Is This the End of the Open Floor Plan?

Lately there’s been talk about the possible demise of the popular open floor plan. It’s been popular for about a decade and still what most people want (or think they want). Sure, they help the light pour in throughout the space and give us some amazing views. But this kind of floor plan is really quite new in the history of dwellings. Did you know that 25 years ago, an open floor plan meant rooms without doors? Well, now it means rooms without walls. And there are some issues that accompany rooms with no boundaries.

white room with dark beams and plank ceiling

While there are many positives to living in an open floor plan home, there are quite a few negatives. The number one negative may be the noise. Without walls to separate rooms, there is no barrier for noise – the banging of pots and pans or a loud dishwashing machine may annoy someone in the living area who’s trying to listen to the news, while the blaring television may make mommy in the kitchen want to pull her hair out. The higher the ceiling, the more difficult it will be to mitigate noise. I’ve been in many homes that are an acoustical nightmare – like a terrifying echo chamber from which there is no escape.

open floor plan home with dark wood beams on ceilingKole Custom HomeBuilders, color palette by The Decorologist

Sometimes the grown-ups need to be a little separated from the kiddos. Sure, it may sound lonely to be isolated in the hidden-away kitchen while those elsewhere in the house are having all the fun, but maybe that’s just irrational FOMO? In reality, some moms don’t want their kids or husband in the kitchen while they are preparing meals because they actually enjoy that time “alone.” Perhaps they’d prefer to watch The Great British Bake Off rather than Paw Patrol while preparing dinner.

white kitchen with black and gold accentsKole Custom Homebuilders, color palette by The Decorologist

Or if you are like me, you may have difficulty being cool and confident enough to prepare a five course meal right in front of your guests. We all need a sense of refuge which defined rooms provide. Isn’t this why “away rooms”, “man caves,” and “she sheds” are so popular? If your kids are right in the middle of the action, it’s difficult to work from home, watch a grown-up television program, or have a private conversation when there are precious few walls to separate you. And it’s really difficult to concentrate during a small group Bible study in a living room with an open staircase and catwalk above when the kids are playing Star Wars in the upstairs rec room.

open floor plan kitchen and living room with green island and dark stain cross beam ceiling, color design by The DecorologistKole Custom Homebuilders, color palette by The Decorologist

And then there’s the mess. Who says you want the dirty dishes and ALL THE THINGS within your line of sight from every vantage point of your first floor open living area? Many of us feel a sense of relief sitting in the one clean room of the house when the rest of the place is a wreck – but that’s not possible if we can see it all. An open, continuous space is harder to keep clean and tidy all the time.

Some contend that the closed kitchen is much more efficient for cooking than the sprawling, open “chef’s kitchens” that are now popular. According to Kate Wagner (author of the blog, McMansion Hell), it enables whoever does the cooking to take fewer steps to perform tasks. In contrast, the open chef’s kitchen is wasteful and sprawling. “Instead of moving the sink closer to the stove, builders install a pot filler or a second sink in a center island . . . instead of closing in the main kitchen to isolate the disorder of food preparation, developers are building (second) ‘mess kitchens’ for this purpose.”

So, am I suggesting that this is the beginning of the end for the open floor plan? Certainly not – this type of home will continue to be the most desired by most homebuyers. But let me share some ideas for mitigating the inherent problems that arise from this kind of floor plan:

Mitigating the Problems of an Open Floor Plan

In order to reduce noise, you need to add lots of upholstered furniture and large rugs to begin to soak up the sound. Installing plenty of lined drapery will help, as well. The more soft goods in a space, the better. Consider putting the dishwasher in the butler’s pantry rather than in the open kitchen.  Or maybe cough up the extra money for a near-silent dishwasher.

open floor plan kitchen design by The Decorologistkitchen design by The Decorologist

Maybe having an open floor concept will motivate you to keep your kitchen tidy! Seeing the mess from the living room sofa may be more than you can stand, and you’ll make it a routine to clean up right after dinner instead of putting it off until after the kids go to bed. Or better yet, have the kids do the dishes while they’re watching Paw Patrol! Also, if you include a butler’s pantry with an extra sink, the biggest messes could be contained out of sight for awhile.

