116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Our house has more walls than new construction’s prevalent open-concept floor plans. I used to think that was a weakness, something I wanted to change. Having an early mobile baby has made me see the benefits. The pocket door that closes off the kitchen has been a lifesaver. It’s a lot easier to close off a room with one or two gates than corral a toddler in an expansive space. Having separate rooms easily allows for a change of environment within the house.
I have come to appreciate the advantages of the walls separating our kitchen, dining and living rooms. As someone who likes to hang plenty of art and pictures, the walls draw a line between them and provide more surfaces to cover. Art is in the dining room, place-themed photos are in the living room and family photos in the hallways. The separation allows for different paint colors instead of a sea of one color.
Most importantly, walls allow for personal space and privacy. After more than a year of constantly being surrounded by the same people, it’s nice to go to another room and have alone time. Some people have gone so far as to build pandemic sheds. These one-room sheds allow for a place for schooling, relaxing and giving people a small sense of travel.
Open-concept plans, where the entry, living and dining rooms and kitchen are one space, are suited for entertaining friends and family. When a pandemic closes off homes to visitors, great rooms go unused. Yet homeowners are left with expansive spaces to heat and cool, clean and find ways to apply to a smaller group. It’s time to look at whether open-concept plans continue to make sense.
I agree with the reasons architecture and design critic Kate Wagner makes for separate rooms in an article in Bloomberg CityLab (https://tinyurl.com/yrmjxvbj). Wagner cites benefits of energy savings, isolation of odors and efficiency of work. If rooms are not being used, it makes sense to only heat and cool areas that are in use. Bacon is a delicious breakfast staple, but it’s not a scent I want to spread through the house. A closed kitchen will contain the bacon scent. Taking fewer steps in the kitchen helps the person who is cooking.
Public and private spaces within the home have traditionally been separate. Living and dining rooms are public spaces while bedrooms and bathrooms are private. The kitchen, a work space, had traditionally been closed.
Wagner offers a history of home design.
Class largely influenced home interiors in the past, Wagner says. Wealthy families in the 18th and 19th centuries initially had rooms dedicated to specific purposes, but advances in building favored homes with continuous space. Commuting workers replaced live-in help and did not require living space.
Change had the opposite effect on homes of the working class. The number of walls increased. Sleeping space, which may have been within the public living area, migrated to private bedrooms. Working-class families tended to be larger in number and lived in smaller homes than smaller families do today. Wagner says the closed plan of small houses from the 1930s to 1950s represented security, isolation and control.
We are in another time that identifies with those attributes. We’ll have to see if or how the pandemic changes home design. In the meantime, let’s not be quick to wish the walls away.
Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org