Are Open Concept Layouts Going Out of Style? Interior Designers Weigh In

In the interior design industry, trends can come and go faster than you can drape a throw blanket over your sofa or armchair. But more times than not, what was once considered out of fashion makes a comeback. And, as it turns out, our home’s layouts fall into that cyclical process.

The ubiquitous open concept floor plans that define the latest trends in architecture and home building are giving way to a rise of actual rooms—not just designated areas of a larger space, but sectioned-off spaces complete with four walls. But what’s the best layout for you?

The Backlash Against Open Concept

New York-based designer Madeline Merin always expected popular layouts to swing back from open concept to room-based. “People who grew up in [constrained spaces] wanted a more open, casual feeling as they created their own homes,” she says. “[But] home sizes have continued to grow ever larger—the average size of homes [in the United States] has more than doubled from 1,000 square feet in 1950 to 2,300 square feet in 2020—and people are seeing a need for greater definition of the increased space they have to work with.” As a result, Merin’s clients are realizing that the unused spaces in their homes would better serve their families if each had its own distinct purpose.

How the Pandemic Inspired a Shift

For other designers, the decline of the open concept floor plan is a sign of the times—namely, years of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think we are all craving more of that variety and definition in our spaces, especially after spending so much time in our homes since the pandemic began,” designer Lilse McKenna says. “I think a bit of the magic of moving from room to room, with different moods and atmospheres, is also lost if the spaces are not divided.” If you’ve ever spent the entire day at your dining room table—on Zoom calls, then eating dinner, and then playing cards with your family—you might be able to appreciate the benefits of having one space to relax, one to focus on work, and another for family-focused activities.

Gioi Tran, co-founder and principal designer of San Francisco-based firm Applegate Tran, also points to a rise in time spent in the house as a reason for more interest in rooms. “The adjustment for many of us to work and oversee our children going to school from home has brought to light a need for separated spaces, where we can head to another room and close the door,” he says.

The Design Perks of Separate Spaces

Practicality isn’t the only thing sectioned-off spaces have to offer; they also have their share of design perks, too. “[They] give you the opportunity to add more diversity and take more design risks,” says designer Sarah Lederman. “I would use a punchy wallpaper in a dining room, but it wouldn’t be so bold in a larger, multi-use space.” When you have spaces defined by walls, you can incorporate different parts of your design sense in each; a dramatic dining room that complements a neutral kitchen; a coastal living space adjacent to a sunny foyer.

Unless you have a home with sectioned-off rooms or an unlimited budget for an invasive renovation, it may be tricky to embrace this phenomenon in an existing open floor plan. Fortunately, Lederman says it is possible to fake the look. “You can separate the living area from the dining area through the use of bookshelves, folding screens, or even just through furniture layout,” she shares.

The Pros of Open Concept Layouts

Although many designers favor separate rooms, not everyone thinks open concept floor plans are a thing of the past. For Tran, open floor plans still offer a welcome pace for families to connect. “The idea of ​​everyone in a household coming together to prepare meals, watch television, and engage with one another in the living room promotes the feeling of connectivity and closeness that I don’t think people would choose to go without.”

Tran also points out that since most people are multitasking—making lunch while listening in on an important call, perhaps—an open concept floor plan is more conducive to a dweller’s ever-changing needs. “An excellent amount of versatility comes with an open floor plan,” he adds. “With fewer walls that separate one room from the next, multitaskers [who are] working from home can, for example, watch their children playing in the living room while working from the dining room table. And at night? They can cook dinner while keeping an eye on the homework situation.”

A Matter of Preference

So, open concept floor plan or closed-off rooms? “We see the benefits to either way of living,” say Hillary Kaplan and Miriam Silver Verga, the design duo behind Mimi & Hill. “Rooms can have their own distinct personality and color story in a traditional layout whereas an open floor plan demands a more cohesive color story and level of formality or casualness.” Consider the life you and your family live inside your house to decide what layout is best for you.

“The home you have tells a story,” say Kaplan and Verga. “We believe you should listen.”