Has the door closed on open-plan living?

It seems like a contradiction, but during the 2000s you couldn’t move for open-plan kitchen-diners. Seen as the perfect way of reinvigorating an old property, open-plan living was the design equivalent of social networking – unlimited, non-stop connection to the people around us.

Recently though, the tide seems to be turning back in favour of separate rooms. So why is open-plan living seeing its stock dwindle?

Space and freedom are things that humans instinctively crave, and open-plan design seems to afford these in abundance. As humans, we’re also a pretty sociable and talkative species, so having access to other people and being able to communicate with them is seen as an intrinsically good thing.

The retreat concept

However, many psychologists now think that it is equally important for humans to have somewhere to hide and somewhere to escape to – both of which are missing if there is no separation between rooms. This may relate to our basic need to feel secure and to have shelter. Watch children building a den, and you will quickly see that it is natural instinct to make it as small as is comfortable, to increase the feeling of being safe and surrounded.

A craving for quiet

Another drawback with open-plan living is the anxiety created by having too much happening around us at any one time, particularly if it’s happening behind us. Unfortunately, a combined kitchen and diner means that this is almost certain to be the case, whatever you happen to be doing. This again comes back to our basic survival instincts. If we are facing a wall to do work in the kitchen, it is unnerving for us to have too much happening in the room behind.

Finally, despite our status as a sociable species, we also need a lot of privacy. Many families decide to explore open-plan living because they have young children, meaning they can have more freedom whilst remaining in view of their parents. However, this doesn’t necessarily work later in life when the kids are teenagers and need their own space for doing homework, or having friends round. If nothing else, having doors also means that those teenagers have something to slam when they’re having a bad day.

Open-plan living was perhaps seen as a design concept compatible with 21st century values of connectivity and sociability. However, our millennia-old minds still need the basics of shelter, security and privacy. As such, open-plan might just be seeing its time coming to a close.

Posted by Peter
March 20, 2015

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