the tyranny of structurelessness
May 18, 2018 11:13 PM   Subscribe

"A flowing, connected interior—once a fringe experiment of American architectural modernism—has become ubiquitous, and beloved. But it promises a liberation from housework that remains a fantasy."

Must All Houses Have Open-Plan Interiors Now?

The Case Against Open Kitchens
And yet people who actually like cooking tend to crave boundaries—to want to be, as Julia Child assured us we could be, “alone in the kitchen.” What if you wish to preserve a kitchen secret—to slip, say, the odd, shameful envelope of Lipton’s onion-soup mix into your meat loaf, à la Ann Landers? Radical transparency becomes kitchen exhibitionism: we are all on cooking shows now. The food writer Sierra Tishgart, whose kitchen opens onto her Greenwich Village junior one-bedroom, told me that she dreams of a closed kitchen. “I also don’t have a dishwasher, and part of the horror of my open kitchen (which is basically inside my living room) is that there’s nowhere to hide dirty plates.” One friend told me that she has developed the habit of hiding dirty pots in her oven. We all know, from experience, that the open kitchen is an invitation to guests to hop up, one by one, like whack-a-moles, with their dirty dishes.
11 Reasons Against an Open Kitchen Floor Plan
An Argument Against the Open Floor Plan

Close Your Open-Concept Kitchen
posted by the man of twists and turns (96 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
All the noise (exhaust fan?) and smells (fried fish?) are a treat allover the open house.
posted by Cranberry at 11:28 PM on May 18, 2018 [8 favorites]

Last year we bought a 1905 home with a kitchen separated from the living space by a large hallway. It was my single biggest concern about the space. I’ve grown to like it for what it is, but... I do miss having it connected to the main living area. This will be a tough sell to go back to disconnected rooms.
posted by samthemander at 11:45 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mutual dislike of open kitchen houses was another verification that I married the right woman.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:50 PM on May 18, 2018 [11 favorites]

Genuine surprise that people have a horror of a pile of dishes being visible after you've fed your guests; surely they would understand?
posted by ominous_paws at 12:07 AM on May 19, 2018 [31 favorites]

I get lonely cooking on my own. I don't want help, I don't want people in my way, but I do like to talk.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:20 AM on May 19, 2018 [18 favorites]

Well, I like my open kitchen and my open floor plan. We have a wall of windows facing south, and the whole space is filled with light; it's lovely. I spend more time cooking now than I ever have before.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:26 AM on May 19, 2018 [13 favorites]

My God I would love a separate kitchen. I live alone so usually cook alone, which I love.

When my family comes over people cannot stay out of the kitchen. They want to help, or hang out, or hit the fridge, or help do some dishes. No they are just underfoot and infuriating. And helping just slows everything down.

I would loooooove a separate kitchen, I would have people over more.
posted by dr. moot at 12:39 AM on May 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

It is... enlightening to realize that the reason some people don't like open kitchen plans is because they want to hide the dirty dishes. Family dinners when I was growing up, leaving the dishes go after dinner was just not at all an option, even if the kitchen was separate from the dining room.

Having the kitchen separate does not, in my experience, stop people from being constantly in the kitchen when you're doing the interesting bits. Nobody wanted to hang around for dishes, which meant getting stuck with that was akin to banishment, but people being helpful and otherwise were always in and out during the prep process. Unless you're, like, envisioning a world where you can literally lock people out of the kitchen until you're ready to emerge with finished food.
posted by Sequence at 12:57 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

As someone who likes cooking, who grew up in a house with two parents who liked cooking (both for guests and for daily meals)... no no no and no. This is just crazy talk. An open kitchen makes cooking for (or with) others 10x more enjoyable.

(Also what's the obsession with dirty dishes when entertaining? Yes... dirty dishes are part of entertaining. And if you have an open kitchen you can clean as you go without feeling like taking you out of the conversation. )
posted by aspo at 1:00 AM on May 19, 2018 [26 favorites]

As someone who likes cooking, who grew up in a house with two parents who liked cooking (both for guests and for daily meals)... no no no and no. This is just crazy talk. An open kitchen makes cooking for (or with) others 10x more enjoyable.

Yes, like when reading this paragraph in the first article
Wouldn’t family life keep happening, even if a few walls were erected? What open-plan aficionados might really mean is that so much time and effort is spent chasing the residual labor of school, work, and home life into the evenings and weekends, that it would be lovely if some of it might overlook other family activities in the process. There is so much to do, but at least a family can all be nearby one another while trying to get it done.
I'm thinking, well, yes? But having more walls in my house doesn't magically decrease the amount of labor, it just means that I can't talk to my family members as easily.

People should live in houses that they like; if you want to be alone when cooking, more power to you. But I'm not ideologically impure and trying to increase women's labor at home because I like talking to my kids while I cook.
posted by medusa at 1:40 AM on May 19, 2018 [27 favorites]

When people live in one room homes, the cooking fire is always the center of the household. Open plan is not a new concept; however it's been modified for a more expansive lifestyle since bedrooms and studys and craft rooms are now separated off from the main living area.
posted by mightshould at 2:37 AM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I mean, the article is making that mistake a lot of theorists make, which is that they assume that most people make decisions based on theory, when in reality, for the most part, people make decisions and then theorize to justify them later.
I like open floor plans but never once have I concieved of them as being "labor-saving." I just like them, probably because I like open spaces but also probably because I live in a big city where everything is boxed off. But then, I've always liked big, wide spaces. So, who knows? But it's certainly not the product of my having read magazine articles telling me to like them.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:48 AM on May 19, 2018 [13 favorites]

The open plan living room/kitchen is particularly annoying when translated to a small London flat where you can't hear the TV if you're using the washing machine in the 'kitchen'.. or even boiling a kettle.
posted by KateViolet at 3:21 AM on May 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

Oh god yes, having gone through multiple rounds of the horror of finding places to live in London, in this market open plan is all about squeezing more perceived living space into ever tinier newbuilds. Beautiful FLW prarie houses they are not.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:35 AM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

The kitchen in our house is open to the back ("breakfast nook", TV room) and closed to the front (living room, dining room). This is as close as I can stand to a fully open first floor plan; in fact it's best of both worlds in a way, because it implies a segregation of public area and private area (this implicit barrier will break down in real-world social events because everybody's going to end up in the kitchen of course; but friends let friends roam the house). It also means kitchen and TV noise doesn't trickle upstairs where people are sleeping or working in the bedrooms converted to offices. And I can watch TV without needing a second TV in the kitchen.

