I like walls. Not the kind that prompted a government shutdown, but walls that hold up your roof and define rooms. I like them because they offer privacy and quiet, and because they provide space to hang fancy artwork and family pictures.
Walls, as far as I’m concerned, 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 favouring partitions that separate kitchen from living room from eating area makes me a throwback. 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.
“High ceiling, great open kitchen.” “Generously-sized, open living area graced by a sleek fireplace.” “A white and bright open concept living area, open shelving in the kitchen and distressed hardwood floors throughout.” These are all descriptions taken from current on-line listings.
(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? No one is that clean, are they?)
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.
The first exposure I had to this concept was with my grandparents’ house. For the decades they lived there, the main floor of the house had seven rooms – porch, kitchen, den, dining room, living room, bathroom, and bedroom. After they went to live in the nursing home, my sister and her husband took over the property and began a complete renovation of the house that turned the main floor into one large room with the exception of the bedroom on the end. It changed the entire layout so completely – knocking down walls, moving kitchen cabinets, creating windows – that sometimes, despite the amount of time I spent there as a kid, I have trouble remembering what the old lay-out looked like.
Though they didn’t add square footage, once finished their house looked more spacious, without a doubt. Not only that, the new floor plan significantly improved the traffic flow from one end of the house to the other, by eliminating a bunch of hallways to wind through.
Soon after, another friend began a similar months-long remodeling project that created one “great room” out of the kitchen, 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 the dirty dishes in the sink.
So when another friend and her husband told me they were planning a similar transformation, I gave them my two cents’ worth of advice, which they didn’t take. Just as well, I suppose; they sold the house two years later at a nice profit, which goes to show how little I know about architecture and real estate trends.
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 eat at islands, ignoring the dignified six-chairs-and-table set we inherited from our grandparents. 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 are more attractive now. 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 remnants of the meal you just made in the kitchen. Enclosed rooms compartmentalize things in a way that makes me feel better about having a lived-in house.
So I’ll stick to my outdated preferences for now. Sometimes a good impression requires archaic practices.