Trend Alert: Is it the End of the Open Concept Living Space,Yay or Nay?

House Beautiful

Last November when I picked up the December/January issue of House Beautiful magazine, I was intrigued to read Eddie Ross’ article on Edgewood Hall, the house he’s renovating with his partner Jaithan. This is what he said:

Jaithan and I peered through a dimly lit corridor towards the kitchen. A tangle of small rooms shrouded the front of the house, while the combined kitchen-family room from an earlier renovation was open and bright.

Every single friend and design pro we invited for a hard hat tour said the same thing, “You’re going to open this all up, right?”

Call me traditional, but no! I’ll take rooms that unfold throughout a house–albeit imperfectly–over an open concept floor plan any day.

It’s often difficult to make an open plan work.  How do you know when to stop one paint colour and start another? Can you do stripes in the kitchen and a floral in the living area?

Ask any decorator–it’s hard for us too!

For me, rooms just work. I like a distinct foyer that sets the tone for a house.  Closing off the dining room–and the dirty dishes–to join my guests in the living room for dessert.

I like a garden room packed with plants, a year-round oasis. Imagine cramming all that into a single open area! Now I have all sorts of little spaces to express my big love for style.

Why settle for a great room when you can have great rooms instead? Eddie Ross on Instagram.

There’s an article about this very conversation we send to everyone who registers into one of my Specify Colour with Confidence workshops. It also mentions scale and the upstairs balcony and double story height great rooms and how they are in fact NOT ‘human scale’.

Trend Alert: Is it the End of the Open Concept Living Space,Yay or Nay?

One participant was in the middle of a new build when she registered for the workshop. When my email arrived, she had just told her architect that she wanted to be able to install a 10 ft Christmas tree in her great room.

After she read the article she called him back and said “Stop, stop, time out, time out”.

When we renovated our house six years ago, the contractor immediately suggested we open up the space from the kitchen to the dining room, which adjoins our living room. “Why would I want to do that”, I said? “It gives me less wall space for cabinetry in the kitchen and I’m already opening up the doorway between the kitchen/family room.”

The big trend now in painted interiors is choosing a white greige for the main living areas and then colour for actual rooms, like bedrooms, bathrooms and maybe the dining room if it’s not open too. The primary reason why this is happening is because open concept homes are extremely popular!

And this house with this doozie of a kitchen one of my eDesign clients recently inherited validates what we’re talking about here, check it out:


The other trend that was big in the 90s was ROUNDED CORNERS. Very bad for transitioning paint colour. My advice to you if you MUST switch from one colour to another is draw a line in the middle of the corner. It’s really the only thing you can do if you can’t get someone in to fix them.

source (love the clean, classic and timeless fireplace)

The Bottom Line

So here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with your open concept floor plan (if you have one), there are pros and cons to both, however I think perhaps a combination could also be fabulous. it’s something to consider if you are planning a new build!

Over to you my lovelies, what do you think? Yay or Nay to open concept design?

This week I was fortunate to be featured in USA Today in an article about kitchens written by Cindy Bailen, read it here. 

PS. The early bird rate for my Spring Specify Colour with Confidence workshops ends next Tuesday, February 13, 2017. Register here now to attend the best colour training in the world. The price will be going  up this Fall.

Related posts:

The 4 Best Whites for Your Open Plan House

Should Your Great Room Fireplace Relate to the Kitchen

10 Steps for Planning Your New Build

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  1. I much prefer individual rooms, albeit ones with beautiful doorways/openings between them, like the best New York apartments.

  2. We moved to our miniature house because it’s directly on the ocean. Our view and lifestyle fills us with so much happiness. But our open concept has been driving me bonkers. Being a new mom, I haven’t been able to keep a clean kitchen all of the time, although I’m getting into a flow now after 2 years. The entry is directly into the kitchen, which is brutal and embarrassing when neighbours show up unannounced. Then there is the dining room and living room, also right there because it’s a very small space. Thankfully, the rest of the house is functional. A bedroom wing, a guest suite with ocean views, and a separate tv room downstairs which keeps the tv away from everything, that’s a bonus. But I am already dreaming of our next house. Traditional, beautiful millwork, and separate rooms everywhere (including an actual entrance!)

