You may have noticed that we don’t always make completely open floor plans in houses we renovate. Sometimes that’s because of budget issues, but sometimes it’s because we really feel like a house needs a separate room or two. How come?
There are lots of reasons.
- Perhaps you’d like a separate, quiet space for reading or studying.
- Maybe, like us, you have dogs that you’d like to easily confine to just one part of the house (at the Hermits’ Rest house, the den and guest room are easily closed off, as is the master, leaving the very sturdy great room for the pups).
- You might want to listen to music, or perform music without the echoes of a huge room with hard walls and floors.
- Or, you could be a messy cook (I solved that problem at the ranch house by putting a bar-height wall between the kitchen and the living/dining area, so you see the pretty cabinets and backsplash, but not the dishes that haven’t been washed yet.
The Academics Have Also Noticed!
Apparently, we aren’t the only ones rethinking the beloved open concept concept. Lee sent me this link to a very recent article by Ian Bogost (he’s a professor of media stuff!) in The Atlantic, called The Curse of an Open Floor Plan.
In practice, open-plan design has always been a stage to a quiet struggle between freedom and servitude.
Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, May 17, 2018
This article provides a great, scholarly introduction to how open floor plans came to be common in the twentieth century, with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and others leading the way. It also pointed out that kitchen access in 60s suburban plans wasn’t originally to showcase your white cabinets and backsplash, but so Mom could keep an eye on the kids while she toiled away in her “domain.”
Here’s a little nugget of information I found in the article: “open concept” is really an alternative for the standard term, “open plan.” It was originally used mainly in Canada. Since so many HGTV shows were filmed in Canada when the network was first starting, the term became popular in the US. Well, now you know. Use this as a conversation starter!
My favorite part of the article is where they get to the meat of the issue with open floor plans. For one, they seem to prize cavernous openings over actual function. Ian Bogost notes:
Inside remodeled vernacular homes and ranches, and built into the designs of new subdivisions and urban infill, the open-plan strives for the largest void possible, with the kitchen and living space coming along for the ride.
The article posits that the real reason people demand open floor plans is that there is so little time these days to spend together, we want to be together no matter what we are doing. So houses end up with kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms as the only separate rooms, allowing for the basic functions of eating, sleeping, and eliminating. Wow, that’s an elegant thought, isn’t it?
Keep That Kitchen Clean!
The new trend that seems to have bothered Bogost the most is that of the “messy kitchen.” This is a separate area, sort of like a butler’s pantry, where food prep and cleanup can occur, and all your unattractive yet useful appliances can live. The ones he talked about have sinks and dishwashers in them. I realized my house has one of those, but it just has a freezer and a wine fridge in it. It’s great for keeping the rice cooker and waffle maker out of sight, though (it’s also the safe room for tornadoes; yeah, those open concept folks don’t think about natural disasters, do they?).
It doesn’t look like the pendulum is swinging back to more compartmentalized homes just because of this one new trend, though. People seem to be enamored of the DREAM of open concept living, even if it doesn’t work out.
I tell you one thing, though. I was GLAD to have a separate family room and formal living area when my kids were little. Having only one space for everyone to do everything can make your eyes tired. It’s nice to have at least one space suitable for entertaining guests and relaxing without thinking, “Geez, I should be cleaning this up.”
So, I guess we’ll continue to open up those old houses, but with an eye toward practicality.
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