Closed vs. Open Floor Plans

kitchendoor

One of the things that attracted us to our house is that it had been neglected for most of the 20th century. With the exception of the bathroom, there was no horrendous 70s or 80s era “remodeling.” Our home’s most unfashionable characteristic is a closed floor plan. Even the kitchen still has an almost 100 year old swinging door.

I’m nearly certain that the next owners of this house will knock out the kitchen wall and put in one of those bar stool counter thingies. Before they do that they may want to read these arguments against the open floor plan from a mom’s perspective. Summary: sometimes what goes on in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen.

Coincidentally I just visited three historic early 20th century mansions. All, of course, had completely separate servant/kitchen quarters with their own entrances. One even had a room just for preparing flowers and a kitchen devoted entirely to cleaning game shot from a balcony off the second story (the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills!). The “out of sight, out of mind” servant is one of the chief arguments used for the open floor plan: that is, that an open floor plan liberates the cook (often the woman of the house) from the servant role.

But I’m not so sure. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to hide the mess and noise of the kitchen from the rest of the house. Likewise I appreciate that the back bedroom that serves as my office and a guest room has a door to hide my chaos. If Dwell Magazine ruled the world, our homes would be one big open warehouse, and then I’d have to be tidy.

What do you think? Are you pro-open house plan or do you like doors? Why?

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33 Comments

  1. I’m mixed about it… I like open plan spaces that are ‘accessible’ to each other but not necessarily viewable (an ‘el’ vs an big open square). Our home was built in 1924 (mostly original) and the LR and DR are that ‘el’ shape and open to each other by a double width cased doorway. The kitchen comes off the DR at the back of the house (the swing door was off when we bought house and is in the attic). I can still sit on our LR couch and see thru the DR and into the kitchen to the back door, but the K sink (sink/counters) layout is off to the side so we don’t see much of the mess. Besides the dust tumbleweeds are Everywhere and there’s no hiding those! ;^)

  2. Closed, for sure. The open concept stuff I’ve seen has, admittedly, come mostly from architectural magazines and it’s always decorated in such a cold (to me), modern fashion. Besides, I do like the idea of having dedicated areas for certain activities that aren’t visible from everywhere.

    And what about the wonderful old pocket doors to open and close off space? Why don’t homes have them anymore? True, it was easier in the days before electrical wiring in the walls, but it’s still possible to do with a little pre-planning. In small houses, they’re a terrific feature.

  3. At the moment, I’m appreciating the open plan in my rental (so it’s not forever) because my house is small and the openness makes it feel bigger and because I can watch my toddler playing wherever she is. (I’m in that window of open-plan usefulness alluded to in the linked story.) I’m *not* keen on the open plan because cooking mess gets *everywhere*. I think I’d prefer a closed plan in a “forever” home. I’ve entertained in both, but anyone I invite over is here for the company and our tasty cooking, not for the glamour of some fancy dinner party, and I tend to prep ahead of time anyway.

  4. My parents home, and now my own, are Colonials built in the mid 80s, with open floor plans on the first floor and then 4 bedrooms in the upstairs. Both have a great feature of having a center column that creates separate “rooms” within the open area. You can’t see the TV from the kitchen, you can sit quietly in the “formal” living room while people are in the dinning area, but it still fosters openness, space and community as you can hear people in other areas and participate as needed in other people’s projects, but still have the sense of privacy since you can’t directly see everything at once.

    My parent’s house has a bumpout kitchen which makes it seem a little removed and allows for the mess to stay away from guests, but allows the hosts to be in the kitchen while cooking and serving but still be part of the gathering. That house also has a center chimney, so the “formal” living room gets a woodstove conversational area. The opposite side has the bathroom and coat closet tucked behind the chimney (and the up and down stairs), So the dinning area and tv area on that side are pretty removed from the woodstove area. But the kitchen connects both together.

    In my house we have more of a spiral, you walk in the front door and there is a closet and the bathroom, then the kitchen which opens up to the dinning area, which has a little wall piece sticking out at the end (Which I’m tempted to tear down) but does break up the space a little) and then opens up to the egress area of our deck which opens to the “formal” living area with the fireplace. That is all one side of the house, then perpendicular to the “formal” area is the tv room, which can’t be seen from the kitchen or dinning area and is nominally walled. Then if you continue walking back towards the kitchen along the other side of the house, you come to the center stairway area and then what was a dinning room, now a crafting room. This room is the least open floor plan as it has normal doorways, but no doors. But from within that room, you can still hear and see people in both the kitchen/dinning area and the tv room, allowing for the sense of community and participation in the household.

