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Pros and Cons of Open Concept Living

December 14, 2015  —  Written by Julia 

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I grew up in Pittsburgh in a very colonial style home where each room was its own room, and there were doorways–wide doorways, but doorways–leading into the living room and dining room and even the kitchen had its own doorway. It always felt charming and intimate to me, but I never knew anything else until I was 18 years old. Chris and I were marathoning an HGTV show the other night and, not exaggerating, every episode they tore down almost every wall to create an open concept. I get it–open concept living is pretty popular now-a-days. And, hey, we’ve been living in an open concept home for the last 2+ years. Truthfully, the layout is great for us, but I wanted to share some pros and cons today because an open concept truly might not be for everyone.

Pros and Cons to Open Concept Living | Chris Loves Julia

PROS:

It’s really great for entertaining. Having the kitchen open to the dining and living room means no host or cook husband ;) has to feel secluded while the party is going on.

You can easily keep an eye on kids. While I’m in the kitchen doing dishes, the girls can be anywhere all the way into the hall bathroom or Faye’s room and I can see and hear them. It’s wonderful.

We love it because it keeps us together as a family. Even if I’m working with Greta on her homework and Chris is cooking and Faye is playing on the rug, it feels like we’re together even if we’re in separate spaces.

Light can be borrowed from other spaces, unlike in separated rooms where if a room doesn’t have windows or adequate light, it’s dark. Period.

Pros and Cons to Open Concept Living | Chris Loves Julia

CONS:

If there is, even the smallest mess, your entire house will feel messy. Storage options, and lots of them, are absolutely necessary!

There’s no hiding dirty dishes during all of that entertaining. We have learned to wash as we go and we plan a lot of our party menus around things that can be made ahead of time specifically because we don’t want our kitchen to be a mess when guests come over.

You have to have a really tight color scheme consisting mostly of neutrals. Too many colors, or even bright colors can quickly cause a lot of visual clutter making it hard for your eyes to rest. The same color scheme has to be used throughout the open space so everything flows.

When people stop by, they are walking into your entry, living room, dining room and kitchen.

It’s really hard to photograph. (Ha!) Both of these photos feel cluttered to me because I didn’t crop them in at all and they are merging three 3D spaces into 2D photos. Objects are overlapping weirdly and there’s a lot of visual clutter going on. Even if it doesn’t always feel that way in real life, keeping things to a minimum in an open concept is a must.

Pros and Cons to Open Concept Living | Chris Loves Julia

Cropping ever so slightly does help, but I wanted to give you some real photos and input today. All in all, we adore our home and the layout and lifestyle it provides us, but it’s not for maximalists. It’s probably not for (lots of) color lovers or someone who doesn’t have the time or care to keep a house very tidy.

Do you have an open concept home? Anything to add?

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What do you think?

  1. Jill says:

    I agree!! And had the same thought when watching Fixer Upper. I am all for remodeling and updating (and generally love the show), but I feel like some of those rooms could be left to be more original and intimate – especially when it is true to the style of the house – and it has almost put me off shiplap ; )

    I am about to build and I purposely shielded the kitchen on the other side of the stairwell from the living and dining. The last thing I want to look at while I am enjoying a meal is the mess I just made! It shouldn’t feel closed off though (fingers crossed) thanks to windows, no uppers on counter side, a slider out to a screened porch on one end and wide pass throughs on the front and back of the stairwell to the living or dining (which open to each other). To buck even more trends – it isn’t a huge kitchen and there is no island. But it is way more than I have happily lived with in NYC for 10+ years!

  2. amanda says:

    I grew up a large-ish old farm house and the separate rooms were so great. It’s basically impossible to find a home with defined rooms anymore and that makes me sad. Open concept living especially when TV or loud music are involved is not that convenient.

    Our current home is two stories with all the bedrooms upstairs and open concept downstairs and it is a pretty decent compromise.

  3. Kate S. says:

    As my husband and I have renovated our home, we’ve actually closed in rooms and added doors to rooms that once flowed into one another. For so many reasons–all those you listed and others–I dislike open concept floorplans. Perhaps the most notable reason that went unmentioned, our pets, is also the most critical. When you have Border Collies smart enough to figure out how to open the oven and help themselves to dinner or open drawers to find an endless supply of tennis balls, you will quickly decide that a door on the kitchen can be a delightful thing. We also work from home, both of us, and need the privacy and separation of our respective offices to work all day long without disturbing each other when our schedules don’t quite align.

