Are Open Concept Floor Plans Still Popular?

With the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic, our homes are no longer just homes. They have also become office workspaces, school rooms and even places to isolate. Never has the need to separate our daily lives become more pressing and this is not over yet. These new demands placed on our homes in today’s difficult social and work circumstances have sharply increased the need for separation. The transformation of the use of our homes due to Covid-19 underlines how essential it is now, to delineate living and work areas and provide for personal space.

The new demands on the functionality of our homes beg the question of the validity of the open floor plan typical of most modern home designs. Is it a practical design, and why did we ever embrace it in the first place? The design arose in rebellion against pre-war closed floor plans that compartmentalized every square foot of the home. Homes were often small, and the rooms separated by walls and doors for specific functions were pokey and poorly lit with low ceilings. Navigation around the house was often more convoluted than it needed to be.

The characteristics of open plan designs

Developing into the modern layout of open concept floor plans since the 1980s, home designs evolved into spacious areas where the kitchen, dining and living areas all flowed into one another, unimpeded by walls or doors. Homes adopted an open configuration as the preferred living arrangement. This has been facilitated by today’s more sophisticated methods of building, which permit more flexible spaces and sizes. The new building materials now available, and a shift in construction technologies, have enabled designs with more continuous interior spaces.

Before the shift toward the open concept popular floorplans in the 1980s and 1990s, traditional home layouts had separate spaces for kitchens, dining rooms and living areas. Each room had a specific purpose. When entertaining, the mess in the kitchen was hidden from your guests as they dined in the designated dining room or relaxed in the formal living room. However, once these areas merged into an open concept, families could interact more freely, and kitchens became the heart of the home for both quality family time and entertaining.

Advantages to open plan living

What is so attractive about an open layout in the home? It permits the coexistence of individual activities and social togetherness at the same time. It facilitates communication and a comforting sense of belonging. Occupants can see into all the ‘rooms’ of the house. The exception, of course, is the bathroom and laundry, and bedrooms. There are many desirable features, like:

·      Unimpeded traffic flow through the home

·      Increased access to shared light sources

·      Provision of multifunctionality and versatility of use

·      Ability to prepare meals while still engaging with guests

·      Ability to prepare meals while engaging with family members

·      Keep an eye on busy small children

·      Easier access and maneuverability for infirm or disabled occupants

·      Enables a home to maximize square footage

One of the dominating advantages of the open floor plan is for entertaining, providing a large open space for guests to circulate and interrelate. Also, for small homes that don’t have the luxury of much space, the open concept provides a welcome sense of spaciousness. Because of these compelling advantages, homes with open floor plans are more popular, attract higher prices, and are easier to sell than more traditional style homes.

Are there downsides to open-plan design?

When the pandemic prompted a shift to remote work and schooling and grounded many households, the preference also shifted away from the open floor plan. This fundamental rethink has revealed many of the flaws of the open-plan house design and may not bode well for the continued popularity of this style. A home with partitioned spaces gives the occupants more options to cater to the needs of multiple generations living under the same roof. It provides for more peace, fewer interruptions and greater privacy.  Some of the major drawbacks of the open-plan floor design are:

·       The noise factor

·       Echoing acoustics

·       Increased energy costs

·       Greater framing spans that increase building costs

·       Less spatial privacy

·       Greater interruptions and distractions from work or activity

After all, even though the greatest plus for open plan homes is the ease of entertaining, how often does a family do that each year? How much entertaining with large gatherings does a single person do each year? Is it worth designing your home around these occasional events despite all its drawbacks for every other day of the year?

The trade-off with increased building costs

With the rising pressure to consume less energy to fight global warming, we need to pay greater attention to sustainability in the home. The open plan design is an expensive option. The traditional partitioned or closed home floor plan by contrast was a great deal more efficient for heating and cooling. It was simple to isolate the small space that was currently being occupied. A large, single continuous space is an unnecessarily wasteful challenge for temperature control.

This shift resulted in greater building costs being incurred, with the need for more efficient insulation to moderate the draw on energy for temperature control. Coupled with this is the necessity to add acoustic insulation to counter echoing and noise interference in the open-plan home. Nothing could be more distracting than trying to work, read, or watch television in the open space living area with someone banging pots and plates or running the food processor just 9 feet away in the kitchen.

Will open concept homes continue to be popular floor plans?

Is the open plan concept now doomed to go out of style? Are walls and partitions making a comeback? While separation has become a desirable factor, the open plan concept will probably endure but with a shift toward partial separation with some purpose-built spaces partitioned. Chief among these overriding functions is the home office. Multipurpose or flexible personal space for activities like exercise or media will certainly also get a nod in house designs going forward, modifying the style of the open plan home for future generations of homeowners.