then be able to leave that and curl up to read or watch tv in a smaller room.

  • We built our current home in 1981. We have open floor plan, exposed wood beams, and 18 foot ceiling in main living area. People thought we were crazy and called our home “ski lodge”. Now we are right in style and have never regretted doing it. Creates a better family atmosphere, great for entertaining, allows light to travel through the entire area, and I think makes it easier to keep clean.

  • The real need when you have small children is to be able to facilitate independent play so that you can get things done. I’ve never met a family whose very small children were WILLING to go off in a separate room. In a large space, you can get them out from underfoot; in a smaller or enclosed space, you trip over them.

    And thus it is that the eat-in area of my kitchen is crowded with the kitchen table, the toddler table, and a play kitchen. It’s cramped and messy and I keep stepping on plastic fruit. BUT, I can cook dinner or unload the dishwasher while my 2-year-old plays.

    I do actually like well-defined rooms, if for no other reason than that it’s clear that the toddler mess will spread as far as walls allow. I would prefer to eat in our dining room and use the open space in the kitchen as a full-on playroom (with a comfy chair for me), but the dining room is inexplicably located down a hallway. That’s another thing that won’t work with small children: if I were to leave her in there while I ran down the hall to get more milk, I’d come back to find that the room had become a Cheerios-based art installation.

    So my vote is for a compromise: a large multipurpose space is really useful for a family with small children, but for goodness sake let me get away from their toys sometimes.

  • My husband and I just bought an apartment that’s a 5 room railroad. Very chopped up. I will miss the flowiness of our prior place, and the ability to talk to someone on the couch while I’m prepping dinner. But, I think this will work better for our lifestyle overall. We both work from home at times and have gear/equipment involved in doing so. So we do need separate areas for work / living / sleeping. And, my husband sometimes teaches lessons in the living room. I look forward to being able to cook in the kitchen without feeling like I’m intruding. Finally, we are both introverts and do need those quiet moments alone. So while I get the appeal, esp for those with young kids, I think there are definite benefits for older kids and adults to having separate spaces.

  • I really enjoy hearing your thoughts (and everyone else’s) on this. My husband and I are just beginning our home search and “open floorplan” is at the top of the list. Yet, I grew up in a 1980s suburban home that had an open floorplan and I really didn’t like it at the time! As a youngest child I felt like I could never get away from my older brothers unless I holed up in my room. Even today, if people are watching TV in my parents’ living room, having someone in the kitchen banging pans around can be so distracting :) I think that ultimately I’d like a hybrid. I’d like the kitchen and dining area to be seamless (and open to each other) but the option to separate the living room a bit. Also, for history’s sake, I’d hate to see all the walls taken down in older homes!

  • Oh man. This is a can of worms for me. I live in a historic neighborhood where our older homes are threatened by these new ideas which compromise their integrity, story and structure. We also have many hundred plus year old homes being flattened so that people can more easily build their open concept homes and extra square footage.
    I’m conflicted because I do agree with building what works best for your family but my personal opinion is that if a new trend like this is desired, buy or build a new home. Leaves the historic homes alone because many of us like them the way they are and want to live in them in the way they were intended to be used. Knocking down all the walls to create what I call the “combo room” (combined living/dining/kitchen) usually leaves these older homes looking strange. I have rarely seen this done where the result is seamless and natural looking. In these historic homes, no matter the precautions taken, is it truly structurally sound to remove all walls? Even with reinforcements in place? I wish I could post pictures of a few disastrous open concept historic homes and of a few good ones that I have personally seen. I’ll do my best to describe the two ideas where this combo room has worked in a historic home while not ruining the look and intention of the floor plan:
    1. A dogtrot house. I saw one where the living areas were on the right side and the beds/baths on the left. The right side was totally opened up to create the open concept. It looked amazing and like this was the design from 100+ years ago when it was built.
    2. When living and dining areas are and stay separate and a family room/kitchen/breakfast nook can all be combined in one room (usually on the back side of the home). This is usually only possible in much larger homes (where I have seen it done nicely) which isn’t an option unfortunately for most people who are wanting this look in an older home.
    I think one way to implement a more well-suited version of the open concept idea in these older homes is to have wide openings from room to room and maybe use pocket doors to close off areas if needed.
    All of this said, my tiny (950 sq ft) home does have the wide (6-7ft) doorways between the common living areas and it works so well. For smaller homes, it really helps to have these lines of sight which helps the space to feel bigger and creates depth. Opening up the main living areas in my home to create the true open concept would actually remove depth and make my house look just as tiny as it is. So I do understand the want and need to have the flow from room to room. I just think it needs to be considered and handled differently for historic homes.
    Again, great topic and this could be a great idea for a series of posts regarding how to handle these beautiful old homes as demands and tastes change in this modern time.

  • I love open concept homes, but I also definitely need to have space to go away to to be away from the kids at times. We are lucky in that we were able to open up our main living area to the kitchen and dining area for that open concept, but our home was originally built with a formal living room and family room, and was then added onto, allowing us to also have a small office space. So, the kids can be ushered down to the family room if they are being too rowdy or want to watch TV that the rest of us don’t want to watch, and I can retreat to my office if I just need a quiet space to escape to. I can say, the open concept has been life changing for my family. The house feels bigger, is definitely brighter, and just functions better. Our family tends to spend a lot more time together these days since the renovation.