    We lived in our house for three years before we actually made move to close in rooms because we knew we would sell within the next five years and feared all the open concept loving folks out there, all of them brainwashed by HGTV (ha!), would shy away from buying an old-fashioned house. Now having made the changes, we are so much happier in our home! Whatever your taste in floorplans, make the changes you want in your home–don’t find yourself living in a monument to some other family’s hypothetical preferences.

  4. Karen says:

    We remodeled our first home and made it open concept and we really loved it. We just purchased our second home and it is the complete opposite, closed concept. I am a bit nervous about how it will work out but am also excited to decorate things like the formal dining room and sun room. I am a fellow lover of neutral colors, love your blog!

  5. Victoria says:

    Some day, I would like to buy a house with, perhaps, just the kitchen closed off. I want to plate dishes without the stress of my guests watching me at a dinner party.

  6. amy says:

    This was a great post. I also think open concept takes away wall space (obviously), but you have less room to put things like dressers/desks/benches and art! That’s the ONE thing I don’t like about our open concept.

    We knocked down a wall when we moved in because it was so impeding. It served no purpose. I’m definitely an open concept person, but I do wish we had another living area (like you guys have) for when we have children and want to have different living spaces.

  7. Eva Kellogg says:

    Its a love/hate feeling with our open concept. Its a matter of finding a way to create distinctive areas for living, dining and i donno what to call it extra space we got going in a long rectangular spaced called our first floor. Its like I am trying to decorate a space for its intended use on top of making it relate to the other areas open to it. :/
    Its definately a process to find the right scaled furniture and layout for an open concept.
    Alway happy to find stories and pictures to help me visualize what a space could be.

    • Julia says:

      When we first moved into this home, I scoured the internet until I found our “house twin” and that gave me so many good ideas. Not necessarily decorating ideas, but layout ideas. I wrote about it in this old post. It’s uncanny!

  8. Peggy says:

    My husband and I have just recently bought an open concept cabin, total 1100 sq. ft. We’re enjoying it, after having a closed concept house (2650 sq. ft.) for the last 8 years. But we loved that house for many reasons, so the closed concept didn’t really bother us. For having a really big group, the CC was good, because we didn’t all have to be together all the time.
    One thing about an OC that just occurred to me after reading this post is that when working on projects on the house, it’s a lot harder to keep things somewhat orderly. That might also be a problem of a very small house!

  9. Colleen says:

    My parents recently tried to sell their house. The giant kitchen was open to the dining room and living room (one great big room) and the large family room was just off the kitchen via a doorway. Almost every buyer said they wanted a more open concept home. Personally I always loved their house set up. Kids could play in the family room, while adults mingled in the “great room.” It’s great to be able to see the kids when they are little, but after a certain age, having the ability to separate for parties and such is a great option.

  10. Emily says:

    I was just talking to my husband about my pros and cons list of open concept. I’m hoping homes start to trend towards a happy medium and I think they will. I really want to see what the Chip and Joannas of the world do when the market demands something in between. I personally would like something more in the middle for my next house but I need the genius of people like chip and Joanna to imagine what the perfect in between is. I just don’t feel as at ease in a true open concept but I don’t want every room shut off either.

  11. Kristen P says:

    When we were looking for houses both my husband and I both thought we wanted open concept, but we couldn’t find that anywhere in our price range to where we just relocated (suburbs of Nashville). We ended up finding a house that is sort of open concept, but still has the intimate feel of separate rooms. Our dining room, entry way, kitchen and living room are all one large space, but they are separated not by doorways, but by a staircase in the middle of all of it. So really, it’s more like a giant circle (great for chasing our dog around!). I completely agree with what you said about messes. If our kitchen is dirty, or messy I feel like our entire house is a disaster. I’ve also found that things seem to trail more easily. For example, if we get the mail, it’ll land on the kitchen counter, some of it will end up on the coffee table, and then packages will end up on the dining room table. My husband makes lots of piles so I constantly feel like I’m picking up piles ALL over our house.

    Another issue I found is if we have something stinky in the trash you can smell it in the ENTIRE downstairs area. On the plus side, candles and wall plug in scents go a long way and make the whole downstairs smell wonderful.

    One last one – it seems like mess carries easier. I feel like I can never keep our floors clean. Granted, we do have a dog, but it’s so easy to walk through the entire house, so if something is tracked in on paws or feet the entire downstairs floors are dirty again.

    • Alexis says:

      OMG I can relate, I keep accusing my husband of having “piling disease” because his solution to any kind of clearing up is to gather all the items into a pile somewhere (preferably in front of or on top of a storage area – just to make it harder to put things away). The fact that these heaps of crap then have to be sorted before they can be put away doesn’t seem to bother him (probably because he’s not the one sorting them). It drives me insane!

