It's time to reconsider the open concept kitchen and living room made popular on HGTV's Fixer Upper.
When it comes to the business of home design, it’s HGTV’s world and we’re just living in it—at least, as far as I can tell. 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 we all want spa bathrooms. The Property Brothers painted everything gray…and gray has since become the ultimate neutral.
The one thing I’ve found 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, sometimes more than once—is a fixation with open floor plans. It borders on idol worship. Spend 30 minutes in front of any one of the network’s renovation shows and you’ll be convinced that you’re only living if you’re living open. If there’s a wall in the way of the kitchen-to-family-room sightline, you can bet that a potential homeowner will ask if they can knock it down. For many of us—and especially those of us who are guilty of binge-watching HGTV—our dream home has become whatever place has the fewest, well, walls.
Living in an open concept apartment with my husband for the last three years has given me a different perspective on this. Picture me nervously waving to Joanna Gaines. “Excuse me, Jo?” I say, enamored of 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?”
That’s right. What do I dream of in our next home? Walls. I dream of 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:
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 whether your space has walls or not. Furniture and basic decorations are one thing, of course, but once you start adding in the totally normal trappings of daily life—coatracks and overstuffed storage chests and the occasional stack of papers—things begin to feel tight. In an open concept situation, that tightness isn’t just in one room—it’s in every space of your home.
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 entry way or directly onto your throw pillows. And, yes, I speak from experience on this one. 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.
There’s nothing wrong with a little privacy.
When one person is watching TV in the family room and another person is trying to listen to a podcast while they do the dishes but it’s all actually happening in the same room, you’re almost forced to close yourself into a bedroom in order to accomplish tasks that require a little extra quiet. 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.
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 way that would feel unified. Because everything needed to tie together, I realized it would be more challenging to inject the space with character. The kind of dining room table that I really wanted wouldn’t be a good visual match with the kind of couch that my husband and I could agree on, so we ended up buying pieces that were the second choice for both of us. With a little more division, I think the 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.)
Open concepts can be overstimulating.
Maybe this is only because I’m a very neat, but if I’m trying to relax on the couch and watch a movie and a stack of dirty dishes or stack of magazines on the dining room table catches my eye, I suddenly feel the need to get up and do something. I find that 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 seems to have become trendy by HGTV’s standards, because 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.