Open Floor Plans: The Strategy and Style Behind Open Concept Spaces

Open floor plans are definitely part of today’s interior design vernacular. In this article, we take a closer look at what, exactly, an open floor plan is, how open floor plans came to be (they weren’t always as desirable as they seem to be today), pros and cons of open floor plans, and styling tips for successful open floor plans.

Plan behind the open plan


Definition of a open floor plan

An open floor plan in residential terms is a floor plan that embraces large, open spaces while minimizing small, enclosed rooms. In other words, open floor plans involve at least one large, open room that connects and contains smaller areas/rooms that serve different functions. The most common open floor plan, also known as open concept, is a “great room” combining the living room, dining room, and kitchen in one shared space.{found on dowalt}.

Open floor plan and balance

As open floor plans eliminate interior barriers (e.g., doors, walls), this type of layout works well in smaller square footage homes (which are generally forced to share interior spaces anyway), although it’s also an appealing layout for larger homes as well.


History behind open floor plan

The open concept layout is relatively new to the world of residential design. Traditionally, homes were designed and built to accommodate different rooms for different functions. Each room was assigned its distinct function – the kitchen was for cooking, the dining room was for eating, and the living room was for gathering, entertaining, or relaxing – and that was that. At that time, the more rooms a home had, the more attractively functional it was. To switch functions, one traditionally had to go through a door to the room assigned to that function.

recognized the efficiency of combining spaces within a home

However, during the middle of the 1900s, builders recognized the efficiency of combining spaces within a home to decrease the required square footage. More usable space could be squeezed into the same amount of, or less, square footage when an open layout was used. Open floor plans actually began as an economical option, although they have morphed today into a preferred way of living.{found on sitamontgomeryinteriors}.

Open space living room plan

In today’s fast-paced, scattered, multi-tasking culture, the open floor plan embodies what has become the norm of life. The family can be conducting different activities but still be physically together in the same space – the father can be cooking dinner, the son can be playing with his trains, and the mother can be paying the bills all at the same time and in the same “room.” In short, open floor plans inherently provide a type of social interaction where one previously just didn’t exist.{found on p2designinc}.


Pros of open floor plans

It might come as no surprise, then, that open floor plans have become a favorite home layout among many homeowners. There are certainly benefits of this type of multi-functional space. Here are some of the benefits of an open floor plan:

Open floor plans enlarge the feeling of the space.

Farmhouse Fmaily Room open floor

While the open floor plan is, technically, multiple “rooms” within one giant room, the openness makes it feel like one airy space. Our brains don’t necessarily register the separate functions all at once; rather, when we see an open floor plan, we are likely to internalize a spacious area.

Open floor plans brighten the space.

Central Park Dining Room

Where a traditional kitchen might be a hole tucked away in a windowless corner of the home, an open concept kitchen will likely connect it to the dining and living rooms and, consequently, windows. Natural light is always a bright boost to any room…and if there’s a gorgeous view to boot, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Open floor plans increase social interaction.

Increase social interaction

Whoever is in the kitchen doing the cooking (or the post-meal cleanup) can still get the job done while interacting with everyone else in the other rooms. This helps the kitchen person to feel less like a slave and more a part of the action.

Open floor plans facilitate entertaining.

Modern meets traditional in living room

Open floor plans, with their inherent flow capacity, make entertaining both easier and more enjoyable. Guests are free to chat with each other and the cook at the same time. Visitors can serve themselves and mingle without the constraints of walls blocking the “action.”

Open floor plans improvekid-watching.

Open floor plans improvekid-watching

Let’s face it – children, especially little children – require supervision, but the tasks of day to day life (e.g., meal prep, cleaning) simply don’t allow for 100% supervision in separate rooms. An open floor plan allows people to watch their children more carefully and safely while they do their household duties. Add in a desk and/or computer to the open floor plan, and you’ve really got a savvy multifunctional space.

Open floor plans improve the efficiency of usable space.

Creating multifunctional spaces

Living rooms are all too often a waste of space, or at least they can feel that way due to lack of real use in day-to-day life. But with an open floor plan, the “great room” concept transfers some of life’s activities from the crowded kitchen countertops into the visually now-connected living room.


