Open Floor Plan: Defined, Pros & Cons, and History

Upscale Kitchen with High Open Ceiling and Wood Floor
Getty / Perry Mastrovito

The phrase "open floor plan" refers to a house whose common spaces have no walls or partial walls between them. Structurally, heavy-duty beams carry the weight of the floor above, not walls. Aesthetically, a sense of openness and greater traffic flow is promoted by an open floor plan. A hallmark of mid-century modern house design, open floor plans apply only to common areas. Exempt spaces include bathrooms, powder rooms, bedrooms, and home offices.


Open floor plans do not mean that all rooms are connected, nor does it mean that there are no barriers at all between the rooms.

  • Kitchen/Dining Room: Often a kitchen and dining area share one common space. Sometimes a kitchen island or peninsula act as a visual dividing line between the two areas.
  • Dining Room/Living Room: A dining area and living room occupy one 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 Rooms: All three areas may be connected.

Benefits and Drawbacks


  • Traffic: Easier traffic flow between rooms. No doors to open and close.
  • Promotes Sociability. No one can hide behind doors. Conversation between rooms is easy.
  • Shared Light: Light from one room is shared with other rooms.
  • Resale Value: Desirable type of floor plan; thus, better resale value. Open floor plans are a trend that is here to stay.


    • Costly To Heat, Cool: More expensive climate control. With a classic floor plan, it is possible to heat some rooms, while leaving others unheated. But with an open floor plan, all rooms share the same heating or cooling system.
    • Expensive To Build: Costlier to build or remodel open floor plan. Typically, it is more expensive to purchase microlam beams and install than to construct conventional load-bearing walls.
    • Poor Sound Control: Sound control difficult, as noise from one area naturally leads into other areas.

    History of the Open Floor Plan

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

    Homes up until the 1940s and 1950s employed designs where each function had its own separate room. The kitchen would be a separate room, living room a separate room, dining room a separate room, and so on.

    Post-War Changes

    After World War II, it became possible for ordinary homeowners to have houses with open floor plans.

    In the most common scenario, there would be one large open space encompassing the kitchen, family room, and dining room.

    While many of us are accustomed to this arrangement nowadays, this was a revelation then. No longer was cooking a tedious function to get out of the way simply to provide sustenance to the family.

    Separate, But Together

    Now, cooking became a social function so that Mom could cook, children could do homework on the kitchen table, and Father could read his newspaper before the fire in the family room. Even though each was doing their own separate activity, they were connected and could easily speak to each other.​

    Technological Changes

    Improvements in structural materials made open floor plans easier to achieve.

    Stronger and more compact structural beams, such as the microlaminated beam, made it easier to create open floor plans.

    Today, open floor plans are as common as garages and basement media rooms. In fact, many designers are turning back to the earlier style of cellularized rooms to achieve more of a retro feel.