So I think the question of whether open kitchens are bad doesn't fully address the actual problem, which is whether the kitchen, as incorporated into a given floor plan, is a benefit or a detriment. I've lived in houses with open kitchens and secluded kitchens; there have been some where even though the kitchen is closed every noise and smell permeates the house anyway, and a house where the open kitchen does not distract from other house functions (although the kitchen's layout was so bad that it probably led to us eating out more often than we should just because cooking became so onerous).

And that touches on what should be the real issue here, which is: Kitchens in American houses suck so baaaaad, people! Food is such an essential part of living that food preparation is (at least by the traditional happy family sort of ideal) something that should be adaptable into a communal experience so that the cook is not isolated from everybody else. But this leads to really bad plan designs like positioning the kitchen so that the workspace doubles as the primary or sole thoroughfare between unrelated spaces in the house. Or, in a house I visited once, where the kitchen is semi-closed to the rest of the first floor but has a loft ceiling and the second floor had a railed overlook onto it. Somebody thought this was an idea so good that they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it happen. Every fume and vapor from every heated food was going to be stovepiped straight upstairs.

I think the sweeping assumption that an open kitchen is the single thing that solves all problems involving the kitchen is one of those things that architects do to solve problems that will never concern them personally. And this is exacerbated by householders thinking that the way to improve their kitchen is to fuck with expensive cosmetics like stone countertops and tile floors and replacing the enameled appliances with brushed steel, rather than address fundamental ergonomic failures like the only lightsource is over the floor rather than the counters, and there is unreachable or nonfunctional cabinet space, and there's no pantry, and the stove has no working space on either side of it, and the stove and sink are at opposite ends, and fucking carpet on the floor holy shit what are you thinking? Spend some time in kitchens in cultures that care about kitchens as working spaces, and it's really hard to take how expensive and poorly-functioning the average suburban American kitchen is.

I'd rather have a closed kitchen if I have to judge a floor plan purely by verbal cues, because of how I'd anticipate it working out. But in my experience, that's only one of many attributes that define whether a kitchen works within a space or not.
posted by ardgedee at 3:39 AM on May 19, 2018 [19 favorites]

People should live in houses that they like

I agree. It's just that there is so much emphasis on open floor plans being better that new places are automatically being built that way. So many seem obsessed on blowing out walls inside modest homes that were designed to have enclosed spaces, at least that's what I see in real estate listings around here.

It's just nice to know I'm not the only one who appreciates separate rooms with doors that can be shut for entries/halls, living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens. It can be a godsend to be able to shut the door and be alone for a while, and when together to have it be by choice. Separate rooms are easier to clean also.
posted by Gnella at 3:40 AM on May 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

Count me in the apparent minority who prefers walls. Most of the comments and links focus on the role of the kitchen, but for me an important consideration is noise. People can be watching tv in one room while others have a conversation in another, for example.
posted by TedW at 3:54 AM on May 19, 2018 [13 favorites]

My 1905 kitchen is so separated that it has a pocket door and a pass-through window to the dining room. And thanks to a late 20th-century remodel, it also has counters all around and cabinets. I love my kitchen. I don't like the 1980s wallpaper, but you don't see much of it.
posted by Miss Cellania at 4:38 AM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I just was talking about this elsewhere, but I used to really want a place with an open plan kitchen and living room. Being shut away in the kitchen to cook whilst my partner was playing games or watching tv was lonely and boring. BUT then I was scrubbing grease off the walls of our current flat and realised, I keep all my books in the living room and don't want this grease to float onto them instead. Or the rugs, or the sofa. We don't have an externally venting hood, but my parents do and cook twice a day, and their kitchen slowly gets covered in a thin film of grease. Now I'm a firm believer in kitchen doors, and I'm glad I figured that out before we bought the place because we were both considering knocking through. We do have glass french doors leading directly to the living room that we leave open most of the time and it feels like the best of both worlds.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:39 AM on May 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think a flaw of the article in the first, theory-heavy link is the assumption that everyone should have the same priorities. Stillnocturnal wants to keep grease off the books, and that's cool. I value being able to see most of the living area from the stove for PTSD reasons, and that's cool.

I do agree that more diversity in house layouts would help people find what they want and not be stuck with a layout more open than they like. Do people remodel to add walls?
posted by medusa at 5:10 AM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

The open plan living room/kitchen is particularly annoying when translated to a small London flat where you can't hear the TV if you're using the washing machine in the 'kitchen'.. or even boiling a kettle.

At least in the US, lots and lots of kitchens, especially in apartments, are constructed non-open-plan but do not actually have kitchen doors. I don't know if this is different in the UK? I've never had an open-plan kitchen but I've also never had a kitchen door. I've seen them in houses, but not even all houses. At that point, the walls probably work reasonably well to stop the spread of grease, for example, but they don't do super great at allowing you to watch TV while running the dishwasher.
posted by Sequence at 5:17 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have a kitchen door. Our place was built in like 1913, so I guess that was a thing at some time. And growing up, dad put nice wrought iron gates up, full height between the dining room and kitchen, and half-height at the entrance by the stove. TO KEEP THE DOGS OUT. Or keep the dogs in. Depending on what you wanted. I sorta use our kitchen door the same way. It's open unless I have dough rising and want to keep my idiot dog away from it. I lost a 1/2 tray of meatballs once trusting her too much.
posted by mikelieman at 5:32 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I lived in a medium sized 1912 home with kitchen at back, dining room and living room in a row. It wasn't ideal for entertaining small dinner parties. Close friends don't want to hang out by themselves in the living room while you make dinner.

One concern on open concept design is fire safety. There's been an uptick in tragically fast burning house fires in the past few years. I've seen some discussion locally about imposing mandatory sprinklers in new construction and renovations.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:40 AM on May 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

Favourited @dr. moot for "underfoot", something my mom and granny would always accuse me of being, and I've seldom seen or heard anyone else use this word.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 5:50 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's just nice to know I'm not the only one who appreciates separate rooms with doors that can be shut for entries/halls, living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens. It can be a godsend to be able to shut the door and be alone for a while, and when together to have it be by choice. Separate rooms are easier to clean also.

Yea, this. I grew up in an open-plan house and now loathe them with the fire of a thousand suns. No privacy. Sound, and smell, travelling everywhere. Every conversation heard, whether you want to or not. Despite it being a big house there was never a sense of solitude if anyone else was home. I spent far more time in my bedroom than I would have liked just because it was the only place I could shut a goddamn door and not have someone intrude upon me without my permission.

