I like walls. Not the border kind and not the kind that prompted a government shutdown, but walls that define rooms and hold up roofs. I like them because they offer privacy and quiet, because they provide space to hang fancy artwork and family pictures.
Walls, I dare say, give a house purpose and shape. They structure our habits, or at least the inevitable messiness that we create in the business of living. Walls keep me sane.
But favoring partitions that separate kitchen from living room from eating area makes me a throwback to a long-lost era. In today’s housing market, walls are too ordinary, too traditional. Open floor plans, on the other hand, are all the rage. Look at the real estate ads if you don’t believe me.
One blurb for a downtown Miami condo gushes “high ceiling, great open kitchen.” Another announcement touting an Atlanta home boasts “generously-sized living area graced by a sleek fireplace.” And a farmhouse-style pre-fab homepage describes “a white and bright open concept living area, open shelving in the kitchen and distressed hardwood floors throughout.”
Open shelving in the kitchen? Yikes! It’s hard enough keeping drawers organized, but to expect cupboard shelves tidied for public viewing? Come on. Isn’t that asking a bit much?
But I digress. Open floor plans, yes.
In the past few years, everyone I know who has embarked on a house remodeling project has knocked down at least one wall. Sometimes two and three. Gone are the partitions separating the dining area from the kitchen. Gone, too, are all other divisions except for bedroom and bathroom walls. Those are the last rooms left standing in our drive for exposure.
The first friends to choose what was then a newish concept changed their home so completely — knocking down walls, moving kitchen cabinets, creating windows — that I’m hard-pressed to remember what their old layout looked like. Though they didn’t add square footage, once finished their house looked more spacious. And it wasn’t just about appearances either. The new floor plan, they said, improved the traffic flow from one end of the house to the other.
Soon after, a neighbor began a similar months-long remodeling project that created one “great room” out of the kitchen and living and dining rooms. The result there was also stunning, but I’ll admit to some misgivings. Everything was visible as soon as you stepped in through the front door, including, from a certain angle, the dirty dishes in the sink.
So when one of my sons and his wife told me they were planning a similar transformation, I gave them my 2 cents’ worth of advice. They didn’t take it. Just as well: They sold the house two years later at a profit, which goes to show how little I know about architecture trends and decorating fashions.
Open floor plans, a knowledgeable person recently informed me, are popular for a reason. They reflect how family life has changed over the decades. We’re into casual entertaining now and have no need for formal rooms. When not on the run, we sit on bar stools and dine at granite-topped islands or peninsulas, ignoring the dignified six-chairs-and-table set we inherited from our parents. And when we throw a party, everybody congregates in the kitchen — the one place that used to be off-limits to guests.
I get it. Communal living spaces can be attractive at a time when we’re pulled a dozen different ways. I, however, think the walled-off spaces are a great idea that should transcend fads. They’re easier to keep up. You can separate messes, hide clutter and create the illusion that you have it together. When guests enter, they will see a well-ordered living area; not the shambles that typifies your kitchen. Enclosed rooms protect our authenticity.
So, for now, I’ll stick to my outdated preferences. Sometimes a good impression requires archaic practices.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.