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A Fitting Floorplan: Open Concept vs. Designated Rooms

Floorplan design trends come and go. Think of the 1970s sunken living rooms with "conversation pits" or the split levels of the 1950s and 60s. For the last several decades, floorplans have been all about the open concept.

But over the last few years, I've seen headlines like "I’m Over Open Concept Floorplans" and "Rethinking the Open Floorplan.” We've seen a considerable shift toward working from home and telecommuting too. More people want a designated space. Are designers over the concept of open concept? Are open concept floorplans becoming passé?

Before you start building (or tearing down) walls in your house, I thought we'd explore the idea of open concept versus designated rooms and the pros and cons of each. Here's how to make the most of your space no matter which layout speaks to your heart.

The Trend Toward Designated Rooms

The idea of open concept was already in decline before the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the design movement has become stronger. People working from home and spending more time inside their houses seem to prefer the privacy of designated spaces.

Now, with that said, people aren't ready to divide their homes back up and put up walls quite yet. Many people find creative ways to define space while still allowing the rooms to flow into one another.

Open concept floor plans became popular in the 1970s, and the layout definitely poses some significant advantages. People feel like there's more space when rooms aren’t split up with walls. There’s often a greater sense of family togetherness and quality time when the house is open.

The most common rooms for open concept designs are the kitchen, dining, and living room. Open-concept floorplans bring these spaces together.

The New Home Office and Telecommuting

Even in the corporate world, open concept became a distinctive fad. Collaborative office spaces and shared conference spaces became popular. People were drawn to the idea of having an eye on what everyone was doing, ensuring that coworkers were easily accessible. This open concept has had positives and negatives in the workforce too.

When people started working from home and collaborating electronically, many workers were surprised to discover that they could be just as productive from a corner of their kitchen. Over the last year, many interior design trends have included private, in-home office nooks and areas where a printer and paperwork wouldn't detract from the room's look.

As builders and home designers plan for the future, I believe it’s safe to say office nooks will become quite popular. People want somewhere they can comfortably host a Zoom call, quietly work on a project, or easily stash office supplies without worrying about what's going on in the kitchen or playing on the TV. Even older homes are getting office updates. As the work-at-home trend continues, the new home office is likely here to stay.

The Drawbacks of an Open Concept Layout

If you’re building a house today, what should you know about choosing an open concept layout? Popular television networks and home design blogs have shown us how beautiful open concepts can be. We're all drawn to the light, airy feel of open-concept layouts. There's a feeling of family-togetherness when gathering around the kitchen, watching movies on the couch, and chatting in the dining room, all within the same space.

But as I mentioned, there are some distinct downsides to open-concept layouts that cause people to move away from this trend. The drawbacks of open concept include:

Less Privacy: The biggest drawback is the lack of private space. Open concepts are wide and spacious, but that doesn't leave any spot to tuck away and find a quiet place.

Kitchen Smells and Efficiency: Open-concept kitchens seem like a great idea until you cook salmon or broccoli. Suddenly the whole house is odorous. Not to mention that large, open spaces can make navigating a kitchen less efficient. When designing a kitchen, it’s incredibly important for me to have a designated work zone and map out the “flow” of cooking as well as foot traffic within the space.

Safety for Kids and Pets: Another drawback of open-concept layouts is the safety factor in the kitchen. There's often no convenient way to block off access to the stove. Open-shelving can present hazards of glassware, utensils, and more. Baby and pet-gates don't always fit in the layout.

Noise Factor: Simply by the nature of being open, sound will travel throughout the space. Listening to music while you cook dinner may be impossible over the sounds of the news or kids' cartoons.

Doesn’t Fit Certain Styles: Open concept works well with Modern, Scandinavian, Bohemian, and other décor styles. But if you’re looking for a cozy cottage or classic Victorian, then an open concept might not fit your look...

Clutter and Messiness: Having an open concept layout is beautiful, assuming you keep up on housekeeping. Kids, pets, and paperwork messes are hard to hide out in the open. There’s also often less storage and closet space in an open concept.

Open Concept Can be Cold: An open concept design can feel cold both in temperature and atmosphere. A big open room is hard to heat efficiently, and even with blankets and lots of soft textiles, space can sometimes appear stark.

Less Wall Space: If you have a terrifically curated art collection, an open concept design provides less wall space to decorate. Often the only walls face the outdoors, leaving a room of windows with no place for a gallery wall.

Expensive: Open concept floorplans can even be more costly to construct. With no support beams, the walls often need to be reinforced. Wiring, plumbing, and other features often require support walls, so you're limited in your options.

