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Tag Archives: Open-Concept

I’m Over Open-Concept Design

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At some point, the previous owners of my house decided to take down the wall separating the living room from the dining room, creating an open space that, in theory, was a good idea. But in reality, it seemed to me, it didn’t make any sense.

The dining room felt like an awkward, disjointed extension of the living room, not quite private enough to be its own space, but not fully integrated, either. And with the living room missing a key wall, figuring out how to logically furnish it was no easy feat.

And so, about a month ago, I hired a carpenter to restore part of the wall. By partially closing off the space, I aimed to create a separate dining area with its own mood, and to restore the original dimensions of the living room.

When I told the carpenter what I wanted, he stared at me blankly, like he’d heard me wrong. “But people like the walls open,” he said.

In the weeks before the work was done, I avoided telling friends, worried that they, too, might think I was nuts. The few I did tell mostly seemed confused. In the age of open-concept design, who builds a wall?

The trend toward an open-concept floor plan — where few, if any, walls separate the spaces where we eat from those where we lounge — has become so commonplace it’s hard to imagine an alternative.

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The idea of togetherness drives the design, creating a setup where a parent can simultaneously make an omelet and watch the children play in the living room because, apparently, no one wants to be alone. Or guests can move freely from the giant kitchen island to the living room sofa, unencumbered by obstacles like doorways. The design style has become the liturgy of home-improvement shows, with HGTV stars like Joanna Gaines catapulting to fame largely because of her uncanny ability to transform rundown farmhouses into loft-like showrooms.

In the city, that ethos translates easily because space is tight and lofts are a genuine home style. Remove the walls in a galley kitchen and suddenly a tiny cooking space can feel larger and lighter. With an island instead of a wall, you might actually have a place to sit. New developments are invariably designed with open floor plans, a trend that’s reinforced by ever-shrinking apartments. Without any walls, a prospective tenant might not realize how small the space really is.

Developers claim the tenants like it. “Many new renters and buyers are embracing the open concept,” said Chris Schmidt, a senior vice president for Related Companies who oversees the developer’s rental portfolio. “It allows, certainly, the flexibility for entertaining and cooking.”

Mr. Schmidt pointed to millennials in particular as a “generation who crave that social interaction,” and so “are going to crave that open concept versus walling everything off.”

Owners of older apartments also see the potential in a sledgehammer, with an enthusiasm fueled not only by HGTV, but by home-improvement design websites like Houzz, which features endless images of Instagram-ready open living spaces.

“People walk into every space, regardless of the condition, and want to make an adjustment,” said Sydney Blumstein, an associate broker with Corcoran. People “feel like they must personalize a space to make it theirs, and that goes beyond home décor.”

And what better way to personalize than to make yours look like everyone else’s?

The fixation with openness extends to the suburbs, where buyers eagerly take down walls in the kitchen and living room, and widen doorways. “People are definitely looking at the floor plans,” said Judith Daniels, a sales associate with Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, who works frequently with first-time buyers moving from the city to Summit, Short Hills, Maplewood and South Orange — New Jersey towns with large, colonial homes that weren’t originally designed to look like lofts. “They’re looking for openness that’s already there or the ability to do it, just by opening the wall.”

But do we really need so much togetherness? That fabulous dinner party where guests wander endlessly from the kitchen to the living room feels far less glamorous with everyone staring at a sink full of dirty pots, or smelling the burned soufflé in the oven. Sure, the idea of watching your children play while you make dinner sounds great, but only until you’re trying to listen to Terry Gross on NPR while an episode of “Peppa Pig” blasts from the other side of what used to be a wall.

Then, of course, there are all those Houzz pictures. None of them show what it’s like when you haven’t tidied up in a week and you’re left staring at the living room clutter while you eat breakfast. With no walls, there’s nowhere to hide.

“It went so far about opening everything up,” said Jade Joyner, the chief creative officer of Metal + Petal, an interior design firm in Athens, Ga. “There’s something nice about privacy and having your own space.” In the last year, she’s noticed the beginnings of a pushback against the doctrine of openness. Clients have been asking for media rooms, libraries and playrooms set off from the main living area. A quiet den means you can come home from work and not immediately join the family, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “It’s been indoctrinated that walls are bad, but they’re not,” Ms. Joyner said.

A home designed for entertaining does not necessarily take into account that most of the time you’re not entertaining. Mostly, you’re just living there, trying to read a book while your son practices the piano.