    Parent’s house:
    ____D____
    I D
    I -|
    I SB K
    I SC -|
    I D
    ———

    Mine:
    _________
    IKKK C
    IK D
    IKK B
    I —-
    I | I
    I__ | I
    D SS D
    I __I
    I | I
    I I
    I_C_____I

    S=stairs, D=Doors, B=Bathroom, C=Closet/chimney, K=kitchen

    • Oh my goodness! I can’t even begin to understand what all of those keystrokes mean and how that translates into a floorplan. I mean, I see your key, but all of the lines, multiples, “I”s, underscores, etc.

      I don’t mean to sound rude, I really am curious. Is that method a common descriptor?

    • There have been times in my house of doors that I have closed off a room to stay warm with less heat or to stay cool with less ac use. Of course, this all translates to less electric use.

  5. I love our home’s semi-open plan. The living room and do ing area are open to each other, and the dining area is open to the kitchen. But there is a wall of cabinets closing the kitchen off from the living room. In a trendy remodel I have no doubt someone would love to tear out that wall and replace at least partly it with a bar height counter, but that would cut the limited cabinet space significantly.
    When looking at home ideas, I do gravitate towards open plans, or at least open kitchens. With my group of friends, entertaining largely involves the kitchen. Dinner parties often end up as potlucks, or at least someone else will insist on helping with dishes or whatnot. So everybody ends up in the kitchen, even back when I was in an apartment with a small dead end galley kitchen!

  6. Closed for sure. I know what kind of cook I am. No one else needs to see that. The food comes out just fine, and I’m happy to keep the product separate from the process for my guests. I have said too much already.

  7. Hypothetically, I like the open floor plan idea….though I never considered the fact that messes spread and can’t be hidden. And messes seem to follow me, so, I’ll just admire from afar….

    I must say that in my home, a tiny (950 sqft) home built in the 20′s, most of our doors have been removed. Three bedrooms and a bath, plus the usual kitchen, living, dining….we only have a door on the bath and my sons room, which happens to open off the living room. We have curtains over most other doorways and transitions.

    In such a tiny house the doors seem more of a hinderance as they use up valuable space when open…and really section off the space into even tinier, odd, pockets. Curtains seem to open it up up bit, help to provide some privacy, regulate temperature, and they look so very bohemian….
    Oh! And most importantly, hide the mess when needed.

  8. There are so many variables that affect this question: amount of space, number of inhabitants, and whether people work from home or not.

    As to the specific question of having the kitchen open to a larger room, I must say I’ve always enjoyed houses or apartments where the kitchen is a social space. It always strikes me as homey and familiar to be able to sit at a table or on a couch and chat with someone who is working in the kitchen area. That, of course, does not preclude having other more formal rooms, but to me the social kitchen becomes the welcoming center of the house.

    I think it’s interesting to compare our modern house plans to earlier ones. At the Brooklyn Museum, they have the Jan Martense Schenck House, a two-room building built in 1675. One room is a formal sitting room, but, interestingly, it includes the family beds, built in as large floor-to-ceiling wooden boxes with curtained openings. The other room is a working kitchen with a large dining/working table, a writing desk, and household tools like linen presses and butter churns.

    I’m not sure about the strangeness of sleeping in the parlor, but I’d love to hang out in that working kitchen.

    • The first doctor’s home in this town (180 yrs ago) was a surprise. His office was his living room was the bedroom for the family. Back of that was the kitchen and eating area. They kept the goats in the basement. Every time I visit the historic home, I muse about the family being in bed when someone brings someone to the doctor to be cured. Of course, doctors did go to patients, but this doctor had office hours, so I always wonder how that worked with a wife, infants, and children also needing a place to live while he worked. There was a front door, a door between rooms and a back door.

  9. If your kitchen is large enough to move around and not feel enclosed, then a closed floor plan is lovely, especially if the kitchen has a breakfast nook or desk space so you can sit down once in awhile. If it’s a smaller kitchen, like mine is, then I appreciate the feeling of open space I have with our open floor plan. We have a peninsula separating my kitchen from the dining area, with the living room nearby, although not terribly visible. If it was closed off I’d feel like I was in a box whenever I was in there!

    • My kitchen has a table that seats six. I can sit to chop, slice, read. I could not survive a little box. It’s about 17′ x 19′, maybe larger. Long ago, I had a sewing machine in a sewing cabinet in one corner. For the last 20 years, a tall file cabinet has lived in the other corner where two doors fold back into the corner. The other two corners of the kitchen are where cabinets are. Oh, this kitchen will also easily hold a high chair while all six chairs are occupied. I think I would rather have a large kitchen than a large bedroom or living room! Of course, my kitchen is not large by some standards.

