What Does “Open Concept” Really Mean?

What Does “Open Concept” Really Mean?

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

One of the most sought-after features in real estate today is "open concept." But, like many popular buzzwords, people seem to mean different things when they use it. So we decided to talk with some real estate professionals to break down what open concept really means, how it originated, and why it's so appealing.

Put simply, an open concept is a type of floor plan where walls and doors are taken out and living spaces merge into one, says agent Maria Daou of Warburg Realty in Manhattan. This typically refers to the walls between the kitchen, living, and dining rooms—not the bedrooms. An open-concept layout is the exact opposite of older floor plans that traditionally have a succession of closed-in rooms that can often create a labyrinth feeling in larger homes.

Further, agent Phillip Salem of Triplemint real estate in Manhattan says that open concept is more than just an arrangement—it's a feeling. "When a buyer steps into the [home], they want to feel like they are not confined, the space has light, and it's easy to move around from room to room without feeling trapped."

This type of layout is also appealing because it allows for flexibility of function, says Kemba Buchanan of Triplemint. For example, a floor plan where the kitchen is open to the living room allows residents to multitask. "This design lends to a more ideal setup if you enjoy entertaining guests, cooking while watching TV, or making your morning coffee while watching the sunrise from your living windows," Buchanan says.

The open-concept trend started in the 1990s, likely due to the popularity of former artists' lofts in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, says Daou. Because these units were typically located in industrial buildings with no set rooms, they had open floor plans with high ceilings, large windows, and an oversized main-living area. Soon, developers started building new condos with loft-like open layouts, she says, and the trend spread from there.

Buchanan says that the open-concept approach is especially popular in Manhattan since square footage is already at a premium. The open layout gives even small units a sense of more space.

However, Daou has sensed some pushback to the open-concept homes recently "In some of the new buildings, the space is not that big, and buyers can feel like the whole room is just one big eat-in kitchen," she says. "Buyers are concerned that they will smell the food or that they won't have any rooms to escape to besides the bedrooms."

However, those critics seem to be in the minority as the popularity of open concept continues to soar—and shows little signs of coming down soon.

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