As an adult I moved into a small flat that had doors everywhere. Every room, every hallway, every space was closed off with a door, and it was wonderful. I often left them open (lived alone) but just knowing that they could be shut brought such a sense of peace. The kitchen door I would shut when I was cooking, and open the window. If I had guests staying the doors to the living room could be shut and I could potter about before they woke up, or we could give each other a bit of privacy in the evenings. I loved that flat.

If I could be reasonably sure of living alone there are circumstances under which I could tolerate a more open-plan living space (hi, massive wall of windows). But I'd still prefer to have the kitchen separate, for the smell/grease reasons mentioned elsewhere.
posted by myotahapea at 5:57 AM on May 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

The kitchen in our house is open to the back ("breakfast nook", TV room) and closed to the front (living room, dining room). This is as close as I can stand to a fully open first floor plan; in fact it's best of both worlds in a way, because it implies a segregation of public area and private area (

This is interesting, because one of the reasons I like open plans is that I think of the kitchen as public space, whereas it's the bedrooms/bathrooms/weird storage rooms that I want to keep private.

Our house is old and has a mostly closed-off kitchen (though the actual doors have been long since removed). I daydream about ripping out a couple walls to open it up, but haven't because I haven't figured out a way to pull the walls without it turning into a massive and expensive project.

I don't see any labor difference in open vs closed designs; you still need to sweep/vacuum, clean counters, and so on regardless of where the walls are.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well, my solution is to live in a house small enough that having conversations room-to-room requires only slightly speaking up. The living room, dining room and kitchen have doorways, but no doors. We're remodeling our kitchen this year and for a while I considered turning the dining room wall into a peninsula but decided against it. I need that entire wall for floor-to-ceiling storage. Having an away in which to put things will please me far more than being unable to escape listening to my kid whine while he does his homework in the dining room.

Our last house was even smaller and had the "open plan by necessity or else you'd barely be able to turn around in the kitchen" treatment. It was fine. But yeah, the grease. That is a real thing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:31 AM on May 19, 2018

We just bought a 30 year old condo that was built with a closed kitchen with a pass through. It's a tiny kitchen, barely more than a galley, and one of the walls blocks the view of the living area/balcony access from the entry. There's no way for two people to work in that kitchen easily, so food prep and clean-up is solitary. That's no damn good.

So, we're going to blow it out, replacing that wall (which has cabinets on the kitchen side) with a peninsula with sink on the kitchen side and a raised breakfast bar on the other. Two sided cabinets there, so we won't lose too much storage.

It will open up the small space, get natural light into the kitchen, allow communal prep with one person at the peninsula and one in the kitchen proper, and create a compact communal eating area in the 3-seater bar, without a formal space-consuming "dining room". The reno's going to be a pain, but I believe it will be the best thing to happen to the unit in 30 years.

And it turns out lots of other people in the building (where 90% of the units have a similar floor plan) are doing the same thing. It just makes sense.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:36 AM on May 19, 2018

One thing about having a series of separate rooms rather than an open plan is the level of commitment to your decor. When I first got this house, every wall was painted in varieties of blue, which is nice I guess? but a deep periwinkle kitchen was frankly depressing in the winter, never mind how dark it was in there. One weekend of work and a couple coats of paint later, voila! I transformed it into a bright sunny yellow room. As time went by, I tackled all the other blue rooms one by one; I tell you what, it's real nice to have borders on your reno projects so if you want to do something as simple as changing paint colours, it doesn't take over your whole living space.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:38 AM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

This will be a tough sell to go back to disconnected rooms.

Barring a whole hog embrace of renewables, if energy costs rise enough, the original appeal of small, contained spaces within a house will come back.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:53 AM on May 19, 2018 [16 favorites]

One thing about having a series of separate rooms rather than an open plan is the level of commitment to your decor.

That's another big thing. If you enjoy decorating or like different rooms to have different moods, you're screwed in an open-plan environment. Not to mention if you live someplace with extremes in temperature, that heating/air-con is going to have to heat or cool the entire house, which can get eye-wateringly expensive. Or you suffer without, because it's not 'worth' turning on the air-con because it can't be limited to a single room.

Also, and I cannot stress this point enough, there are few things quite as depressing as being in your bedroom with the door shut, and listening to that fart someone ripped downstairs, on the other end of the house, reverberating throughout all that cavernous empty space.
posted by myotahapea at 6:58 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

posted by saladin at 7:10 AM on May 19, 2018 [28 favorites]

We bought a 1912 home last year, and one of the main selling points is that while the infrastructure had been modernized, the original layout and woodwork had been maintained. So, instead of one big space, we have cozy entertaining rooms with pocket doors, passageways, interstitial spaces.

It's delightful. With all the doors open, the house is light and airy, but each and every room can be closed for privacy or separation. It's easy to hang out together, and it's just as easy to close things off where everyone has their own solitude and space. There is a wonderful feeling of transition when walking between rooms, of organization and purpose.

My experience is that an open plan counterintuitively limits possibilities. Activities overlap awkwardly with other activities in a way that it can be difficult for radically different things to be happening at once even in a reasonably large space. Personal or quiet work can be difficult when others are around. When otherwise unoccupied, those open spaces can feel empty and drafty.

There's so much to like, aesthetically and practically, about having separate spaces that the modern layouts are just baffling to me.
posted by eschatfische at 7:19 AM on May 19, 2018 [23 favorites]

"... to the homicidal bitching that goes on in every kitchen, to determine who will serve and who will eat..."
posted by kaibutsu at 8:09 AM on May 19, 2018

We have so many rooms in our house! We actually have more walls than it came with. (Not by much - there was a pass-through from the kitchen to the living room which we closed up.) My partner grew up in an open-plan house and was ambivalent about it. My parents moved to one when I left home (they literally moved in and then came to see me graduate from college) and I’ve always found their house acoustically intolerable. So we felt pretty strongly about having lots of rooms. Some contractors are here right now making us another room.

This means we have lots of walls! Walls are useful for privacy! Also for hanging stuff on and putting bookshelves against! If we had an open-plan house we’d probably have made a wall out of bookshelves by now.

Maybe we’re not minimalist enough for open-plan. I’m okay with that.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:12 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

For both my family and friends it must be assumed that ten or fifteen people will be gathering in or around the food preparation area at any social event. Given that assumption, a kitchen with an island separated only allows the energy to flow out and not everyone needs to be on top of each other. My parents have a closed kitchen which my mother loves, but I find eight people helping in a ten by twelve foot room overwhelming.
posted by meinvt at 8:14 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a very vague theory- probably bs- that the way we perceive and modify indoor space is related to our eyesight. I've lived with people who are near-sighted and they tend to want smaller more defined spaces and more curtains, blinds, whatever on windows. One example is people who put the head of their bed so that their view is the interior of the room instead of putting it so they can look at trees or sky out their windows.

