Downsides of the Open Concept Floor Plan (and How to Make the Best of It)

Challenged by an open floor plan? Here's how to make it work. Photo Credit: Meghan Beierle-O'Brien

This year’s got us questioning some key aspects of life. Things we’ve long taken for granted without much thought. Commercial office space and typical 9-5 work arrangements, for example. See also: pants with buttons and zippers. 

Another big one: open concept living as the gold standard for home floor plans. Stuck at home for months, former fans are starting to experience the downfalls of their open concept homes. Collectively, we’ve spent decades knocking down walls. Now we’re wishing for a few more to divide our spaces and lend much-needed privacy and silence.

Today, we’re tackling the pros and cons of an open floor plan, as well as design tips to help you maximize the potential of your open concept home.

The benefits of an open floor plan

To be fair, there are reasons this style has gained popularity over the years. Open concept floor plans are known for providing:

  • Added natural light
  • Flexible, multi-functional spaces
  • Great space for entertaining (though not always ideal…more on that in a minute)
  • Good traffic flow
  • Improved communication, without walls between each space

These are valid ‘wants’ on a home buying or remodel wish list. But what was fun and ideal for entertaining on Saturday nights, has quickly become chaotic and unpleasant for 24/7 living.

Open concept living can be tricky for dinner parties when cooking odors and the clutter of used pots and pans can ruin the mood. With no walls to separate, conversations get muddled in the din. Not to mention, the powder room is often directly off the entertainment space, which can be really awkward for your dinner guests.

Open floor plans require creative solutions with furniture placement and space planning. Despite the open space, the beloved sectional may not be the best choice for your room.
Photo by Meghan Beierle-O’Brien

Open concept floor plans have some legitimate downsides for everyday living, including:

  • Lack of separation. In an open layout, everything (and everyone) is within your line of sight. This makes privacy and personal space hard to find unless you escape to a bedroom or bathroom.
  • Poor acoustics and sound control. Open floor plans — especially with the modern trends of hardwood floors and minimalist decor — become echo chambers.
  • Higher building costs. Updated building materials made open concept living possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Removing load-bearing walls requires expert engineering and increased construction costs compared to traditional floor plans.
  • Expensive to heat and cool. Open floor plans are also less efficient to heat and cool, meaning a larger energy bill each month.
  • Constant visual clutter. Messes and toys seem to spread from space to space with no walls to confine them. And, with an open sightline, even small amounts of clutter can make the whole space feel messy in an instant.
  • Lack of personalization. Fewer walls mean fewer places to add your own touches, like family photographs, travel memorabilia, and artwork.

Even still, this floor plan has been around for decades, and it’s still highly sought after. For many, the illusion of space seems worth the trade-offs.

A dining room area can also serve as a workspace, a bar, and as added home storage if designed correctly.
Photo by Meghan Beierle-O’Brien

Are open concept homes really that great for entertaining?

One of the touted ‘pros’ of an open floor plan is the ease of entertaining. And in some situations, this is true. But a lack of walls can actually make entertaining awkward and uncomfortable, not to mention less intimate. 

Open concept living can be tricky for dinner parties when cooking odors and the clutter of used pots and pans can ruin the mood. With no walls to separate, conversations get muddled in the din. Not to mention, the powder room is often directly off the entertainment space, which can be really awkward for your dinner guests.

Floor plans of the future

So what does this mean? Will we abandon open floor plans in favor of 50s-style architecture with long hallways and smaller rooms? Not exactly. (Though many younger homeowners are drawn to vintage details, smaller footprints, and cozier spaces.) 

Like any cultural shift or home design trend since the dawn of time, this shift will play out in slow evolution. I predict new builds will feature more ways to bridge the gap, allowing for optimal flow and entertainment space while still maximizing privacy and providing more definition between spaces.

Intimate yet grand, light-filled but private, the Riads of Morocco are the ultimate combination of open space and separation in home design.
Photo Courtesy of Architectural Digest Photo by Simon Upton

A global inspiration

This might just be wishful thinking, but I’d love to see a shift to homes with courtyards. This style delivers many of the pros of open floor plans — added natural light, good flow for entertaining, and flexible-use spaces — without many of the drawbacks. 

I’m in love with the Riads of Marrakech. Both intimate yet grand, light-filled but private. They offer great space and flow for entertaining and still plenty of nooks to escape. I think they’re the perfect marriage of function and style. This unique floorplan is so completely suitable for the Southern California indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

How to design an open concept home

In the meantime, if you find yourself in an open floor plan, there are plenty of ways to make the most of it. My go-to design tips for open concept homes are:

  • Keep a consistent color palette throughout. Choosing colors for an open floor plan can be tricky. Stick to 3-5 total colors, including accents. Use these in every room, but switch up the main accent color to give a defined yet unified feel.
  • Create layers with accessories and upholstery. When you’ve got a solid color palette in place, you can be more adventurous with art and accessories. Play with pattern, texture, and style to add richness and depth. As long as you stay true to the palette you’ve chosen, everything will tell a cohesive story from room to room.
  • Find ways to separate spaces. Walk-in pantries don’t take up too much square footage, yet are invaluable for keeping the prep and cooking clutter out of the way when entertaining. Pocket doors add vintage charm and are a wonderful way to create a more intimate space when you need it.
  • Maximize your space. An underused dining room area can also serve as a workspace, a bar, and as added home storage if designed correctly. Find pieces that allow you to put away clutter, but access it easily when entertaining.
  • Add architectural details. Archways and moulding visually separate spaces, creating intimacy and visual interest.
If you have space a walk-in pantry can be a lifesaver, keeping cooking prep and clutter out of the way when entertaining.
Photo by Meghan Beierle-O’Brien

Whether you’re in an open concept home or not, an expert interior designer can help you make the most of your space. Check out some of my recent projects for open concept design inspiration!

Until next time,

XO,
PE

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