  3. Very interesting and timely post. My best friend, of 45 years, and I often discuss this. The ability to have a separate dining /living room that a door can close and you no longer see dishes, kitchen stuff etc, in our opinion is wonderful! We thought we were just old school, maybe we are ahead of the curve LOL

  4. I have a question that may be a bit off topic, but it seems the drivers for the open floor plan are often for site lines for parents with children, and then the issue of people congregating in the kitchen. So why exactly do you think people congregate in the kitchen? Even when it may be the tiniest of spaces, with plenty of space elsewhere… if you put drinks & appetizers in another room, will that help? Or do they go to the kitchen because the hostess is in there? Or because it is a cozy room full of good smells for what is to come? Or what is it?? If you don’t want an open concept home, how do you encourage people to congregate elsewhere?

    • Jackie, great conversation questions! We currently have 2 houses living between 2 cities temporarily. One house is newer with the open plan and our house of 18 years is a traditional older home with lovely separate rooms. It’s interesting your point about the site line monitoring of kids. Kids today can’t get into mischief as easily as we did! I am really thinking about your questions as I ponder which house style I want next for probably my last house. Good questions!

    • In reply to Jackie – yes, it’s because the hostess is there, and also because you can spill your drink (accidentally) and it can be wiped up. People will sit outside pretty comfortably too. For me, the thought of sitting on a beautiful couch with food and drink is only ok at my house.

    • @Jackie: At one time I did a lot of entertaining and never had a problem of people (namely adults) congregating in the Living Room and adjacent Dining Room whereas the children always gravitated towards the Family Room where the entertainment was. That said; the layout of my home accommodates a flow with the kitchen work and casual eating space between both of them. The DRm is closed off with a pocket door, the kitchen has a backyard view with plenty of windows and is open to the Family Room with the use of a five foot wide staircase with a second staircase the same width beside it, leading up to a large landing on the second floor creating an open visual concept illusion of ten feet or so. Difficult to describe in words, but IMHO basically the best of two worlds as so many people comment how spacious and open the home is, even though it has separate rooms. To conclude; to answer your question ‘why people may congregate in the kitchen’; from experience it is because the hostess is there reason why when having cocktail, dinner parties etc. my rule was to have everything prepared in advance so I could join and mingle with my guests and might only request helping hands when it came to serving it …. ☺.

    • Jackie, I have an open concept kitchen, eating area, family room and a separate library and a living room open to the dining room. People would congregate in the kitchen area until I started putting food in the dining room. Then they started using the whole downstairs! I too would have the food ready prior to guests arrival. But, I think a lot of it is because my living room and dining room are formal and people are afraid to eat food and drink because they might spill. I feel this is a hazard of entertaining and if I am unwilling to have spills, I should not have guests. As the hostess, I find if I am not in the kitchen area people will mingle thru out the whole of the downstairs.

  5. I have an open plan and I don’t like it. I worry about cooking smells impregnating my sofa, a husband that stands in the way in the kitchen area because he can eat lunch and watch TV at the same time. Not to mention the Rugby games, Motor racing etc on the TV while I do my kitchen duties. I long for the solitude of a separate kitchen. One that is a real kitchen for cooking and making a mess without the worry of it not looking esthetically part of the living room! boy that felt good to admit that after secretly thinking it for years.

    • My heart goes out Jill. Panicked at the thought of my husband’s need for daytime TV news, etc., I am secretly planning a redo of his study before for his retirement in two years. God forbid a TV view, or noise obstruction in our open plan.

  6. I vote for a more traditional home of rooms but would consider a few open spaces. Yep, I am sitting on that fence rail and it isn’t comfortable! Our kitchen and breakfast/TV area is more of an open concept while the rest of the house is more separated. I too like a distinct entry hall which sets the tone of the house. The window treatment there tells you that you’re in for a house full of color and that happy people live there.

    The living room has pale butter walls and a few floral pieces and some solid/stripe ones that relate to the blue & red damask in the hall. The dining room has floral wallpaper which relates to both and no, it didn’t all come out of the same wallpaper book! I’ve spent years creating this beautiful hodgepodge! I am not a fan of neutrals and never wear any clothing in the brown/beige family; I knew I had found Mr Right when he told me his favorite suit colorway was navy pinstripe if he couldn’t wear his tuxedo!