I'm in an endless process of saving and trying to make habitable an old house. One of my sons wondered why I want to keep the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. The kitchen has three doors and two windows, there won't be anywhere to put the fridge if we tear out that wall.

Oh and if anyone wants to read it, here's The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman from 1970.
posted by mareli at 8:17 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Coming from a family with sub-clinical congenial hearing problems, open plan houses are a disaster. My parents actually renovated their ground floor to become an open floor plan, and it makes it impossible to have multiple conversations in most of the public space.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:24 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think there are different social origins for open kitchens.

when I think of a large kitchen, I think of a farm-house style kitchen where work and eating all happen together - but it's only family. People you're really close with have tea with you in the kitchen. Formal guests are relegated to the living room/parlour. You never worry about mess in your kitchen, because you don't entertain there.

I think the values of the middle and upper-middle classes have clashed with what really is a working class house design. Working class people entertain large families - and your guests then help with the dishes. So a big kitchen makes sense. Parlours are for when the minister visits. And you'd never have more than a couple of people who aren't family or friends over.

I feel lucky - we have the best of both worlds. We have an eat-in kitchen where we can have everyone around - and a living room with a door, where we can close the door and not hear each other's noise.
posted by jb at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

Our house still has its 1869 layout and we like it fine. Some of our neighbors have taken down the walls between the dining rooms and kitchen which works for them but I like having separate rooms for separate functions.
posted by octothorpe at 8:28 AM on May 19, 2018

my wife and I move into a condo with four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and butler's pantry. So many small rooms! We like having our own offices for when we're both working at home, and can close a door for conference calls. And as others have pointed, we like being able to decorate each room in their own way, with paint of different colors, so that southern morning light glints in different ways as you walk from room to room.

We've entertained for between 4 and 20 and, yeah, it's not the same as having a big great room where everyone can just mingle and circulate in the same space, but we like the way that our larger parties just turn into these shifting collections of people in different rooms and spaces.

As for the loneliness of cooking, I think this is another thing where different folks will have different preferences. My wife and I are both in intensely social, conversational jobs, and usually when we get home, we're both in a pretty hard need for recharge. So I actually like going into the kitchen to work on cooking alone while my wife enjoys being able to unpack her papers and organize her notes, and a have bit of time to herself. When dinner starts, we're recharged enough to actually ask how each other's day was. It's an arrangement that could also work in an open floor plan, but it isn't hurt by our room setup.

Our downstairs neighbors have both undergone some renovations to knock down a couple of walls and combine a few rooms into either an enlarged living room or a double sized bedroom. We had entertained the idea of doing something similar ourselves because everyone tells us that a 4br/1ba is going to be awkward to sell, but it works for us and we'd be really reluctant to give up any of our rooms right now. And that might also make it less likely for us to move if the market continues to be dominated by open floor plan concepts.

But, yeah, to everyone who just says "live and let live" that's generally fine; but the problem with the way home renovation shows are hyping open floor plan, it's making it so that those of us who prefer multiple small rooms have fewer choices in the market now.
posted by bl1nk at 8:42 AM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I rent a little cottage that was built in the early 1910s, I think, to house the owner of the orchard that used to be the property. I think it started as a four-room cottage, then a separate bedroom and bathroom were added at some point, and the walls between some of the original four rooms were knocked down. Now the living spaces are kind of in a U shape, with the living room and dining area fully merged, the dining area and entryway fully merged, the entryway and kitchen fully merged, but a wall still between the living room and kitchen.

I generally like the layout, but there's no place to sit with any sort of view into the kitchen, which means that entertaining a guest or two while I'm cooking is awkward, unless they're also cooking, which is rare as I have a very select group of friends/family whom I will allow to help me cook (control issues). But I like having people hang out in the kitchen with me while I cook. And I don't like looking at a kitchen full of dirty dishes while I'm entertaining, so while we're eating I like that there are no real sight-lines from the dining table to the kitchen counters. Hurumph. Maybe I'll eventually get the energy and inspiration to create some sort of seating in the entryway area. Right now I've just been encouraging people to bring dining-room chairs into the kitchen, or else friends lean against countertops.
posted by lazuli at 8:47 AM on May 19, 2018

Also, I got the impression that the articles talking about hiding the mess in the kitchen were talking mostly about when entertaining, not for normal weeknight family dinners.
posted by lazuli at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2018

I visited an 1890s home on a historic house tour. It had an unusually large kitchen for that time, which was now set up for guests, with an island and lots of seating. Through one door, the old butler's pantry room had been converted into a "caterer's kitchen", with counter tops, a second fridge, sink, and second dishwasher. So all the party mess was out of sight.

(Like some of the comments above, these houses often had paired pocket doors in the first floor rooms to open up half of a room's wall to make one big space.)
posted by jjj606 at 9:23 AM on May 19, 2018

i love my current place very much but oh my god, the thought of having a kitchen that's an actual separate room, with actual full size windows for ventilation, with an actual door that closes... christ it's enough to make me weep.

for reference, my last "kitchen" in which i cooked approximately 6 times over a 4 year period.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:33 AM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

When I renovated my home, 1200SF built in 1919, I made the kitchen open plan and I like it. I didn't do it because of any particular theory, I did it because it felt better to have the sense of space and light. It is true you cannot hide the mess and I am a messy person but I figure if you don't like it that is your problem. I believe that a lot of what the author is talking about has a more to do with marketing, and money than with adherence to any architectural theory. The modern single family home built these days seems like it is usually built from a check list of features and has a great deal to do with wealth display and soothing materialism as an end in itself. I find great satisfaction in having hot and cold running water and a drain at my command, that and the concept of stove and on and off.
posted by Pembquist at 9:53 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

You know what I miss? The American Fourplan, the first prefab layout designed with indoor plumbing and built in electricity in mind. It’s an extremely versatile and customizable style, no reason you couldn’t have a modernist fourplan, while still allowing for pockets of activity - the thing I hate most about open plan is that you can’t close the door on anything while stomping off to a bedroom - which feels way more antisocial then being slightly hidden by a door way in another room- but the real argument for why fourplans fell out of favor may be the best reason to revive them

“Foursquares were popular in first and second generation suburbs because they enabled families to build more house on a smaller lot. Their square form was as much a stylistic choice as it was a result of economical construction and economical structural savviness. Lot size, which increased as people moved further and further away from the center, became (and remains) less of a constraint, which is perhaps why the Foursquare hasn’t had the same resurgence as the more-sprawling bungalow.”

