Molly Grace7-minute read
UPDATED: April 27, 2023
Open-concept floor plans have held the throne as the country’s favorite home layout for quite some time now. By eschewing the walls that once kept their rooms decidedly separate, open-concept devotees enjoy multipurpose living areas, natural light and a living space that’s easy to move through and gather in.
But open concept isn’t without its disadvantages, and Americans’ shifting home design allegiances seem to reflect a realization of that, as they increasingly opt for separate spaces that allow them more privacy from room to room.
Rocket Homes℠ recently conducted a survey of Americans’ home design preferences, including their home layout preferences. Its findings indicate that interest in open layouts may be waning.
With open floor plans, some or all of a home’s communal spaces flow into each other, with few or no walls separating them. Often, this is seen this in the form of a kitchen that overlooks a dining area and living room, with no walls between these spaces.
These open-space layouts have been extremely popular for several decades now, and are the default layout of home design shows and homeowners. More recently, however, that white-hot interest has seemed to cool a bit.
Of those surveyed by Rocket Homes, 51.2% said they prefer open layouts and 48.8% said they prefer traditional layouts. This nearly 50-50 split indicates that Americans are essentially equally interested in both types of layouts, where a few years ago we might have seen a strong preference for open layouts over traditional ones.
This suggests that open concept living may no longer be the obvious favorite. It may be that people are starting to appreciate some of the benefits that a closed floor plan – with more walls and separation – can provide. Spending over a year locked down in their homes during the pandemic likely only strengthened their desire for separation.
This even split among those who prefer open concept vs. traditional layouts largely remained even when respondents were separated into different demographic groups, such as age, making it clear that this isn’t a generational design preference and isn’t strongly correlated with specific segments of the population. All in all, Americans seem to like both of these layout types equally, at least for now.
Data from the American Institute of Architects supports that we are currently experiencing a “cooling-off” trend towards open floor plans. As part of its quarterly Home Design Trends survey, AIA measures whether architecture firms report an increase or decrease in requests for open concept layouts. In 2018, the percentage of firms saying open concept requests were increasing was at 56%. By 2021, it was down to 33%. That’s a 41% drop in just 3 years.
Experts have taken notice of these shifting preferences as well.
“After numerous years of open plans reigning as the preferred layout for families and households who entertain, closed layouts are trending in popularity,” Mona Ying Reeves, an architect and founder of Kickstart House, a home renovation support community, said.
While open floor plans provide a lot of benefits – more efficient use of space and natural lighting, a place for family members to gather and better traffic flow through communal rooms, to name a few – they can also be a nuisance for certain households.
Reeves thinks that, as the novelty of this trend has worn off, people have become more aware of both the pros and cons of this type of layout, and are making their layout decisions based on what best suits their needs. For some, that means more separation.
“Many people simply prefer to have more separation between their living activities,” Reeves said. “The most common reasons given by my clients for wanting a closed layout, especially with a kitchen, stem from isolating cooking odor, having enough wall space for storage and containing visual clutter.”
Karen Gutierrez, an interior designer at Mackenzie Collier Interiors, agrees that, although open layouts are very popular, trends seem to be shifting away from open concept homes as people think more about whether their space suits their needs.
“Everything will depend on the family lifestyle and their day-to-day routine,” Gutierrez said.
The drastic changes brought on by the pandemic could be influencing some of this shift. As people conduct work and school from home, they need spaces that are conducive to that, which means more walls and separation.
Andra DelMonico, lead interior designer for the online home design magazine Trendey, still sees open layouts as the top choice for most people because these layouts feel more welcoming and give impression that the home is bigger than it really is. However, she believes trends will move to more of a hybrid layout type called a “zoned floorplan.”
“This is a cross between open and traditional where the space isn’t completely open with design features dividing the space instead of full walls,” she said. “This creates a cozy and intimate space without being overly confining. As people spend more time at home, this trend will become more popular.”
Another potential death knell for open layouts: the end of the kitchen as the epicenter of the house party.
Only 12.4% of respondents said they spend the majority of their time in the kitchen when entertaining at home. The most popular room to entertain in is the living room, with 44.2% of respondents saying that’s where they spend the majority of their time when entertaining guests.
