When Brenda Didonna was house-hunting the last time around, she knew what she wanted: a home where the kitchen, living room, and dining room were one big, uninterrupted space.
“In our old house,” said Didonna, a financial analyst, “I’d come home and make dinner and my husband would be watching TV in the other room, and a good portion of the evening we’d be apart.”
She got her togetherness, all right, in a glorious new house in Millbury. Now when she cooks and her husband watches TV, he’s in full view. Relaxing. While she works. “Frankly it’s annoying,” she said. A real estate agent has been called.
“I miss walls,” she said.
Wait, what?!? For decades, Open Concept, and the togetherness-loving, friend-filled lifestyle it was supposed to bring, has been a home buyers’ religion, the one true way to live. Go to Houzz, the home remodeling site, type in “open concept,” and up come 221,569 photos. Over on HGTV, DeRon Jenkins, costar of the popular “Flip or Flop Nashville ,” will tell you, as he recently told the Globe, that an open floor plan “allows the love to flow.”
But now, experts say, people are starting to openly yearn for walls.
“Buyers are moving away from uninterrupted views,” said Loren Larsen, a real estate agent with Compass, in Boston, who is hearing from clients who don’t want their kitchens — and the dirty dishes — on display.
“The pendulum is swinging back,” said Bob Ernst, president of FBN Construction in Hyde Park. “The reality is that life can be loud.”
There may be few real estate trends as enduring or as aspirational as open concept — the name realtors and home designers gave to vast living spaces that are all about happy-together time. The message is so powerful that to admit you don’t want to live in a house as open as a soccer field is to reveal something shameful:
That you’re not a parent who wants the kids RIGHT THERE when you’re in the kitchen, your only alone time, or what used to be your only alone time.
That you’re not a host relaxed enough to chat with guests while preparing a three-course meal.
That you’re not Marie Kondo enough to keep every inch of what used to be three rooms clutter-free at all times.
A headline on a 2018 piece in CityLab, a site focused on issues facing metro areas, captured the mood.
Author Kate Wagner, an architecture and design critic, said readers thanked her for giving them a voice. “They didn’t know others felt the same way,” she said.
The interior-wall-free style became popular in the 1970s, Wagner wrote in CityLab. “Overall, the open concept was a reaction against years of small, low-ceilinged living, which felt restricting and stuffy to a new generation of home buyers.”
Oh, open concept, how you seduced us, made us believe that the fault is not in ourselves, but in our walls. Without them, we’d be free to soar!
As real estate agent Kathy McSweeney, of Collins & Demac Real Estate in Shrewsbury, put it: “Whether [buyers] entertain or not, when they’re looking for a new home, they picture themselves entertaining. They want that big open space.”
With a sophisticated lifestyle dancing in her head, Asya Partan-Tveteraas and her husband removed the separating walls in their main living space when they were renovating their new Brookline condo.
“It was going to be like a gallery,” said Partan-Tveteraas, a writer. “We’d have art-viewing parties and it was going to feel like this cool New York loft.”
With its high ceilings, gorgeous exposed brick, and Scandinavian furniture, the condo does indeed feel like a cool New York loft. If you’re not the one who lives there, that is.
Unless the couple’s two school-age children are in their rooms, the couple can’t watch a (non- PBS Kids) TV show, have a neighbor over for a drink, or conduct a work call.
“Hashtag OpenConceptRemorse,” Partan-Tveteraas said, by way of explaining why they’re now spending thousands of dollars to put up new walls and are considering pricey sliding doors.
Others get seduced by the fantasy of living in a pristine minimalist space — per every photo ever taken of an open concept home — only to forget that when your first floor is one room, there’s no place for clutter to hide.
“It’s all or nothing,” said Laurie Campbell, a mother of two in Rockland. “I joke I’m going to get a huge print of my kitchen clean and just pull it down when I don’t feel like cleaning it.”
Scholarly studies on wall-free living, and what it means for family relations and TV consumption, are hard to find. But researchers have looked at what open space means in the workplace, and home buyers might want to take note.
“It’s Official: Open-Plan Offices Are Now the Dumbest Management Fad of All Time,” read the headline of a 2018 Inc.com story.
It reported on a Harvard study that found open offices kill teamwork, and the lack of privacy drove employees to wear headphones and correspond electronically rather than talking face to face.
As a second story in Inc. noted, “You might as well all be working from home.”
Better hope you don’t have an open floor plan there, too.