    I think the one thing about open concept houses which annoys me the most is losing a formal dining room. Sometimes you’re in a hurry and want to catch a bite at the breakfast bar or table and that’s OK; but I would miss my dining room so much. And I would miss all my pretty “formal” china and crystal because if you don’t have that beautiful and special space what are you going to do with your china and crystal??!!!

    Oh well; call me an old fogey fuddy-duddy, I’m keeping my house full of small pokey tooms!

    Karen in Cincinnati

  7. I’ve had two new homes and a vacation condo that utilized open concept. There are a lot of benefits and I think it’s here to stay because people live more casually now and with increased urbanization and a aging population we are moving to smaller square footage homes. The key is balance and the ability to define spaces. I’ve seen better examples in new builds and a lot of bad ones in renovations. I just saw a lottery home on the morning news with two story vaults and although it was very impressive, it’s not my idea of a personal space and I think it’s more trendy.

  8. I just lived through this very issue! My husband and I tried and failed for two years to build a house! That sounds crazy but with each open floor plan design, there were two of them, the costs farrrrrr exceeded our budget. I was left crying! We decided we couldn’t afford to build. Thankfully we ran across a house for sale in a wonderful neighborhood and bought it. It’s a bit of an open concept and a bit traditional! I love it. There is still the big great room and dining area, but the kitchen is a separate room with its own breakfast nook and fireplace. I love being able to walk out of the kitchen while entertaining and join everyone in the great room without thinking about the mess! We found out that we “live” mostly in the kitchen area….the heart of th home. It’s cozy and bright and this morning very warm next to the fireplace in a pair of beautiful chairs I chose for this room! We are so glad we didn’t build an entirely open concept house.

  9. I built an open concept house in 2014 and yes, pros and cons. I absolutely love the cross breeze and light when all the windows are open. It feels like more of a porch than a house! But when you have three kids and a puppy, there is no where to hide. We are lucky to have a second floor game room where we send the kids when things get to crazy or I would have sold my house already. My house also almost always looks messy! A few things around the kitchen and the whole space is a wreck. But I’ll take my open home vs an 80s home. I think the homes of the 20s and 30s had it right. Center hall colonials for the win!

  10. Nay I say! I like a kitchen /family room open to each other but that’s it. I prefer to have separate rooms for so many reasons: color variations, creating different atmospheres and moods. I prefer cozy, human scale spaces to overly large wide open ones..also much prefer classic architectural proportions.

  11. I am not an open concept fan. I like rooms, lots of them. More decorating
    opportunities. I like sun rooms and plant rooms and music rooms etc.. The only time I like the aesthetic of open concept is in a very very modern house, one with large amounts of glass and concrete. But I would NOT want to actually live in one- too cold.

  12. I was talked into taking out my peninsula and over hang cabinet that divided our den and kitchen. Miss it everyday. The two rooms just always look messy.

  13. I agree with the combination or rooms and/or room with large openings to rooms – especially with kitchen and family room. The house must flow but having wall space is a big deal these days.

  14. I like semi open floor plan . I don’t like seeing (my) messy kitchen or my stove from living room . I like dining rooms with bookshelves … etc . I still like hallways etc .
    Sometimes you HAVE to make things work as they are … Lucky you if you don’t . I still like indivuated spaces .

  15. IF square footage is not a problem then I agree with Eddie and Laurel Bern (above) since I prefer separate rooms myself thus would have to say ‘nay’ to an open concept design. That said; to each their own though. -Brenda-

  16. So fascinating and polarising too! I think that the context makes a big difference – relaxed beach house with awesome view and lots of glass…open plan is going to work better than it might somewhere else. Having said that, I like human scale spaces with flow and places to escape to. So I guess that’s in the middle of two extremes….semi-open plan please!

