The light. The space. The inability to hide from everyone else in your house. Homes with open floor plans might have been growing in popularity over the last several years, but is the coronavirus pandemic reversing that trend? Buyers are realizing that there are some drawbacks to having interior wide-open spaces with no separation.
But does that mean open floor plans are on their way out? Not necessarily.
We’ve analyzed open floor plans, spoken with real estate brokers, architects, and designers to understand everything about open floor plans, and have curated expert insights on layouts, the history, the benefits and drawbacks, how to make an open floor plan work for you and how to mimic some of the benefits of an open floor plan if you don’t have one.
What do open floor plan homes look like?
Homes with open floor plans feature open spaces where dining, kitchen, and living areas flow seamlessly from one space to the next, without walls or doors blocking the light or flow of people.
Instead of using load-bearing walls to carry the weight of the roof or floors above, architects and builders use heavy-duty beams.
A picture is worth a thousand words so let’s look at some examples of open floor plans from some popular builders.
This floor plan is very open while still providing parents the ability to retreat to their own space on the main level, an increasingly popular request with buyers. There is lots of natural light from the many windows, and the flex room offers options — home office, music room, dining room, play room, and so on.
“As a 14’ wide townhome, this plan is one of the most narrow plans that we have designed, where the main living level lives much larger and lets the homeowner determine the use of each space,” explains Jay Kallos, a designer at Ashton Woods.
“A table can be added that visually extends the kitchen island, freeing up the front room to act as a sitting area. Alternatively, the large rear space can include a table that serves any purpose the homeowner needs — including serving as a dining table.”
With plenty of natural light and the ability to adjust the layout to your needs with a breakfast room, great room, and flex room all on the ground floor, this is another popular open floor plan, and it also includes bedroom space on the main floor.
History of open floor plan homes
In the 1950s and 1960s, builders started constructing open-floor-plan homes for two simple reasons: affordability and ease of construction.
Open floor plans allow builders to fit the same functionality into fewer square feet, making homes more versatile and more affordable all at once. Innovations in construction materials and techniques also made these homes easier to build.
Starting in the 1990s, most new construction homes featured open floor plan designs, so the home you live in now may well have an open floor plan design.
These homes became popular because of the lifestyle enhancements, but they may be waning in popularity now as they do present some drawbacks, which have been further emphasized by the changes in our lifestyles during the pandemic.
Benefits and drawbacks
Everything has benefits and drawbacks, and open-floor-plan homes are no exception. Both are worth considering carefully.
More family time together: It’s much easier to talk to your kids in the living room while you make dinner in the kitchen if there isn’t a wall between you.
Great for entertaining and parties: As in banquet halls, more people can fit into fewer square feet if walls aren’t eating up some of the space. And it’s easier to feel like everyone is together when the entertaining space is larger, even if it’s technically several spaces in your home.
Better traffic flow: Without walls in your way or doors you have to open and close, it’s a lot easier to move through your home, especially when your hands are full.
More engagement: Working in the dining room and reading in the living room doesn’t mean you’re cut off from whatever else is happening in the rest of your house.
Brighter and more airy feeling: Removing the walls means removing the obstacles to air and light circulation, leaving your house feeling lighter and fresher. Light and air through windows travels further.
Feels bigger: Smaller spaces can seem larger with open floor plans.
Super flexible layouts: Reconfiguring your room layout is easier with fewer walls, as all you have to do is move furniture and decorations around.
Better use of square footage: Open floor plans avoid the need for long hallways or transition spaces, so more of your home’s square footage can be used for actual living spaces.
Better home value: Open floor plans have been more popular with buyers since the 1990s and 2000s, including through most of the 2010s. This popularity provides a home value incentive to having an open-floor-plan home.
Andrew Dellavecchia, who works with 69% more single-family homes than the average agent in the Pittsburgh area, states “[Open floor plans are] definitely more desirable for most buyers. I’d say about 90% of buyers want some sort of open floor plan in their house.”
Lack of privacy: Bye-bye, privacy, when it comes to open floor plans. Because there aren’t a lot of walls and doors in your home, it’ll be harder for you to have a quiet space all to yourself that isn’t a bedroom or bathroom.
No walls for artwork: Having fewer walls means less wall space for hanging artwork or displaying your personal items and momentos.
Fewer electrical outlets: Electrical outlet access is important with all our devices, but fewer walls mean electrical outlet placement can be tricky. You can look into outlets in the ceilings or floors, but this is not always possible or affordable.