You can have an open concept floor plan without knocking down ALL the walls. Don’t go crazy. Maybe increase the size of wall openings and use beautiful trim to encase them, adding classic sliding pocket doors to close off areas when desired. While you could use sliding barn doors, pocket doors require less obtrusive hardware and are much more timeless. Leave partial walls that help give a sense of boundary, as well as give you more wall space for built-ins, art, and furniture to nestle against. Use half walls, kitchen peninsulas rather than islands, and even columns to purposely differentiate spaces.

green kitchen by The Decorologistkitchen design by The Decorologist

Here’s a graphic you can pin for future reference:

If you have any other ideas for mitigating the problems of an open floor plan, please share in the comments!

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Kelly
Guest

I agree with most of this… while we built an open floorplan and LOVE it, we are empty nesters with just the two of us to contend with. We also have a finished basement where the Grands can come over and romp, play and watch tv while the main floor of the house is blissfully unaware of the tiny terrorists downstairs… 😉

Lori
Guest
Lori

Thank you for this post! I love my home with walls! The kitchen. affords me a quiet place away from the television, and if one room has some clutter I can escape to a clean room to clear my head. I’ve never understood the practical, day-to-day functionality of a space created by tearing down walls and installing an island.

Vallie
Guest
Vallie

We have been increasingly annoyed with kitchen noise while watching tv. Ice dispenser, stove and clanging pots and pans and running water interfere! Builders need to tuck away the kitchen a little more because it’s just functional.

Cynthia Lambert
Guest
Cynthia Lambert

Thank you. The open plan is dead. How do I know? I talk to realtors all the time and follow the real estate market closely. Nobody wants open plans any more. In fact, a lot of people are building walls and putting rooms back together again as separate entities. We need that compartmentalization. But I had to laugh when you said bible study. Does anyone actually do that now? We are an increasingly non-religious nation, despite what you hear on the news. Churches are empty and being repurposed as meeting halls and even houses. The USA is at minimum 40%… Read more »

Marci Mitchell
Guest
Marci Mitchell

Hi Cynthia,
I am on the “never again” open floor plan bandwagon. We also have high ceilings, which although beautiful, just exasperates the echo affect. Additionally, as someone who gets together with my God Squad 2-3 times a month for bible study, I totally related and appreciated what Kristie was saying.

Susie
Guest
Susie

A negative you neglected: loss of energy in a open plan home. With walls and doors, you don’t need to heat or air condition rooms that aren’t in use. While visiting my daughter in Eastern Europe recently, I noticed the homes (mostly apartments) are built so that doors can be closed when not in use. Living room has a door, kitchen has a door, and they each have their own HVAC units. My daughter rarely uses her living room, so she doesn’t heat it. Her bedroom door is closed during the day, then the heat is turned on at night.… Read more »

Tam
Guest
Tam

I totally agree with the conundrum of wanting to be part of the action in both the kitchen and living room spaces, yet at the same time appreciating the ability to have separate space for quiet and to hide the mess. When we built our new home recently we were attracted to the large, functional island which is what I think the craze for the open plan really stems from. But I hated the idea that anyone entering the room would immediately see kitchen mess. Also, lack of walls makes it more difficult to incorporate storage space like shelves, cabinets… Read more »

Sarah Nielsen
Guest
Sarah Nielsen

Thank you for this, Kristie. I didn’t take down a wall between the dining room and kitchen when we bought our fixer-upper condo because I know that sometimes at a dinner party someone wants/needs to talk privately or the women want to have a discussion apart from earshot of everyone else. We don’t go in a bedroom to do this. We do it while fixing dinner or cleaning up. That can be where connections are formed. No regrets about leaving the walls up! And — yes, the mess. 🙂

Barbara Pilcher
Guest

I’m happy to see that people are warming to the idea of separated spaces in a home. I never did “get” the open floor plan look — the noise, the constant effort to tidy up or else face little messes, the lack of privacy, the waste of energy. Give me my walled-off kitchen where I can cook quietly, undistracted, without making mistakes or having to carry on a conversation. I’m going to tweet this and post on Facebook. Thank you for suggesting these remedies.

