Design*Sponge · Apr 4, 2017

Are Open Floor Plans Here to Stay?

I’ve spent the last 13 years reviewing and publishing thousands of home tours and devouring hours upon hours of design-related programming on television. And while most trends seem to wax and wane over time, there’s been one dominant change over the past decade that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: open floor plans.

Real estate agents continue to confirm that most young home and apartment buyers are looking primarily for open floor plans (where the main living space, kitchen and dining room are all open to each other) or to create their own when they renovate, but where does that leave the generations of older houses in America that were built when people wanted clearly defined spaces? Will this craving for openness ever be replaced by a desire for privacy again, or do we think this is the way of the future?

Image above: Anna and Austin’s bright open-plan kitchen in Denver.

Image above: A chic minimal New Zealand home.

Traci’s bright and airy California home

When my parents put their (very traditional colonial Virginia style) house up for sale, one of the very first pieces of feedback they got from potential buyers and agents was that people would love the house, “If they could knock down all these walls downstairs.” I chuckled at the feedback, thinking of Fixer Upper, and realizing how almost every episode starts with a design plan that includes, “Opening up this space and removing all these walls.”

But then I realized, the newest generation of buyers (and renters), seem to all be looking for the same thing: a large open space in the living area where the kitchen, dining room and living room all open up seamlessly to each other.

Having grown up on the east coast in a relatively old home and now living in a much older home, walls were pretty much a given. Living, dining and cooking spaces were usually clearly defined, except for the occasional kitchen opening that let you peek into the dining area.

Jamie and Mark’s sunny Kansas City home

In colder climates, having separate rooms (especially with doors, not just archways separating them) was a practical necessity, too. Being able to close off sections of the house allowed home owners and renters to save on heating costs by only heating areas they used on the most.

When it comes to privacy, I remember being very thankful for having separations between rooms so that I could have a quiet moment to read, do homework or just be alone. But these days the feedback we see here at Design*Sponge (and echoed on most interior design TV shows) is that families, especially those with children, want wide open space to ensure that they can keep an eye on their kids at all times.

One of the most common things I hear on design shows these days is a parent telling a designer that they’d like to be able to see what their kids are doing in the living room while they’re preparing a meal in the kitchen. That’s a concept and a request I completely understand- although part of me wonders where people go (other than their bedrooms) for a quiet moment alone when there are no walls or room dividers to provide that?

Kelsey’s open-concept Seattle apartment

So it made me wonder how you all feel: do you like this groundswell movement toward open floor plans and eschewing privacy in primary living spaces?

For me, I see this as something much bigger than a trend. This feels like a major change that is set to dominate the way we see homes for a long time. And while I love the bright natural light and airy feeling that these designs offer, I do miss some of the privacy that defined rooms provide. And, as someone who loves homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries, where does this leave the incredible community of homes that have been lovingly cared for, walls and all? Perhaps there will always be enough people to support a multi-room design and keep these house styles in creation and preservation? Or I wonder if we’ll look back on this moment in time, 30 years from now, and realize this was the tipping point where open floor plans changed the way houses were designed going forward. I’m so curious to hear about your thoughts on this change: what makes you love this style or what makes you enjoy having separate rooms? Do you think this will be the way of the future? Does it represent a more affordable way of designing houses? Or will this be another style trend that gradually evens out with a combination of more open space but still a bit of division between rooms?

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