My new-home clients sometimes talk about a home design with
“good flow”; or more often, an “open” or “open concept” floor plan.
“Open concept” sounds like a new idea, but is it? What is an open floor plan, anyway?
The first American homes were built in the 18th century,
when home design was restricted by technology and fashion. Fashion, because the only building traditions
the colonists had were the ones they brought with them from Europe.
Technology, because 18th century homes didn’t have central
heating (it wasn’t widespread in America until the early 20th century). Since each room in the house had to be heated
individually, it made sense to keep rooms small, separated from each other with
walls, and easy to heat.
|This all-brick early 19th-Century Georgian house plan is very formal - notice how the rooms are arranged around massive fireplaces in the center of each wing|
Technology also kept room sizes small – the ability to mill
and transport the longer, deeper lumber needed for bigger rooms wasn’t
available until the late 1800s.
|A 1920's Bungalow design still shows a floor plan made up of individual small rooms, but central heating means the rooms don't each need their own fireplaces.|
The 20th century brought the technological changes needed to
create larger, more open rooms. American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright took
advantage of the bigger lumber and new central heating with his Prairie and
Usonian home designs, essentially inventing the “open” floor plan.
|One of Frank Lloyd Wright's early designs - most of the interior walls are already gone.|
But while Wright’s new home designs were perfect for the
increasingly informal American lifestyle, they were never as popular at the
traditional, formal plans that had a 300-year head start in America.
|In this later Wright plan, almost all the walls - inside and out - are gone. |
Styles, unfortunately, don’t change easily.
To most people, “open” floor plan implies fewer walls
between rooms and that’s generally true.
But I think a more descriptive term is an “informal” floor plan. It’s the way we live – formally or informally
– that has the biggest impact on the design of a home.
“Formal” or “traditional” floor plans have been around as
long as there have been houses in the western world, but the informal/open floor
plan is a relatively new idea (if you consider 90 years as “new”).
There are many differences between the two ideas;
differences in how they’re built, how they’re furnished, how they’re decorated,
how they’re heated and cooled, and most importantly, differences in how you
live in them.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about buying
or building a home with an informal floor plan.
An Informal Floor
Plan Can Be A Little Smaller
Rooms in formal floor plans, enclosed by four walls, don’t
allow space to flow between them, restricting furniture placement. That means each room needs space for the
furniture in it.
An informal/open floor plan, on the other hand, blurs the
lines between rooms, allowing the space to flow, and allowing furniture to flow
with it. When you remove the walls
between rooms, the total area gets smaller – and that can add up to quite a bit
Formal Rooms Are Usually
A dining room is just a dining room in a traditional, formal
floor plan, but in an open plan, the dining room can also be the breakfast room
and a social center.
Other formal rooms fade away, too. The living room and family room (and maybe
even the kitchen) combine into a family-centered great room.
All of which frees up space for the rooms you probably really
need, like a mudroom and laundry.
|Opening up the kitchen and family room to each other gives this home a more spacious living area, and frees up space that we used to make nice big laundry/mudroom.|
An Open Floor Plan
Can More Expensive to Build
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense. A smaller
house, built with less materials (fewer walls) should be less
Problem is, all that open space requires larger structural
members to support it. And fewer
interior walls usually means beefing up the exterior walls.
Fewer interior walls also give the heating and plumbing guys
fits – it’s harder to find places to run pipes and ductwork.
And flooring can get more expensive – without an easy place
between rooms to change from hardwood to carpet, for example, you might end up
with all hardwood.
Plans Are Easier to Decorate
Because very simply, you have fewer choices. When your whole
floor is one room, you’re not going to have crown molding in some rooms and not
in others. You’re probably only going to
have one paint color.
|The family in this house spends most of their time in one room - where the kitchen, dining area, and family room all come together.|
Your furniture probably all needs to match, too, which means
you might not be able to keep all the furniture from your formal house when you
Open Floor Plans Can
You probably already figured this one out, right? Without
all those walls to block sound, life’s going to be a little louder in an
informal house. You can quiet it down a
bit with soft-fabric furniture, area rugs, and draperies – anything to absorb
Open, informal floor plans are a better fit for the casual
lifestyles of most families today, although that doesn’t mean you can’t live
comfortably in a more traditional home design.
But knowing the pros and cons of formal and informal floor
plans will help you make a better decision when you’re thinking about what fits
your family best.
Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio Architects to arrange a meeting or an online consultation.
Labels: Custom Home Design, New Home Construction, Space Saving Home Design