Cons of Closed Concept

I would be remiss in not mentioning the cons of the more “closed” floorplan, though as well. The truth is, there are some drawbacks to either layout, so it’s important to decide which you can live with. When debating open concept vs. designated rooms, there’s no definitive “right” answer.

A floorplan that's sectioned off into rooms can feel small, cramped, and frustrating. If you're moving into an older home or building on a smaller lot, you may be working with a closed plan. There are certainly ways you can work around smaller rooms, but there are important issues to consider.

Fewer Options for Natural Light: With more internal walls, you have fewer spots for windows. You may work in skylights on the top floor to let in brightness or add interior windows to draw in daylight, but a closed concept floorplan has limits.

Rooms Can Feel Cramped: If you’re a person that loves a lot of space, a closed concept floorplan may make you feel a bit claustrophobic. Some designated rooms can feel cozy and warm, while others can feel cramped and uncomfortable.

No Line of Sight: If you have kids and enjoy having a constant overview of the landscape, keep in mind that designated rooms offer no line of sight. You can’t prep dinner while keeping an eye on the kids playing in the living room.

Less Accessibility: Designated rooms, especially in older homes, offer less accessibility. It's harder to navigate a small room on crutches, in a wheelchair, or with a stroller. Similarly, items are hidden and can be harder to find. Your kitchen tools, for example, may end up stashed around in cupboards and pantries.

May Have Lower Resale Value: Even though the trend is somewhat moving away from open concept, it’s still quite popular. When buyers are looking for homes, they often want something that’s open and can be adjusted to suit their needs. Designated rooms may limit the creative options.

Older Houses vs. New Builds: Maximizing Space, Minimizing Clutter

Now, if you’re buying an older home, you’ll naturally have fewer options than designing from the ground up. As many designers have shown us, almost any space can be turned into an open concept or semi-open concept. Knock out a wall here, adjust the windows there, and suddenly even an older house can be more open.

Right now, buyers are trending toward new construction, but older homes are still popular (and always will be). No matter your choice, there are ways you can maximize space and minimize clutter to work through some of the drawbacks of both open concept and designated room floorplans.

Ways to Maximize Space in Closed Concept

There are plenty of options that don't require a full remodel to maximize space in a closed concept home. Partially open floor plans and exposed beams may allow you to retain the feeling of openness while working within the confines of a closed concept room.

Pocket doors are often featured in older homes and can be a great way to open up space. Sliding, hung doors are another similar option. Half-walls can allow you to get an overview of the living room from the kitchen while keeping the loadbearing structure in place.

Install large windows to help the room feel open. On top floors, vaulted ceilings and skylights can maximize the feeling of openness, even in smaller spaces.

If you have a home with designated rooms, there are plenty of ways to work with what you’ve got. You don’t need to settle for feeling closed-in. Rest assured that design trends are leaning your way too. In the meantime, enjoy that private office space and formal dining room.

Ways to Increase Privacy in Open Concept

On the other hand, if you’re hoping to divide up your open concept floorplan, you have many excellent options. For example, ceiling-hung sliding doors can help you cordon off certain sections of the room to get the privacy you want (and open up, when not needed).

Use rugs and furniture to create designated areas and smaller conversation spaces within a large room. For example, one area may be a visiting space. A smaller nook may function as a home office with a reading chair. A long sideboard table can be used against a couch to create a division. Even shelving can become a partial barrier.

In the kitchen, an island or chopping block can help you designate the work area from dining spots. Hanging light fixtures and even lamps will help soften the space and make it feel less stark. Look for warmer tones, antique pieces, and interesting patterns to make kitchenware part of the welcoming décor.

If you're looking for more private office space, you can turn a closet and even an armoire into a suitable office nook. Use furniture, including a small desk, to create a designated office area with a cabinet to hide clutter and electronics. An antique privacy screen creates a barrier to keep the workspace exclusive to the task.

Finally, you can warm up an open concept with lots of great texture. Look for natural fibers, layers, and interesting patterns to bring a sense of coziness and comfort to a large room. Plants and natural elements help keep the room “alive” and add even more visual interest.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

In our own house build, we have an intentional mixture of both open-concept and designated space. The future kitchen is partially separated from the main living area to give a certain degree of coziness but still maintain a line of site to the great room. Stay tuned to see what I mean…

Whether you have an open concept floorplan or designated rooms, you can make the most of your space to help it feel like home. Remember, it’s all about what feels comfortable and ideal for you. Play with the layout and adjust your rooms to reach a balance that looks and feels right.

Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

X Lauren


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