Easy to clutter up: When you can see everything at a glance, you get to see everything at a glance. Even if it isn’t actually cluttered, open spaces can look that way if you aren’t regularly cleaning up, and some things (like those extension cables to electrical outlets) are really hard to hide.
Higher electric bills: Big open spaces are more expensive to heat and cool as you can’t heat or cool just the space you’re using and no more.
More expensive to build: Walls are cheaper and easier to construct rather than visually appealing, but sturdy load-bearing beams that support open-floor-plan homes are more expensive to build or remodel.
Isolating is hard: If someone in your house needs to isolate from everyone else for some reason (maybe there’s a pandemic that requires you to stay quarantined for a couple of weeks, for example?), open floor plans make it a lot harder for them to do so without just being trapped in their bedroom.
Michael Galperin, the director of marketing at Schumacher Homes, explains how some of their customers have been adjusting their open-floor-plan homes to meet their needs today.
“We have seen more customizations with homeowners looking to add some private/secluded areas for a functional need, such as home office, workout area, or kids learning/play areas,” he notes.
“They don’t want to compromise their open plan designs they fell in love with, so we’re even seeing an explosion in the popularity of add-on flex rooms that can serve many functional needs and change over time.”
How to make an open floor plan work for you
An open floor plan home gives you a lot of control over how you delineate your difference spaces, but that means you have some planning to do to ensure your “rooms” are structured to meet your needs.
Use furniture to delineate which “room” is where. You can do this by breaking up a large space with a sofa or other large furniture, or you can group matching furniture together to designate unique areas. You can also use rugs to help indicate spatial boundaries between “rooms” in your open space.
Leverage “seating zones” in your living/sitting area to encourage more privacy or quiet conversations. A group of sofas clustered together creates the feeling of a living room or a nook without the need for walls.
Use lighting to further define different areas. This can be as simple as strategic lamp placement to control which areas are lit, or can be accomplished by changing the type of lighting in different parts of your home. You could opt for brighter lights in the dining area, and softer, natural light in the living room.
Use architectural details to create separations. Beams and molding are obvious and easy ways to visually define areas, and you could change ceiling heights or add window alcoves to further delineate between spaces.
Keep an aesthetic flow throughout the area. Utilize matching furniture and decor color or style to create separation, but be careful your various “rooms” don’t clash.
Don’t close up an open floor plan. Keep the views and lines of sight open from space to space, so that every space benefits from the light and airflow. If you need a bit more privacy, half-screens can create visual divisions between areas without blocking the line of sight.
Dellavecchia advises homeowners with open floor plans to decorate wisely, suggesting “Color scheme is real important on open floor plans, especially in a smaller house — and keep the colors in the house lighter and neutral. A mixed decor of different textures is something a lot of people like. Accent colors offer contrast — the grays, the whites and the blacks intermixed with some other wood textures and wood tones, like hardwood floors.”
Alternatives to open floor plans that still maximize space
If you don’t have an open floor plan but still want to maximize space, you have options!
Turn your dining room into a multipurpose room. For example, you could convert your dining room into a dining room-and-office combination.
Add dining-friendly tables (this set from IKEA for $248.99 includes two stools) to more rooms in your house. This gives you the option to eat/work from all over your house and break away the monotony of single-use spaces.
Use portable or convertible furniture. For example, fold-down desks (a wall-mounted Wayfair floating desk costs $193.99) or lightweight or wheeled furniture (IKEA nesting tables cost $59.99, or a sturdy wheeled ottoman from Wayfair would set you back $509.99) make layouts easy to change and the space more flexible.
Large pocket doors separate rooms while offering both flexibility and privacy while separating rooms. They’re easy to open and can allow more light and air flow when open.
Be smart about how you use your square footage. You can reduce the space in the main bedrooms of the home and wall additional space off to create offices, libraries, sitting rooms, and whatever else you need. Most people don’t spend that much time in their bedrooms, so converting that floor space to another room can make your home feel bigger.
Working with a real estate agent who understands your needs and priorities will ensure you get your dream home layout, open floor plan or not. The first step is talking to one about the type of home and floor plan that will best meet your needs; even if an open floor plan isn’t perfect for you, the right agent can help you determine how to change up an open-floor-plan home until it is perfect for you.
Header Image Source: (Sidekix Media / Unsplash)