Emily
Guest
Emily

I’m so glad to see an article addressing all of these issues. I think the main pro of an open plan is the feeling of spaciousness. It makes my house look much bigger than it is. When we moved in, I immediately felt the cons: my husband would have a friend over watching golf and chatting and I could be across the house but still have a direct line of sight and able to hear everything. Also, along the same lines as clutter: I can’t put as much variation and detail in my decor because it is too much to… Read more »

Lauren M
Guest
Lauren M

Love this article! I have never had an open floor plan, and have never wanted one. When I watch all the remodeling shows on TV, while I think the open floor plans may look nice on that finished scene, I’ve wondered about the noise and lack of privacy factors. My own kitchen actually has doors on both ends that I can close, and I love having the option to close myself off and play music while I’m cooking. My husband and I have joked that “we will ride the open floor trend out” and also have thought “what are all… Read more »

Michi
Guest
Michi

Hallelujah! I am so over this open floor plan thing. In addition the comments made by you and your readers, there is the problem of artwork. I love my original pieces, but in an open concept there aren’t enough walls to hang them on! Then paint colours, what if you want a different colour in the kitchen or dining area? It becomes difficult. I don’t think this point of view has reached our area quite yet (Toronto, Canada) but I am all for it. Thanks for a great discussion!

Jacquie
Guest
Jacquie

Hi Kristie, This comes as an eerie reminder to me. Two weeks ago, a house not far from us, a new build of only 4 years old, experienced a house fire…there is nothing left! 🙁 It was an open floor plan that allowed the fire to run rampant though out the house in a very short time. Had there been a few more walls, the fire would not have the opportunity to spread so quickly. There is something to be said for having some drywall as a fire stop. I haven’t looked into how this might also affect insurance rates… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

I wanted to add that the first “project” we did to our house was to add pocket doors to separate the tv room! It is so much more functional!

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

I feel validated! Even though you are saying people still want open concept, I have long maintained that I love my 1970s separate rooms! I do like to send the kids to another room. It’s nice to have several gathering places. I will not be knocking out walls! And yes, here in TN, we’re still having people over for Bible study/small group gatherings. This might be a lesson to us that we don’t have to be dissatisfied when our homes are not on the cutting edge of style– can I say that here?? We can work with what we have… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

We rented a 3 million dollar house on the water with 180 degree water view for a few years. It was a grey and white South Hampton style shingle house and had one big open space for a huge kitchen and mega island on one end, and the huge stone fireplace on the other end of a rollerrink size space. Couch area in front of fireplace and a long dining table between couch area and kitchen island. A row of massive French doors facing the water made up the whole long side of the house. There was one tiny office… Read more »

Mary CC from CA
Guest
Mary CC from CA

I saved up and bought the expensive dishwasher and it is worth every penny in sound reduction ! You can’t even hear it running while watching tv or reading. Good advice Kristie !

Kay
Guest
Kay

Bosch is what we have, and you can’t hear it, even when you’re standing next to it. They’re not that expensive.

Zhanna
Guest
Zhanna

I’ve never understood the desire for a completely open floor plan – I don’t want my kitchen and the mess I make when I cook open and visible to guests sitting at the dining room table. I visited a house once that is the same model as mine – all one floor, with a living/dining room, separate family room and separate kitchen. They had torn down all the walls and made it one big open area. While structurally well designed, it was beyond dreadful and it was almost impossible to place the furniture so that it was livable. I love… Read more »

Kay
Guest
Kay

When we remodeled our house five years ago, we made some important structural changes but did not eliminate separate rooms. The hall goes through the center of the house, with rooms on either side. There is a six foot opening into the living room at the end of the hall, and a view from the front door all the way into the back garden. There is a six foot opening into the dining room, and another from the dining room into the kitchen—with pocket doors. The ordinary doorway from the hall into the kitchen also has a pocket door, so… Read more »

Beth L
Guest

Thanks for the timely discussion, Kristie. We are working on a decision on how much remodeling to do in our upcoming retirement home. It has tall ceilings, but the kitchen is behind two 8′ “pony” walls. I already told my husband that at least one of them is staying. The dilemma is whether or not to eliminate one side and replace it with an island. We plan to use it part-time as a vacation rental and think it would be attractive to renters, but I’m definitely wavering. Good food for thought that I read out loud to my husband!