It also can be difficult to decorate an endless expanse of space. “My biggest issue with an open floor plan is lack of wall space. Where do you hang things?” said Abbe Fenimore, a Dallas-based interior designer who otherwise embraces open concept.

After the carpenter rebuilt my wall, I painted the dining room a deep teal, and the living room white. The two spaces, which once felt like they competed with each other for attention, now seem more defined. If the children’s homework is spread out on the dining table, I don’t have to look at it from the sofa anymore and wonder when it will get finished.

As for my friends, when I had a few of them over for dinner to celebrate the redecorated space, no one even noticed the wall. It was like it had always been there.

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Correction: 

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of an interior design firm in Athens, Ga. It is Metal + Petal, not Petal and Metal.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page RE4 of the New York edition with the headline: I’m So Over Open-Concept Design. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
Ronda Kaysen
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Continue reading I’m Over Open-Concept Design

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A Modern Home with Color and Character Deep in the Heart of Texas

Designer Nina Magon shows us how it’s done.

Interior design is a blend of craft cut with theater that relies heavily on good instincts. With crisp white arches and contrasting black balconies, this home in Houston’s Bellaire neighborhood alludes to that idea, and designer Nina Magon makes good on the promise.

Not entirely traditional, the architecture is a clean update on a Renaissance villa, with classic Italian molding and courtyard views. For all of its curb appeal, the exterior is an effective cover. Inside, Magon pumped in pattern, color, and art that break with conventional dolce-vita codes.  “The owners wanted a house that was forward-thinking in design but also warm and inviting,” says Magon. “This house ended up being the perfect mix of modern mixed with traditional friendliness, yet has a feeling of intense luxury.”

Magon runs Contour Design, which has offices in Houston and Miami, and her studio works with clients around the country. She is used to high-stakes creativity. As a semi-finalist on NBC’s American Dream Builders, Magon survived a televised design gauntlet that most professionals endure privately with their teams.

For the Houston home, she opted for a sleek start by outfitting the 7,000-square-foot space with gray porcelain flooring with a gloss finish for her clients—a medical engineer and fashion student. But the subtlety ends early on. In the living area, Magon’s favorite space, a bold geometric Kyle Bunting cowhide rug plays well with two Ligne Roset sofas that have Christian Lacroix pillows (not for the faint of heart) and an abstract painting by Houston-based artist Rene Garza.  She also created a lighting installation that descends from the top floor and can be viewed from the living room, upstairs office, and walkway. Modernists will recognize the group of five Random pendant lights from Dutch brand Moooi. When this fixture burst onto the scene in 2002, it earned the company instant street cred. Seen here, it demonstrates Dutch design’s enduring talent for giving us all a better-looking home life.

The open-concept layout meant Magon had to make visual connections across rooms. She chose furnishings from contemporary brands like Roche Bobois and Poliform, whose chic kitchen is a feature in Carlos Ott’s desirable Echo Brickell penthouse in Miami (and those that could handle bigger design moments). In the lounge, her own custom-designed swivel chairs are properly upstaged by a pair of oversized gray and white lamps.

 But cool furniture alone doesn’t make a home. Magon’s design concept involved custom work throughout the space, most notably a custom fireplace wall—separating the living from dining areas—that features a soaring onyx slab that illuminates and changes color. “It is stunning in person,” she says. “I loved the fact that it revealed a different color with the light on versus off, portraying versatile art in the dining room and family room since it was dual-sided.”

The media room is a stylistic departure from the typically low-key spaces that live to serve high-tech fare. This room has more in common with a hotel suite or lobby. Magon created a custom silk installation with a geometric pattern that serves aesthetic and practical purposes. “When I first walked into this room, I noticed that it had an echo. So some sort of soundproofing material would be necessary,” she says. “By covering the walls with a custom, gray silk modular wall, we were able to not only create a soundproof room for this utilitarian space but also were able to create a point of interest with the design.”

The master bedroom didn’t become the calm-but-bland oasis frequently in rotation. “The clients wanted an edgy, fashion-forward master bedroom,” says Magon. “We did this by adding Vibia sconces, dramatic wallpaper, and three-dimensional tile to the fireplace.” The couple had different wishes for the room—one asked for pops of color, while the other sought the calm of black and white. Magon resolved the debate with the wallpaper (the design was inspired by splattered paint) and a carpet that offered just enough visual interest to repel any threats of neutrality.

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