The Tyranny of the Open Floor Plan

So, a few hours of HGTV viewing, or a perusal of the real estate section, shows that the open floor plan is really hot. Scorching. And, who am I to tell people what they should want? It sounds lovely – the whole family altogether, kids doing homework and craft projects at the counter, Mom or Dad cooking organic in the kitchen. Or ordering take out – people are busy! But, like all popular trends – and it IS a trend which means it’s transitory – it’s not right for everyone or every house.

Open Floor Plan – Defying Gravity?

Hingham Church conversion open floor plan foyer with wallpaper blue ceiling

Hingham MA church conversion open floorplan kitchen 2

Hingham Church Conversion Kitchen Open Floor Plan

Hingham MA church conversion open floor plan kitchen and family room

The most important thing, of course, is structure. A new build can be designed pretty much any way we want. But an older home was designed and built to have separate rooms. Opening it up means dealing with structural issues – something has to hold up the roof. A year ago I wrote a post featuring a huge church conversion project in local Hingham, Massachusetts. The photos above show the first floor entry into the living room which is open to the kitchen/dining area. This is a beautiful house – but the scale is huge and resulted in a cavernous space that has a lot of wasted space. You can see the columns which are holding up the structure. They could have closed in the kitchen a bit which would have given them more wall space and a better layout and resulted in a more glamorous and formal living room which is just inside the front foyer.

Open Floor Plan – Smaller than it looks

Open floor plan door view

Open floor plan washington project kitchen view

One of the benefits of an open floor plan is that it can make a smaller space look spacious. But be careful that you really understand what will fit and what won’t. This project, which I wrote about here, featured an open living space and kitchen. I was asked to design the room. With the dimensions and centrally located fireplace/tv placement, there was really only one way for the living room seating area to be placed. Add to that the need for walk space from the front door, access to the stairs and into the kitchen, there was very limited space.

What was missing? There was no place for a dining table and chairs. As you see in my 3D-rendering below, the pair of chairs in the foreground are only about 10 feet away from the counter. So, the only place to eat is at the counter – or sitting on the sofa. I could have placed a narrow table and chairs against the far window, replacing the little settee, but it would have been pretty small and cramped and required schlepping food, etc. fully across the room. Plus, it would be right at the front door, which doesn’t necessarily present the nicest spot to eat.

Linda Merrill Design Washington open floor plan project 2

 

Open Floor Plan – Plan your decor!

One of the things that will make an open floor plan a success is the uniformity of the look. In other words, all the walls should be the same color (save for an accent wall of some kind), the woodwork should all be the same, the flooring should flow, and the furnishings should be really well-coordinated.

Andreas Mikkel Hansen photographer open floor plan
Andreas Mikkel Hansen, photographer.

I think when we dream of an open concept space, we think of these two spaces (above and below). Bright, clean, neat and lovely. But what is it that makes these two spaces work? Consistency of furnishings and finishes and scale. The room above isn’t too big nor is it too small. The fireplace is centrally located, but there’s room for a comfortable conversation area (note there is no television) and dining area. Everything blends well together and there is a harmonious whole.

Andreas Mikkel Hansen photographer white dining room log walls open floor plan
Andreas Mikkel Hansen, photographer

In the image above (which I am totally loving) shows a great way to have an open-feeling space, but which still has defined spaces. The two-sided fireplace and the log-filled walls give the dining area some importance and separation from the kitchen, which appears to be on the left. The wall mural adds a wonderful focal point while still keeping the same wall-color throughout. I would guess the seating area is behind the camera position. Love this so much!

With rooms separated by walls and doors, you can have more eclectic furnishings. You can mix up your color schemes and flooring. If you open up your walls but don’t invest in updating your furnishings accordingly, you will more likely than not end up with a visually noisy space that just doesn’t work.

Open Floor Plan – But Joanna and Chip and The Love it or List it people say it’s a must do!

But, they aren’t in your house. Not every house, or every person, is the right candidate for an open floor plan. It takes planning and editing. In other words, call in a professional!

It takes making hard decisions about how we want to live. Is a noisy family space really the best space for kids to do homework? When  you entertain, do you want your dirty dishes on full display? Or do you want to relax in a nice dining area (no, it doesn’t need to be a formal dining room) with a little bit of separation from all the smells and cleanup work to come? I know I do. And, you can get an openish feeling while still retaining the benefits of separation with some smart planning (like the log wall above).

Bob Vila has good article with some addition things to consider. (Btw, long story, Bob Vila dissed me in the Wall Street Journal many years ago, but I’m not bitter – I’m linking to his site after all!)

Open Floor Plan at Nook Cottage

My own Nook Cottage is actually an open floor plan. It’s very small (900 sq. ft.) and has two bedrooms. But the front entry, kitchen and living room are all open to each other. RoyRoy loves it – he can keep an eye on me no matter what room I’m in. Before I moved in, I did a 3-D rendering and floor plan, I carefully selected the furniture I was going to keep from what I already had and what I needed to purchased. It was a holistic plan because I was working with a space that was open (and happily so, it makes the place seem so much bigger!) so I knew I needed to have a coordinated space.

Do you live in an open floor plan home? What do you love about it? Or, better yet, what would you do differently and can you offer advice?

 

xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

12 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Open Floor Plan

  1. Love your rendering, Linda! In our small home the kitchen and family room is open concept. But the living room and dining room are separate from the kitchen/family room. During family parties, usually the women hang out in the living room/dining and the men and kids in the kitchen/family room (that has the tv). Also when guests come over to visit, sometimes the dog stays in one section and guests in the other. Not all people love a big dog annoying them for attention. And lastly, when kids become teens, both parents and the teens (with their friends) love a little space between each other. And people should not forget that outlets in the floor are super important in open concept rooms for task lighting/reading lamps near the seating that is floating in the middle of the rooms.

  2. I have never been a fan of open floor plan spaces and have seen so many that just do not work. And I so agree that with separate rooms you can play with color, furnishings, light etc. And, as a friend who just moved into a completely open space just said to me: “Where am I going to put all our artwork now that we don’t have any walls?” So true!

  3. Totally agree with your views Linda although in Australia it is not a trend. I’ve been working with clients for over 15 years helping them open up the Kitchen Dining Living (KiDiLi). I’m always conscious of not making it barn like and keeping the scale of this area inline with the rest of the rooms in the house. We also treasure our indoor/outdoor flow and these spaces usually flow on to the outdoor entertaining area which makes entertaining so much easier. It’s also done to allow more light into the house. I believe the open planing living is here to stay in Australia.

    • Hi Jennifer – Thanks for bringing in the perspective from down-under! Lifestyle is so important and knowing how to do a space that fits with lifestyle, the architecture and structure take a true professional – which you are!

  4. Great post! “Trendiness” can be maddening. It takes SO much more creativity to design outside of trend. Design to house style and lifestyle!! That will always be right when trends change.

  5. We live in a 1940 Spanish style ranch. We remodeled to the studs in 2005 and kept the original floor plans as much as possible. Not a fan of open floor plans I like distinct rooms love circular floor plans
    With open floor plans it’s all there to see including messy kitchens

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