Saturday, January 19, 2013

Open Concept.....ugh

My last post was about things that I hope will go out of style very very soon and things that have gone out of style (thankfully).  Today I'd like to revisit one of those.  Open Concept.

If I hear that term one more time, I very well may throw up in my mouth.

As I've stated before, there are houses that need some walls taken down.  Row houses are notorious about having small rooms.  After both WWII and the Korean War, small bungalow type houses were built for the returning veterans.  They were cracker box houses.  Very small foot print.  1 bathroom.  Closet sized kitchen.  No exterior decoration.  I know you've all seen them before. Below are a couple of photo's.
  Over the years some owners have embellished these houses and added to them but without additions, unless you rip out nearly all the interior walls, you will always have small rooms.

In these instances, I completely get open concept - as long as it doesn't bother you that you are permanently and forever changing the entire character of your house. Or in some folks opinions, taking the character away from the house.

There are a few things people should realize about open concept.  Things they never ever mention in all the home improvement TV shows.

The noise. 
When you remove walls, it creates open space which allows sound to bounce around in a more open area causing it to amplify.  Think about a bowling alley or a train station.  This means your footsteps will be louder, your laughter, your voice, the kids playing...everything will be louder.

If you aren't very careful when deciding which walls to remove and you take down the walls where the hallway once stood, you can say goodbye to nap time for the kids or your being able to get to sleep while your teenagers stay up late watching movies in the living room because your noise buffer (the hallway) has been removed and now sound can float all the way to (and into) the bedrooms.

Display area.
Obviously, open concept also means much less wall space.  For those of you who don't particularly like hanging family photo's on the walls or artwork or even mirrors, this may not be an issue.  But for those of us who do.....bad situation. Good news is that you'll save a ton of money on paint.....because there aren't many walls left to paint.

If you don't mind sitting down at a dinner party or holiday meal with your kitchen completely exposed for all to see, then open concept won't be a big deal to you.  But if you do - then you're out of luck.  Also, if you are the cleanest, neatest and most efficient cook in the world, then having the kitchen open for all to see will just cement the legend of your prowess as a cook.  But if you are like me and occasionally drop stuff, use prepackaged stuff that you just dress up to look home made or don't clean as you cook and wait for the party to be over before cleaning the kitchen - you're screwed.

Shoddy or ill advised workmanship
I'm sure your cousin's husband's father Harold, is a great guy and he's been doing this kind of work forever!  However, just because he eyeballs the wall and tells you that it's not a load bearing wall - it don't make it so. You really need a licensed/bonded professional to make that call.  Perhaps even a structural engineer.  Then if they make a mistake - there's something to sue for the damages.  Harold might not have the funds to make this mistake right.

Let's say Harold is correct in his assumption that it's a load bearing wall and all you have to do is add a beam.  Will the beam that he adds be enough?  Should he have added a footer?  Again, consulate an experienced professional who does this type of thing often.  Otherwise, one day you may see your roof slowly falling into your brand new open concept kitchen.

The picture below shows an example of what I like to call "bowling alley" living.
Yes, it's pretty.  Yes, it's functional.  Yes, it's loud. No, it's not private.  While it looks great just remember the old saying "Looks can be deceiving".  That old saying goes perfectly in this situation.

Is there EVER a time that open concept is advisable?  Sure there is.  Nothing is ever 100% this or 100% that.

The picture above is an example of (in my opinion) one of the ONLY times anyone should open their kitchen up to the rest of the house.  If you had walls that divided this kitchen from the rest of the house - you'd never be able to cook in it because it would send you running to the pharmacy for anti-anxiety medication!

Another good reason to take down a wall is when you have 3 rooms that together really only equal 2 rooms.   Then when you take down a wall or two you will actually have 2 good sized rooms.  Sometimes you really do need to steal footage from one room in order to make the other room truly functional.

The only other time is when you have 3 bedrooms and 1 bath.  Stealing one of the bedrooms might not be a great idea if the market is over-saturated with 2 bedroom 2 bathroom houses but I greatly doubt that turning a 3 bedroom 1 bath house into a 2 bedroom 2 bath house would alter the price drastically.  Especially if the conversion is done with high end finishes.  Giving a potentially new home owner a master bath and walk in closet plus enlarging the master bedroom a little will more than not compensate them for the loss of a single bedroom.  These days potential homeowners would rather double up a couple of kids in the same room than share their bathroom with their kids.

Do I hate open concept?  No.  I see the need from time to time.  I'm just overly sick of it being applied to every house on the planet.  I am sick of hearing people list open concept in their wish lists.  Honestly, I don't think half of these people truly understand the way an open concept will affect their lives.  It's like everyone wanting granite and stainless steel appliances.  Do most of these people realize the maintenance required?  Probably not.  They have just heard it and seen it on all the TV shows and they don't really know why they have to have it - they just know they HAVE TO HAVE IT!

So to recap here in a nutshell are my views on open concept.
1.     Having your kitchen open to the family room or breakfast room is acceptable.  Having it open to your ONLY living space is not.
2.     Knocking down a wall to steal square footage for another room is acceptable.  Knocking down all the walls so that the only walls left are the exterior and bedroom walls is not.
3.     Making a mid century modern house open concept is acceptable.  Making a Craftsman bungalow or German 4 square open concept is not.

Last note (I promise).
Eventually open concept will go far far out of style.  Just as shag carpeting did.  Just as grass cloth did.  Just as pink and black tiled bathrooms (with matching pink bathtubs, sinks and toilets).  Just as granite and stainless steel will.  The major problem with making your home an open concept is the fact that when this "style" goes out of style, it will cost far more to rectify.  You can't just hire someone to come in, take it out and replace it in an afternoon as you can with granite counter tops or stainless steel appliances.  There will be major carpentry involved and possibly even electrical, HVAC and other professionals involved.

It's always best when wanting to update your home that you try to stick with the things that will be the least trouble and expense to change.  Counter tops. Appliances. Wall coverings and colors.  Flooring.  These things can be easily changed out when the mood (and budget) hit.  Structural things - not so much.

There you go.  Hope this was informative and that you come back for more!!  

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