Will open concept homes become a thing of the past? In the midst of the pandemic, lots of people have been talking about wanting more private space in their homes. And many are wondering if open floor plans are on their way out.
An open concept home is a house with one or more large, open rooms that function as multiple rooms within a single living space. It’s when you’re in one room and can fairly easily see most of another room. The most common open concept space is a “great room” which combines the kitchen, dining room, and living room.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, having a house with many walls and rooms was a sign of status and wealth. People of means wanted multiple extra, somewhat redundant, rooms such as parlors, formal living rooms, libraries, hearth rooms, receiving rooms and separate servants quarters.
As time went on and fewer and fewer households had live-in servants, the number of rooms and walls within houses decreased. Smaller, multiple rooms with singles purposes were replaced by larger rooms with multiple purposes.
In the early 1900s, Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the first architects to incorporate a great room in his projects. But open concept floor plans really took off in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. It was then that kitchens became the central gathering spot of the home, where not only was cooking going on, but also homework, tv watching, board games and conversation. The kitchen became a place where family and friends simply hung out.
For that reason, it made sense to add nearby seating area adjacent to the kitchen. In addition to the kitchen becoming a hang out spot, entertaining became less formal and groups of men and women stayed together during parties instead separating. Those are some of the reasons, the great room was born.
Open concept homes promote greater and easier communication and they also make it easy to keep an eye on kids while parents are working in the kitchen. With open concept floor plans you get brighter homes with better views. Without walls acting as barriers, more natural light can flow through the space and you can enjoy outdoor scenery through windows more readily.
Better flow of traffic throughout the home is another advantage of open floor plan houses. And finally, open concept houses are more accessible and less challenging to move through for disabled and elderly family members.
ARE OPEN FLOOR PLANS A THING OF THE PAST?
Ok, let’s talk more about open floor plans and whether they are a thing of the past. So I just told you about several advantages of open floor plan homes, but we know that there are some disadvantages too.
Open floor plans can sometimes allow for a little too much togetherness, noise and lack of privacy. We became acutely aware of this during pandemic related stay-at-home orders. These downsides of open floor plans are why some industry experts are saying that open concept homes will be a thing of the past. They argue that people want more walls and more rooms so they can sometimes get away from family members when they need to conduct business or just need some time alone.
According to Houzz's 2021 Home Design Predictions, open concept layouts are likely to fall out of favor in the coming years. The design site says that since people are spending more time at home than ever, open floor plans no longer suit the needs of many families.
There is conflicting data from a 2021 “What Home Buyers Really Want” survey from the National Homebuilders Association. That report shows that more than 80% of homeowners want at least a partially open kitchen and dining room setup. And 79% want the kitchen and family room to be at least partially open to each other.
I realize the pandemic has highlighted the need for quiet, private spaces in our homes, but I don’t think we’ll be moving entirely away from open concept floor plans, not completely and not in most homes. I might be wrong, and I’m definitely biased because I love an open concept house, but I think open concept living is here to stay, particularly as it relates to a great room specifically.
For the last several decades, we gotten used to chatting with our loved ones and peeking over at the kids while we’re working in the kitchen. I don’t think most of us want to give that up. The change I do think we’ll see though, is the addition of private, separate rooms in homes, not the subtraction of great rooms. I think we’ll see houses with one, and maybe even two home offices with doors. At the very least, there will be more micro offices in a quiet corner of a guest room or laundry room.
I expect more multifunctional guest rooms in out-of-the-way areas in the home that can be used for Zoom calls and/or school work. Or maybe a playroom for where kids can be as messy and loud as they want. And as your children get older, the playroom can transition into schoolwork room or a lounge for teens. We might see a resurgence of formal living or dining rooms— a place to get away when you need to, maybe with large double doors opened or closed depending on your needs.
Finally, I think we’ll see people are dividing their large open rooms into smaller, cozier spaces and sitting areas where private conversations can take place. For example, putting a group of 2-3 chairs in the corner of a great room where people chat out of earshot of others in the space.
Those are the types of post pandemic adjustments I can see in the future, but I can’t imagine that most of us will want absolutely no shared spaces in our homes. I think we’d feel lonely and isolated without some shared spaces, but I can absolutely see why it would be important to build in some quiet private areas in addition to the shared spaces.
While many people may want more walls than they did prepandemic, they don’t necessarily want every single space in the house to have four walls and a door. Today's homeowners want flexibility. They want openness and privacy in their homes.
I predict that the central part of the home’s floor plan around the kitchen/dining and living rooms will stay relatively open for the foreseeable future. And to add privacy, one or two extra, out-of-the-way rooms will be included in most new homes.
If you don’t like open concept homes, build what you suits your lifestyle best and what you like. But if open concept homes continue to be more desirable than closed off homes and you decide to build a house where every single room is separate, your house may spend some extra time on the market if you ever choose to sell. That may be a trade off you’re willing to make. But thankfully, we don’t have to choose either privacy or openness. We can have the best of both worlds with some intentional planning.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll tell you about some design mistakes that people sometimes make when decorating open concept spaces so make sure you follow the show and join me then for the next episode of BYHYU. Thank you for joining.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.