Is Open Plan Living A Thing of the Past?

I was thrilled to attend a seminar with author, TV show host, and professional organizer Peter Walsh recently with a group of my professional organizing colleagues. One of the benefits of being locked down with this pandemic is that everyone is open to teaching via Zoom, even famous people. Peter Walsh is one smart dude, that’s for sure.  He seems to spend hours and hours thinking about how people live and how they use their space and how that affects what organizers and designers do with a space.  We were so fortunate to benefit from his thought leadership especially at a time when the world and the way we live is being turned upside down.

I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be absolutely right about so many of the things he discussed with us especially that open plan living may have seen its day.  He cited a recent study that 80 percent of Canadians currently working from home would like to continue doing that at least 50 percent of the time for the foreseeable future, pandemic, or no pandemic.  That certainly does change the way we organize and design homes going forward.

Not only do we have to rethink the way we use our stuff and organize and store it, but we may have to consider putting up walls and separating large spaces into smaller ones.  I was chatting with a friend about that. Her husband is working from home four days a week and he’s really liking it a lot so probably falls into that group who will continue to do so if at all possible.

However, she is not liking it so much!  He is in their lower-level office/guest bedroom and seems quite happy with large windows looking out over the yard and a comfortable desk and chair.  She, however, has been working at the dining room table right next to the kitchen. Naturally, any time he comes upstairs to get something in the kitchen she is interrupted and that is something she is totally not used to.  I can only imagine how many of you are in the same situation.

Now there is the question of whether to install doors in the opening to the dining room, to give her that privacy.  And because they only have the table and chairs and a small hutch for their china, she has zero storage for books and paperwork.  Does that mean adding another piece of furniture more conducive to a home office environment?  She doesn’t really want to do that as it will clutter the dining room and she is a lover of minimalist design and open space. Dilemma indeed….

I have another client whose husband is working in their living room and has been for months and also seems to be quite fond of working from home.  In that situation she has already decided that doors are going on the opening between the living room and front entrance so she can come and go without bothering him and it will cut the noise transfer as well.  Several years ago, we renovated their upstairs level and put up a wall in their master bedroom to make a separate dressing area.  She was telling me how fortunate it was that we had done that as she can go into their master suite, shut the extra set of doors and it is absolutely quiet.

A Wall Goes Up to Create a Separate Dressing Area

Just these two examples have me pondering how we will be using our space over the coming years. My new question to clients who plan to open up their space will now be “Are you sure about that?”. In the past I would have been all for it. How interesting it will be to see what happens to open plan living over time.

4 thoughts on “Is Open Plan Living A Thing of the Past?”

  1. Hi Jane I definitely think Peter is right on. So many older homes are completely gutted opened right up. No defined spaces. Not to mention sound bouncing off every where!!! Not to mention new builds. Another pandemic lesson. Cathie

    • Hi Cathie – I think it’s going to be so interesting to see how we reimagine spaces over the coming years. I’m excited!

  2. We have opened up our 1983-built home in several areas since purchasing it in 1988. Kitchen, family room and front entrance have become one open area. (In true rural Maritime style, our front door puts you right in the kitchen where friends like to gather and where the parties always happen.) Removing the separation between the living and the dinning area allowed us to use the now larger room for dinner parties and family gatherings around the expandable oak table. The open spaces work wonderfully for us as our children have now left home. But I could see how noise might be a problem with the current layout and a busy family with kids. Sounds certainly do travel to the 2nd floor easier with less walls as barriers. BUT I would personally never want a home with small closed rooms again and would look to basement spaces should more private areas be necessary.

    • Thanks for your comments Cheryl. Just goes to show that the design and layout of your space really needs to be tailored to how you use your home and who lives there with you. Glad you enjoy your open concept living area.


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