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- Open Floor Plans: Is This Design Right for You?
Open Floor Plans: Is This Design Right for You?
Before you knock down walls and make the switch to an open floor plan, here are a few things to take into consideration.
Postwar bungalows and midcentury ranches fill much of the prime downtown residential areas in Huntsville, AL, a thriving city of 350,000 people. The housing market hasn’t taken the hit that many other cities have experienced, and Huntsville Realtor Amanda Power of Keller Williams Realty says the high-value locations of these older homes make them prime candidates for modern renovations. In addition to remodeling bathrooms and refinishing hardwood floors, many homeowners in Huntsville are opening up their homes—formerly compartmentalized spaces.
Having an open mind about open floor plans is paying off for these renovation-minded homeowners, according to Power. “Open floor plans absolutely sell better,” she says. “They fit in with today’s family life, but they also make the renovations seem bigger and more up-to-date.”
But while free-flowing floor plans may be hot, they’re not right for everyone. So how can you know if opening up your space will work for you? Here are some guidelines.
Consider Your Home’s Structure
First, consider what “open floor plan” means and that different homeowners have different definitions. “There are different types of open spaces,” says Peggy Hlobil-Emmenegger, principal at UCArchitect in Toronto. “For example, one may open up an entire floor so the space flows horizontally, or one may open up the entire house through interconnected spaces so the space flows vertically.”
An open design can be incorporated into any existing home with varied results, dependent on the size of the house, number of stories, structural integrity of the outer shell, location of plumbing and ductwork, and existing structural supports. It’s always critical to talk to a structural engineer before you begin an open-space renovation, but if you’re working on a home built before 1980 or so, it’s especially important. “Older houses are structurally set up for divided spaces,” says Seattle-based architect Milan Heger. Because of issues with floor and ceiling joist lengths in older homes, he says, it can be very costly to open up some historic homes’ interiors. “Any renovation that starts with divided spaces and intends to create open spaces is tricky and by all means requires a structural engineer,” he says. “No one should take it upon themselves to take out structural walls without a structural engineer involved. The seismic strength and lateral stability of the building is essential to protect the people inside.”
Another practical consideration when thinking about opening up your floor plan is the placement of spaces like bathrooms and stairwells. Brenda Be, principal of beTM Interior Design in Boston, says that if these rooms are located in the central area of your floor plan, you may be looking at a major expense to move them. “It’s still possible to open up the space more, however,” she says. “You can have a very open space with a closed central core, which can have aesthetic benefits at times over a completely open space.” Be adds that partially opened spaces, like an open kitchen–dining room–living room combination, may work better for many people. “This is as popular as ever, and with good reason—it really makes spaces seem larger and more pleasant,” she says. Partially opened spaces are less of a burden structurally and fit into more people’s lifestyles, which can mean you have more resale appeal
Be Realistic about Your Lifestyle
Homeowners should think critically and honestly about how they live in their space, says Arlene Lord, principal at Mosaik Design in Portland, OR. During the many renovations in which she has opened up living spaces, Lord learned what the most common potential pitfalls are with these boundary-free floor plans. “Unless you live alone, you really have to ask yourself, ‘Am I okay with sharing this space?’” she says. “Imagine somebody’s clanging pots and pans in the kitchen while someone else is trying to watch something on one TV and maybe a child is trying to watch something on another TV. Those are big considerations to think about.”
Another consideration is that your old furniture might not work in the new space. When designing spaces, Lord works with clients to make sure they have the right furniture for the new look and feel of their home.
And if you have children, consider that your space will now be their space and vice-versa. Kricken Yaker, a partner at Vanillawood, a Portland, OR–based design-build firm, creates open floor plan spaces for many clients. A mother herself, she understands the need to come up with a space that works for the whole family. “Especially when you have younger children, you can still capture some sort of space within the house that is kind of the flop room,” she says, noting that half-walls, screens, and sliding wall barriers can be a good middle ground for families who love to be together but who still occasionally need to have separate spaces.
Designers say solutions like these will usually work for homeowners who want to live in open-space floor plans. “Most of today’s existing homes have an outdated layout with wasted spaces such as narrow hallways, cramped rooms, and unused guest bedrooms that don’t at all reflect today’s changes in lifestyle or our society,” says Hlobil-Emmenegger. “More and more people are starting to realize this and are looking for home designs that reflect their uniqueness.”
If you think opening up your home from the inside out will work for you, here are some tips to help smooth the transition to a less constrained house plan.
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