  12. jamie says:

    I think open concept works for modern family life….I am in a wood frame bungalow and HGTV Fixer Upper is killing me. I am fantasizing about transforming my galley kitchen into a bigger kitchen that opens into some shared space. It is a massive project as it would require creating rooms on a 2nd level. But what I keep going back to is homes built 100 yrs ago didn’t have TVs or hectic schedules, as many working moms, electricity (my house was built with gas lamps).

    I love the charm but want the space to be a little more 2015!

  13. Alison G says:

    I agree with another comment, open concept does not mean it has to void of color. I too am a color person, and your rooms don’t have enough for me. Color can be done in any setting. Even lots of it if it is done right. It is a matter of preference. I have wondered why Greta is downstairs alone and away from the family? Your point about being together is a good one, except Greta being separate. If that is too nosey sorry in advance. It goes along with the open concept and being able to hear the kids though. And if she wanted to play in her room she would be so segregated. A lot of these points fit with a small house too, especially minimizing, and keeping picked up.

    • Julia says:

      Not too nosey at all. Eventually all the kids (maybe we’ll have one more? who knows.) will be in the three bedrooms downstairs. That is also where the big playroom and media room is, so we all spend a lot of time down there during the days. She seems to like it, but I’m sure she’ll love it even more when Faye joins her, probably next year.

      • Alison G says:

        As long as she likes it that is all that matters. I think she will like it when Faye is downstairs with her too. :)

  14. Erin says:

    I lived in an open concept apartment for a year and a half and hated the open concept. When we entertained, if I was in the kitchen trying to prepare anything, my guests inevitably stood at the island or sat on the sofa basically watching every move I made. I hated being scrutinized like that. Especially if a dish I was making wasn’t going as planned! Doing the dishes always took me twice as long to do too since I couldn’t help but watch what was on tv and totally lose focus. Our house now I guess would be considered semi-open concept? Is that such a thing? Nothing is closed off by doors, the dining room and living room are open to one another and the den is visible from the kitchen. It’s a ranch and is the perfect layout for my husband and I. I like that when my guests are in the dining room I can escape to the the kitchen to grab whatever I need and they don’t feel inclined to watch me. And because there’s no door, they can easily yell to bring more! if need be :) I am curious how the space will work for us when we have children though, because you can’t see what’s going on in the living room if you’re in the kitchen. I guess we’ll have to get creative.

  15. We just moved into our open-concept home in September and the decorating has really gotten to me…we came from a very non-open home which I was eager to get out of, but now I realize I was able to do different colors in every room if I wanted and I got my fill of each kind of design that I like. Now I am having to be very careful with what I choose and where I choose to put it. I love our new house and the layout, but I do feel like I will be selling a lot of items that I did really love that just don’t work any more no matter how hard I try!

  16. Lydia says:

    I think you’re totally right on with your pros and cons.
    When we first got married we lived in an open concept. I was really thrilled with getting to live in that style. I will always think it was beautiful and think of it fondly. But I noticed myself always feeling edgy trying to keep it clean. I’m not great with dishes and we didn’t have a dishwasher. But even just tiny this and thats got to me easily. We moved after that to a very tiny duplex. The kitchen was open to the living room — and it really needed to be to keep the place feeling liveable at its size. We had two kids then and that’s when I decided the next time we moved I needed a kitchen I could walk away from. (And ideally a play room I could also walk away from.)
    We now have 3 kids (5,3, 5mo) and live in a 1960s colonial with separate rooms. It’s perfect for me. I was worried about having to cook and have the kids in a space I can’t see. But for me it’s worked out better— if the kids don’t see me they play well on their own with out asking me for everything like they do when I’m in sight. Of course I pop around the corner every so often to check on them. But it’s more my speed.
    I love that there’s not a tv anywhere near our kitchen.
    I also agree with the ‘introverts liking separate rooms’ idea. I’m an introvert and being a mom to littlest is hard on me, never ever getting alone time. The separated spaces gives me a bit of that back.

  17. Kayla says:

    We bought our first home 10 years ago before I had any idea what “open concept” was and the chopped up house drove me BONKERS. I dreamed constantly of tearing out walls and creating a more open space. I think some people might just be more wired for it! I’m also pretty tidy as a general rule so the mess issue doesn’t bother me at all.

    I think the tendency toward open-concept homes is kind of a reflection on how society in general has become more casual. We no longer welcome company into a formal sitting room for a visit and we don’t necessarily cook large meals in one room then set a formal table in another. The blending of spaces is a reflection of more laid-back living.