  • This is a great post that raises some really interesting questions! I feel similarly to you, Grace – while I appreciate the beautiful, light filled spaces of homes that have an open layout, I also gravitate to more intimately scaled rooms that offer more privacy.. As someone who doesn’t have kids yet, for some reason it had never stood out to me before that a big driver of this trend is parents wanting to supervise their kids. Now that it’s pointed out to me, for some reason it rubs me a little the wrong way – kind of like the idea of helicopter parenting. I loved the independence I had growing up as an only child and being allowed to play in another room, or outside, by myself. That said, I guess the kitchen is the first room in a house that I’d be inclined to open up if it were small and isolated.

    It does seem like the issue could be tied to climate quite a bit. The heating costs in a cold place are a very real concern! But I’d probably be quicker to want an open floor plan if I lived someplace like southern California, hopefully with outdoor living space that blended in to the interior. There, it seems like an open floor plan would make a lot of sense.

  • Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House books, and her discussions of public versus private spaces in a home influence how I view open and closed floor plans – I think of them as public versus private living, respectively. I think most houses, and most people need both, including public space with and private space away from family members as well as the outside world. Achieving a harmonious balance of public versus private space obviously varies significantly from person to person and family to family.

    In house hunting, my husband and I realized we like an open living and dining room when entertaining, but we’re not fans of open rooms at the expense of other nooks and crannies, since those are the private spaces we need as introverts to recharge. We wound up in a bungalow with open living and dining space, but the rest of the house is bedrooms that have been repurposed into offices and a little tv room (tv time in our house is generally solitary rather than communal, since we rarely enjoy the same shows).

    Kitchens are hard. I can see value in having them be both public and private spaces, but in truth, I generally prefer my kitchen to be a private space. I understand naturally congregating in the kitchen, and I do it myself when in other people’s homes, but if I’m being honest, I find it incredibly stressful to have people in my kitchen when I’m finishing up food prep. It’s harder to concentrate on those last few steps, or final flavor adjustments with people hanging around trying to talk. And I feel self conscious about things like, does it look like I’m adding too much salt? Or will be people be grossed out if I slip up and use the same spoon when doing my last taste tests? And then when the food is on the table, it’s so nice not to have to stare at a messy kitchen. It’s more relaxing. And when I think of scenarios where I would happily have people in my kitchen, they’re mostly intimate situations, with my closest friends and family.

    Right now, we have a very good balance of public and private/open and closed living areas, but it’s just the two of us. I worry that balance will change if we had a kid, in part because I have no idea what their needs might be, especially as small children. I’m not inclined to watch my kids at all times, but I never considered that they might want to follow me around. Then what? Our kitchen is too small for kids to also be in there. And as they age, if they need truly private spaces, their bedroom may be their only option. But even that space may not feel truly private, given that it would be on the second floor with our offices, and the three rooms share a fairly small landing, which surely diminishes how private they feel. But how do you plan for that? Anyways, thanks for this. Writing this obscenely long comment has been helped me think through my kitchen thoughts, which have been nagging me for a while as we contemplate a kitchen renovation.

    • As I read this discussion, I also was thinking of the Not So Big House books. Susanka had the idea of including an ‘away room’ in her designs and I love that idea. These spaces were not necessarily big or fancy, but rather a space to read, have a quiet conversation – a space to remove oneself from the hurly burly of home life. I have always thought that her designs are the perfect combination of shared spaces and more private spaces.

      Personally, I have always lived in older homes and I have loved my homes, however I wonder if I ever had the financial means, I might hire Sarah Susanka to design a home for me!

  • I like a mix of the two. I grew up in a c. 1930’s colonial that has an insanely great layout. It’s not huge, but feels bigger because of how it’s designed. You can see into at least 2 or 3 other rooms downstairs, no matter where you are, thanks to great sight lines and nice large molding-framed doorways. However, it has enough separation between rooms that you can tell when someone wants to be left alone or is busy.

    I’ve seen other c. 1910 to 1930’s homes with similar layouts. We’re actually trying to buy one from this era for our first home because it’s such a great floor plan. (Can we also talk about how they situated houses and windows to maximize sunlight back then?! Amazing.)

  • I think open concept is here to stay in part because the trend seems to be about making interactions less formal, and I see no indication that people are becoming more formal. People aren’t so much removing walls (although I know in some cases that is literally happening) as they are eliminating the formal dining and living rooms that used to be separate from the kitchen, which originally served the tripartite functions of cooking space, eating space, and lounging area. “Open concept” is essentially just enlarging the kitchen and the space in which the informal activities associated with it occur.

    I love my hundred year old row home too much to go open concept. We have three small children, and we have done a bit of running from the kitchen to the living room to rescue a toddler who had gotten himself “trapped” under a dining chair or to break up a fight between brothers over a truck. But the years where you need to be on top of the kids are so short and fleeting. It quickly becomes very nice to have a wall or two between you and them. :)

  • 2 major downsides of open floor plans, in my opinion–
    1) Noise. Watching t.v. in living room, the sound travels easily to other rooms. I value my peace and quiet and am not a fan of television noise (am I the only one?).
    2) I love cooking, but I make a mess in the kitchen. A big one. My husband says I find a way to use every pot in the house. It would be nice everyone didn’t have to look at that mess while eating dinner or relaxing in the living room.

