Pros and Cons of Open-Concept Floor Plans

Open-concept living has been highly sought after for decades, but it comes with its own set of pros and cons. While it offers space and light, it assumes a desire for large gatherings centered around one activity, whereas plans with intimate spaces allow for privacy and rooms for varied interests within the household. At Amity Kett, our architects and interior designers are re-examining the open-concept floor plan and the challenges it presents during design, construction, and use. We will determine if the open-concept plan is going out of style in our new decade with new ideas of living.

The History of Open-Concept Living and Its Rise to Popularity

The open-concept floor plan started to come to form in the 1950s after WW2. Socially, America saw a rise in the middle class and a change in life in the home. With the rise of modern appliances, entertaining became more frequent and the living and dining rooms were combined for ease and flow. From an architectural standpoint, steel beams, central air, and other new materials like cinder-blocks made the construction of open rooms easier with ways to keep them cool and liveable. Soon the idea of domestic help in the kitchen was no longer, and the walls of the private kitchen came down opening it as a new gathering place for guests and hosts to congregate during preparation. By the 1990s, open-concept floor plans became the norm and highly desired. Now over 50 years from the open-concept’s rise to popularity, we are seeing a return to defining barriers and creating walls to address concerns from privacy to energy consumption.

The Pros and Cons of Open-Concept Floor Plans

Open-Concept living has its ups and downs. The illusion of space can come with increased clutter to clean, but it could offer beautiful natural lighting and room to be together. Let’s see if open-concept is all it’s made out to be or if intimate spaces and separation really make the heart grow fonder.

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Open-Concept Pros:

Feels Bigger

One of the most discussed pros of the open-concept floor plan is the illusion of a larger space. Fewer walls create longer sightlines that can make a home feel bigger than it really is. If less formal spaces are important, bringing in an architect to eliminate a formal dining room, for example, will allow more space to be allocated to a larger great room. However, the illusion of space doesn’t equate to the increased square footage that can be achieved with an addition.

More Natural Light

Eliminating interior walls and allowing sightlines from the front to the back of the house provides more natural light from more angles. However, lighting needs can also be achieved in interior rooms with architectural elements like skylights or detailed lighting plans by an interior designer.  

Flexible Spaces

A large empty room offers endless possibilities for different configurations, but can be intimidating to furnish and is often not utilized to its full potential. A great room could serve as a TV viewing space for a crowd, an oversized dining room, or even a dance floor. It is important to bring in a designer who can define areas of the room and create something that is functional as well as open.

Easy Traffic Flow and Communication

With fewer walls, traffic flow becomes easy simply because there are fewer ways to move about the home. This can make hosting a large party easy while keeping everyone in the same room. Communication between the family is also easy to facilitate because multiple activities are happening in the same room. Someone may be cooking, watching TV, and studying

ogether while they talk, which can present challenges for privacy, concentration, and noise.

Open-Concept Cons:

More Noise

Noise may be the biggest downfall of open-concept living. Watching TV in the living space, listening to music in the kitchen, and attempting to watch a presentation in the office space could become frustrating if not impossible for a family. With larger spaces, there is also a tendency to echo. Creating separate, task-centric rooms allows for quiet time and peace.

Less Privacy and Intimate Spaces

A large space takes on the assumption that everyone in the household wants to engage in the same activity at the same time. This is rarely the case, especially in multigenerational homes. It can even be anxiety-inducing to constantly be in contact with everyone in the household. Teens need space for socializing and developing independence at home, making a game or rec room nice to have. Some adults may want to watch a sports game on TV, while others want to retreat for a drink and conversation. Elderly family members may simply want a space to read in quiet. Walls allow for some needed separation and make it sweeter to come together over a meal for family time.

Hidden Costs

There are many underestimated costs associated with open-concept floor plans. As an architect plans an open space, they will run into additional fees to eliminate walls as this typically calls for larger support beams to strengthen the structure. Since an open space has more design challenges when it comes to definition and soundproofing, an interior designer may have to invest more time in planning creative solutions and suggest more expensive materials like wood floors and larger drape panels that reduce sound echos. When it comes to living in the space, homeowners can expect larger electric bills for heating and cooling. Smaller rooms offer more efficiency, with fewer windows and opportunities to program thermostats while not in use.

No Storage and Lots of Clutter (and Even Smells)

A lack of walls creates less space to hang art but also less space for shelving, cabinets, and closets, making storage and clutter a constant challenge in open-concept living. Every space in an open room must be kept neat for guests, whereas smaller rooms can be shut off when not left presentable for company. Testing new recipes in the kitchen can also quickly become disastrous, leaving a mess on the open counter and smells lingering in the living area textiles.

When is an Open-Concept Well Suited for a Home

While there are some clear advantages to defined rooms, open-concept floor plans can be well suited to certain homes and lifestyle needs. A family vacation home offers the perfect opportunity for an architect and interior designer to create a space for close family togetherness. Vacations are a time to bond and most people want to interact through the same activity at the same time, and the need for separate workspaces is not a consideration.

For a young family with small children, open-concept living could also prove beneficial. Small kids need more assistance and supervision from their parents, so sightlines during play and work are a must for peace of mind and growth. Open plans could also work well for casual living and like-minded social gatherings, but it could prove disastrous for multigenerational families with children, teens, parents, and seniors who all have different interests and needs.

Is the Open-Concept Going Out of Style?

As we enter a new decade of architectural and design style, we are seeing different expectations for the home. People have grown tired of trying to watch TV over the sounds of pots and pans. Homeowners have begun to define private spaces like “man caves” and “she sheds,” as well as offices, expressing a need for defined living. While the open-concept floor plan has its charms for certain lifestyles, at Amity Kett we see a move towards separation for practical living.

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