It's time to reconsider the open concept kitchen and living room made popular on HGTV's Fixer Upper.
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Open concept kitchen
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In the home design business, it's HGTV's world, and we're just living in it. Joanna Gaines showed us shiplap a handful of times and suddenly everyone is scrambling to cover their walls in wooden boards. Flip or Flop's Tarek and Christina demonstrated that even the shabbiest of renovated houses can have a spa bathroom, and now it's spa bathrooms for everyone! The Property Brothers painted everything gray…and now 50 shades of it are all we can choose from to paint our homes.

But the thing that most of HGTV's shows have in common—and I'm a pretty good source on this because I've watched a lot of them—is a fixation with open floor plans. It borders on idol worship. Spend 30 minutes in front of one of the network's renovation shows, and you'll soon decide that open is the only way to live. If there's a wall in the way of the kitchen-to-family-room sightline,  the potential homeowner will ask to knock it down. For many of us HGTV binge-watchers, our dream home has become whatever place has the fewest, well, walls.

These shows rarely mention the higher construction costs of open plan homes, which usually depend on expensive, strategically-placed beams for support. Nor do they mention the higher heating and cooling bills that come with giant spaces and high ceilings.

And so, while I realize I may be swimming upstream by admitting this, I'm just going to say it: Living in an open concept apartment with my husband for the last three years has given me a different perspective on this. If I was standing in front of Joanna Gaines, blinking in the TV camera lights? "Excuse me, Jo," I'd say, enamored with her perfect chambray shirt and jeans combo with Hari Mari sandals. "I'm not so sure about this whole open concept thing. Could we get some more walls?"

While I see the value in the sense of family togetherness open floor plans can inspire, I just don't think they're right for everyone. Here's why:

1 Open floor plans only feel big when the space is empty.

It's natural to want to fill your place with stuff—and unless you're a hardcore minimalist (teach me your ways!), you're going to do just that, walls or not. Furniture and basic decorations are one thing, but once you start adding in the normal trappings of daily life—coatracks and overstuffed storage chests and the occasional stack of papers—the space begins to feel tight. In an open concept situation, that tightness isn't just in one room—it's in every space of your home.

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2 When spaces meant for different functions overlap, there's a lot of potential to get messy.

Only in an open concept can the remains of your adventures in homemade pasta sauce so easily find their way from your kitchen counter to the entryway or directly onto your throw pillows. And, yes, I speak from experience. I look forward to a day when I can cut tomatoes without wishing that I had some sort of protective plastic shield separating my food prep area from the couch.

3 There's nothing wrong with a little privacy.

When one person is watching TV in the family room, and another is listening to a podcast while they do the dishes, it's all actually happening in the same room. To accomplish tasks that require a little extra quiet, you're forced to close yourself into a bedroom. Wouldn't it be cool to live in a space where you could be just a room (and a wall) away from someone while still making calls or doing work? Open floor plans necessitate extremes. You're forced to be either extremely together or extremely apart.

4 There are unique design challenges that come with big, multi-functional spaces.

I'm no Joanna Gaines, so when I looked at our hybrid kitchen/living room/dining room/entry space for the first time three years ago, I couldn't figure out how to decorate the area in a unified way. Since all of the design elements needed to tie together, it was challenging to inject the space with character. The dining room table I really wanted wasn't a good visual match with the couch my husband and I agreed on. So we ended up buying pieces that were the second choice for both of us. I think individual rooms would make a greater impact because each one could be designed with more specificity. (Either that or we all need Jo on call at all times and an endless furniture budget.)

5 Open concepts can be overstimulating.

Maybe this is only because I'm very neat, but if I'm trying to relax on the couch and watch a movie and a stack of dirty dishes or pile of magazines on the dining room table catches my eye, I suddenly need to get up and do something. Overlapping living spaces make it slightly harder to just be.

 

A home is a very personal thing, and I certainly respect every person's decision when it comes to the space that works best for their life and family. But we might expand beyond what's trendy by HGTV's standards. Nothing is perfect—not even an open living room, kitchen, and dining room space featuring shiplap and gray paint…with a luxury bathroom around the corner.