Texas Freeze Dispatch: Eradicate Open Concept Floor Plans Forever
Prolonged power failure and freezing temps have reignited my loathing for this popular HGTV design.
Do you love entertaining guests? Want to keep an eye on the kids while doing dishes? Are pesky walls blocking natural light from reaching every crevice of your home? Do you hate narrow hallways? If so, you or a loved one may be entitled to emotional compensation for being convinced that an open concept floor plan was the solution to all your problems.
The open concept floor plan plaguing suburban main floors for more than a decade is best defined by what it lacks: few walls, no doors, and little variety in wall or floor pattern. Instead, a kitchen island, a couch and coffee table, and strategically-arranged area rugs are the only indicator that there are separate functions occurring in this single space.
Open concept has reigned supreme mostly because HGTV, the sixth most-watched cable network in the U.S., puts it on a pedestal in nearly every episode. Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines convince Texas homeowners that endless shiplap and open kitchens will make entertaining a breeze, Love It or List It’s Hilary Farr lets couples down gently when a wall they wanted to tear down turns out to be load-bearing, and Property Brothers’ Jonathan and Drew Scott always have the perfect $5,000 steel support beam necessary to open up the dining room and bring families closer.
In reality, open concept floor plans are terrible for entertaining. Less walls means less privacy and a lot more noise. In a pandemic, the absence of separate spaces can erode family ties and strain relationships. (There’s no chance for absence to make the heart grow fonder.) Additionally, mothers still do the majority of cooking and cleaning in American households. A kitchen open to the rest of the house allegedly gives them more time with their families, but most of that time is still spent cooking and cleaning. Even HGTV executives admit that their shows focus heavily on demolition because it excites straight men who want to swing sledgehammers.
And now, as Texans endure record low temperatures and widespread power failure, the open concept floor plan has made staying warm impossible for many. Wide open spaces are difficult to warm by the fireplace or body heat alone. Kate Wagner, architecture critic and creator of mcmansionhell.com, has pointed this out before.
“The closed floor plan, especially the closed kitchen, can help save energy by the simple principle of not heating and cooling rooms that are not currently in use, as well as by isolating rooms we want to keep warm or cool,” Wagner wrote in Bloomberg.
Monday night I slept directly in front of a fireplace and still couldn’t feel my toes in the morning. Multiple water pipes burst in my parents’ house this week. The ice-cold tile that spans their first floor popped up over night, creating tripping hazards on the way to the bathroom with no electricity. By the time I read that Ted Cruz (once again) abandoned Texans and fled to Cancún in the middle of this crisis (which is in the middle of the coronavirus crisis!!) I was crashing with a family member who had power and water.
To be entirely honest, I never plan to own a house. I look forward to a future of 700-square-foot apartments fitted with floral trifold partitions and cozy kitchenettes. I’ve got this particular axe to grind (sledgehammer to wield?) with the open concept because I grew up watching HGTV marathons with my family, in waiting rooms, at the gym. Its shows appear apolitical (they’re not) and safe to watch with mixed company. But they continue to push this false notion of togetherness as the opposite of privacy and shuck a rich history of American architectural design in favor of flipping houses faster and faster. The network often presents cookie-cutter solutions for all the unique strains capitalism puts on our homes, families, and livelihoods.
The open concept floor plan has proven time and time again that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. This design might be cheap because it requires less walls, doors, and thought put into designing comfortable rooms, but it costs privacy and health when it matters most.
This essay is part of a series called Fashion IS Function, where I write about the necessity of style and design in keeping misery at bay. It draws inspiration from the late fashion historian Bill Cunningham who said, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” If you have an idea for FIF, reach out to me on Twitter.