    • My kitchen is the ’50′s retro style with a ‘bar’ area that people can sit at and be out of my way as I cook. We can talk and they are not underfoot. If I had my dream kitchen it would be a big farm kitchen (with doors) where I could eat, feed people on a big table in the middle of the room, and have a place to do all the cookie decorating at Christmas. It would be a place to get away to when the kids are watching something on TV that I don’t particularly want to hear. I am a fan of closed off rooms as it it is lots easier to heat and cool one room then a vast space, especially these new spaces that are two stories high or have 10 foot ceilings. That is just a waste of energy, heating and cooling those spaces with high ceilings. And changing a light bulb requires a tall ladder!

  10. I´m totally a fan of doors. We do different things in different rooms and if I´m watching tv I don´t want to se my kitchen even if it´s clean. One of the things we really liked with our house is that it has rooms, not many open spaces. I like the idea with open space but I don´t like it in reality :)

  11. Closed. I lived in the middle east for a awhile too and most of the women there also preferred a closed kitchen (and those ladies could cook!). I love my open foyer/living/dining area – but keep the mess in the kitchen.

  12. Open floor plans also swept through laboratory design, except that it lagged homes by about 25 years. In the early 90′s, many labs went nuts for open floor plans–one big space, no interior walls, power cables dropping from above–as a way to promote collaborations. But turns out that scientists, like everyone else, crave a place to pick their nose and surf trashy websites in private. Also, the open floor plan, if it involved more than one lab, sometimes lead to metastasis and hostile takeovers. Both my lab and home are hybrids: some open living areas, some cozy spaces.

  13. I’ve always wondered whether the families in the TV shows never want to get away from each other, or whether their children don’t have ears on elastic the moment an adult conversation is started. Mine are between 9 and 14 and trying to speak to my husband or visitors without having three pairs of ears on stalks would be impossible in a completely open plan house.

    We have what is effectively a living room and a kitchen-diner, first popular in the UK in the 60′s and 70′s I think, and it gives us the best of both worlds. The children can be packed off to the living room when you’re discussing the teacher you don’t like at the local school with friends and you don’t want it repeated around the village/playground. I can listen to the radio whilst husband is watching another ‘classic’ Western on TV or the children are watching something.
    But, we’re lucky enough to fit a sofa in our kitchen/dining room (ancient, freecycled, and usually claimed by the dogs) so all family members and visitors do tend to gravitate there, meaning that the teens are usually around and participating in family life and not permanently hidden away in another room. (Refusing to put computers or TV’s in their bedrooms has helped that too. :-) )

  14. I always assumed that the open kitchen came from the idea that everyone always seems to gather there anyway. My mother-in-law has a TINY galley kitchen, and the whole party seems to be crammed in there while she’s preparing the food. So…the mess isn’t really hidden away, plus she’s stepping on people to get her work done. My recently purchased house was built in the 80′s and is open to the family room, and I really like it. I do have a young child, but it also allows me to do some kitchen tasks at night (like making refrigerator pickles…tonight’s project) and still not feel cut off from the rest of the family.

  15. I grew up in a large old (1830s) house that would likely have had a servant or two at one time. The kitchen is separated from the dining room by a butler’s pantry, where dishes are stored, there is a sink and liquor cabinets and it really isolates the kitchen from the rest of the house, but there are no open rooms. Now in my 1920s California house the living room/dining room are open to each other and it helps to have at least one room that doesn’t feel cramped in a smaller house.

    But I like having a door to the kitchen and the other rooms, I can keep the counter-surfing pets out if I want. I keep the kitchen from feeling crowded by not having an island (or peninsula or isthmus). I like keeping the period character of the house.

  16. Our house is an old farmhouse that has been added onto over the years, for a bit of an odd layout, but the kitchen is a separate room, and I like it that way. I remember a friend built a new giant, very elegant house in the early 90s and I was really surprised at the layout – the kitchen is sort of tucked into a corner of what they call the great room. I for one would not be able to keep the kitchen tidy enough for prime time. I would probably be stressed or depressed when I walked in the door to always see the few dishes I had not yet tidied away, or my unsorted recycling littering the countertops.

  17. If I could have an enormous Martha Stewart style kitchen, then maybe closed would be okay. But we are a small family in a small house, and I like the space that an open plan gives. I like being able to talk to my husband if one of us is cooking and the other isn’t. I like being able to watch TV or listen to music while I’m doing mundane kitchen stuff.

    And kitchen mess? If any spontaneous visitors want to judge us because our kitchen isn’t spotless, then, well, whatever. This isn’t Stepford – we all know that food is prepared in kitchens. I’m much more scared of kitchens that look like display homes – spotless and unused.