Denser homes are greener homes, and cut up two family foursquares are not uncommon (I grew up for a while in a converted queen Mary Queen sprawler - the entry parlor was the common room aside from some werid layouts and a pokeh kitchen, quite pleasant.) I ask you designer, PUT UO THESE WALLS - You can have more people in the same place and save in heating and cooling with thicker inner walls and draft systems with windows. It’s not one man alone in a vast white gallery OR coffin sized tenements, sheesh.

Then again I’m the person who, while iwatching Grand Designs white grading started shouting obscenities at the people who wanted to build on a CLEARLY ERDOING CLIFF GAAAH (the show also confirmed my belief that strict environmental standards benefits the state of the art of the architecture - every building that needed to meet draconian environmental regulation came out looking much more interesting and creative)
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 AM on May 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

This reminds me of the backlash against the "open office" movement that is very popular (in tech especially). You don't get an office now, you get earbuds.
posted by woj at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I get lonely cooking on my own. I don't want help, I don't want people in my way, but I do like to talk.

Some friends of mine bulit a kitchen with a high bar height counter all the way around it. Just one entrance into the kitchen, so lots of counter space, and no real invitation for people to be in there unless they needed to be. The high counters hid the dirty dishes from direct view of the dining room table, and people could sit/stand around the kitchen chatting and having drinks while the last minute prep went on in the kitchen without being in the way. It was a good set-up.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

You know what I miss? The American Fourplan,

i too miss the days where i could buy 4 entire homes for the price of one month's rent
posted by poffin boffin at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Open or not, my only kitchen requirement is a window over the sink. What seemed the default to me, growing up, has become an increasingly difficult feature to find.
posted by Rash at 10:36 AM on May 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

As a chronic toe-stubber/knee basher/wall-hitter, I tend to favor open floor plans as a kind of self-preservation.

But this whole conversation focusing on what is "better" seems kind of silly. It depends on the house! How much square footage? What kind of natural light? Who is living there and how many of them? Are they kids, single people, old people (who might need wider doors, lower counters, etc.?) What kind of storage do they need?

There are other ways besides walls to create noise baffles, too. Bookcases, screens, plants and furnishings in general soften noise. I've been in plenty of places with lots of walls that you could still hear everything through.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes to the american fourplan. I didn’t know the name, but my grandparents had this style of house, and I adore it to this day. I didn’t know the name. When house shopping a few years back, this was the style of house I walked into and loved.

I’m surprised their isn’t a resurgence of pocket doors to deal with open v. closed. It seems like it would be a reasonable solution, and when I have looked at old homes with pocket doors, I’m always impressed by the versatility of the spaces.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:45 AM on May 19, 2018

One of my professors once said that a sustainable house is a house that stands for 500 years. And with that comes the notion that you are allowed to change and reconfigure houses endlessly all the time. Houses that live, change. I just visited Rome, where there are buildings that have been continuously inhabited for more than 2000 years, I think they have changed plenty over the years. So if you want walls, don't wait for permission from the architectural police, build walls. It's neither hard nor expensive. Then tear them down when you don't need them anymore.
When my grandmother became so old and frail that we needed her to move into the city so we could care for her, we found an amazing apartment that was all open space except for a tiny bedroom. It was really beautiful and importantly, wheelchair friendly, but for the rest of her life, she called the entire huge living space "the kitchen". It was OK, because she had always wanted to fusion her kitchen and bedroom at the farm into one space (maybe like at the farm where she grew up which was long gone when I was born).
My own apartment has spacious rooms connected with double pocket doors, so when I have a big party, it functions as one space. The kitchen is down at the end of a hallway, so it can seem a bit far away, but now I have renovated it and included part of the hallway so it is at least big, and can room all those people who always end up in the kitchen. I like open space. But when we are just alone in the apartment, we end up spending all of our time in the kitchen and the bedrooms that are strangely connected to the kitchen. We are working on that.
At the farm, I've actually rebuilt some walls that my gran tore down. It didn't work at all and everyone in the family agrees it's good to have them back. (lazuli, she had made it like that u-shape you are describing, I'll just say: build a wall).
posted by mumimor at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Shelves of low maintence plants are common noise bafflers in “open plan apartments” I’ve seen where the design was to say “open plan” while really meaning “spend as little as possible making it” so not putting up interior walls.

They’re a pleasant solution at least.
posted by The Whelk at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also enjoy open dividers, such as sparsely filled open book cases. Likely also a symptom of my grandparents beautiful home; that’s how the dining room was divided from the living room.

What I wouldn’t give to transplant that home to the city...
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2018

I've made myself heard before about open floor plans - I hate them, especially if the ceiling is also vaulted, it makes the house feel like a pole barn - but to each their own.

However, it bums me out when old houses with a specific architectural style are "opened up". Do you have a Victorian with an open floorplan, a large eat-in kitchen and a bathtub (or even a bathROOM) on the first floor? The purist in me would say it's hardly even a Victorian anymore. Sure, the exterior might scream Victorian but inside it's...not. And that's a shame. The architectural integrity of a building doesnt end at the front stoop. I imagine that in 20 years when trends change people will be scouring architectural salvage shops, trying to recreate what had been lost from the "opening up"/HGTV movement.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:49 AM on May 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

I like the idea of a house that can adapt over 500 years, and putting interior walls up and down should be doable over that time, but interior walls that are sound- and fire-breaks probably need to be heavy which makes it harder unless you somehow started with a foundation that can handle that *and* interior walls that aren't load-bearing, which seems unlikely.

People Who Had This Old House Before sure tried, one way or the other. Oh, the saggy.

Vitruvius wrote about how to build to allow for upper floors added later, but I don't remember him talking about altering existing interior floorplans. Wattle and plaster, always supportable on a stone foundation?


