The End of Open Concept?

Posted on April 29 2022

The End of Open Concept?


When and why do trends come in and out of favour? It often feels like an omnipotent force regularly decides our design fates by bringing in new elements at the same time flushing out the over-saturated. Are these changes and decisions made by random thoughts or are they based on something more concrete? Does familiarity really breed contempt?

I believe that throughout history, societal trends came about as reactions to the ones that came before. Until the latter 20th century, people lived and worked in closed off spaces, each specified by function. We were okay with that. Rooms had walls and doors and utilitarian tasks were relegated to dimly lit and forgotten areas of a home or office.

As the concept of family units changed, we were ready to break open those walls and toss the doors. Working moms no longer wanted to feel like Downton Abbey kitchen staff, all in desperate need of vitamin D and more human contact during those dreary hours of food prep and cleanup. Working dads wanted to keep track of what kind of menace their kids were up to and ensure homework was diligently being completed.

The tone of dinner parties has also seen a revolution as guests are now welcome to hang about the ubiquitous kitchen islands, to be entertained by their hosts during the cooking process. No longer are they kept in formal living rooms with cocktails in hand, while waiting politely for the dinner bell to tinkle, signally the en masse shift to the formal dining room.

Kids no longer play in dungeon-like “rec rooms”. They are on display front and center to appease their helicopter parents. Their play areas are carefully curated and brutally decluttered to be aesthetically pleasing for parents and guests. To “Marie Kondo a room” turned a tidy Japanese woman into a serious verb to be feared and revered. I don’t know about you, but I found it bizarre to think that I should be hugging my old concert t-shirts to see if they still bring me joy. But hey, that’s just me and I digress.

As we continue to covet and work toward pristine open spaces, why are we now hearing unhappy rumblings of disdain of them and whispers of longing for closed off rooms? Why are people secretly coveting walls and doors again?!

I say blame it on the pandemic. With very little notice nor time to prepare, millions of people’s homes became their workplaces. Mini offices were hastily set up in living rooms, on dining tables, bedrooms and dark corners of the basement. With lockdowns preventing people from loitering in their local coffee shops or public libraries, they were at first uncomfortable but it was manageable. And soon people were zooming their way to becoming as productive as before. With no travel time, lots of food in the fridge and flexibility to multitask, working from home became a real plus for a lot of people. But that bubble burst very quickly when schools were also locked down. No longer were home workplaces quiet sanctuaries to think and get stuff done. With kids schooling from their own computers, they struggled with internet and personal bandwidth.

“And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
And they’ll shriek squeaks and squeals, racing ‘round on their wheels.
They’ll dance with jingtinglers tied onto their heel
…They’ll bang their tartookas
…They’ll bang their gardookas
…They’ll slam their slooslunkas
…They’ll wham their whowonkas
…And they’ll play noisy games like zoozittacarzay
A roller-skate type of lacrosse and croquet!
And then they’ll make ear-splitting noises galooks
On their great big electro whocarnio flooks!...”
(Excerpts from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966)


Familiarity breeds contempt. With so many people working from their homes, they found themselves looking at their interiors with a keener and more critical eye than usual. And they found their nests wanting. All of those unfinished DIY projects just glared back at them. The mess and disorganization were everywhere, scattered like an unexpected and unwanted overnight snowfall that blanked the land. Looking for someone or something to blame, they began to feel contempt for their once loved open concept spaces. If only the mess could be contained within a closed room – out of sight and out of mind. It was no longer off with their heads; they wanted to bring back the once banished closed room..

…or do they?...

I don’t really believe people’s minds have changed. Open concept isn’t just the trendy way homes are laid out. It’s a movement, a way of living that goes beyond space planning and decorating. They don’t really want to give that up. I certainly wouldn’t want to once again be staring at a wall while doing the dishes.

What is the real problem and what is the solution?

People might feel pangs of regret for riding the wave of banishing interior walls and doors. But really what they want is to have their cake and eat it too. Open concept is here to stay. Of that I have no doubt. What people are craving now is a separate small, enclosed space for work or play. It’s surprising that this idea hasn’t already made its way here to North America as we generally take design cues from down under. In Australia where open interiors reign, they usually always include a rumpus room. This could be for kids or adults. It could be a home office, play room for kids or a movie rooms.

You might think that Australia has an abundance of square footage so homes can afford to have that level of indulgence of rumpus rooms. However in the UK where space is at a premium in larger cities, many homes there have snugs – separate enclosed rooms that are somewhat removed from the main hubs. I’ve always said that space isn’t what liberates us, it’s clever planning.

UK Snug Room

Jonathan Gooch Photography

Eke out a space somewhere in your homes where you can close the doors. Many people are turning to shed conversions to home offices. That’s an out-of-the-box solution which doesn’t impede on already tight spaces in the house. I remember a long time ago, friends set up their baby’s crib in their walk-in closet. They didn’t have a lot of stuff and the nearest bedroom was already occupied and the mum wanted the baby nearby but not in their room. They knew this solution would be temporary. And babies don’t need a lot of space, so voila, the perfect solution was born with the new addition.

Those of you who still have roped off formal living spaces, close them off entirely or parts of them. As long as you live in your homes, they should work hard for you as you work hard to pay for them. Empty and unused spaces only cost you money with not a lot in return. So create that mudroom that will save your sanity. Close the door and lower the decibels.

We really need to stop the envy and coveting of contrived social media and Pinterest worthy photos of aspirational living. Nobody really lives like that. Even the people who took those photos don’t live like that. They would have cleaned and staged and tweaked for hours just to upload that one shot with the perfect lighting. Meanwhile, behind them was probably a giant pile of stuff they wanted out of the frame. Let’s stop berating ourselves for feeling like we don’t live up to imaginary and unattainable standards.

Let yourselves have a junk room, a junk closet, and a place where you don’t have to mind your P’s and Q’s, your spilt teas and disgusting goos. Having a balanced approach to living in your homes will go a long way to lessening anxiety and disdain of your interiors. I know you all still love open concept spaces so have your cake and eat it too by also giving yourselves a place where the doors can close.



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