I loathe the open concept floor plan in my house.
I already knew when we bought this house that I didn’t like open floor plans. We custom-built our prior home to have a large eat-in kitchen, but it was not what anyone would call an open floor plan or open concept. The living room was separate. The kitchen was not visible from the front door or from any seat in the living room. I genuinely loved that house.
When we looked at our present home, with the horrible open concept floor plan which I have come to hate with every fiber of my being, I was foolishly and romantically seduced into the house by the acres of gleaming hardwood floors, the enormous kitchen island, and a few other amenities that were not actually on display visible from the front door. I was also temporarily unhinged by an elaborate fantasy going on in my head about what kind of family we would be and what kind of marriage I would have and how successful of a person I would be if we lived in this house. We made an impulse purchase that happened to be a house. Even knowing that I do not like open floor plans, as long as I remained in the grip of my impulse, I was excited about the glamorous new house and I thought I would be able to get used to the floor plan. I was wrong. Seven years later, I deeply regret buying this house.
It’s a big house with so much wasted space! There is plenty of square footage to have functional rooms, but alas, I feel like I’m living in the lobby of a convention center. Sound echoes. It’s a long walk from one end to the other. When I stand next to the sink in the kitchen I can see clear into the bathroom all the way across the house. Talk about a “sight line!”
I have a pointless “conversation area” in between the enormous kitchen island and the carpeted zone that represents the living room. I can’t put the dining table there because the light fixture is in a weird place, so it wouldn’t be directly over the table and we’d have to use flashlights or something to find our napkins during dinner. It’s an altogether weird and wasted space, but it shows well to buyers. You will think (as I did), “Oh my, what a charming conversation area!” Too bad it’s too noisy to conversate between the clattering dishwasher in the kitchen zone and the ear-splitting TV in the living room zone.
Meanwhile, the actual dining zone, a yard away from the enormous island, is too small for our table that, with the leaves in, comfortably sat 10 in our old house. I guess we are supposed to eat standing up off of small catering plates while we mill around the convention center lobby – er – living room – er – the general unnamable openness.
And another thing, do home designers give a thought to where you are supposed to put your stuff in these open floor plans? I really miss having horizontal spaces. Where do I put shelves? One thing I miss so much from my prior home is my fireplace mantle. This house has a gas fireplace, but it is two-sided and extends out into the room. It is a room divider of sorts. Not that it is useful in that respect since it’s not tall enough to block noise, vision, or odors (I’m looking at you Burnt Bacon) and you can’t put any furniture against it on either side. There is a “mantle” in the sense that there is a top to it, but, though it be oak wood, it has the aesthetic of an elbow height countertop. There is nothing about that fireplace that says “gracious country home”. Instead, it rather screams “hideous poorly executed effort to look modern”. No one is fooled. There is no fireplace chimney there.
I thought when we moved in we could at least put a sheetrock wall in from the ceiling down to the “mantle” to separate it into two sides (while also suggesting a real fireplace on either side and getting me a WALL to hang our family portrait on), but my husband overruled my ideas because he thinks we must protect that solid wood countertop…er, I mean “mantle”…at all costs. He is one of those who thinks painting wood, any wood, even bathroom baseboards, is a sin, so installing sheetrock, which implies nails, probably, is unthinkable. We should have discussed it at length before buying, yes, I know, but impulse purchases don’t lend themselves well to discussion, or really, to thought at all.
What about sound? If the TV is on, it dominates all the square footage. While baking or clipping coupons, or whatever in the kitchen, I am bombarded by the sound of whatever action movie my husband is watching just across the fireplace “mantle”. You can’t have a conversation in the kitchen (in person or on the phone) unless you want to yell at each other. You can forget playing card games, helping with homework, or doing paperwork at the table, like we used to do in our old house. Or, sometimes I like to watch TV myself while I’m in the kitchen. I have a TV in the kitchen zone, although why I don’t know, since I can’t have it on when the other one is on, unless it’s the same channel; well no, that doesn’t work either, it comes in just a couple of seconds behind the main TV so it’s like hearing an echo. I can’t listen to music while I’m in the kitchen when the other TV’s on. I miss my old kitchen where I could watch my own little TV while I was cleaning up, or play the songs on my iPod, or make phone calls while the TV was on in the OTHER room. Now I buy earplugs by the box. Not even kidding.
Of course, if you are the one trying to watch TV in the living room zone, the noise of loading the dishwasher, clanking pans, garbage disposal, or Magic Bullet, all reverberating across the hardwood floors will justifiably cause you to crank that volume up. Sound goes both directions!