Re everyone's different taste in kitchens, evidently we cook differently, too. When I'm cooking I can maybe listen to a podcast, certainly couldn't watch TV much of the time without hurting myself, and do not have the excess attention to give someone who isn't cooking the same way. And yet I like giving smorgasbord and dinner parties! So I have trays of drinks and nibbles prepped and when idlers walk in and prop themselves in one leg of the "work triangle" I hand them a tray and thank them effusively for handing it round to everyone in the living or dining rooms. Generally they get distracted while there. I'll talk when the food's done.
posted by clew at 10:59 AM on May 19, 2018

I started reading this article last night, and about halfway thru realized that it's just one of those longwinded Atlantic articles where somebody finds some minor trend and tries to elevate it into evidence for a sweeping thesis about what's wrong with American society. This kind of thing is why I stopped reading the Atlantic some years ago.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

When we entertain, I just lean heavily on either slow cooker meals or roasts that can sit in a warm oven. My wife and I share hors d'oeuvre prep, and then as people arrive we can just have them dive into snacks and fix some cocktails while everything is just being kept warm or a roast is resting. Then, ideally, by the time everyone's shown up and nearly finished their first round, I'll disappear into the kitchen to plate/carve everything and maybe mixup a salad dressing. I don't mind the kitchen being separated from the social space, because I generally prefer not to be cooking anymore by the time guests arrive.
posted by bl1nk at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

However, it bums me out when old houses with a specific architectural style are "opened up". Do you have a Victorian with an open floorplan, a large eat-in kitchen and a bathtub (or even a bathROOM) on the first floor? The purist in me would say it's hardly even a Victorian anymore.

It isn't, but in a lot of cases it's between a bad choice and a worse choice. Home usage has changed a lot in 100 years and part of that is people entertaining inside the house more, and people having more stuff. Victorians and other houses of that era have tiny bedrooms with no closets. I don't know why the invention of closets is not celebrated more, but they really seem to have revolutionized living spaces. Also, in larger old houses you find more servant-oriented stuff like butler pantries and prep kitchen type things hanging off the back of the kitchen, if not full living quarters.

I like the look of open plans, but I don't want one. Extra egregious is the "stove on the island" without a hood or anything. When I see those houses I say to myself, "this is a house for a person who doesn't cook and who has a housecleaner regardless."
posted by rhizome at 11:18 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites] 100 years [...] people entertaining inside the house more

This is almost certainly not true, and even less true if comparing social behavior to the "long 19th" that ended in WW1. We have hardly any afternoon teas, or ladies over for luncheon, fewer people living close enough to their parents for Mandatory Sunday Dinner plus all birthdays and holidays, having bosses/the parson/people to impress to dinner is a "thing" people choose and not a social obligation we absolutely have to live up to.

We might be rising from a 1970s/1980s nadir of domestic entertaining when the old system wasn't supportable without fulltime homemakers and the new system hadn't gelled. My mother laughs (now) over the rocky switch between having the boss/superior officer over for dinner and 1970s cool with hostess gowns.
posted by clew at 12:02 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like the idea of a house that can adapt over 500 years, and putting interior walls up and down should be doable over that time, but interior walls that are sound- and fire-breaks probably need to be heavy which makes it harder unless you somehow started with a foundation that can handle that *and* interior walls that aren't load-bearing, which seems unlikely.
Yeah, part of what that professor taught was to make certain that the load bearing elements (posts or columns or walls) were placed in a manner that allowed for future changes. A lot of old buildings are actually very good for that. Either because people back then built with change in mind, or because only the buildings that are adaptable have survived.
posted by mumimor at 12:07 PM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

It is unfortunate how explicitly visual our design culture has become, and how the HGTV monoculture has led to a kind of checklist-based approach to renovation to maximize resale value.
Something to note is that the open-plan ranch house was originally also about designing for climate - big, shaded operable windows on both sides of a room that maximize cross ventilation are perfect in mild, dry climates. Not so great where you have more heating than cooling days, however.
posted by q*ben at 12:28 PM on May 19, 2018 [11 favorites]

This is our first home together and we chose it primarily because it gave us the space needed for mr. lemon_icing’s studio and exterior workshop, along with big kitchen for me. i’d grown up in a big Victorian brownstone so was unfamiliar with open plan living. But it seemed nice - the kitchen flowing into the dining room and a studio/sun room, with the lounge half floor up. Big communal space with great sight lines— what could be wrong with that?

We do love our home but the next one will have a walled-off kitchen. I love cooking — bread, pastries, make my own sausages, etc. — so have lots noisy machinery like stand mixers, blenders, and food processor. and the extraction fan which is almost a meter wide and powerful because I don’t want the oil to coat our belongings. And i listen to audiobooks and podcasts. So if I’m cooking, he can’t hear TV. If TV is on, then I have to wear headphones. Which is more isolating than speakers.

I long for a separate room to regain my privacy and protect our possessions. That’s now top of the list for the next home we buy.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:56 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've commented on MF before that in my own home I am very anti- open floorplan (although I enjoy it at other people's homes and, hey, I'll do me and you do you).

I do not actually want to be in the same room all.the.time. with the entire family. I need a private space to get away and be quiet. For me living in an open floor plan feels like living in a bigger version of a studio apartment. It's just not for me.
posted by vignettist at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

> my wife and I move into a condo with four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and butler's pantry. .... everyone tells us that a 4br/1ba is going to be awkward to sell,

Where the hell do you get a 4/1 bath condo? I would be thrilled to death to have that kind of ratio. I can barely find a 2/1 here and it's absurd how many places going up have even more bathrooms than bedrooms. We've got barely 700 square feet in the new place and there's two whole entire bathrooms it's just nuts. We're probably going to convert at least the bathtub in one of them into a linen closet because it's an insane waste of space. That's my biggest gripe with condo layouts up here, there's some kind of bathroom arms race, like cupholders in an SUV. JFC either hold it for a few minutes or go downstairs to the change rooms in the gym I do not get it, I just do not.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:23 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have a house nor all the money in the world, but if I had a 4/1 I'd be dreaming of converting it to a 3/2!
posted by rhizome at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2018

Different strokes for different folks. I lived in a 2 bed / 1 bath condo for many years, and the thing I was most excited about when we bought a house was a second bathroom. It's on my list of things that once I had it I knew I could never willingly not have it again. The same is true of having a kitchen open to the main living room. I cook dinner 4 or 5 nights a week, and being able to do that while still talking to my wife who is relaxing after work is not something I would give up for the world.

