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A modern open floor plan. Image source: Webb & Brown-Neaves

Turn on any home-design TV show and you’ll repeatedly hear the words “open concept.” Tearing down walls to create open floor plans for the living, dining and kitchen area is what open-concept design is all about.

For some, separate rooms still hold their charm. But many homeowners today are taking a sledgehammer to their traditional floor plans so they can enjoy cooking, eating and movie watching all in one space.

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Sleek and urban open floor plan. Image source: Stocker Hoesterey Montenegro

What Started This Trend

Decades ago, homes were built with the notion that every room has a distinct function. You cook in a kitchen, so it was a separate room — often with a door. Dining rooms were formal. Living rooms were for entertaining or relaxing, and were set apart from the kitchen.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, homebuilders saw the open living plan as a way to efficiently design a home using less square footage. Ranch and split-level homes became very popular.

Today, architecture and interior design still take their cues from economic considerations, but they also are influenced by cultural norms and a desire for convenience (multitasking, anyone?).

We have blurred gender roles; both parents simultaneously share cooking and child-care responsibilities. And we live in a tech- and media-driven world in which catching up on the day’s news during dinner is not only acceptable, but expected.

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An open floor plan allows for maximum light in a space. Image source: Markel Design Group

Benefits of Open Floor Plans

Open-concept living is a favorite for many reasons. First, it can make even the smallest space feel bigger and brighter. A small apartment with a tiny, windowless kitchen off the living room can be transformed into a light-filled space by replacing the wall with an island or table.

Entertaining is a breeze with an open-flow kitchen and living area. You can chat with your guests while you cook. Kitchen islands or tables that are typically used as room demarcations become a focal point for food and drinks.

A large “great room” is great for keeping an eye on your little ones, too. You can efficiently cook dinner or accomplish other household tasks while interacting with your kids. Placing a desk and computer against a wall or the back of the sofa makes the room even more multifunctional.

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Open floor plans offer easier conversation but little privacy. Image source: Dyer Grimes Architecture

Challenges of Open Floor Plans

As much as we rave about the space, light and flow that a large, open room gives us, there are certainly some challenges. Obviously, some privacy is lost when you tear down walls and join everything together. Talking on the phone in the kitchen while your kids are watching TV could be difficult.

Losing wall space for your photos and artwork is another good reason to keep a wall intact. Fewer walls also means fewer electrical outlets; concealing wires in a large, open space can be tricky.

Finally, if you hate seeing a mess, open-concept living might not be for you, unless you live alone or have roommates who are also neat freaks. Toy chaos or messy kitchens are easily seen in open floor plans. Staying tidy, or at least having proper storage, is key for open-concept living.

Design Tips for Open Floor Plans

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Define spaces with furniture, rugs and lighting. Image source: Parkwood Homes

Use Furnishings and Lighting to Define Areas

Carve out separate functional spaces using furniture. For example, place a sofa backed with a console table outside the kitchen to delineate the start of the living room. Further define the living room by placing a rug in the center of that space.

Lighting also helps to define different parts of a room. Anchor a dining table with a chandelier, or place a large ceiling fan in the center of the living space.

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Keep your design style similar throughout the space. Image source: Klopf Architecture

Maintain Design Continuity

It may sound obvious, but maintaining an aesthetic flow throughout an open-concept living space is paramount. Fundamental design features such as flooring and recessed lighting should be consistent.

Color palettes in different spaces should complement one another. Add layers of texture and different hues for highlights and accents.

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Each area should have a statement element. Image source: Keesee Homeplans

Create a Feature in Each Area

Creating a standout design feature in each area will not only help to define each space but also make your room shine. For example, you might try a gallery wall in the dining room.

Hang an oversized chandelier in the living area, or use zebra wood for the base of your white kitchen island. Have fun and give each functional space a complementary personality.

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Keep your views unobstructed. Image source: P2 Design

Keep the Space Open

Allowing open views from each area to the next is key in open floor plans. Be stylish but strategic with placement; don’t clutter the sight lines with tall bookcases or inappropriately large furniture or accessories.

For example, an arch lamp over the sofa that blocks the view of the kitchen wouldn’t allow for a free flow of conversation. Also be sure to keep windows and natural light unobstructed.

Open floor plans certainly have their drawbacks, but the efficient use of space, multifunctional elements and brighter living areas make them a popular choice for today’s homeowners. What’s your preference? Do you think a great room is a great way to go, or do you like your walls and privacy?