  18. My house had a “semi-open” floor plan, circa 1978 ranch style, the kitchen was a little “U” in the back corner off of the living room with a soffit that made it even more cave like, at gatherings and parties the tiny kitchen always seemed to be the place to hang out and talk, it was tough to move sometimes much less prepare food….. Removal of the soffit and a wall, the addition of an island and yes, a little bar thingy with 4 stools! (= It makes all the difference, people can sit at the bar and talk to the cook(s) and not be in the way, the kitchen is now an integral part of the house, open plan for sure!

  19. I think scale is a oft overlooked factor. We have a very large home in the country that was built with a rare 1980′s open concept, and it works really well.

    We have some friends in town who also have an open concept, but at less than half the square footage and still 4 bedrooms it does not work well at all. Everything happens in the same place, which means once big constant mess.

    I think open plans are great – if you have the space for them. Maybe without a houseful of kids, that’s not as much factor though?

  20. We have a smaller house (1100 sq ft) built in the 50s. The prior owner had already gutted the living/dining rooms and kitchen into one space (about 550 sq ft) so we went with an open plan design. The kitchen area is an L shape on 2 walls designated by cabinets and tile, dining area opposite the short axis of the L, the living area is opposite of the long axis of the L with the couch floating in the middle and a rug to designate the “livingroom” area.

    After we were finished, we did get a chance to tour another house with the original layout and the space felt so small in comparison to ours. Our parties always end up in the kitchen, so I don’t feel that we lost anything from leaving the spaces open. If we had a larger house, I would probably want more separation for the kitchen, but with a small house, every space has to function for many uses.

  21. Definitely open. I’ve never been to a friend’s house who was cooking me dinner where I wanted to be in one room while she did the work in another. People gather in the kitchen so it’s nice to have someplace for them to sit and talk to one another – and even help out with the cooking. I’m under no illusion that cooking is a sterile activity and I can’t believe anyone else is either. I’ll gladly help with the dishes and anyone I’ve invited over has offered to help clean up as well. cooking is a community activity. Plus, I’d have no motivation to clean the kitchen if I couldn’t see it from the living room.

  22. I say closed because I hate having my clean clothes in the bedroom smell like fried onions. BUT I must say that it seems like the open kitchen concept has become some kind of status symbol, like if you have an awesome looking kitchen that means you’re a superstar chef. Gimme a break. I love cooking, but the cook makes the meal, not the kitchen, and I can make great food regardless of how my kitchen is designed.

  23. We have an eat-in kitchen so it’s a large space, and added a wall between that and the living room. Best of both worlds, I think.

  24. I’ve just bought a 1950′s semi which has had hardly anything done to it since built. The first thing most people ask is when am I going to knock the walls down. It’s also the first thing TV presenters suggest on home make over shows as though it’s a national obsession.

    I like the walls there because they stop smells and noise spreading across the whole house. Heat from our fire is kept in the living room and I can relax without having to see the mess in the kitchen. Closed plan is much more homelier.

  25. I would like to find a house without an open floor plan. I don’t want my sautéed onions to travel into the living room. Also with less walls there is an absence of wall space to decorate with and to place furniture against. All the house plans I see there is only one real wall in the living room and there’s a fireplace on it. I don’t want to put my tv on top of the mantle. When I have a fire I want to see the flames not the tv screen.

  26. I like a hybrid approach. Closed, but with a double door width opening to the dining room/living room combo that’s closeable with pocket doors. Allows for circulation and a somewhat open feel when you want it, but easily closed off when you want to isolate noise, cooking smells, and mess. We couldn’t find a newer house without an open plan, so we’re building our own. Just couldn’t stand the look of these open rooms with no definition of space and an island sitting forlorn in the middle of some gigantic astrodome like space. Worst thing is the noise. Family room open to the kitchen ends up with a battle between the TV, conversation, and cooking cleaning noises, which usually sends one party retreating to some quiet part of the house, thereby defeating the original point of the open plan. The open floor plan couldn’t go away fast enough in my opinion, but builders seem addicted to it, so you pretty much have to design your own place if you want a new place with at least a semi-closed kitchen.

  27. I prefer closed floor plans for several reasons:

    -The kitchen is kind of an intimate space and I prefer it away from the view of guests. In the kitchen, there are usually smells, noise and a mess. It is much simpler to close the door and hide the mess when we don’t have time to clean the kitchen immediately.

    Having a larger kitchen, with an eat-in corner where family members have place to gather around the cook is very good.

    -Rooms in closed floor plans are easier to heat and it’s not mandatory to heat the entire house at once. Large open floor plans can feel cold in the winter.

    -Closed rooms with particular destinations feel cosy and warm. You can have more privacy and silence when necessary.

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