Blog - Providing Insight into Residential Architecture and Construction

The Battle of the Floor Plan Concepts

A few years ago, a friend asked us to accompany her on the quest to find an apartment. We almost never turn down the opportunity to get a glimpse of what lies beyond the street wall of our neighborhood, so we were very much onboard for a day analyzing interiors and discussing the potentials of the different properties.

It is not uncommon for us to discuss shifting spatial arrangements of apartments, and even commercial layouts and educational facilities after visiting. We question things such as the position of the entryway, or how to improve circulation routes, and enhance the feeling of spaciousness. And, let's not even get into our debates over exterior cladding and formal architectural moves. So, we were pleasantly surprised when this apartment hunt led to a deeper discussion on the differences between an open floor plan and a compartmentalized layout.

When planning a home, the idea of an open floor plan is often met with polarizing opinions. Proponents argue that an open plan allows for “ultimate flexibility” and a floor plan where the entire house functions as a whole. Opponents desire the more intimate spaces of a compartmentalized layout – along with the privacy of both sight and sound that defined rooms offer.

The below diagram compares the open floor plan and the compartmentalized layout with regard to: views, privacy, wall surface and flow. Read more about the pros and cons of each to see which layout would best serve your needs.

VIEWS

VIEWS

OPEN FLOOR PLAN

COMPARTMENTALIZED

Advantages

Limitations

Limitations

Advantages

  • With fewer dividing walls, strong sight lines can be established across the entire first floor of your home, giving the allusion of spaciousness.

  • There is greater connection among the zones of your home, as the boundaries of the interior layout become undefined. Living space, dinning, and kitchen merge into one space.

  • A strong sense of awareness is established. You will be able to watch over young children, continue a conversation while refilling your glass of wine in the kitchen, and watch television while preparing dinner.

  • Your home - your entire home - will always be on display for those you welcome into it.

  • Views in a compartmentalized layout will usually focus on making a connection with outside, rather than accross your floor plate. You can place strategic windows within rooms to focus a view to the outdoors.

  • Since views cannot span across the floor plate, the idea of a “control point” - where you can keep an eye on all the activities - is not possible.

  • With walls seperating each zone, sunlight will be not be able to spread across the zones of your home. Instead, in the summer time, certain zones feel hot during different points of the day, and in the winter, some rooms will be dominated by shadow.

PRIVACY

PRIVACY

OPEN FLOOR PLAN

COMPARTMENTALIZED

Advantages

Limitations

Limitations

Advantages

  • Your entire floor plan will support whatever activity is occuring, and act as a cohesive unit. From hosting a party to watching over a young baby learn to walk, you’ll be able to take part in the experience no matter where you are in your home.

  • Your entire home will be consumed by one activity which may not be ideal when someone is trying to focus on homework, while someone else is watching the game, and someone else is preparing dinner. Hard surfaces dominate residential spaces and do not help absorb sound, so noise will travel across your floor plan, no matter how fluffy your carpet or how thick your upholstered furniture. Conversations, vaccumming, pets barking - all that will be felt throughout your home.

  • Also, remember privacy is not just about sound, but also sight. With an open floor plan, it is not easy to contain the potential eye sore of an untidy kitchen, as dirty dishes or scattered papers will be seen from lots of vantage points on your first floor.

  • Different daily activities that require varying levels of privacy can occur simultaneously, and successfully. You can have a bustling household, but your home will not feel chaotic because seperate rooms allow for individuals to inhabit their own space. Sounds - conversations, electronics and pets - can be at their own level without disrupting others, and sights - unwashed dishes, textbooks, laundry - can be contained and hidden.

  • Attention should be given toward designing a large room to accomodate social gatherings and family events. If a layout lacks such a feature, entertaining can be a challenge as smaller seperate rooms can feel isolated.

WALL SURFACE

WALL SURFACE

OPEN FLOOR PLAN

COMPARTMENTALIZED

Advantages

Limitations

Limitations

Advantages

  • Fewer walls require less in terms of interior decorating. The same, or similar, color palette will flow through the house, and if excuted correctly, can truly bring the home together to feel like a connected area rather than a package of parts.

  • Lack of walls means lack of wall space, so it may be difficult to find a spot for your heirloom china closet, or amazing reclaimed bookcase. And, necessities such as closets and pantries become more noticeable since the open floor plan doesn’t favor niches which these elements are often tucked.

  • You’ll need to carefully select a palette of floor finishes, paint colors, and materials that can function for living, dinning and kitchen, since no walls will be dividing your zones. And, if you want to freshen the finishes of one area, you’ll need to find smething that offers the aesthetic change you are looking for, but that also blends into your existing color scheme - otherwise, you’re simple new decorating idea for where your media center is, grows into addressing the entire first floor.

  • A compartmentalized layout provides enough wall space for any furniture or art work you’d like to display. Plus, it is easy to find niche places for storage, or a small study area, when creating the floor plan.

  • And, each room can have its own aesthetic identity. Wood, tile, carpet, wall paper, and paint, can be combined in a variety of ways to give character to each space, without making your home read like a hodgepodge of the latest interior decorating trends.

  • Too many walls can make spaces feel small, depending upon the square footage you have at your disposal.

FLOW

FLOW

OPEN FLOOR PLAN

COMPARTMENTALIZED

Advantages

Limitations

Limitations

Advantages

  • Fewer walls are great for entertaining because guests can stay with you as you prepare the meal, and then simply migrate a few steps away to where you’ll enjoy the meal. Circulating between zones is very simple, as spaces overlap and there’s no need to define a “hallway.”

  • Stairs become an accent piece - as circulation will be one of the only things interrupting the flow of your spaces. This should be embraced and the stairs can become a special moment in your plan.

  • Stair placement is critical in the open floor plan. Think about what zones people will be walking through to approach the stair, and what the dominate flow of people will be upon descending stair. Perhaps you’d like to get upstairs from your kitchen, or perhaps you are more inclined for family members to enter your main living area or entry hall upon descending the stair.

  • You can physically seperate the spaces where you gather from the circulation space, so you won’t be interrupted by people walking.

  • Stairs can serve as an accent element, or they can be concealed behind a support wall.

  • With walls defining each room, people must exit one space to enter the next. Valuable square footage is lost to create corridors to connect your different rooms. And, while these hallways may vary in width to support a small seating area, often, corridors do not have much access to light and are places that want to be passed through rather than inhabited.

  • And, more square footage means more money, so having square footage dedicated to circulation space may not be where you'd like to spend your money.


And, herein lies a challenge we love tackling: deciding which floor plan will be most successful for each residential project. We find that both floor plan concepts have their strengths, and perhaps a blend of the two can eliminate their inherit weaknesses.

Please feel free to add thoughts in the comment section below!