  • We have an open-ish floorplan now (1984 house with some farmhouse inspiration) and I like it. The kitchen is open to the big living room, but around the corner. This is nice when it is just our family because, yes, I am in the kitchen a lot, and it is nice to be close to everyone, but it also works well for the casual way we entertain, which inevitably leads to everyone standing around the kitchen island. Our dining room is close but behind walls, which I like. It makes for a quiet, screen-free dining experience.

  • We are at the tail-end of a major renovation that removed a structural wall between the family room, kitchen, and dining room. The formal living room is still tucked up front (with a wide entrance so it’s part of the space). These four rooms are about 1500 SF, and now that the Great Wall of Skyhawk (our street name) is gone (among many, many other things completed) with drywall up, it is AMAZING! Our kitchen will be huge, with over 52 total feet of cabinetry, as it will spill into what once was the closed-off dining room. We had no choice on this, I spent hours with various professionals deciding how to get the space to function better (finding the fridge a home is what lead us to the dining room, and basically re-positioning the kitchen entirely). We’ll still have room for my parents’ Stickley table that measure 40×72 so it works. The space in the entryway/hallway (that was once dead space since you walked into that big wall) is now part of the living space and I cannot wait to have it open, airy, and NOT filled with furniture. My mom (in her 60s) told me it’s “not good” to see a kitchen when you walk into a house, but that’s an old-skool thought. Open concept is the way to go!

  • Perhaps this is a different calculation when you live somewhere where space doesn’t come at a huge premium, but here in one of the most expensive cities in the world having a separate kitchen feels super luxurious. I’ve just looked at 50 or 60 apartments in the process of trying to buy a place in South London, and I’ve been put off the open plan thing a bit – so many developers are using it as an excuse to shoehorn complete living spaces into smaller and smaller areas. It’s great when a space that’s big enough to hold a whole kitchen *and* living room or dining room is opened up and it’s light and airy and spacious, but what I was seeing so much was some kitchen units fitted into one wall of a not-large-to-begin-with living room with just room for a sofa and maybe a tiny dining table squeezed in a corner.

    I ended up craving defined living spaces where each room has enough room for the function it’s supposed to serve.

  • As someone who grew up in an old colonial, and recently bought one (I think? It feels like a center hall colonial mixed with a craftsman or something), I have to say, I kind of hate open floor plans on a day to day. It is probably due to both my inability to relax when things are a mess, and my history of living in open floor plan (railroad) apartments in Brooklyn for 13 years. I love a big open space for a party, but as a host, I cannot relax with a big pile of dirty dishes staring me in the face. Now we have a large galley kitchen apart from the dining room (and we have an archway between the living and dining space, and a little sunroom, so it feels very open). The house we bought also has a million windows, which helps. However, when I’m not hosting, or living in it, I do love a party in one – at someone elses house. But I also love going home, and being able to be in one room while my husband is in another! After 13 years of only being able to hide from one another in the bathroom, I find it lovely to have separate rooms. Also I have fond memories of my mother kicking us out of the kitchen when I was little – GO IN THE OTHER ROOM AND PLAY WITH YOUR BROTHER. She did not want to watch us while she cooked. Oh the 80’s.

  • Interesting to hear everyone else’s thoughts! As I read Dickens’ novels and watched Downton Abbey, I began to think about how entertaining spaces have evolved. Many older houses and apartments had separate kitchens for their cooks. As the middle class grew, people started hosting themselves, and it wasn’t necessary to separate themselves from the guests. That’s been my theory to the open floor plan.

  • An open floor plan keeps me honest about cleaning up the kitchen.

    Seriously, that’s the thing about open floor plans I really don’t like — looking at a messy or cluttered kitchen from the dining and living areas. So I just arrange my furniture into groupings of the best views, indoors and out.

    And this has reminded me that when I had a separate kitchen, even though it was small, everyone squeezed into it during parties, so open floor plans are a more social design.

    It’s very interesting to learn how these designs have evolved with the changing or different circumstances of people’s lives — having cooks vs cooking for yourself, living in a cold vs warm climate, etc.

    Thanks for picking such a lively topic for discussion!

    • I also live in an older home — 100 year old Dutch Colonial. Looking ahead to the future, I’ve been looking to find a home with a first floor bedroom and laundry home. When I attend various open houses, they all have open floor plans. I like the light, airy look, but the feeling of warmth is just not there. Decorating small, separate rooms lends itself to a sense of coziness. I’m hoping to find a home that has a bit of both open spaces and some smaller, enclosed rooms. It would be the perfect combination.

  • Especially for smaller families, couples and singles, open plan is a practical and attractive way of living. As downsizing gains velocity, so too will all-in-one spaces replacing rooms. We’re bound to lose some historic and vintage interiors as walls come down, and future gens may get busy putting rooms back together.

    But while the open plan trend is on the upsurge, there are cliches I hope will be replaced with new designs. Islands, elevated bar seating, and multiple pendant lights dominating from above feel like mindless auto-choices, already so yesterday. Rethink where families eat … a bar with stools alongside the dining table with chairs is like putting a cot next to the bed.