  18. Kaycee says:

    I have a closed-concept house. I bought it a few years back because I had planned on living with roommates and it was perfect for that. The kitchen, living room, half bath, and master bedroom & bathroom is on the first floor. The second floor houses 2 bedrooms (1 of which is our office), and another full bath.

    This works perfectly for my fiance and I. When we had a roommate we could be separated from her. She could cook and not be bothered, so could we. Her room was upstairs and out of our way. It worked well.

    We don’t have a roommate anymore, but my sister has been staying with us since we’re close to her university. I still like the layout. The rooms upstairs can kind of be forgotten because everything we need is on the first floor.

  19. julia says:

    I just love your blog. Great post – my daughter is newly nesting and, of course, wants the open concept. I love all the opinions by your readers. Thanks so much!!

  20. Rebecca says:

    I miss rooms! Esp, a TV room. I remember growing up the TV room had a door, and sometimes it was “closed”. Our TV is in our living room, which is also our dining room, which is also our kitchen. My toddler is constantly asking to watch TV because its in her eyesight.

    • Julia says:

      We keep our one and only television downstairs–it works!

    • Christina says:

      Like Julia, we have our tv downstairs (which is a huge luxury), but if it were in our living room, we’d definitely have the same problem. If that were the case, I’d definitely try to hide the tv somehow. Have you considered getting a cabinet or similar with doors to cover the tv when it’s not in use? If you wall-mounted your tv, Pottery Barn has a few nice (though pricey) tv cover options for tvs up to 60″.

  21. Kari says:

    We live in an mostly open concept home and the only thing I would change is the lack of storage. When you have 3-4 walls in lots of smaller rooms, there is a lot of opportunity to stash books, toys, media, etc. in bookcases and boxes. More walls equal more storage. But in open concept, you have a couple of walls (which may be long and hallway-like) to figure out how to utilize. I love floor to ceiling bookcases (we have a wall at our house), but they will inevitably grow dated and then I’ll be interested to see another solution for storage in the epidemic of open concept homes.

    One more thought: when one person is watching TV, you’re ALL watching TV.

    • Amy says:

      YES! We are considering opening relatively “closed” concept first floor, but struggling to find a spot for the kitchen cabinets and appliances. Can’t wait to see the types of solutions people eventually come up with for open concept kitchens where there aren’t walls for storage.

    • Julia says:

      Yes! We only have one tv and don’t even have cable, so that’s never been an issue at our house but I see it at my in-laws. I love floor to ceiling bookcases and I think they are pretty classic, too. Credenzas are another great timeless storage piece.

  22. Stacey W. says:

    Our entire 1st floor is one big room, and for the most part I really like it. Cooking smells are an issue, for sure. I really wish we had a kitchen island to break the kitchen area and dining areas up, since there’s no barrier the kids tend to extend their games all the way back to the kitchen, which can be dangerous when we’re cooking, using hte oven, etc.

    Having lived in both chopped up and totally open, I think my perfect home would be a blend: have the kitchen and dining rooms totally open to each other, then have a wall with a large opening to separate the living room off a bit. When the kids get older and won’t need/want as much supervision, some separation would be nice just to have an adult zone and kid zone.

    Finally, I disagree with having to use neutrals: I’m a loud, bold color person, and we did not go neutral in our open area. However, I’ve learned (the hard way) you have to choose a specific color palate to stay within. Using ALL THE COLORS (like I typically do/did) makes everything look chaotic. At Thanksgiving I dropped quite a bit of cash at Fabric.com and sewed up a bunch of new pillows and slipcovers; finally our home has the fun, colorful look we want without looking like some kind of circus barfed inside. Color and pattern, but the overall effect is calm.

    • Julia says:

      I guess that’s what I meant by a tight color palette. Our 10×14 area rug is BLUE in the great room, so I definitely didn’t mean you have to stick to all neutrals. I just meant, the color scheme has to be tight instead of using all of the colors.

  23. Flagless says:

    I dislike the idea of open concept a lot. I’m an extreme introvert, it would be absolutely mentally exhausting to always be with other people, even if those were the people I love. I do live in an open concept kinda space (a studio with a separate kitchenette), but I live alone. When I have more than one person over for tea, I love the fact that I can go away to the kitchen to prepare coffee or tea while they are talking among themselves, and use that opportunity to collect myself and just relax for a second, alone. All practical issues of messes and the like aside, I feel that the greatest issue is related to how you deal with social situations. Extroverted people who love having guests over and the family together probably appreciate larger communal spaces. Introverted people probably enjoy having spaces compartmentalised, so that they do not get overwhelmed. Someday, I’d like to have a place with smaller communal spaces and much larger private ones.

