A usonian Frank Lloyd Wright design, commissioned in 1939 and built in Falls Church, Virginia. The living and dining spaces connect to a small, semi-open kitchen.
Library of Congress
comment / culture

The Curse of an Open Floor Plan

The flowing, connected interior has become ubiquitous, and beloved. But it promises a liberation from housework that remains a fantasy.
For some American families, one kitchen is apparently not enough. What is wrong with having just one kitchen? Well, people cook in kitchens, and when they cook in kitchens, they make messes, and then, to make matters worse, if their kitchen is in full view from the rest of the house—as many today are—their mess is out in the open visible as they eat their meals, hang out with their families, entertain their guests, and go about their lives.

That is why one company, Schumacher Homes of Akron, Ohio, has a fresh new design on offer: a house with an open floor plan, with its kitchen, dining area, and living room all flowing into one another. But then, behind the first kitchen, lies another. A “messy” kitchen. There, the preparation for or remainders from a meal or party can be deposited for later cleanup, out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

That this is “necessary” at all is a consequence of the rise of the open floor plan in the first place. On the next block or on HGTV, remodels blow out walls, enlarge kitchens, and couple them to the surrounding space. In new construction, enormous great rooms combine hundreds of square feet of living space into singular, cavernous voids, punctuated only by the granite or marble outcropping of a kitchen island. This amorphous, multipurpose space has become the center of domestic life.

It hasn’t always been this way. These layouts first became popular in pre-war modernist architecture, but their origins stretch back earlier, to the turn of the 20th century at least. Then, as now, they promised to tear down obstruction and facilitate connection. But that promise was aspirational from the start: It assumed an equality in the home that has never come to pass. In practice, open-plan design has always been a stage to a quiet struggle between freedom and servitude. That struggle continues today, and messy kitchens won’t put an end to it. It’s just hard to notice when the experience has been sold, universally, as “great for entertaining.”
  …
View source