  17. This is SO interesting! The open concept has been THE go-to way to design for so long now…and I have never liked it. Having had a very traditional, 1923 house for twenty-five years (reminiscent of Eddie’s Edgewood Hall..) we were very very hesitant when moving south to a more planned community. We looked at open space houses and right away discarded each and every one. Our house now has, once again, real rooms! The kitchen is lovely and bright and big, but it’s the kitchen! And the living room is just that. And the front hallway serves a real purpose. I am so glad others see the value in the more traditional layout!!!

  18. Talk about open concept, what about the “tiny house!” There is an extreme which illustrates togetherness to the point of madness, when occupied by a family, or even a couple. Early man lived in caves that were open, but I’ll bet even they were happy to find a cave with a few private dens. Thank you for the post.

  19. You have to really figure out who YOU are and what environment you want to create. Just moved into 6th home that we own and had temporary living and rental apartments too. Normally there are 5-6 people living in our space along with 2 cats. We are more quiet people so do not entertain often. We rarely have the TV on during the day (we did not own one for 7 years) and the kids are media restricted so not much of that noise. We like a cozy feeling and communal type living. All we need is a home with just one living and eating area hopefully combined and an office area away from the common area for the adults. The kids had toys in bedroom and living/dining area and practice their instruments in our common area or bedroom (whichever they prefer). I like being able to connect with people while cooking (we eat dinner out maybe 2 times a month). We will soon reno this kitchen but walls and doorways stay put – I can see into the living or dining area if I try and that works. Our last two homes were from the 1920’s and they had the living and eating areas open next to each other or in the same room. The kitchens were somewhat closed and I wished they were open more. My kitchens almost always have different paint and we transition at the end of the cabinets/appliances if open concept. FYI Rounded corners. In victorian homes you find it as well (and oval / circle rooms too). *Nice article Maria!*

    • OH- forgot to say I like a well defined entryway with good sight lines to other inviting areas of the home. Flooring different, pretty mirror and entry table, nice lighting, good closet.

  20. Reading this article makes me happy because I feel the same about having separate rooms vs one big open living space. I have a living room adjoining a dining room but a wall between the kitchen, dining room and living room. My kitchen already adjoins the open family room. ( I am a living room gal, not a TV room gal BTW). My husband and all friends ask, are you going to remove that wall when you remodel your kitchen? I hesitate to say yes because my living room is my sanctuary. It is the “pretty room” where I sit and relax and look out the window. It’s quiet. I read in there, sip wine in there, spend Christmas day in there. If I open it all up, the kitchen becomes joined to the living room, dirty dishes and et al and it no longer is a sanctuary and special. And, decorating options change with it. I vote for keeping the living room separate.

  21. Nice, thought provoking article. I don’t know if open concept is in or going out, but I have it and I love it! Don’t get me wrong. I love old houses. Lived in a house built in 1924, 1927, and before that an older Victorian. However, after living in them for over 30 years, my husband wanted a newer house. His favorite quote regarding old houses is, “The only thing that works in an old house is the owner.” So, here I am with an open concept house. My kitchen isn’t the first thing you see from the front door, so that’s good. My dining room is slightly off to the side, so not completely open. But I love that when I am in the kitchen, (which is where I am a lot, even though I would rather be anywhere else), I get to be in the middle of things. When I am in the kitchen, my husband’s office is nearby, the living room is right there, and the four-season room is a few steps away. I love the big, two story windows in the open concept–my favorite thing. At first it was the only thing I liked, since I truly am an old-house person. But open concept has really worn on me. After 30 years of my family being in all the other rooms, I finally get to be where they are.

  22. Open space home vs separate rooms seems to be a matter of the heart like so many other design options. I see the open plan as evolutionary as in, once gone there we can’t go back to the separate closed off rooms. But after reading this article it is evident that this designer loves his separate rooms and what it means to him for his decorating style. I have always loved 3 things in design: Open spaces, Lots of light, and a clean minimalist look. To achieve this I chose the open plan and even planned it so that I can see into my 2 bedrooms and all the way to the back and sides of the house from my open space. That is just how much I don’t like closed off rooms. By being able to see far and wide in my home I can enjoy the different light as it moves across the day. I am sure this concept isn’t for everyone. Just wanted to share my ideas on this.

