AUG 18, 2017
Open it Up: The Open-Plan Layout Gains Greater Momentum
By Barbara Ballinger
Decades ago, the gritty downtown loft occupied by artists and other entrepreneurs working from home was hardly envied, except perhaps for its generous square footage and large industrial windows.
But the concept of having one big space—with maybe bedrooms and bathrooms sectioned off—gained interest with publication of more books about the property type and more movies showcasing the style. And gradually its grittiness gave way to some refinement, yet not too much. Many liked the exposed brick walls, slanting and rough wooden floorboards and open ceilings with pipes in view.
As with many favored looks, its appeal broadened over time to less industrial areas of cities, as well as to suburbia and single-family homes. The open plan’s design concept got spiffed up even more, so that pipes often were hidden and walls and ceilings finished with drywall.
Since the housing industry has recovered, with inventory even tight in markets nationwide, many builders and developers are constructing multifamily buildings, single-family houses and townhomes from the ground up with open-shared living spaces. “It’s been the dominant trend over the last 10 years and reflects today’s lifestyle,” says Allison Bethell, a Miami broker and real-estate investor analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com. “Homeowners want to be in a kitchen watching their children while they also entertain, or couples without children want to cook and entertain with guests seated at an island, maybe, enjoying wine. Or someone may be working on the side on a laptop or watching TV,” she says.
In fact, the open-plan layout has become one of the top features buyers want, Bethell says, citing a 2015 National Association of Home Builders’ survey (http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/01/builders-satisfy-demand-for-open-floor-plans/). According to the survey, 70 percent of recent and prospective homebuyers said they prefer a home with either a completely or partially open kitchen-family room arrangement, and 32 percent prefer the arrangement completely open.
Such findings are echoed by Nick Lehnert, executive director of KTGY architecture + Planning’s R+D Lab in Irvine, Calif., in an article in Professional Builder magazine, adding, “We’ve jettisoned the formal living room because people want the openness,” he says. (https://www.probuilder.com/50-features-homebuyers-want-most).
Realtor Diane Saatchi, a broker with Saunders & Associates, who works in the Hamptons area of New York, a vacation and weekend mecca, has found that homes with open plans now are the best sellers, adding, “It’s far harder to sell more traditional compartmentalized spaces.”
Besides reflecting lifestyle wants, the open plan offers another advantage. “It gives the illusion of more space, especially for those homes where space is limited,” says Bethell. Builder Jeff Benach, a principal with Lexington Homes in Chicago, concurs. “It has the advantage of making smaller spaces seem bigger,” he says. He is finding the style appeals whether in the city or suburbs. In warm climates like Bethell’s Miami, the open plan extends to the outdoors, often through large sliding or folding glass doors.
Here are two sample floor plans of homes by Lexington Homes:
The Arlington style—separated dining room but linked to kitchen via butler’s pantry
And the Coventry style—completely open main living level
Some new home communities include layouts with mostly open plans such as Anets Woods, which Edward R. James Homes is building in Chicago’s Northbrook suburb. The 32 maintenance-free single-family homes were designed primarily for downsizers and empty nesters and feature some with very open plans, says Jennifer Evans, the company’s director of design.
As a further example, here are floor plans and photos of homes at Anets Woods, built by Edward R. James Homes:
The Woodbridge kitchen, looking into the living room.
The Woodbridge is the most open plan with kitchen, living, dining and long sight lines. To see many more pictures of this style (along with floor plans), go to:
The New Haven dining room is walled off from the kitchen/living room area.
This is the New Haven style. It has open kitchen/living area but a separate walled dining room. To see many more pictures of this style (along with floor plans), go to:
Not all open plans are the exact same. Some contain just one open space with kitchen, living and dining area all together. Others include that kind of open space plus a smaller area off to a side or in a corner, and maybe with a pocket door so it can be closed off, perhaps, for study, says Bethell. Benach of Lexington Homes has also set butler’s pantries off to a side in some plans. And some keep the living and dining room in view but make them more of a separate space. Still another way to differentiate an area can be with a different ceiling treatment such as a section that’s higher, says Terry Russell, CEO of Front Door Communities in Atlanta. However, he likes to keep flooring consistent throughout.
In the city of Chicago where lots are often a narrow 25’ or 35’ wide by 125’ long, there typically isn’t enough width for one single open space with living, dining and kitchen areas so builder Ken Fixler of Barnett Homes usually designs new houses with a combination open living-dining room at the front and open kitchen-family room at the back. Because of the value of urban space and need to think and construct vertically, he often includes a habitable basement that’s open to the floor above through a big open stairway.
So where does this leave older homes or those with compartmentalized rooms when it comes to resale?
Saatchi has found they remain longer on the market and are harder to sell. Some buyers, however, may still want them because of a good price or location, then remodel them to open them up. Some builders and developers are ready to do this work. This is the case with Barnett Homes which, besides building new homes, gut-rehabs existing houses to meet homeowner preferences, says Fixler. In fact, more than 40 percent of remodeling projects on existing homes involve making the layouts more open, according to the NAHB survey cited above!
An important takeaway is that such trends are usually cyclical. In the 90s, more traditional plans with formal, separate living and dining rooms were desired, Saatchi says. For now, however, new homes if located in the right location, priced right, in good condition and feature an open plan are good bets for a fast sale.
"From the very beginning when we decided to go with Lexington, the team has exceeded our expectations and has been so helpful."