Cons of open floor plans

You may be wondering what could possibly be a disadvantage to an open floor plan, when there are so many benefits. It’s all a matter of perspective and lifestyle preference, of course, but there are some ways in which an open floor plan might fall short. Here are some of the potential disadvantages of an open floor plan (also known as advantages of a closed floor plan):

Open floor plans are noisy.

Open floor plans are noisy

Without the sound-absorbing capacity of smaller spaces, open floor plans tend to be noisier than closed rooms, simply because noise is coming from all over the place and bouncing all over the place. Walls can help to confine the rising noise levels.{found on mokuluahpb}.

Open floor plans inhibit privacy.

Central Park Sitting Room

It is certainly a truth that opening up multiple rooms into one brings about decreased privacy. With a household comprised of people of different ages, with different schedules and tasks, this could be a detriment. Live-in grandparents, for example, might prefer a quiet evening in the living room without the hustle and bustle of everyone else’s lives. Musical instrument practice can conflict with homework studies. If everyone needs their own space to do their own thing more often than not, an open floor plan might not be the right choice.

Open floor plans make messes harder to hide.

Big Chill - colorful appliances

While it’s one thing to have dirty dishes piled in the kitchen sink in the tiny kitchen tucked away in the back of the house, it’s quite another to have those dirty dishes visible from all over the main level. Keeping the house cleaned and picked up is certainly easier in a closed floor plan.

Open floor plans have limited wall space.

Art Nouveau Gallery texture pieces

If you love a gallery wall (or three or four) or oversized art, open floor plans make it more challenging to find wall space on which to arrange and display your belovedpieces. Or if you have a stockpile of young children’s artwork that you like to display (but not in the main living area), you might have a hard time finding an appropriate place that works for both you and the budding artist. More walls = more art display potential and options.


Maintain an open visual line between the spaces.

Open floor plan kitchen

After all, that’s the point of an open concept design, isn’t it? Of course, the amount of openness possible will depend upon your setup; this can be tricky if you’re retrofitting an open floor plan into a traditional home, because of load-bearing or support beams. But do the best you can to keep the eye-line clear throughout your open concept space; avoid low-hanging ceiling fans, chunky floor lamps that block views, and room dividers.

Define areas with lighting.

Tango lighting for modern spaces

Having appropriate lighting will go a long ways in gently dividing your open floor plans into workable areas. Over-counter pendant lighting works well in the kitchen area as out-of-the-way task lighting. A pendant or chandelier over the dining table also helps to define that space in a vertical sense. And wall sconces (where possible) or floor lamps in the living room, and a table lamp on the office table or desk will illuminate those areas distinctly and cohesively.

Define areas with furniture placement.

Furniture placement on open floor plan

Create specific smaller functions within the larger spaces of open floor plans to help the space make sense and feel downscaled. While a huge single room can feel cavernous, a huge single room that has obvious places for conversation and comfort (sofa/living area), eating and even working (dining area), and finding and preparing food (kitchen) is much more approachable and comfortable.

Define spaces with area rugs.

Traditional open space floor plan

An appropriately sized area rug is one of the keys to styling open floor plans effectively. If you were to imagine this photo without the area rug that designates the living space, the entire setup might feel a little un-inviting, overwhelming, or at the very least uncomfortable. Area rugs are a perfect way to silently indicate boundaries without infringing on visual airspace.

Use consistent styling.

Consistent styling

Because the smaller functional spaces are, in fact, sharing one larger room, the styling from function to function must remain consistent in order for the open floor plan to make sense. Far more damage would be done in a “great room” layout with different schemes and décor genres marking each space than simply having them in separate rooms to begin with.

Incorporate a focal point for each area.

Ultra feminine design for an open space

The trick with open floor plans is to treat each space as its own “room” while keeping it proportionate to and seamless within the larger space. One way to accomplish this is to give each of the functional components a focal point, while making these focal points all work together within the greater whole. This basket chandelier over the dining table, for example, plays nicely with the other earthy elements in the living room, particularly the wooden credenza/bookshelf.