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Are We Closing the Door on Open Floor Plans?

How the Coronavirus Is Changing What We Want in Our Homes

Homes have, by necessity, become our everything: not just a place to sleep and store our things but also office, classroom, restaurant, gym, daycare center, and entertainment complex. And it’s tough for several people to, say, cook a meal, join a Zoom meeting, and practice yoga all in one area, at one time. In the age of COVID-19, it appears that you can have too much open space.

It comes as no surprise, then, that a survey of architects revealed that interest in open layouts dropped by double digits for the second year in a row. [1,2] It seems that people were already moving away from open floor plans prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but this year’s events may be accelerating that trend.

The Rise of Open Floor Plans

Our office buildings went from having private rooms with doors to cubicles to desk clusters in common areas shared with co-workers; our homes have undergone a similar change. Blame the Silicon Valley tech companies for speeding up the demolition of walls at work and helping to carry over the effect to our homes. Or the home-improvement TV shows of recent years that touted open-concept living and lots of wall demolition. But actually, the open floor plan began much earlier than you might think.

In the early 1900s, many households were becoming unable to afford cooks or maids, whose work and indeed mere presence had been hidden behind walls. As mothers took on more domestic duties on top of childcare, the walls started tumbling down to enable them to keep an eye on the kids in the yard while they cooked and cleaned.[3]

Until recently, great rooms and open floor plans provided a feeling of family togetherness at a time when work-life balance was a looming challenge. Just like those moms from the early 1900s, the ability to see the kids doing their homework and watch the news on TV and converse with our significant others, all while making dinner, was a way to feel like we were managing everything, and doing a good job of it. Then came the coronavirus.

American homes are not meant to be lived in 24/7, says Don Norman, the founding chair of the cognitive-science department at the University of California at San Diego.[4]

Rethinking the Open-Concept Floor Plan

After staring at our walls — or lack thereof — for the better part of a year, we certainly have a more informed idea of what we need from our homes. And to make a home truly multipurpose, some of those walls may need to go back up.

This is not a surprise reversal. According to the American Institute of Architects, interest in open layouts dropped by double digits in both 2019 and 2020[1,2], and in March of this year[3], savvy architectural firms were seeing the writing on the wall and taking a hard look at the open-concept floor plan. Those wide-open indoor spaces are not only lacking in quiet areas, but now they’re also seen as the perfect way for germs and viruses to travel freely from person to person.

Source: The American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey, Q1 2020

Percentages calculated by subtracting the percent of respondents indicating that square footage of homes is decreasing from the percentage responding it is increasing.

Suddenly we remember fondly the ability to be alone. Until recently, we didn’t notice the lack of privacy and quiet in our open-floor-plan homes.

And now, people are beginning to realize that having distinct areas in your home divided by walls helps to reduce noise, provides privacy, and gives you a chance for a change of scenery whenever you like.



[1] American Institute of Architects, Home Design Trends Survey results, Q2 2019.

[2] American Institute of Architects, Home Design Trends Survey results, Q2 2020.

[3] The Atlantic, “The End of Open-Plan Everything.” July 27, 2020.

[4] The Atlantic, “Homes Actually Need to Be Practical Now.” March 29, 2020.


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