The open floor plan isn't new although they've certainly becoming more popular, thanks in part to the emphasis they get on many HGTV shows. When you look at the oldest homes in the US, they have small rooms with hallways based on existing building standards and their ability to heat a room. As houses got bigger, rooms got bigger but most houses were still made up of individual rooms connected by hallways.
In the 1980s, floor plans were evolving with rooms open and flowing from one to another, like the L-shaped living room and dining room in the house where I grew up. Since then, our houses have become more open, allowing family members in different rooms to interact more freely. And today open floor plans are one of the most popular interiors regardless of the exterior house style.
Surprisingly we focus on all the benefits of an open floor plan, and forget that there are some cons. This weekend I wanted to watch the Olympics while catching up on email after a week of travel. This meant moving to the dining room table in order to watch the living room TV and it was really cold (I live in New Hampshire). I turned the heat up and put the fireplace on (love my gas fireplace) and realized the living room was toasty warm but it was still cold where I was working.
So the next step was to find a card table in the basement and move my temporary work space to the living room. It worked like a charm and made me realize that heating and cooling homes with open floor plans can be challenging. I wondered how well people picking homes with open floor plans understand the pros and cons.
Benefits of Houses with Open Floor Plan
We're drawn to open floor plans as they provide more visual space, and encourage more family communication as it's easy to see and talk to someone in another room that's open to the room where you are. So what are all the benefits of open floor plans?
- Smaller homes feel more spacious with open floor plans that give allow you to see beyond a single room.
- Less space wasted on hallways means more living space for the same square feet. When moving from California to New Hampshire and looking at houses, I couldn't find the fourth bedroom in a 2400 square foot home (my 2150 sq ft home had 4 bedrooms) because the hallways used the extra square footage.
- More natural sunlight for rooms in an open floor plan, which is great for interior rooms/spaces that have fewer windows.
- More family communication when people are in any of the open floor plan rooms (cute video that will make you laugh).
- Parents can supervise homework or watch children playing in another room while preparing meals in the kitchen.
- Entertaining is easier as people tend to gather around the food, and now instead of squeezing into the kitchen, they can mingle from the other rooms that are open to the kitchen.
Homeowner Tip: If you're still preparing food as guests arrive, you should consider how to keep food prep and entertaining space separate. Make sure you've got easy access to the sink, garbage and cooking appliances if needed.
Open Floor Plan Challenges
Just like the heating challenge that started me thinking about the pros and cons of open floor plans, there are a few more challenges to consider before you remodel or buy a new home with an open floor plan.
- You'll need to become more accepting of a house that isn't always tidy, as a mess in one room will now be visible from all the other rooms that it shares space with.
- Decorating might be more challenging as you'll need to coordinate colors across the rooms in an open floor space, plus there are fewer interior walls to display artwork on.
- Noise might be a problem if you're trying to have a conversation in the kitchen while other family members are watching TV in the family room.
- Heating and cooling can be both a challenge and expense when you have to warm up three rooms but you're only using one room.
Homeowner Tip: Look for creative ways to block air flow with an open floor plan. For example, with a house I built, I added in several pocket doors to separate the kitchen/family room from the living/dining room and put them on separate zones to control heating costs.
The open floor plan will continue to evolve, along with materials and features to reduce the challenges of open floor plans. You already see this happening with fewer two-story entryways. So remember the open floor plan isn't right for every family, so we hope these tips will help you make the right decision for you and your family.
Home Tips readers, do you live in a house with an open floor plan? Or so you prefer individual, divided rooms? We'd love to hear your comments as there's a floor plan that's right for everyone.