An open-concept plan is all the rage these days, but is it right for you?
By Stacy Durr Albert
When my husband and I started planning our log home a few years back, I was giddy at the thought of an open floor plan. The interconnectivity, lines of sight and communal togetherness all appealed to me.
Fast forward a few years, and I confess that some of my initial enthusiasm has ebbed. While I don’t regret our decision to go for an open layout, I now realize that it does have its drawbacks. Here’s a rundown of some advantages and challenges of living in an open-concept home:
Since open plans typically feature high ceilings, heating and cooling can be expensive if not planned out thoughtfully. To minimize heat loss, consider solar heating options, radiant in-floor heating, ceiling fans that can push warm air down, area rugs, window treatments and good insulation.
Multiple heating/cooling zones can also help, so you don’t have to run heat in the great room all night where no one is sleeping (check out our story on mini-split conditioning systems here). In our home, we also rely on an efficient propane fireplace to keep the great room toasty without having to constantly pump up our primary heat source.
Energy Note: Since open plans also often feature lots of glass, natural light pours in. Taking advantage of passive solar properties translates to instant energy savings.
In an open floor plan, there are no hiding places — your life is on display. If your lifestyle currently involves young children (I have four), an open floor plan can be challenging.
Dinner dishes, papers and toys may all be visible from the front door. If one corner looks messy, the whole area seems disorganized.
“Backpacks, briefcases, laptops and paperwork can cause a lot of clutter, and organization can be a challenge,” explains Jim Keeton, president of BK Cypress Log Homes in Florida. “A main challenge with an open plan is not having enough space for everyone, since it’s where we cook, eat, work, play games, do projects and bring in our work for the day. Design is key.”
Carefully plan storage areas for everything (we have a decorative cabinet with an assigned bin for each family member) to help keep clutter out of sight. Consider a dual-level kitchen island so that the higher level can conceal kitchen messes.
Regardless of square footage, an open floor plan instantly makes a home feel spacious. High ceilings and an abundance of natural light visually enlarge any setting, and with an open design, the square footage goes directly into living areas rather than hallways or divider walls.
But be careful — all this extra elbowroom may come at a price.
“It could lead to thousands of dollars in increased construction costs, because the removal of load-bearing walls generally means that larger timbers or engineered beams are required,” explains Mark Feder, vice president of sales at Appalachian Log Structures in West Virginia.
Though it may cost more, most log home devotees believe it’s worth it.
“One of the advantages of an open-concept plan is that even if it’s smaller in size, it seems so much bigger,” shares Deb Simano, sales representative for New Hampshire’s Coventry Log Homes.
If you crave the tranquility of silence, an open floor plan may not be your best bet. Sound travels, and with an open setting filled with wood, noises are amplified. In our home, trying to find a quiet place to write is virtually impossible. I originally planned the loft as my home office, but quickly discovered that it’s one of the loudest places in my home. E
ven with extra sound-dampening techniques, an open setting is still open, and sound is still sound. Privacy is another concern; alone time may be virtually nonexistent. A conventional plan offers many separate rooms in which you can escape, but in an open plan, most people gravitate to the great room. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind.
“The lack of so many interior walls brings everyone together, which is important with the hectic schedules of today’s families,” says Jim. “The great room is the heart of the home.”
If you love to entertain, an open plan is right up your alley, since this setup is perfectly suited for mingling. Long gone are the days when the resident chef was sequestered from the guests.
“When you have friends and family over, it’s easy to visit with everyone, even if you’re the cook,” says Deb.
On the flip side, expect to have company in your kitchen while you work. An open space is incredibly inviting, and it’s tough to keep well-meaning visitors away. So if the kitchen is your domain and yours alone, a dividing wall or some other form of separation from the living room may be in order.
Since rooms are connected in an open plan, you only have to choose one main color scheme as a base. Some homeowners love this, whereas others find it challenging. For example, I used to have a vibrant Americana theme in my den, but I didn’t want this look carried into my kitchen or dining room.
Since my spaces are now connected, I opted to abandon it altogether. Another issue with decorating an open plan is that wall space is very limited. If you have a large art collection, you may have a tough time finding places to display it.
“The removal of room-dividing walls also creates less space for furniture placement and hanging family photos,” warns Mark.
Defining different room areas can be tricky, too, but smart furniture placement helps. In my home, the back of the couch creates a distinct visual border between the living area and the beginning of the kitchen. Place a console table behind the sofa and voila! Instant art display.
The bottom line is that there are both positives and negatives when it comes to living an open plan. But if you decide this type of layout is right for you, and you prepare for the pitfalls, there are plenty of ways to make it both functional and fabulous.
Closet Talk: If there’s one thing lacking in an open concept, it’s closet space. Since there are few walls to divide rooms, finding a place to carve out a closet can be challenging. Be sure to intentionally plan a place for coats, linens and supplies ahead of time.
Safety Bonus: If you have small children in the house, an open concept allows you to keep an eye on them as they play in the living room while you’re cooking dinner.
If you answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may want to reconsider your plans for an open layout.
Five great things about open plans, and five not-so-great things: