open floorplan

Finding pockets of intimacy in an open floor plan


Open floor plans remain as popular as ever, but evolving expectations of a home have highlighted its biggest drawback: privacy.

Couples and families that once lived very separate daytime lives have instead spent extended time under the same roof, testing the practicality of streamlined floor plans with fewer walls and rooms in favor of open living areas.

“There has been so much togetherness now, clients are looking for separate spaces, even if it’s a small nook where they can focus or even just spend a few moments alone,” said Nicole Michael, principal CEO of Nicole Michael Designs, Pasadena, California.

“After decades of people wanting the walls to come down, they’re now requesting that they come up,” she said.

Open minded

Although homeowners are struggling within their open floor plans, that is not to say they are looking to do away with them. There remains a desire for a large, main living area.

“People still want that big open kitchen/family room area because that’s where we live,” said Angela Kessel, a real estate agent from Houlihan Lawrence, based in Northern Westchester County, New York.

“A house that has an extra den, a couple of offices, maybe a homework room, are in really high demand,” she said.

Michelle Salz-Smith, founder and principal interior designer at Studio Surface, Del Mar, California, echoes this sentiment.

“While we want that open vibe between the kitchen and the family room, as humans, we still crave that retreat, that personal space. It’s important to create those little pockets of intimacy,” Ms. Salz-Smith said.

For example, a separate sitting room, cozy library or swanky wine-tasting room are fantastic separations from the main living area.

“It can’t just be one big open gathering space surrounded by bedrooms,” Ms. Salz-Smith said. “You have to have that variety.”

Seeing double

Of course, a reinvigorated demand for larger homes makes it easier to move away from overly open floor plans.

Ms. Kessel observed a push in demand in her local Westchester County, in part for its spaciousness, but also for its rural surroundings while maintaining proximity to New York.

“Northern Westchester is a very unique area, it’s only one hour from the city, but there are places that you feel like you could be in Vermont or Maine,” Ms. Kessel said.

“Buyers wanted to be able to be outdoors, to appreciate land, property, privacy and amenities,” she said.

landscaped backyard
Homebuyers want move-in ready homes with abundant space and outdoor amenities.

Additional square footage is especially helpful for dual-earning households in which at least two workspaces are required – and possibly more where children are involved.

It goes beyond the office, however. It is just as necessary to have multiple living spaces so that family members have the option to unwind separately.

Also important to Westchester buyers are move-in ready homes.

Buyers in this market appreciate the value of an updated home. They do not want to be bogged down by a renovation and, fortunately, do not have the need.

“This is something that hasn’t really changed: people will definitely pay up here for move-in ready,” Ms. Kessel said.

“Those homes that are overpriced to the market and just not prepared or very dated will lag,” she said. “It’s Real Estate 101.”

Homey feel

It is essential to remember why the floor plan has been evolving in the first place: to provide better livability and function. To meet this expectation, an individual’s personal lifestyle should be a core consideration in planning the home.

For example, Ms. Salz-Smith describes a 1923 Lillian Rice project of hers in Rancho Santa Fe, California, which features multiple and distinct living areas.

“There’s a lounge where you can have a glass of wine and another sitting area to have coffee,” Ms. Salz-Smith said.

“Meanwhile, there’s also a pool house cabana that’s being used not just as a typical pool house, but to watch movies and to do wine tasting on their vintage wine table,” she said.

Maintaining this idea of an open floor plan with “pockets of intimacy,” she said, “it’s possible to create different lifestyle spaces without having to completely segregate them from the rest of the home.”

Offices themselves can become rooms in which to relax.

One inspiring example was the workspace that Ms. Salz-Smith imagined for a therapist who often did online consultations from home.

“We created a library space for her, complete with ladder bookshelves – it doesn’t scream office,” she said. “It doubles as a place to retreat, curl up in the corner, read a book and listen to music.”

WORK-FROM-HOME has altered property layouts worldwide, with an emphasis on the need for enhanced privacy, space and livability.

The open floor plan is still in high demand worldwide, but it is more deliberate. It is not the end-all, be-all that it was in the past.

“Blowing up walls just for the sake of blowing up walls just creates a big open box,” Ms. Salz-Smith said. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s not architecturally interesting.”

Lead image credit: Studio Surface

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