Knock it Down: Open Floor Plan 101

Taking down a wall between a kitchen and dining area makes the space go from two cramped rooms to one grand room.
Taking down a wall between a kitchen and dining area makes the space go from two cramped rooms to one grand room.
maine-homeseller/Creative Commons

One of the biggest misconceptions about home design is that bigger is better. What’s much more important than the size of a home is the layout of a home and how it functions. You might look at two homes that are the same square footage, but one of them has small choppy rooms while the other has a wide open floor plan. The more open a floor plan is, the better it typically functions, particularly if the house isn’t very large to begin with. Being able to pass the dishes across a counter from the kitchen to the dining area is much easier than having a line of people crowding the kitchen when they’re clearing their spot at the table.

If you find yourself living in a home where you are constantly bumping into your family members or getting stuck in a corner of the room wishing you had more space, chances are you would benefit from a more open floor plan. That doesn’t mean you have to start searching for a new house. It may be as simple as knocking down a wall in your existing home. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

1. Determine How You Want to Open the Space Up

Opening up your floor plan can be as simple as cutting a hole in a wall so that you can see from one room into the next, or as extreme as taking down all the walls between two or three rooms. Carefully think about how you will use the space and whether you want it to have access from all points or are just looking to create one section that is more open. Be mindful of whether you really want to hear and see everything that is going on in that other space that you plan to open up. Take into account the layout of cabinets, appliances, and furniture, as well as if there will need to be a change in flooring, paint color, or other finishes as you are determining your overall layout.

2. Find the Load-Bearing Walls

Sometimes the best laid plans aren’t possible, or require extra work to achieve because of the way your home is built. It’s crucial that you don’t take down any load-bearing walls or else it won’t be long before the rest of your home is coming down as well. Typically exterior walls and walls that are located towards the center of the home tend to be load-bearing, but there could be others, too. If you have the original plans from your home, that is the quickest way to determine which walls are load-bearing, but if not, it will require more research.

Most of the evidence as to whether or not a wall is load-bearing is hidden behind the sheetrock of the walls, so you’ll likely need to remove a portion of the sheetrock to determine this for sure, but if you see any beams, you need to be wary of altering the wall and should bring a structural engineer in to help. In many cases it is still possible to remove parts of a load bearing wall, but other supports will need to be put into place to do so. It’s always a good idea to have a licensed professional come in and help you determine what’s safe when you are altering the structure of your home.

3. Identify the Location of Pipes and Wires

Before deciding if you are going to take down a wall or portion of a wall, you’ll also want to determine if there are pipes, gas lines, or wires running through that wall that will need to be moved. Look at where your heating elements, plumbing fixtures, and electrical outlets lie in the room and see if they’ll need to be moved to a new location or removed altogether. This means that you’ll also need to consider which rooms are over a downstairs wall, as there could be pipes running to an upstairs bathroom or heater. Having to alter these systems can add quite a bit of cost to the overall project so it’s important to be aware of them in advance. Don’t start tearing down any walls until you have a plan in place for how your plumbing, gas, and electrical will be re-routed if necessary.

4. Create a Spatial Plan

Opening up a floor plan doesn’t just mean creating a bigger space. Whether you are making a small change or a large change to the structure, it will change the way you live in the space in many ways, and it’s important that you take into consideration everything that will be going into the space when coming up with your design. This means that your existing furniture may no longer be the right scale or it may not work with the furnishings in the room that you are connecting. The traffic pattern of the space will completely change, which may require rearranging of furniture or additional seating and tables. You’ll also need to consider how you are going to define different parts of the space for activities such as eating, doing homework, and watching television. If these things aren’t well-planned in advance, you may find yourself with an entirely new set of spatial problems.

More Great Links

Sources

  • “Good Spaces: Mastering the Art of the Open Floor Plan.” Houzz. http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/1174159/list/Good-Spaces--Mastering-the-Open-Floor-Plan
  • “Ins and Outs of Load Bearing Walls.” Red Beacon. http://www.redbeacon.com/hg/ins-outs-load-bearing-walls/
  • “Open Floor Plans: Is this the Right Design for You?” Bob Vila. http://www.bobvila.com/articles/418-open-floor-plans-is-this-design-right-for-you/