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

As a REALTOR®, I can definitely agree that most clients still want and like their open floor plans, but also agree that many times the homes with growing children are the ones that experience the issues you describe. My husband and I recently built our retirement home and love our open floor plan. We definitely chose a high-end, quiet dishwasher (Bosch) and it was worth every penny. And I love your reference to your Bible Study…we meet in the separate sunroom and enjoy the marvelous TN mountain views! Thanks for the great article.

Judy Warren
Guest
Judy Warren

Fabulous article, agree 100% with each point you made. Love my house and my walls.

Terry L Murphy
Guest
Terry L Murphy

This is why you still need a formal living room. Keep the family room / open kitchen concept, but have a “grown-up” place as a refuge.

ann
Guest
ann

I discussed this with my husband who used to be in radio and sound. We have an open floor plan, but the rooms wrap around a central stair. Each roomhas a case opening that is huge, but drops the 10 foot ceilings down to 7 feet at the opening. What the drop does is reduce the sound bouncing around from room to room. So there are no doors or reduced sight lines, just noise reduction. I wondered why my parents with hearing troubles could hear so much better at our house than their’s, which is a ranch with carpet and… Read more »

Sheri Bruneau
Guest

We are still ‘opening up’ older homes where I live. One of my biggest issues when we open up walls is where to put the light switches! I’m working in a home right now where 2 walls are slated to come down to open up the main living space. Due to the layout, when I strated to do up the electrical plan, there were no good places for switches! The functional aspect was non-exsistant. We are now looking at keeping a portion of one wall to ensure switches are functional. Kristie, I loved your pinnable tips on mitigating an open… Read more »

Jeri
Guest
Jeri

Great list of ways to mitigate the noise.

I’ve lived in both styles and i really prefer a little more separation – keeping the noise and mess of the kitchen a little under wraps. I like the idea of wider door openings and especially traditional pocket doors. 👌🏻

Janet
Guest

This is a great post, Kristie! And the debate rages on…it all depends on the house, the family, the circumstances, etc.whether it makes sense. Too many sheeple feel compelled to have an open floor plan because it seems to be the solution to every HGTV design dilemma. Sometimes it’s a great solution and sometimes not so much. And even when it is useful a TOTALLY open floor plan can definitely be too much of a good thing!

Jill Laine
Guest

You bring up very interesting points here! Coming from CA, the land of open floorplans, I don’t see this going anywhere soon. However, I do see lots and lots of butlers pantries, where the mess is kept away from guests.
Although open plans really help small spaces, they can make lots of square footage appear never ending.
Great ideas on how to solve the noise and mess dilemmas!

Mary Ann Benoit
Guest

Great article and great tips. I have always thought that an open plan feels less “cozy” too, which can be somewhat mitigated by soft furnishings, pillows, throw blankets, and rugs. These also help with acoustics.

Rebecca Jones
Guest

Great blog. Definitely makes you think about the downsides to an open floor plan. But really I just wanted to say that I absolutely love love love all of your photos. Your work is an inspiration!

Tiffany
Guest
Tiffany

My favorite house book ever is “The not-so-big house” by Sara Susanka. She nails why totally open floor plans, as laid out buy most builders, just never feel right. I’d love to hear your take on her approach! Have you ever seen a home she’s designed, or one that follows her principles? That would be a fun blog post!

Wavez Residences
Guest

Hey! the kitchen peninsulas rather than islands, and even columns to purposely differentiate spaces.