Open concept layout and open floor plan are phrases that describe a home where rooms flow naturally from one room to the next. These floor plans provide visual openness so when you're in one room, you're able to see into other rooms and watch the kids or enjoy the natural sunlight streaming in through the family room windows. Open floor plans seem to be what everyone wants today if you're watching the home shows on HGTV.
This open staircase shared by Greene Construction, does a great job illustrating the concept. If you're standing next to the photographer, you can see rooms to the left and right of the stairs, as well as anyone walking up the stairs or hallway at the top of the stairs. Now imagine how this might feel if there were walls surrounding the stairs?
History of Open Floor Plans
Barns might be considered the first example of open floor plans with their post and beam construction that allowed for large, interior spaces without the traditional walls that separate rooms while providing structural support. Frank Lloyd Wright is also credited with introducing the “open plan” concept in the design of his Prairie Houses (beginning in 1900) which included long, extended low buildings with shallow, sloping roofs, overhangs and terraces, plus tall windows that connected the home's interior with the outdoors. Wright used steel to support some of his larger spans, using his experience in designing commercial buildings.
Open Floor Plan Pros and Cons
Open floor plans are wonderful. The major down side to an open floor plan is the inability to control your heating/cooling costs to keep your living space comfortable and affordable. One option I used when building a house was pocket doors, so in the winter I could keep the kitchen/family room toasty warm while leaving the open concept living room/dining room at 60°F. As we build homes that are more airtight, this is much less of a concern although you should review your heating zones when remodeling an older house.
So let's explore the various benefits of an open floor plan. They're usually found on the main living floor and there's no reason why you can't apply most of the ideas to attic or basement space when finishing them to create added living space.
- Visual spaciousness when you're in one room but feel like it's 2 or 3 times bigger because of the open floor plan.
- Benefit of natural sunlight from one space, flooding other living spaces.
- Flexibility for activities in one room to spill over into other living spaces.
- More living space and better traffic flow when hallways are eliminated (walls removed).
Most homes with open floor plans also have higher ceilings, a feature that cannot be added easily when remodeling an older home. So what are the drawbacks to open floor plans?
- Higher heating/cooling bills and you can use pocket doors to minimize costs.
- Clutter is no longer hidden in a single room, but visible from anywhere in the shared visual living space.
- Lack of private space for serious cooks, a home office or parents who want some private time. Room dividers, pocket or barn doors can give you the flexibility of when to close a room within an open floor plan.
- Less wall space to display your artwork although some can be hung from the ceiling to create partial walls.
Open Floor Plan Ideas
Maybe the first open concept with it's own name, great rooms combine the kitchen with living spaces. Many open floor ideas are ones you've known about and we've got a few unique twists to give you even more usable living space.
- Great rooms (kitchen + one/more other rooms) allow parents to watch small children while cooking. When entertaining, there's no worry about how many cooks fit in the kitchen.
- Combining dining rooms and living rooms creates more casual and flexible living space. Now it's easy to seat 12 or more people. Dining rooms (tables) can serve multiple functions like homework space or an art studio where you can keep your eyes on the kids.
- Open floor plans are better at blending interior space with the outdoors, making both spaces feel close, comfortable and larger than any one space, especially when they have floor to ceiling glass.
- Opening up staircases by removing walls, provides lots of visual space and contemporary homes now leave the space under the staircase open.