  • Home design has always been a reflection of how we live. In addition to practical things like heating and cooling, older homes with closes spaces also reflect spheres of influence. As we’ve moved into a way of life that is more open and collaborative, ie. cooking with friends, men and women sharing time in the kitchen, etc, we want our homes to support it. Open floor plans are here until we live differently and need our homes to support whatever that wave of living is. Great topic for thought! Thank you!

  • I live in a 1910 house in Oakland, CA and love my separate rooms! I think the key is having a breakfast room attached to the kitchen so the little people and the cooks can all be in the same room. As the kids have gotten older, I appreciate having distinctive spaces even more, both when they have friends over and when we just want to do different things (and at different noise levels).

    Other benefits to having walls and rooms: Your living room doesn’t smell like fried chicken. You don’t have your dishes guilt-tripping you while you’re trying to watch TV. No crumbs in your couch. You don’t stare at your TV or computer while eating dinner.

  • There is a new study out that suggests Generation Z (1995 – 2012) prefers to work alone and be alone differing from the the two previous generations (Gen X and millennials) who prefer a more collaborative environment. Maybe this will be reflective in future home designs reverting back to the traditional….

  • No, no, no! I can’t stand the totally open concept! Every open house I go to in a recently slipped house looks the same. I can live with an open living/dining room design, but please, leave the kitchen in a separate room. I try to clean up as I cook, but it’s not always possible. I don’t feel cut off from guests, because if they want to talk to me while I’m in the kitchen, they come there! I’ve seen too many flipped houses, built in the 20s/30s/40s stripped of distinctive details when all the walls are taken down. No personality. And why the need to keep an eye on children every nanosecond?

  • Great article, I love the concept of open planned, but I also think we need some additional rooms to escape too.
    Therefore, we’re currently extending our home an extra 50sqmtrs to incorporate an open planned kitchen and living sun drenched room 91Sqmtrs total, whilst still maintain a separate and formal dinning and lounge room.
    This way if you wish to escape the noise, read or watch the TV or a movie without competing with everyone else in the house you can.

    As children grow, they will also wish for some living space other than their bedrooms to escape too, to be alone or with friends. Ask yourself would you be comfortable with all their friends socialising together in your sons or daughters bedrooms. So having a separate open planed kitchen living area and formal lounge and dinning rooms work where there’s room to escape . I believe this is the best solution for both worlds, working for a young family and continuing to work as the family grows that requires some separation.

  • I live in an open plan now. But there are times I wish my kitchen is closed up. There’s so much cleaning to do after a cookout!

  • I live in an open concept home and am not a fan. Open concept has resulted in kitchens needing a butler’s pantry to hide messes and bedrooms having sitting areas so we can get separation. An old fashioned eat in kitchen provided communal living space and the other rooms gave us space to ourselves. Bring back the walls.

  • I think the open concept is very attractive, visual and I love how it feels, but in a practical way, I think you need to be extremely clean and organized, or your home will be a mess. So I prefer walls maybe with big windows to catch the light and try to merge small rooms to have more space in each, if it is possible.
    Great article :)))

  • I love that you asked this question. I love the privacy and mystery of homes that unfold before you as you proceed through foyers and doorways, from living room to dining room, to kitchen. A house with separate rooms draws you in and begs to be explored, like the old Professor’s house in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Open-concept homes hold no mystery; a step inside the front door reveals all there is to see, and I find it boring. Individual rooms with walls and doors can hold their own individual vibe. Open-concept, multi-purpose caverns have a factory-like utility to me. Plus, I am a lover of corridors; life is complicated. Without a corridor, or receiving area, where in an open-concept house is there a place to prepare a face to meet the faces that you’ll meet? Where do guests wander with their drinks if every party is held in one room? Where can one steal a kiss out of sight of the children, or your parents? Where can one just read a book or think deep thoughts in solitude?

  • I can’t stand open floorplans. In an apartment, OK- space-saving but in a large house, why would you want an open plan? Kitchens are hard to keep clean and neat, especially before a big party; after a dinner party, you sit around looking at the mess in the kitchen. I value my independence and feel that all family members should have it. I don’t want to have to hide in my bedroom to avoid the sound of my husband on his nightly family phone calls. I’ve also read that open floor plans, with the kitchen always in view, encourage constant snacking and contribute to our increased girth. No thanks! They look gorgeous in the pictures but rarely look that way in real life.

  • From the discussion so far, both home layouts are equally appealing, as they meet the specific needs of those living in the house. As Shannon said, an open plan design has emerged to accommodate changes in the way some of us live but clearly, not all of us. Many respondents continue to prefer a more traditional layout! Hopefully, BOTH floor plans, in addition to blended variations of the two, will prevail.

    For two adults without children, an open plan can work very well, especially when the house is small (ours is 1200 square feet). Our open plan (LR, DR, Kitchen sharing one space) is balanced with the privacy afforded by a separate bedroom (with window seat) and the chance to retreat to our screened porch outside. I do miss an entry foyer and “the privacy and mystery” of a home with yet undiscovered rooms, to which Christy referred. You do relinquish privacy and the opportunity to create spaces with separate personalities with an open plan.

