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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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 for the Casual Coastal Project
A current project I’m working on has an open floor plan and I’ve worked really hard to get everything in that is needed in the right proportions.
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?