Open floor plans have been the dominant architectural trend in new residential construction for decades. Open floor plans are the goal in many major remodeling projects where the objective is to join the kitchen and dining room, dining room and living room, or all three, into a form of communal living space or great room.
Open Floor Plan
An open floor plan in a dwelling in which two or more common spaces have been joined to form a larger space by eliminating partition walls.
What an Open Floor Plan Is
Strictly defined, a residential open floor plan is one where at least two rooms that ordinarily have separate but related functions are conjoined. Most often, open floor plans involve some combination of kitchen, dining room, and living room. A sense of openness and greater traffic flow is promoted by an open floor plan.
A classic example of rooms being separate but related is with the kitchen and dining area open floor plan. The kitchen is for cooking and the dining area is for eating. But these are related functions—both deal with food—so it makes sense to join the rooms if desired. By this definition, a kitchen or dining area usually will not be joined with a home gym or bathroom.
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 sometimes even dedicated home offices.
In open floor plan construction, heavy-duty beams, instead of interior load-bearing walls, carry the weight of the floor above. That's why is usually more efficient to incorporate an open floor plan into the initial building plans rather than doing so retroactively.
Open Floor Plan Configurations
Kitchen and Dining Room Open Floor Plan
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 Open Floor Plan
With this popular open floor plan, 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, an accent wall, stairs leading to a sunken area, or a handrail.
Kitchen, Dining Room, and Living Room Open Floor Plan
All three areas may be connected in a very large great room, often with a vaulted ceiling. Connecting the kitchen, dining area, and living room maximizes the home's social aspect. It's especially good for homeowners who love to frequently cook and entertain guests.
Open Floor Plan History and Development
Before the mid-1940s, 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 traditional 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 of 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.
At this time, the kitchen was still a separate area, since it was still regarded as a utilitarian space. The kitchen was for cooking only, and concepts like an entertainment kitchen were still decades away.
Seeds of the future open floor plan were being sown by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. Along with other innovators, Wright began to design homes with large open living spaces that combined dining areas and living areas, often separated as well as united by a large open fireplace.
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.
Other changes also made the open floor plan more practical. To accommodate higher population densities, more homes were squeezed into the same amount of space, especially in urban areas. House footprints were smaller at the same time the families inside those homes grew larger, meaning that space was at a premium. Homes no longer had the luxury of official libraries or studies; instead, children needed to do their homework at the dining room table. Being able to keep an eye on the whole family from one area had distinct advantages.
Innovations in construction materials and methods also made open floor plans more practical. Steel structural beams, central heating systems, drywall, cinder-block construction, and other innovations meant that it was now easier to build rooms that spanned long spaces and to serve them efficiently with heating.
The 1950s were the time when open floor plans began to appear with regularity, and they were regarded as especially modern. One hallmark of the midcentury modern decor style is a home with an early version of an open floor plan, often featuring a fireplace open on all sides. In the open floor plan concept, the kitchen cooking center was now becoming the center for social activity.
By the 1990s, open floor plans became almost the norm for new construction, especially in suburban environments. In many areas, that trend holds true today, where familiar phrases like open floor plan, open concept, or great room are understood by sellers and buyers alike and often add value to a home.
Movement Away From Open Floor Plans
More recently, designers and homeowners have been shifting away from open floor plans. Reasons include the need for more efficient heating and cooling, the rise in personal streaming entertainment as opposed to shared entertainment, greater density in cities, and an increased desire for privacy among residents.
Andrew Cogar, president of the Historical Concepts architectural firm of Atlanta and New York, highlights that there are some challenges that come with this popular layout:
There’s been a slow but steady change. The thought was that an open and informal plan would create a sense of ease, but people are realizing that it also means everything has to be organized or else the house can quickly feel cluttered. Closed-off rooms allow people to cut down on some of that visual noise. It may sound counterintuitive, but people are returning to separated spaces as a way of simplifying how they live on a daily basis.
Still, for a majority of homeowners, an open floor plan is highly prized when shopping for a new house, and creating an open floor plan is a major reason why people undertake major remodeling projects.
Open floor plans allow for individual activities and social togetherness to coexist: family members can do their own activities, yet still communicate with one another. And for entertaining, the kitchen, dining room, and living room blend together into one large social space.
Open Floor Plans Pros and Cons
- 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, up to 7.4-percent a year.
- 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 multifunctional. 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.
- 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.
Elliot, L. “Evolution of the Open Floor Plan - Old House Journal Magazine.” Old House Journal Magazine. August 9, 2010.
Appreciation Sensation: the Real Factors That Boost Your Home’s Bottom Line. Real Estate News & Insights.