    What I love about our open plan, though, is I can enjoy the fire in the fireplace across the room while I’m chopping vegetables, and listen to friends’ conversation around the fire while I’m setting the table for dinner. I also like the flow in our open plan, the feeling of spaciousness, and the (sweeping) visual connection with the outdoors. And especially, the way the light changes in that biggish space throughout the day and through each season. If our particular open space were divided into two rooms, the magic would disappear.

    Thank you for writing about this timely topic and inviting reflections from your followers. And thank you for Design Sponge. In addition to the rich content and beautiful spaces, everything you write, Grace, is infused with kindness and “heart”.

    Kris

  • Though I live in and love my open concept 90’s house, I remember., back in the 70’s, when mid century modern was NOT fashionable. Now it is, but style is fickle & will inevitably change. To what, who knows?

  • Thank you for taking on this topic! I’m glad to see open concept being treated as an open question. Honestly, I’m so tired of open floor plans being the default, and I hate seeing them presented (by HGTV and real estate gurus) as the sole option in updating a home or as the supreme ideal. I don’t consider myself an old-fashioned person, but I like a separate space for dining and have always wanted a “formal” (though not formal in style) dining room. I don’t understand the point of having a huge, blown-up kitchen and then a having a tiny area for eating, as if the table is an afterthought. I like the feel of cozy, enclosed spaces and the intimacy they can bring… not the intimacy of a TV blaring from the living room into the kitchen. There’s also something to be said about being able to make a mess in the kitchen without the pressure of cleaning it up before everyone sees it. I could go on….

  • I hate hate hate open plan kitchens and will never have one. My current coop apartment (built in 1960) happily has a CLOSED KITCHEN. But I must admit when it came time to sell my last house–an1885 Victorian in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, the one complaint that came from most of the potential buyers was…the kitchen was a separate room. (They didn’t care much for the formal dining room either, although I had enjoyed it for social and business entertaining.) Some barbarians even suggested moving the kitchen to the dining room and doing away with a separate eating area (except at the bar). If I want to eat at a bar I will go to a tavern and order a meal. I consider eating at a bar in a private home (except possibly for a snack or breakfast) beyond the pale.
    But I do have the feeling that I am losing the battle. On the other hand, maybe in 30 years there will be a whole new trend to restore walls to houses where they no longer exist (or never existed).

  • I really enjoy listening to music while cooking, baking and cleaning up. My family doesn’t necessarily share my taste in music, nor do I want to hear my kids’ annoying tv shows. The open plan does not work for me.

  • We built our home 21 years ago with an open floor plan and I absolutely love it. This is coming from someone who is an introvert and recharges by being alone. We are fortunate to have an additional TV-free living room that is somewhat separated from the main open space. I’ve noticed recently in some home tours in our area that builders are incorporating smaller/cozy spaces adjacent to the larger open areas. Maybe the perfect combo? I love the volume, space, and light that an open plan creates. I live in Minnesota where we have long winters and not feeling claustrophobic in my home is a lifesaver!

  • An open floor plan can be done well, but in older houses and newer houses with a more traditional style, I think rooms should be distinct, but still have large openings (connections) and a clear line of sight. It pains me when I see older homes that have been “opened up” and there is no attempt to preserve any of the original flow or layout. Several terrible things happen: you end up with windows and fireplaces that seem to have no logical relationship to the geometry of the room, you lose beautiful original millwork, and (ironically) eliminating thresholds can make a space appear much smaller. By all means, widen the openings between rooms if it makes the house more livable, but try to maintain the integrity of the house as well.

  • I live in an apartment with an open-concept floor plan right now, and it’s beautiful, but there is no privacy and it looks like a whirlwind hit it if everything isn’t perfectly neat and in its place. If I had a three-story house, I can see having an open main floor and then more clearly delineated spaces upstairs and in a basement, but if I move into another small space, I’d like some walls.

  • As an introvert, I really appreciate having separate spaces to retreat to. The open concept is great for those who want it, but I do wish that builders would take into account the fact that people/families come in a variety of configurations and have different needs. While I understand they need to cater to the lowest common denominator, there should still be room to offer layouts that are smaller in square footage or that aren’t quite as open.

  • I second Jessica: “An open floor plan can be done well, but in older houses and newer houses with a more traditional style, I think rooms should be distinct, but still have large openings (connections) and a clear line of sight.” Amen.

    I have problems with open floor plans both from a practical-use stand point as many have pointed out (from keeping everything tidy to having some privacy and escape from the noise from others in your household), and also from an aesthetic perspective.

    I’ve only liked open floor plans when the design was truly modern, and few contemporary homes with open floor plans have that modern design aesthetic, which often still created separate spaces, if only visually. Instead, most home builders haphazardly combine traditional and modern elements with little thought of the overall aesthetic.

    And don’t get me started on the vaulted ceilings in contemporary homes with open floor plans. I rarely see one that isn’t repulsive from a design point of view. The balance and scale are always off. The planes created by the walls and ceilings intersect without any thought for how it might look. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    For hundreds of years until sometime in the 1960’s, the average home was aesthetically pleasing. And then we went off the rails and are still recovering.

    The other times I’ve seen the open-space concept work was in large homes where the kitchen-dining-living room combo was just one of many public living spaces, and there were also a separate dining room, living room, study/library, entry way, etc. But I’m not sure if this is really an open-space or just a big house with a big kitchen that has room for couches and a tv.