(I'm also baffled by claims about grease getting everywhere. I cook a huge variety of things, we pay a lot of attention to home cleaning, and I have never witnessed any mess from my kitchen end up in other rooms, even though it's open to the living room).
posted by tocts at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

We live in a 3000 square foot room. We built “Movie walls” , large wooden frames with canvas stretched , installed tracks and now having sliding walls to close off spaces.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:14 PM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I loved that the Atlantic article used as an example one of the hideous gargantuan infill houses here in Atlanta. That house in Oakhurst no doubt replaced a 1920s 3/2 bungalow that had lot of walls and doors and actual trees in the yard (and that an ordinary human being could afford to purchase).
posted by hydropsyche at 2:15 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

My requirement for any apartment I rent is that there be a door between the bedroom and the kitchen / living area. I don't cook that much, but when I do, I need some place to put things that I don't want to smell like what I made, without having to install a high-powered range hood!
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:27 PM on May 19, 2018

I hate the design of the small, closed galley kitchen in my mid-century house so much. When my son was little, I couldn't see him playing in the living room while I did things in the kitchen, so I either had to try to keep him in the kitchen while I was working there, or had to constantly interrupt tasks like making dinner to check on him. When I have people over and need to go into the kitchen to grab drinks, prep snacks, or clean up dishes, no one can see or clearly hear me unless they squeeze into the too-small-to-share kitchen space, in which case I don't actually have enough room to comfortably do work. My kitchen actually actively offends my sensibilities as a feminist. I literally call it my "women-should-neither-be-seen-nor-heard kitchen from the 1950s." So it's very weird to me that other people think of an open kitchen as a stealth way of increasing work for women. But I guess maybe that's because I'm personally far less embarrassed by people seeing my dirty dishes than I am annoyed when people who are guests in my home can't see me at all.
posted by BlueJae at 3:40 PM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I live in a long skinny brownstone apartment. Living room in front, bedrooms in the back, kitchen and dining space in between. If there was an interior wall blocking off the kitchen from the living area, it would be a horrible windowless box with zero natural light and very little ventilation.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:48 PM on May 19, 2018

The open plan living room/kitchen is particularly annoying when translated to a small London flat where you can't hear the TV if you're using the washing machine in the 'kitchen'.. or even boiling a kettle.

Oh man, my parents have a big house with an open floor plan and they keep the television loud enough that you can hear it everywhere. Combine that with dad's normal age-related hearing impairment, it really makes for an unwelcoming environment. Trying to sit in the family room is a sonic assault like that old Memorex poster. Conversation is impossible, both because it is too loud and because there's no delineated spaces allowing for sidebar conversations, everyone has to shout so that people sitting 50 feet away are included. Christmas gatherings are even worse because they'll add a laptop playing xmas music to one side of the room. It has all the comfort and charm of an airport lounge.
posted by peeedro at 3:58 PM on May 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

My worst house layout ever:

I spent a few years in a shotgun house in New Orleans with two roommates. Shotgun houses have no hallways—they are just a line of rooms connected by doors. This one, from front to back, went: living room > bedroom > bedroom > bedroom > kichen. There was about four feet of hallway between the second and third bedrooms, with the bathroom off to one side.

Would not do again if I had a choice.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:07 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Open plan kitchens are very popular here nowadays, but they make absolutely zero sense for Asian (especially Chinese) cooking. Stir frying in a wok, toasting belacan... If you do that in an open plan kitchen your entire house is going to be covered in grease and stink of rotting shrimp. In fact the more traditional place where kitchens would be outdoors, at the back, where the fumes could escape easily.
posted by destrius at 5:15 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

You know what I miss? The American Fourplan, the first prefab layout designed with indoor plumbing and built in electricity in mind

I'm pretty sure that at least half of the houses here in Pittsburgh are some form of Foursquare. I had one in the '90s that I loved. It had four rooms on the first floor (foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen) and four bedrooms plus a bath on the second and two more bedrooms and a bath on the third floor. I was dumb to sell it since we'd paid $40K for it and it's easily worth five or six times that now.
posted by octothorpe at 7:00 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Open floorplans forever.

One of my grandmothers was a wonderful woman, but I have never really eaten a meal with her. She was in the kitchen cooking the meal, serving the meal, making sure the other courses of the meal were ready. I could barely see her - only when she popped out of the room to hand over food. It left a strong impression with me - I vowed I would never be that person.

But then, living in apartments with a kitchen barely big enough to turn around in, I was.

Now I have an open kitchen, and I can watch TV with the family while I cook, people can play games at the table while I cook. I feel much more a part of my family and much less like a household servant.
posted by corb at 7:23 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't really care one way or the other - I consider open floor plans a personal choice if not one heavily marketed/forced on newer homes, but I still consider them gifts to the future owners in terms of configurability/cost.

For example:
To remove a load bearing wall, you have to pay approximately $700 for an engineering report and approximately $3000 to put in a load bearing beam, more or slightly less depending on how long it is. Fixing the other stuff like electrical and flooring is extra on top of that. To put in a non-loadbearing wall, you have to pay about $500 or if you are relatively handy, you can do it yourself. You can generally build a non-load bearing wall on top of many types of flooring, so you don't have to pay extra to change out all your flooring (or you cut the tiny area that a 2X4 plus some drywall floorplate would fit) like you do when you remove a wall.

That being said, I don't understand any of the arguments being presented in the articles. A 'person who loves cooking' is going to hide the fact that they use cheater ingredients? No. Dishes somehow go away when the kitchen is closed off? Also no. There must be some kind of weird privilege to be repulsed by dishes used by someone to cook a meal for a person who is guest that even if I understood I would never be able to sympathize with.

Noise, smells - sure those are good reasons. Dirty dishes? Also, walls or not, the labor doesn't change except with the size of the total floorplan. I find most cleaning tasks easier with an open plan, but the difference is barely enough to comment on.

I have seen the 'messy kitchen' (2 kitchens basically) thing in a few houses recently - none less than 6k sq ft. It's a design that assumes (mostly correctly) that the buyer will be able to afford staff.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:02 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

People want 2ba/1.5br for the same reason as a separate kitchen: no one needs to see the bathroom you actually use. 2 ba / 2br is often about rentability or marketability to families with a kid.

I live in a condo with a great, spacious floorplan but terrible fixtures and building materials. I have a galley style kitchen with a laundry closet at one end and a breakfast nook at the other. Through a double doorway (I suspect pocket doors were removed or just omitted on cost) is a dining room open to the foyer and the LR around the corner. The other end of the kitchen has tall narrow double swing doors to the DR.

I find the floorplan is open enough without feeling like one large box, but the kitchen is really an afterthought and frustrating to work with. (Not as bad as the one poffin linked tho!)
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:26 PM on May 19, 2018

I may have mentioned this before, in another architecture/home improvement/HGTV-related discussion, but hey.

The thing that annoys me about the ubiquitous rekerjiggering into an open plan with marble countertops, subway-tile backsplash, and stainless steel appliances even more than the fact that all the houses end up looking vaguely alike, is the attitude of both hosts and homeowners that the failure of the original owners to make it that way is just as negligent and stupidystupidheaded as if they left out windows, doors, and plumbing.