  23. One of my favorite books from design school is called, “A Pattern Language,” (several co-authors) and it breaks down the design of any space from the macro to the micro… from the city to the sitting room! It connects a space to the human that occupies it. While it can come across as pretty analytical, I think the principals it communicates are universal… spaces deserve definition and purpose. We control design elements to create feeling (ie. lines for formality vs. informality; heights for intimacy vs. openness, etc.). Open spaces appeal to our evolving insta-visual lifestyles, but I’m not sure they really fulfill our human needs for connection, contemplation or the many other tasks and occupations that happen in the home. With all that said, I think today’s home deserves both because we need both. We need privacy, we need publicity… we need group hugs and one-on-one friends in conversation to lean on. Each deserves a unique space.

  24. I love having rooms we can close off. Our home has a few open concept rooms.. We have a kitchen /playroom combo ,with doors to close them off from the rest of the house. And our living room is open to our upstairs loft. With kids in the house or even when entertaining it’s so nice to be able to cut down on the noise levels from room to room.

  25. I continually have this discussion in my head! Separate rooms lend themselves to beautiful decorating opportunities for those with the desire to use them. Open concept lends itself well to the less formal lifestyle many of us enjoy.
    We recently bought and gut renovated a home built in 1880. It had lovely, human-scale proportions and large, very differentiated rooms. We came to a good compromise for us, which was to leave some rooms completely seperate (den, office, entryway) and to semi-open up several rooms to each other (kitchen, dining, living) by removing doors and adding cased openings. It was fun to go a little bolder with the decor of the “closed’ rooms. It’s also sometimes nice to shut a door on the TV noise. In the more open rooms, the cased openings define the different areas yet allow me to chat with my young kids while they are doing homework at the table or playing in the living room while I cook (I am in the kitchen A LOT). Obviously there are pros and cons to each style, so it really just depends on one’s priorities.

  26. I loved reading this article.
    I do a lot of renovations and remodeling working with investors and not once have I recommended a full blown out open concept plan on homes built in the 50’s and all the way to the 80’s we have been working on.
    Open concept works well on certain homes and it’s a disaster on others.
    So when redoing older homes we have opted for a combination of both. And that has worked really well for my clients. Those types of homes have sold in stellar time, at over asking and the feedback we have gotten has been amazing.

  27. What to do, what to do?

    We built an open floor plan ranch 2 years ago & my answer would be a resounding nay! Two years & the interior is still not painted because my husband & I can’t agree on the way to paint it. I say paint the living room, dining room, kitchen & hallways all the same color & use different colors to decorate each room. Bringing the colors from the other rooms into each room. He thinks each room should be a different color & it’s OK to just a draw a line to break up the rooms. I can’t tell you how much I hate the thought of 2 colors in the middle of a room butting up against each other. There’s not even a break to separate the kitchen from the dining room & foyer! And, as you said, with an open floor plan you typically don’t have as much room in the kitchen for cabinets. I would have loved to do some upper shelves in my kitchen, but wouldn’t have had enough cabinets. I’ve actually thought about selling it & starting over. We won’t because I’m not going to let a house defeat me & I’d probably be divorced for even suggesting it, but I’ve definitely thought about it. 🙂 One other reason I’m against open floor plans is when hosting a dinner, the kitchen tends to get messy. With an open floor plan you can’t hide it. Your guests see it the minute they walk in the door. Ugh! Meh, maybe the next one.

  28. Open concept came into my life very early in the trend. ‘Y family room and kitchen were one big room and that was 20 years ago. I almost lost my mind with the lack of peace I now had when cooking. With the tv in the same room as me and my food prep (and honking long winters) my brain went on overdrive. I ended up retreating into a world of earphones, earbuds and finally a Bluetooth device while I cook. My next house needs walls. I think the human brain and soul needs boundaries and walls accomplish that in a vital and satisfying way.

  29. What I think is so interesting is the similarity between “open concept” homes and primitive dwellings in which the kitchen, living, and dining rooms were all in one space, with sleeping quarters tucked away upstairs. You see this home style for instance with the early American settlers. Isn’t it funny that we’ve sort of come full-circle? And what are the societal and lifestyle reasons behind separating rooms based on function- which must have been a natural evolution. My personal preference is for a less-open floorpan, and rooms with distinct functions, for all the reasons already discussed in the comments here.