  • We live in Eastern Pennsylvania and built a Traditional style home 19 years ago which has a semi-open floor plan. There are walls dividing the living and dining rooms but the openings are extremely wide, and the rest of the area is open so there is no quiet space on the main floor. We didn’t realize how noisy the downstairs would be! Our living room is now in the process of being divided into two rooms by a “soundproof” wall. There will be pocket doors which can be closed dividing the two spaces. The smaller room will house two comfortable chairs with a coffee table between, and a small desk and chair. It will be nice and cozy. The larger space will still serve as an open living room. I am thrilled. If I want to read, write, do bills, have a long telephone conversation or just have a little privacy I can do so while the TV, or other noisy activity is going on on that level. Peace at last without having to retreat upstairs to the bedroom! In addition, I don’t know if those buying the now popular tiny homes realize how little privacy or quiet they will have while living with others in the home. I can’t even imagine how that alone won’t drive them crazy!!!

  • Open plans can be attractive and may work for some. A house with good flow is what I prefer. I live in an 1888 Victorian stone farmhouse in Bucks County, PA, and there is a good flow through the house. This was achieved by removing built in bookcases (don’t worry; we use all of them in different places around the house) and adding an opening to the family room. There is no island or bar, but there is a kitchen with a big, expandable table and a fireplace. Clockwise from the kitchen in a circular path is the dining room (with a door to a garage roof porch), the entrance hall which leads to the living room and front stairs (and to the enclosed wrap around porch), a passage to the office, with powder room and access to same wrap around porch. Swinging back up towards 12 o’clock, there is a family room with fireplace that has openings at the foyer and back to the kitchen,
    We’ve entertained anywhere from one to over 75 people pretty comfortably (other than having a ridiculous number of people in the house).
    The rooms are large but still cozy, and while the house really is bigger than necessary, it’s very comfortable to live in.
    I like having places to go throughout the house to read or do whatever without having to go upstairs to the study or my bedroom.
    Perhaps other people live differently?

  • I am so glad you wrote on this topic. My house is an open floor plan, and it was really a great design for the 2 -3 years that our child was a toddler. It is depressing to look for our next house and see the same layout, same neutrals, same white subway tile everywhere. I also cannot believe that the cliche of a giant kitchen for entertaining is still popular. Even if someone likes to entertain, do they really need their guests helping out in the kitchen, as the last 20 years of lifestyle magazines would have us believe. And how big a kitchen does one actually need? Many of the best cooks that I know have small, traditional kitchens and don’t seem to suffer. I hope this post of yours is a first shot across the bow for this trend.

  • My reasons for eschewing open concept floorplans are many, but the top six are: oboe practice, cello practice, viola practice, clarinet practice, guitar practice, and drum practice. Some of the most frequently used words in our house are “Shut the door please,” as well as “Shut the DOOR!” and, “No, I mean ALL the way!” Other reasons are no less loud, but in a more visual way: I relax and enjoy a meal so much more when I am not staring at all the kitchen clean-up I’ll have to do after dinner. And when my friends come round, it’s nice to be able to socialize in my tidy living and dining room without having to clean the whole house for them while, when the kids’ friends come round, it’s nice to be able to send them all off to the separate family room where they can be teenagers and make a mess without it feeling like they’ve wrecked the entire place. In fact, with separate rooms, we can do both at once! How’s that for a concept? ;)

  • I’m in the process of putting back the wall between the dining room and kitchen in a 1923 house. It’s not a big house, but I hate kitchen smells and sight when I walk in the front door. One thing I’m always seeing is a kitchen counter with seating and right behind it a dining table. Why have the eating spaces on top of each other? Distinct spaces for activities is a great way to give visual cues to family members. Also, if I read the newspaper in the living room, I’m less likely to snack!

    I always thought this was driven by builders – less to actually build in the house, no trim, no doors. Also, no walls means it’s hard to figure out where to put the artwork!

  • I think open floor plans look great on TV and in photographs. (Similar to production stages which lose walls for the most flattering shot.) I have found the best design has a flow. Unable to see the full space at once but able to see the neighboring spaces from any one. So from the dining room you are kinda in the living room and kinda in the kitchen. C shapes or 5 shapes work really well. No walls but still defined spaces.

  • I love this discussion! I’ve always thought that the open concept isn’t new at all, just a return to the old ”keeping” room just off of the kitchen where everyone spent the evenings together after a long day, spinning, weaving, caring for or mending boots and shoes, reading aloud and talking. In winter, people would even sleep there in cold weather to be closer to the sources of heat.

    For those who don’t like open concept, but are having trouble finding a house that has separate rooms, try looking for homes whose great room’s kitchens are not visible from the front door, that have a bar-height counter that hides the kitchen mess from the table, or where the table can be moved to a new, unexpected spot. Also, just because there is a bar-height surface doesn’t mean you need to add seating there! Enjoy furniture pieces with closed storage and enjoy living tidy.

    Coziness in a great room is easier with a lower ceiling, and with strategic furniture and lighting and rug placement. But ”cozy” is a very personal thing.