I remember evenings in my family where Mom would be cooking, canning, or baking in the kitchen (activities that required singing), my sister practicing the piano in the dining room, Dad watching football in the living room, and me playing music and dancing or banging on the typewriter in the front room, and none of us bothering each other. If Mom wanted to supervise us from the kitchen when we were really little, she just had us play or read in the kitchen.
On entertaining:

Dad did a TON of entertaining for work; Mom was such a great cook that both his peers and higher-ups we're constantly angling for dinner invitations. Her pot roast, stuffed shells, and extra apple dumplings to take home might not have directly taken him from labor to middle management to executive. But to paraphrase the Shake 'n Bake commercial, they helped! And as someone above mentioned, the big reveal when the finished product is brought to the dining room table from another room adds more to the atmosphere than seeing the cook cover everything including herself with flour while rolling out the dumpling crust! The bedoored kitchen is also a great place for cooks to tidy themselves at the last minute.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:16 PM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's just a cultural phase that we're going through right now. Young affluent professionals that can afford an urban single family dwelling now live in a culture that values culinary skills as one of the requirements of modern fashionable society, among other things, and entertaining is often done in kitchen while food is being prepared, so that culinary skills can be admired, maybe with a bit of collaboration.

This current custom is not really the worst thing. 100 years ago servants presented dishes from behind closed doors; mid 20th century June Cleaver/MadMen-wife was kinda stuck alone in the servant role; we'll see what the next kitchen fashion is a few decades in the future.
posted by ovvl at 10:22 PM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

As mentioned upthread, fire safety really is a thing " a small, traditional house with individual rooms you’ve got almost thirty minutes to get out before a fire flashes over. In an open floor plan house you have under five minutes, which means that firefighters probably won’t even get to your house before it becomes a raging inferno." Five minutes isn't long, I probably wouldn't have time to get my cats out if I lived in an open-floor plan.

House fires burn much faster than they used to. Here’s how to survive. (WaPo)
Your Open Floor Plan is a Death Trap
posted by nanook at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2018 [8 favorites]

Holy shit, the flammability stuff feels like a buried lede. Forget aesthetics- if open floor plans let fire travel that much faster, that’s a very good argument against them.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:16 PM on May 20, 2018

At the same time though, the rate of house fires has been dropping steadily. So while they spread faster, they're also less likely to happen in the first place. I feel like having working smoke detectors in all the places where they're supposed to be, plus the required number of working egresses, plus some kind of plan for what you're going to do in the event of a fire are still by far the most important things.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:33 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

1873 house, 3BR/2Bath. One of its most attractive features is the abundance of doors—at the top of the stairs, for example, which allows someone to sleep upstairs while guests make noise below. We did link the parlor and dining room, which opened the downstairs some, but I could never give up my cozy, separate kitchen. My guests do not need to hear me muttering recipe instructions to myself or cursing when something fails.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:47 PM on May 20, 2018

At the same time though, the rate of house fires has been dropping steadily.

If you go to that link and then toggle to "deaths", you can see that deaths dropped from 2006 to 2012, but since 2012 have risen dramatically, to almost 2006 levels, so the actual number of fires has dropped, but fatalities has only slightly changed and appear to be on the rise.
posted by nanook at 7:59 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Example: Christmas Eve fire kills family of four.
The home was an open-concept style, Evenden said. The living room had a vaulted ceiling, and a stairwell close to the living room led to the upstairs, where the bedrooms were located.

The home had multiple wall-mounted smoke alarms, but they were located some distance from the vaulted ceiling and stairwell.

"We believe this may have played a role in the late detection and notification in terms of sounding the alarm," Evenden said.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:20 PM on May 20, 2018

My ideal is to have a big livingroom at the front and then a separate kitchen behind it that is big enough to support dining and 'light' entertainment/relaxing. Many of the modern UK home renovations I've seen use this model. This way you avoid the kitchen smells pervading the rest of the house, but the kitchen can still be the social room where most family life occurs.

When we were flat-hunting (we can't quite afford a house yet) the worst layouts were livingroom -> galley kitchen -> Bathroom on the ground flor and then the 2 bedrooms upstairs (or the front facing liviingroom was ostensibly labeled a bedroom, ugh). So that meant if you needed to take a shower or go to the bathroom in the middle of the night you had to traipse through the communal rooms in your underwear or always wear a bathrobe. Just awful. I experienced this with about half the Victorian conversions we saw.
posted by like_neon at 2:43 AM on May 21, 2018

Wow, the fire thing is huge. I'm paranoid about fire and already refuse to live in flats more than one floor off the ground (so window escape is possible), that fire risk makes open plan a complete non-starter for me. Disappointing to find out that modern building materials contribute to faster fires too.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:58 AM on May 21, 2018

...wonderful woman, but I have never really eaten a meal with her. She was in the kitchen cooking the meal, serving the meal, making sure the other courses of the meal were ready. I could barely see her - only when she popped out of the room to hand over food.

But maybe grandma preferred it that way? I'm not fond of being around a lot of people, especially children, so having my separate kitchen gives me respite during our get togethers. Big dinners can require hard work. I think I'm much nicer to be around with that set up and I like privacy. I did read somewhere, tho, that the level of Grandma's alcohol habit was hidden for decades that way.
posted by waving at 5:58 AM on May 21, 2018

Wow, the fire thing is huge.
The fire thing is not huge. The average fire company in a city responds to 1 actual fire per week. That's why they spend so time driving fire trucks to traffic accidents. And modern building methods and materials burn way less than older ones.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:50 AM on May 21, 2018

Yeah, but if that one fire a week is mine then the time I have to get out matters. It's not like winning-the-lottery odds.

modern building methods and materials burn way less than older ones.

The links say the exact opposite, but if you have references that would be re-assuring
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:08 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

What I'm saying is it's huge *to me* YMMV of course
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:10 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

We love love love our walls, and especially our kitchen walls in our tiny 1950's bungalow. We recently put an addition on the back of our house and the builder wanted to know if we wanted to remove walls. Nope. We now have a huge dining room that extends to a nice sunny sitting area which opens up with a large sliding glass door onto a covered back porch. Perfect for entertaining! The kitchen has a large open doorways into the front living room and dining room, and the house is so small I can see hear everything anyways, while still keeping some of the kitchen messiness and smells hidden away. Some of our neighbours with similar homes have removed all the walls and I don't know how they can stand it. I find our house feels much bigger because you can't see everything all at once.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

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