The Subtle Tyranny of the Open Plan



Since open floor plan residential designs have become increasingly popular, many of our clients are finding that these wide-open interior spaces are demanding much more energy to manage and maintain than their unassuming simplicity promised at first sight.

Open floor plan designs require extra effort in the planning stage in order to work effortlessly–especially today when we’re in the home so much.

As an interior designer I pride myself on being able to make any space I am handed better than it was when I got there. Sometimes determining what is better can be a matter of opinion. To me what is most important is a space that allows for comfort and beauty without losing storage for the stuff of life (TVs, technology, cleaning supplies, food, art and craft supplies, linens and serving pieces to name a few).

Open plans can wreak havoc on all three of those.  


When it comes to comfort, I find that an open plan takes a significant amount of work to arrive at the destination. Open floor plans require more thought in the layout to make sure that everyone can sit together with a clear view to outside (provided there is a compelling view). It is also a challenge to provide ample comfortable seating at any of the experiential and entertainment opportunities in the room, such as a fireplace, TV or music wall. When these compete, there is nothing that kills a beautiful view more than placing a sectional with its back to the view in favor of the TV. That arrangement works for a family to gather in the evenings to enjoy a movie or sporting event, but does not ideally accommodate drop-by guests or even easy breezy sitting during a party. 

Sectionals are great for family rooms–much more than living rooms.  So, if you have walls in your home that delineate a family room, then you’re set! You can have a comfortable and beautiful sectional apart from your living spaces, and if the socks are still on the floor after last night’s movie marathon, you’re none the wiser the next morning because you didn’t have to see it first thing when you awoke. Plus, you’re too busy enjoying coffee in your sun room looking out at your pool or blooming landscape. 

Especially now, I long for the days that included a bit of separation in spaces. A dining room used for dinner every night with the family rather than being saved for “special occasions” is a wonderful way to end the day and re-engage with the folks you live with in a lovely peaceful backdrop without simultaneously peering over their shoulders only to view the disarray and detritus of the dinner prep. For that you need walls!

You also need walls on a kitchen if you want to be able to keep the smells of the kitchen out of the upholstery. I am a huge fan of a large lovely breakfast area in a kitchen that can be leisurely enough to seat all in a pinch and comfortable enough to linger, but with a door (swinging door preferably) that keeps the rest of the house separate. What better place to talk to your SO about holiday surprises for the kids, or to have a private conversation about expenses, or even just a place to sit and look through cookbooks and check ingredients without having to simultaneously listen to cable news or football or watch the kids play Animal Crossing! With walls, the food gets made, the smells remain in the kitchen, and you eat in peace.


I do appreciate the high impact beauty of a sweeping view through a home, when you can see from the front door to the beach or mountains, or simply out to the back yard or pool. That beautiful view can be accomplished without giving away all of your privacy.

Tom Scheerer

Why not have doors off a long, lovely, wide hallway open to let each room reveal itself? A sitting room at the front of the home with a view of the garden can connect to a cozy library–the best place to read and check email. A quiet Master Bedroom provides a refuge from the tasks of the household. No matter the design aesthetic, these destinations, courtesy of walls, provide unique opportunities to experience the beauty of the home.

I cannot say enough about the beauty of walls, and doors for that matter. They can be tall and wide or pocket or glass or bi-fold but consider them a gift. They provide the luxury of privacy and selecting serenity. 


Walls also give us opportunities for built-in storage–the systems that help keep a home functioning. Storage systems help keep the home tidy, offer fun activities–such as games and sporting equipment, and provide comfort to all storing linens, seasonal decor and serving pieces. It is great to have a place for everything and everything in its place.

Photo: Andrea Calo / Mudroom / Cat Mountain Project Amity Worrel & Co.

If you plan your home with lots of great storage in mud rooms and laundries and back halls or sculleries, you can much more easily keep your house tidy. Not to mention, walls give you an opportunity for art!

So if you really do live with a wonderful view, and you feel that you need to see if from every area of the home, settle into the idea that for the true function and comfort to be addressed, it will just take a lot of design, thought and care. But, fear not, it can be done!

(Top photo: Patrick Salisbury / via Lee Ledbetter & Associates)


open plan, remodeling, walls