    I wish that our open concept area were a little bit larger, to accommodate a few more kinds of activities…a mini office in a walk-in closet with shutters that open to the room for socializing while getting a little work (or Play) done, but can close on the mess…more room for the piano and other instruments, a dedicated table for games, puzzles, crafts that don’t have to be put away for meal time.

  • My boyfriend and I have been house-hunting for over a year now (San Diego area) and have seen so many homes that must have been beautiful at one time, but their owners have jumped on the awful “open floor plan” bandwagon. NO. No, no, no! I’m not buying a house just so I can live in essentially a “bigger” studio apartment. Words can’t express how much I loathe this fad. An open floor plan home reminds me of a furniture showroom, where you basically have an airplane hangar and have to “create” rooms by arranging furniture in clusters. I’ve seen 1920s Craftsman homes ruined by trend-chasing idiots who knocked out the walls, destroying the original architecture. We would have bought a home a year ago if not for the near impossibility of finding a house that has actual rooms. At this point we’re probably going to have to suck it up and buy one of these stupid open homes and hire a contractor to ADD WALLS. Ugh!

  • I really appreciate this article. The eating bars have always puzzled me. I have come to see them as the modern way living: impersonal. Look into a cafe and people sit side by side and not talking to each other. This way of eating does not facilitate face to face conversation. I see it as a sign of our harried and individualistic society. The minimalistic style leaves me cold. The modern homes have no feeling of comfort or cozines. There is a lot of talk about the Danish term hygge. Germans use the term Gemütlichkeit, which includes comfort, cosy, pleasant, relaxing. The open concept just doesn’t do anything like it. So let’s keep the walls where they are and let the cool set live in the cool open concept houses ( I cannot call them “home”). At a time where a lot of talk about conserving energy is happening the open concept makes no sense. So why are we actually allowing this style to be perpetuated by architects, designers, realators and city permit departments?

  • Open floor plans are great to make small places look bigger but if you already have a big kitchen and big living spaces you really don’t need an open floor plan.

    Most people prefer open floor spaces because as people move up from apartments, condos or small homes which almost all have open floor spaces because of space issues this is what people are use too. Single people or people with young kids do not mind open floor spaces but when you socialize with family it becomes a big detriment.

    When your kids have friends or your spouse has in-laws over you do not always want to be part of the conversation with an open floor plan the only place to go is the bedroom.

    With closed floor plan people can socialize in different areas and are not forced to relocate to a bedroom in order to be removed from a conversation. This is a key when your children get older and they are socializing with their friends.

  • I love this article ! It has actually given me some hope back. We, as so many others are looking to downsize. It seems many homes built around when we built ours, in early 1997, are plentiful on the market but not open concept. Our homes had to be built at a minimum of 3,000 sq.ft. .Ours is over that ,with an unfinished 3rd floor. We also have a full walkout basement, an oversized two car garage ,with walk up loft above, as well as approx 3 acres of land. We built keeping in mind that our kids could be entertaining on their own in the family room ,while we entertained in the combo (formal) living /dining room. Each had separate access to the kitchen and a bathroom,without crossing paths. Rooms & walls worked for us.
    Soon after we built, developers began building open concept homes. They were small homes, on postage stamp lots . The buyers eyes were fooled into thinking no walls = spacious. Because these O.C. houses required less man hours of labor, builders could use higher end finishes, to add bling ! Now that several of us are trying to sell, we’re finding many buyers won’t even look,if it’s not open concept. I think they are just parroting what they’ve heard on tv or read in a magazine. Open concept,granite counters, marble, tile,hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances….it’s all memorized as have to haves, even though they hate cold tile or fingerprints on shiny stainless. What? No magnets on my fridge? But, I have to have stainless. Do they even realize how awkward a house this size would look ,feel & sound, as an open concept? Talk about sensory overload. Yet those smaller open concepts can name their price, while our well built homes continue to be reduced. Just my kitchen alone is 28’l X 14’w, with a fireplace,floor to ceiling windows and sightlines across the entire house,yet it’s not a traditional open concept so its passed over. The majority of buyers in our area want to purchase and move right in. They don’t even want to paint. I can see how the one big room, of an open concept may appear to require little upkeep but I believe once they move all their “stuff” in, they will find the upkeep,trying to keep everything in place, is intense. There have always been many styles of houses available. This is just one more. It should be included as one choice on the list among the others. It should not exclude all others, leaving only this one choice……..

  • I am just curious when you say you like separated room. What size of total living space do you expect to have for the enjoyable separated rooms:-( We are planning remodeling. The living space is 30 feet width and 28 feet deep. Currently we have a foyer, dining room family room and living room in this size space. Dining room is as small as a eating area in kitchen while living room is biggest area, kitchen is small as well. We tried to figure out a better way to separate them.
    When the designer for remodeling walked into our house. He immediately told us to tear down all walls to have a big great room. I said NO without even thinking. I just don’t like! So I tried to move around all these areas in these not big space. I hope to have an island, breakfast nook and formal dining room, small living room and family room. But I just couldn’t. I’m so tired of looking at the floor plan. So a few days ago I start to think maybe the great room is the simplest way to have all I want. And I searched what others think of open floor and I saw this. I just want to say, sometimes having an open floor plan maybe just a compromise to the small space. Or not big enough to have all decent size separated room.
    So if I have bigger house, certainly I’ll get separated room. But for a small space, what do you prefer? How will you choose? Thanks!