    • Julia says:

      I never even thought of that aspect, but I can definitely see that being very true.

    • Jillian says:

      Introverts unite! I love the feel of open concept homes, but would never trade the separation that older homes offer. Also, with nine kids, a little separation is a must for my sanity! Lol

  24. Anna says:

    Just dropping by via Instagram! We have an open plan, new build. My biggest problem has been how expensive right-sized rugs are (I’m in Australia), so the one we have is a bit floaty in the middle. There’s a couple of things I wish I’d thought through better (like adding a door to the passageway to the minor bedrooms, or even just making it a door height opening instead of ceiling height). I do use colour with wild abandon, but I’m also a bit minimalist (extra cushions/pillows on the couch? Not in my house!) so I think it balances out.

    (Now I’m off to trawl more of your pretty photos! :D )

  25. Ashley says:

    We have an open concept with littles and it’s the best thing ever. Honestly I don’t even mind not having a place to hide a mess because then I am forced to keep it picked up. Knowing everything needs a place also keeps me in check shopping. If it doesn’t fit, we don’t get it. Win, win!

  26. wilma says:

    I love open concept. Our house is quite small (3 bedroom, 1200 sq feet), and without it the rooms would be teeny-tiny. And we have three small kids, so open concept is great for that. I would not like to go back, though it would be nice to have an entirely separate office space. I don’t mind the need for calm/less clutter, as I am that way regardless of where I live. And I love neutral spaces.

  27. Lisa says:

    My current home is open concept. I admit it was a struggle at first to figure out how to decorate it. I do miss having some separate rooms. I think I like a combination of both. Great post idea!

  28. Amy says:

    I have the opposite experience-I grew up in a mostly open concept vaulted ceiling home and when I was house hunting I avoided open concept. I love rooms with specific purposes that have their own feel and how they are cozy and I love the doorways (it’s an old house-in a Pittsburgh suburb) and the doorways and trim I had to have!

  29. Sarah Jane says:

    One other recent discovery is that fires spread quickly in open concept homes. Families need to be able to exit quickly because there aren’t firewalls to slow fires. I could see homes trending toward a happy medium with enough walls but still great sightlines.

  30. I’d say another down side is noise! Not enough walls to absorb all the sound! Also cooking smells always float back to the bedrooms, even when a fan is used!

  31. Mary says:

    One thing I’ve noticed since moving into an open concept a few months ago is that the cooking smells permeate and linger in the living areas, which is fine, except for fish and eggs. I always have to open the door and light a candle (no windows or outside venting in my kitchen). Otherwise I love it.

  32. Maria says:

    This is seriously my favorite post ever! My biggest pet peeve ever is not being able to ‘hide’ the mess when I entertain. I grew up in home where everything was a room, too, but now that we bought our own condo and it’s open plan, I struggle with little details. I guess it’s a matter of learning as you grow into the open-plan concept thing…

  33. Emma says:

    Our home is pretty open concept, with one exception- the kitchen is completely cut off. There are times that I love it (unexpected guests, parties, etc. Where the mess just can’t be contained) but day to daub with a toddler, I find it isn’t getting cleaned as much as it should because I can’t see the baby!

    I do feel like open concepts are great for families, but I also feel like they’re horrible because (like you said) they get dirty so freaking fast and I’m not a tidy person. I miss having a formal living room that was ALWAYS clean for those unexpected guests.

    On the hgtv note, I overheard an older woman the other day talking about “those property brothers” she actually said how rude it is to come into someone’s home and rip it all apart. If you don’t like the house the way it was built, it’s not your house. I thought that was interesting.

  34. Kate says:

    This is so funny to me because I was just watching a marathon of Fixer Upper and thought to myself, I don’t even know what wall they would tear down in my old 1920s craftsmen bunglalow! When we were house shopping, we avoided the open concept look because sometimes, to me, it can feel a bit like a bowling alley. Just a lot of space! But I know it’s what the majority want and I think it can really look beautiful (like in the case of YOUR home, which I love). With kiddos though, I definitely see the advantage now!

  35. Julia (reader) says:

    I love our open concept but…we just had my husbands siblings come stay with us and they are all night owls to say the least. I’m usually in bed by 10:30 so if they are all up chatting until 4:30 (not exaggerating!) the noise carries to our bedroom and I’m up all night. But, this has been my first real complaint about inconvenience in an open concept home and it’s rarely an issue. Agree with your point about neutrals, color has to come in very selectively!

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