it’s not about style! 01/2014

Striking the right balance between an Open Floor Plan and Traditional Rooms



The Open Floor Plan, where traditional boundaries of kitchen, dining and living rooms are blurred, has been a popular theme in house design since the Second World War. But understanding how open a house should be and how the different uses should relate is more difficult to get right. Part of the answer is individual preference for how we want to live, but since our homes serve us for many years, it’s important to make a house that can adapt to life’s changes. A great design supports our daily routines, ranging from preparing an intimate dinner for two to a party for thirty, and also facilitates the changing seasons of our lives. It’s hard to predict change, but we know change will come and our home designs should adapt and support us through the journey.


Relationships Matter: We often think of the importance of getting the kitchen triangle of sink, refrigerator and stove right. A bigger picture triangle exists between the living, dining and kitchen. The three can be lined up in a row, kitchen-dining-living but modern lifestyles are not linear. It’s effective to break up the row and arrange the functions more organically. For example, the kitchen and dining can occupy one end and the living room the other, as in the illustration above.


How Open? We all agree on the importance for having privacy for bedrooms, bathrooms and studies, as well as building a buffer between these “quiet” rooms and the “common” areas of the house. Other spaces in the home are more open to debate. The secret is to understand the different activities that take place and what acoustic separation is needed.


The Open Kitchen: Traditionally, kitchens were located behind closed doors. Now, even in some restaurants, the best seat in the house is an informal table the chef sets up in the middle of the kitchen. We’ve taken this approach for some of our work, but this is not for everyone. A variation on this theme is to have sliding doors so the kitchen can be closed off during the meal, and a messy kitchen hidden away.


Is the Dining Room Extinct? For many, the dining room is rarely used as intended and the primary use winds up being for piling mail on the table. To get more use, dining can be integrated into the flow of the home and designed to be attractive for a range of uses. In George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, not only did he dispense with the dining room, but the dining room table as well. For dinner parties a simple plank of wood was set up on saw horses and then draped with an elegant table cloth. When after dinner dancing commenced, the plank of wood was removed!


By Colin Flavin AIA, January, 2014