Don’t even get me started on food smells and kitchen grease. It’s like we purposely make keeping a clean home harder by spreading that stuff as far across the house as possible. Why, just the other day, I got to enjoy the fresh morning fragrance of burnt egg all the way down the hall (which opens directly onto the convention center lobby.)
One of the selling points of the open floor plan (I’m told) is that it is supposed to open up the kitchen so everyone can “help.” But I have been wondering, why is it you can have miles of counter space and yet every time someone comes to help you in the kitchen they try to crowd into that primo spot between the sink and the stove where you are already working? Big kitchens are so over rated. Big pantries, however, are not. Too bad I have a piddly size pantry, since all the square footage went to my too big kitchen and its monstrosity of an island… Also, please take note that a lack of walls in a kitchen also means a lack of cabinets on walls. My current kitchen has less storage than my old kitchen, but it looks much bigger. Don’t be fooled. It’s an illusion.
It’s nice when people want to help, but honestly, it’s hard to concentrate on what you are cooking when others are milling around your space. Having said that, I have noticed that others are NOT around – they make themselves scarce during cooking, probably because the clatter in the kitchen makes it difficult to hear the TV or read a book or concentrate on homework or whatever they are doing. It’s also probably because I’m not terribly good company while I’m cooking – since I’m focusing on making sure all the elements of my meal are finished at the same time which involves paying attention to timing, temperatures, etc., I’m not usually listening very closely or responding very well to what anyone is trying to tell me.
While I appreciate being able to cook in peace, it really isn’t all that pleasant to be alone in a cavernous open concept room way out of proportion to both the task being performed and the person performing it. Not cozy. Not at all. Not even a little bit. I wish at those times that I had a closed kitchen because then the family would just be in the next room instead of me having to traipse downstairs or across the house to call them to dinner. Sometimes I just text them that dinner is ready. So much for open kitchens enabling all that “family time”.
And there is this: I’m busy, I work full-time, I have teenagers, I have a husband, I have pets, I have activities of my own. I don’t have time to wash every dish as soon as it hits the sink or wipe down and declutter the counters every half hour, thus the kitchen looks messy pretty much all the time. The island is large enough to embalm a man on and 2/3rds of it is covered at all times in mail, school papers, and lunch bags. It’s a big island; I could embalm a big guy. I never have, but I could. Maybe I could take up kitchen embalming as a side hustle?
You can, if you like, point out to me that if I were neater, my kitchen zone would look nicer, but I’ve been on this planet for more than 50 years so I should know better than anyone by now that neater is never going to happen. I’m not sure even if I had extra time that I’d want to spend it keeping my kitchen in show house condition all the time anyway. Unfortunately, this mess is clearly visible from every other zone in the main living area of the house. I can’t even escape the ugly appliances to walk into the other room to relax on the couch — because my couch is in the same room as the stove and the dishwasher and the trash compactor. The refrigerator is literally hulking over my weird conversation area. How relaxing!
I’m kidding. It’s just a normal size fridge, not really all that hulking at all. It’s just not welcome in my conversation space!
But, isn’t an open floor plan good for entertaining? Oh yes, we’ve had some good parties here. We covered the enormous embalming bar with food and all that. Open kitchens are supposed to be great for entertaining because apparently all your guests are supposed to be thrilled to grab an apron and a paring knife to help you chop up a garden’s worth of vegetables for a party salad. Or something. But, I am not a fan of guests helping me in the kitchen. All my food is prepped ahead of time. All my cleaning up is done afterward. If guests hang out in the kitchen, it is because that is where the food is. Whatever I use for a table would work just as well for the food spread as the embalming bar does. While our parties have had their share of grazers who stayed near the food, our guests normally head for the basement. That’s where the pool table is, and the comfy chairs, and the beer fridge. I don’t need an open kitchen for my parties to be successful. Even if I did, I have about 4 parties a year. I really, really don’t need an open floor plan the other 361 days when I’m not having a party.
A couple of years ago, we tried to unload this house and get something a little bit more like the custom-built house we sold to buy this one. Unfortunately, trying to find a nice house with interior walls in the zip code and price range that we wanted turned out to be a bigger challenge than we thought. The result was that we will be living in this house for a while yet, giving me plenty of time to continue mourning our old house. I try to keep my sense of humor about it, but truly, selling and moving out of our previous home was the worst personal and financial decision we ever made. The worst part? We only moved 4 houses down. I kept tearing up so badly every time I took the dog for a walk past our old house, I had to change my route.
Have you ever had buyers remorse over a house? Or sellers remorse for selling a house you shouldn’t have? What have you done to get over it? After 7 years, I’m still grieving…
*Portions of this piece previously appeared in a series of home improvement forum posts.