The Open Floor Plan: History, Pros and Cons

This article comes from The Spruce.

The Open Floor Plan: History, Pros and Cons

Open floor plans have been the dominant architectural trend in new residential construction since about 1990. And they’ve been the goal in many major remodeling projects in older homes, where the objective is to join kitchen and dining room, dining room and living room, or all three into some form of communal living space or “great room.”

In open floor plan construction, heavy-duty beams (instead of interior load-bearing walls) carry the weight of the floor above. Aesthetically, a sense of openness and greater traffic flow is promoted by an open floor plan.

Open Floor Plan Configurations

An open floor plan doesn’t mean all rooms are connected, nor does it mean there are no barriers at all between the rooms. Open floor plans apply only to common areas. Exempt spaces include bathrooms, powder rooms, bedrooms, and home offices. Most often, open floor plans involve some combination of kitchen, dining room, and living room.

  • Kitchen and dining room: Often a kitchen and dining area share one common space. Sometimes a kitchen island or peninsula acts as a visual dividing line between the two areas.
  • Dining room and living room: A dining area and living room occupy one shared area. A visual dividing line may be in the form of a short set of stairs, two different paint colors, stairs leading to a sunken area, or a handrail.
  • Kitchen/dining/living room: All three areas may be connected in a very large great room, often with a vaulted ceiling.

History of the Open Floor Plan

An open floor plan is a relatively new concept in residential home design.

Pre-World War 2, most homes used a very basic floor plan in which the main hallway served as a kind of artery that provided access to branch rooms serving specific functions. In these floor plans, the kitchen was usually placed at the back of the house, because it was seen as a service area and not used for socializing at all. A rear door off the kitchen allowed for food deliveries or as an entrance for staff. Entertainment until the 1950s was a fairly formal affair conducted in other areas of the house—served by a kitchen that was strictly off limits to guests.

Even at this time, though the seeds of the future open floor plan were being sown by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, who began to design homes with a large open living space that combined dining areas and living areas, often separated as well as united by a large open fireplace. At this time, the kitchen was still a separate area, since it was still regarded as a utilitarian space.

The true open floor plan began to take hold in the post-war years, where formality gave way to a more casual attitude mandated by the hundreds of thousands of young growing families with children. An open floor plan, now beginning to include the kitchen, offered design flexibility for reconfiguring the space as the family changed and grew, and made it possible to keep an eye on kids during meal preparation and during cleanup.

Advantages of Open Floor Plans

  • Better traffic flow. Without doors to open and close and no walls to hinder traffic, people can move through space unhindered.
  • Improved sociability and communication. Without walls, it’s possible to talk to one another across rooms.
  • Shared light. Interior spaces that were once without windows now get natural light from windows in exterior walls.
  • Improved real estate value. In almost every instance, an open floor plan is highly desirable and increases your home’s value to prospective buyers.
  • Easier to watch kids. Parents cooking in the kitchen or setting the dining room table can easily supervise children in the living room.
  • Layout flexibility. Without partition walls, it is easy to reconfigure furnishings and accessories to different room layouts.
  • Spaces can be multifunction. With open floor plans, space can serve as a family room, a recreation room, a home office, or an entertainment space depending on your needs of the moment.

Disadvantages of Open Floor Plans

  • Costly to heat and cool. Great rooms with high ceilings are often energy drains, especially when the outer walls are equipped with large windows, as they often are. While traditional floor plans allow you to heat or cool only certain rooms, with an open floor plan, the entire space must be heated or cooled.
  • Higher construction cost. Without partition walls, open concepts depend on steel or laminated beams for support. These are costly to install.
  • Poor sound control. Without partition walls to block noise, open concept homes can be very noisy.
  • Spaces can appear cluttered. One advantage of traditional floor plans is that they confine furnishings and accessories to their designated spaces.
  • Lack of privacy. Open floor plans are great for social activity, but they make it hard to find quiet spaces for private reading or study.

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