This statistic may help shine some additional light on the declining interest in open layouts. After all, one of the benefits of an open layout, particularly an open kitchen, is having a great space to entertain in, where people can congregate around the food while also having ample space to move around and socialize. But it appears that people might be becoming more disillusioned towards the purported benefits of the open concept kitchen and living area as a party space.
Reeves said she isn’t surprised to hear that so few people are entertaining in their kitchens.
“For formal entertaining, today’s homeowners realize the myth of a clean kitchen,” she said. “They desire some separation between the chaos of food prep and a space for relaxing conversation.”
This makes sense. One of the biggest disadvantages of an open layout is that it’s harder to keep everything looking tidy – even small amounts of clutter can make these spaces look messy. When entertaining in an open layout, the kitchen is both the prep area and the main spot for partygoers to hang out, which guarantees a pre-party scramble where the host has to try and clean the kitchen as best they can before their guests arrive.
Keeping attendees out of the kitchen altogether makes the host’s job much easier, but this can only really be done in a more traditional, closed layout with separate rooms.
Reeves said that when homeowners do prefer larger kitchens with more communal space, it’s more out of a desire to have that space to spend more casual time with the people in their household, rather than using it as a spot for entertaining.
The COVID-19 pandemic probably didn’t cause people to change their minds on their favorite layout types all on its own, but it definitely forced people to think about the functionality of their home spaces.
“With the pandemic, the impacts of a home’s layout on our lives has become unavoidable,” Reeves said. “For households with multiple occupants especially, we’re going to see the pendulum swing away from open concepts. The desire to partition off spaces is already there. It will be a matter of time to see whether we go back to layouts with traditional, single-function rooms or perhaps a new version of flexible spaces that have the ability to separate uses without fully closing off the space.”
As states around the country went into lockdown mode, businesses sent their employees to work from home and schools moved online, households were given a crash course in what does and doesn’t work when it comes to their home’s layout.
Privacy became a precious resource, and those with very open floor plans struggled to find suitable spaces to conduct virtual meetings or attend class.
However, according to Reeves, the pandemic didn’t cause this change in thinking.
“I’ve seen this trend towards more traditional, closed layouts start even prior to the pandemic,” Reeves said.
DelMonico believes that, with everyone at home, the drawbacks of both types of layouts have become more obvious.
“With everyone in the house, an open and traditional floor plan isn’t ideal,” DelMonico said. “Traditional floor plans are confining and limited in how you use the space. Open floor plans lack definition and privacy.”
Reports of the open layout’s death may – or may not – have been greatly exaggerated. It’s hard to say for certain how people will feel about their layouts in the coming years. Based on the data and current trends, it’s possible that traditional layouts will finally work their way back into the spotlight after years of disfavor. But that doesn’t mean that open layouts are going away.
“I feel like homeowners are becoming more and more afraid of ‘trends,’” Gutierrez said. “I prefer to think that we will create more livable and comfortable spaces suitable for each individual and their needs, to maximize their goals and create spaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.”
It may be that “trending layouts” will be a thing of the past, and homeowners will opt more for what works for them rather than what they think is on-trend. The pandemic made having a space that’s functional and suits your needs all the more vital; trends don’t factor in for those trying to carve out a quiet spot to get work done or find a place for their kids to complete virtual school. Even as things go back to “normal,” people likely won’t forget those lessons any time soon. And for many, working from home is here to stay for at least part of the time, so the need for privacy and quiet isn’t going anywhere either.
It may be that trends move more toward hybrid or zoned spaces, as DelMonico predicts. The zoned floorplan, she said, “gives you the best of both worlds.”
Gutierrez agrees that it’s not about one layout over another, because both extremes have their issues. Layouts that are too open, she said, can feel “unattached,” while completely closed off layouts can hurt the functionality of a space.
“I tend to rely on the idea that balanced spaces will always make more sense,” she said.
Rocket Homes surveyed 1,519 Americans aged 24 and older to understand their home design preferences and the design choices they make in their homes. The survey was conducted online from June 27 – July 2, 2021.
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