Turn on any home-design TV show and you'll repeatedly hear the words "open concept." Tearing down walls to create open floor plans for the living, dining and kitchen area is what open-concept design is all about.
For some, separate rooms still hold their charm. But many homeowners today are taking a sledgehammer to their traditional floor plans so they can enjoy cooking, eating and movie watching all in one space.
Decades ago, homes were built with the notion that every room has a distinct function. You cook in a kitchen, so it was a separate room - often with a door. Dining rooms were formal. Living rooms were for entertaining or relaxing, and were set apart from the kitchen. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, homebuilders saw the open living plan as a way to efficiently design a home using less square footage. Ranch and split-level homes became very popular. Today, architecture and interior design still take their cues from economic considerations, but they also are influenced by cultural norms and a desire for convenience (multitasking, anyone?). We have blurred gender roles; both parents simultaneously share cooking and child-care responsibilities. And we live in a tech- and media-driven world in which catching up on the day's news during dinner is not only acceptable, but expected.
Open-concept living is a favorite for many reasons. First, it can make even the smallest space feel bigger and brighter. A small apartment with a tiny, windowless kitchen off the living room can be transformed into a light-filled space by replacing the wall with an island or table. Entertaining is a breeze with an open-flow kitchen and living area. You can chat with your guests while you cook. Kitchen islands or tables that are typically used as room demarcations become a focal point for food and drinks. A large "great room" is great for keeping an eye on your little ones, too. You can efficiently cook dinner or accomplish other household tasks while interacting with your kids. Placing a desk and computer against a wall or the back of the sofa makes the room even more multifunctional.
As much as we rave about the space, light and flow that a large, open room gives us, there are certainly some challenges. Obviously, some privacy is lost when you tear down walls and join everything together. Talking on the phone in the kitchen while your kids are watching TV could be difficult. Losing wall space for your photos and artwork is another good reason to keep a wall intact. Fewer walls also means fewer electrical outlets; concealing wires in a large, open space can be tricky. Finally, if you hate seeing a mess, open-concept living might not be for you, unless you live alone or have roommates who are also neat freaks. Toy chaos or messy kitchens are easily seen in open floor plans. Staying tidy, or at least having proper storage, is key for open-concept living.
It may sound obvious, but maintaining an aesthetic flow throughout an open-concept living space is paramount. Fundamental design features such as flooring and recessed lighting should be consistent. Color palettes in different spaces should complement one another. Add layers of texture and different hues for highlights and accents.