Our New Open Floor Plan

Framing the new/old closet.

Here at Root Simple we specialize in backpedalling, flip-flopping and outright hypocrisy. Within a few months of some big critique or pronouncement you can guarantee that I’ll be doing the very thing I railed against. Flipper fences? First I dismissed them then I built one. Double digging? We wrote about it in our first book then disowned the practice. No doubt, within a fortnight I’ll be back on Facebook and Instagram posting my avocado toast lunches.

How about open floor plans? In the click-baitiest blog post ever, I declared them a “death trap.” Then the good natured Will Wallus of the Weekend Homestead came on the podcast to gently defend open floor plans. Naturally, I’m spending this month making our house, gasp, more open. Let me explain.

When I installed the floor in the living room in the aughts I discovered an opening that used to exist between our living room and what we use as our bedroom. Back in 1920 this house was a one bedroom with a kind of sitting room open to the living room. I’ve also long know that the closet used to have a window in it that was covered up when a previous owner split it in two.

Here’s the existing floor plan, which was probably configured this way sometime in the 1960s:

And here’s what it will look like when put back to its original configuration as a one bedroom house:

Note the more open floor plan with the room on the left opening into the living room:

Rather than try to do all the work myself I’ve decided to do only the carpentry. I’m going to leave the drywalling, painting and electrical work to professionals.

Having tricked out the garage into a full woodshop, I can now mill my own lumber to the exact dimensions used in 1920. Over the weekend I replicated the window frame in the closet that was damaged when they covered it up. Now I’ve got to scavenge up a window.

When we’re done the house will be back, almost, to the way it was when constructed in 1920. When we first moved in back in 1998 we had to do a lot of expensive foundation work and basic repairs. This year we’ve set out to do a final restoration push. Call me reactionary, but I’ve discovered with this house that things work better when restored to their original materials and configuration. And sometimes that means opening up a wall!

Should you need remodeling/resotoration advice, I highly recommend the Fine Homebuilding website

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18 Comments

  1. You’re not doing an open floor plan remodel, you’re doing a beautiful restoration, and it’s going to be lovely. Plus, anything that creates more storage or closet space in a small home is a blessing.

    • Yes, I suppose I exaggerated things in this post. It’s open-ish rather than open. The kitchen will still be sealed off from the rest of the house.

  2. You had me worried when I first started to read. No, this is NOT an open floor plan but just returning the home to what it used to be and I think it is lovely. You obviously plan to stay put here. What does the tax roll say? Is it listed at a 2 bedroom? Something to think about.
    I am so happy to see people who return their homes to their original beauty. I get so sad to see people tearing down perfectly nice homes in order to Mac Mansion because in CA the land/area is often worth more than the house. It is all so crazy. In the future they will wonder why people did this.
    Quality material back then. The same wood is outrageously expensive now so we end up with fake stuff.
    Congratulations on your project! Hope to see photos when it is done.

    • Good question. I think the tax rolls call it a two bedroom. We figure that it will be easy to turn it back into a two bedroom should we need the house.

      And, yeah, you can’t get the kind of old growth lumber that this modest house was built with. The framing and siding is all redwood and the interior molding (which has always been painted) is douglas fir.

  3. I’m all for the restoration of houses. Mine was built in the mid-1800s and massively renovated in the 1970’s. I’d like to give the people who did it a good talking-to. I wanted to give you a heads up, though – we had a window in our closet, and the parts of our clothes that faced it faded drastically. We ended up removing the window, but I’d suggest at least keeping yours well-covered.

    • Thanks for the tip. We’re going to the clothes rack well away from the window and we’ll make sure we have thick curtains.

    • You just reminded me that I too lived in an older house with a window in the closet and the clothes did fade. I ended up bumping one of the bedrooms back so as to add that window to the bedroom instead. My house back then had been reconfigured to a duplex during WWII and that closet with a window had been a kitchen. It was an easy house to work with and returning it to what it used to be was a pleasure.

    • I couldn’t agree more with your opinion of people who “improve” old homes rather than restore them. When we were out looking for a house three years ago, we looked at a lot of old houses, of which there is no shortage in Vermont. Although my husband spent decades working in industrial/commercial construction, we did not consider any house that had rotted sills: if we were stupid and still in our 20’s it would have been an adventure, but we know too much now to take on a job like that.

      Anyway, looking at all these houses we got a glimpse of what happens when people with no sense of history do repair and improvement jobs way above their pay grade. It made me very sad to see some of the grand old 18th and 19th century homes debased so badly. In the end, we couldn’t find an old house so we bought a 30 year-old Cape Cod, a style typical in this part of the country, and are un-modernizing it little by little so that it looks like an old house. With good sills.

    • Our beautiful 1925 Craftsman bungalow was butchered in the 1960s in an attempt to “modernize” it using inferior materials and incompetent workmanship. We quickly learned that the only way to fix things was to rip it all back to the original framing, figure out what was done in 1925, then recreate that carefully using the best materials available.

      Of course, some people will complain that we are destroying a magnificent example of Mid-Century Incompetent!

    • I think you’ve come up with a great name for a common architectural movement. I’m going to steal “Mid-Century Incompetent.”

  4. The wood moulding shop at Paramount Studios on Melrose makes window sash to original specifications if you tell them what they were.
    I had them mill hundreds of feet of door casing to match a historic profile that nobody makes anymore.

    • Hey Lukas, Thanks for the tip! I tried another window milling service a few months ago and it was really expensive and slow.

  5. Btw. great job on the frame.
    Freeway Salvage in Boyle Heights may have your sash. I got lucky there finding a matching “old school” redwood sill. I think I had to buy it with the frame but finding it made me so happy. I don’t have your setup to make sills myself.

    • Funny you should mention Freeway salvage. Dropped by there the other day but the owner was at the doctor’s office. Ended up finding the sash at Eric’s Architectural Salvage down on 6th street. He’s vastly expanded since the Sunset Blvd. location. Plus was fun to see some really odd and beautiful stuff like a giant Bacchus head from a building in New York.

  6. I’m in the process of buying an old 1940s house that has the worst of both – a kitchen that was made open on one end and very visible to everyone passing through from front door to living room, but still cramped and poky to be in. I’m considering going all the way, opening the kitchen fully to the living area and doubling the kitchen workspace. Go big or go home – arrange the space so that it works, whether that’s enclosed or open. Don’t just pull down the easiest wall and call it “open floor plan”.

  7. My first house–a 1927 Cape Cod–was a pain to match lumber sizes to for repairs. I think I spent an entire weekend just getting the dimensions on the sill plate for the front door right. Now, since it was machined down from a 2×12 and other actual lumber the door frame was basically a tank. Nearly fifteen years after moving out I know that to this day that door is in place and swinging free.

    Good luck.

    • Yep. Without a planer, jointer and table saw I would not have been able to do this work. The studs in our house are rough sawn redwood 2x3s. The trim and molding also can’t be bought off the shelf and have to be handmade.

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