How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Open Floor Plan

In a stunning bit of hypocrisy, we’re busy making the floor plan of our house a bit more open in spite of our rants and raves about the practice. Allow me to explain.

Many years ago, when I installed our living room floor, I pulled up a baseboard and discovered that the wall between the living room and bedroom was of recent vintage. What we now use as a bedroom was originally a sitting room or dining room. And the two closets that share a wall between the two bedrooms used to be one big closet with a window. The window is visible from the outside but plugged up on the inside.

I’m pretty sure that the house we live in was a kit offered by the Pacific Ready Cut company. Style #48 in the 1925 Pacific Ready-Cut catalog closely resembles our floor plan with the dining room and living room flipped and the closet in a different orientation.

We have a kind of rule about home remodeling at our house: if it’s missing we replace it, if it’s broken we repair it. I like that our house is one of the few bungalows in our neighborhood that managed to escape the horrors of post-WWII remodeling trends. Restoring the original dining room and putting the closet back to the way it used to be will be the final major work we plan to do on this house.

Why bother with a meticulous early-20th century re-do when current design trends dictate that everything shalt look like Dwell Magazine? At the risk of sounding like Prince Charles, I’m just not a fan of post-1940s vernacular architecture. I like a house that looks like 1920 both on the outside and the inside. This puts me in cranky territory.

The professional gatekeepers of the architectural and design worlds would hold that you can’t go back to some golden era of the past. And yet, I suspect I’m not alone in feeling that something is wrong with the way things are. The problem reminds me of what the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls a “ratchet effect,” the idea that once you learn something (such as modernism and post-modernism) you can’t un-learn it. I don’t have an answer to this conundrum and I could also go on to site Jurgen Habermas haunting speech “An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age,” but that would delay all the work I’ve got to do over the coming month.

Clearly it’s time to put the philosophy books down and do some “deconstruction” with my new Harbor Freight reciprocating saw.

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  1. If you restore the original dining room, you will have to walk food through the living room to get to the dining room table. That makes no sense and is just not practical. Why do you feel compelled to do this? If your bedroom was a dining room, food would need to be walked through the bathroom. I doubt that your bedroom was a dining room. Maybe it was a living room. That way no one would have to walk through the kitchen or the bedroom to go to the bathroom and the food would not have to go through the bathroom.

    Okay, I have to quit thinking about this…lol.

    • Yeah, it would not make sense to use as a dining room–we plan to use it as a sitting room. Our dining room is already in the living room next to the kitchen. I promise I’ll post some pictures when all this is done to make it clearer. And our bathroom is in a different configuration than the plan above, so no need to walk through it to get to the new sitting room.

  2. Having followed your podcasts, especially with Garden Fork, I had to laugh at the last line about your Harbor Freight sawzall.

  3. I applaud your restoration project! I have a soft spot for old houses and great respect for people who don’t go messing about and turning the interior of a graceful old home into something that looks like a modern condo. This happens way too often on “This Old House”, which is a darn shame. A pantry is a wonderful thing for which I would give my proverbial eye teeth; I cringe when somebody on TOH chirps that ‘wouldn’t it make the perfect yoga room’.

  4. By the way, looking at the blueprint it appears that this house was designed as a one-bedroom home and, from the placement of the windows in the picture of the exterior, it looks like the house was a single story. Is that the case? Even by early 20th century standards, 20′ x 24′ on one floor is not a lot of square footage, especially for a family.

    • Our house is slightly bigger–32 by 32 feet and, originally, a one bedroom. Now you know why we’re obsessed with Marie Kondo.

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