  • Fundamentally, I think the answer is about children.

    When families had more than 2.5 kids like nowadays, walls and doors that blocked noise and allowed kids to go play somewhere else gave families a way to separate temporarily when noise levels became too much to handle. But now that most people have 0-2 kids, open floor plans with hardwood instead of carpet, blinds rather than curtains are fine. But once you begin to hear not only the pitter patter of little feet, but the occasional crying baby or sibling fight, the echo reverb chamber of all those flat surfaces gets old quickly. I’d much rather a cozy room, and a nice sunlit room any day over just one, giant, loud, bright room.

  • I truly enjoyed reading both the article and the subsequent commentary. I currently live in a 4000 sq. foot, 90 year old home. I have grown to love well defined rooms. That said, I have also constructed my own blueprint for a new home as my current one will soon be ‘past its prime’ for a number of different reasons. Yet, the new residence (to be constructed on the same lot) is not designed to have an open floor plan. I adore coziness; I also believe that by raising the ceilings a bit, and adding transoms, that I can create something beautiful, timeless, and elegant. The thought of keeping a home “visually clutter-free” on a daily basis is simply not anything I desire. I only hope that (10-15 years later) when the time ultimately arrives to sell my domestic creation, as surely it will one day, that there is a buyer who shares my taste and vision!

  • I simply hate the open floor plan design. Everything about it is annoying to me. And it’s tough because in looking for a home, we’re finding the open plan dominates designs right now.

    It’s not just the chaotic feel of one big open room with different living situations in one room that bugs me, but it’s the loss of the intimacy you get when you gather in the kitchen with loved ones to cook, and laugh, and eat. With a separate kitchen, the distraction of the tv is gone, the concentration is on the cooking event.

    I just saw an open plan where the cook top was on the island/bar, right where the bar stools are and behind that was the sofa. It was clearly designed by someone who never actually cooks. The placement is not only dangerous, but dirty. Grease and spatter happens … at least it does in my world.

  • I liked the article, but oh my, the comments… I don’t know why there’s so much hate towards the open floor plan. I like the idea. My husband and I are considering it for our new home. Maybe it’s because we don’t have kids yet, so the noise and the mess, that’s not really a problem for us. I really didn’t see many downsides until reading this comment section. Maybe storage area could be a problem and the echo from what I’ve read here. Didn’t really consider that one. I think that you really need to put a lot of thought into it, but if you get it right, the result can be breathtaking. My friend did it and her house looks amazing. She hired these great Melbourne architects . You can check their work, it’s amazing. I mean, combined with a great view… open floor plan is just beautiful. So we want that look and we are going for it. But it’s good to read some bad experiences here too. I mean, we should be ready for those problems. But yeah, I still think it’s worth it.

  • I am SO through with open floor plns. Because they’ve dominated for so long now they already look dated. In ten years it will really be a tired trend. If you’re in a loft, fine, it makes snese, but I miss the formal dignity of each room having it’s own purpose. There is no elegance, no intimacy to an open floor plan. Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, talks about the preciousness of spaces we occupied as children, how, when we think of home, our minds always go to the small spaces we favored in the homse of our childhood. Homes dominated by open floor plans do not contain intimate spaces like the ones we loved as children. Do we really want our adult homes to be devoid of that coziness? I, for one, do not. I bought my home in 2007, when I was lookng, I could easily have chosen one of the thousands of available homes with open floor plans in my city. One day my realtor opened the door to a small home in an excellent neighborhood to show me the house. When I entered I was struck by the feeling in the living room and dining room area. There was a wall between the two rooms with a large opening, but each room felt distinct from the other. The rooms were both large for a house this size, and had an elegant formal feeling to them. The word that came to mind was “grand.” It was a small house, but the rooms felt grand. I later found out, from the grandson of the original owner, that his grandparents had entertained frequently and their guest included state politicians, and people with national credentials. The grnadson later visited my city and broght his wife to visit my home. It would have been so sad if I had knocked down walls that once had paintings or portraits of his family on them. If this home had not had seperated rooms, it’s original floorplan, I don’t think I would have felt anything when I first came here.. It would have been a generic space devoide of those fine bones I so love. I sincerely hope the return to separate rooms begins sooner, rather than lator. I would hate for other sons and grandsons to enter childhood homes to find spaces that bare no resemblance to the place of their memories. It’s hard to imagine that an open floor plan house could even feel like a home. But I know lots of other people feel differently. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a room renaissance.

  • I prefer distinct rooms because I love old houses. I also think I would be stressed out having to arrange furniture and decor in a big multipurpose room… I like having some limitations in place, like defined functions for rooms, and walls to hang things on. Others might feel cramped by that– I guess it depends on whether your mind works more inductively or deductively?

    My house is a craftsman so I kind of have the best of both worlds. There’s a very clear separation between the rooms but the doorways are wide and if I’m in any of the public rooms I can see clear across the house, and people often describe it as “open.” At the same time, if I want to zone a room for heat, pets, privacy, noise, or cooking smells, I can just close the French doors.

    I don’t have a problem with open floor plans if they fit the time period and design of the house but I cringe when someone knocks down all the walls in an antique home because I feel like it ruins the character and I wonder why they didn’t just buy a newer house to begin with.

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