The Open Floor Plan Challenge
By Dan Steward
Open floor plans continue to be popular, but as many homeowners discover, living with this kind of layout can take some getting used to. While these spaces – with minimal wall interruption, lots of light, and a spacious feeling – have much to offer, the reality is that noise and privacy can become issues in day to day living. According to the National Association of Home Builders, more homebuyers are seeking noise control, particularly in open plan models. Short of completely changing the character of such a home with a remodel, there are ways to address these problems while keeping the overall sense of open space.
With televisions, video games, music, and conversation all going at once, the noise factor can escalate quickly. Add an active kitchen with its myriad appliances and there can be some real challenges. Many manufacturers trumpet their appliances as “ultra-quiet” or even “silent”, but there are often large differences between models. Unfortunately, the decibel levels are seldom if ever listed, making comparisons difficult. Doing some research and reading reviews on quiet appliances will help narrow the choices.
Large expanses of hard surfaces are common in open plan homes. Floors, walls, countertops and windows will magnify noise levels throughout the home. Large area rugs will not only absorb sound, but can help to visually define spaces with wall-less areas that flow into one another. For example, an expansive area rug can pull together a seating area that’s easily recognizable as a gathering spot. Upholstered furniture will also absorb sound better than wood or other materials. There are also specialized sound-dampening fabrics available that can be applied to ceilings of almost any type to reduce echo and noise travel. If large window surfaces are a problem, homeowners can opt for tailored fabric blinds or panels that will absorb noise without disrupting the clean lines that are a hallmark of many open space designs.
Some designers are employing large fabric curtain panels as dual-function room dividers and sound buffers in open plan homes. Similarly, fold-away or sliding wall panels can create private areas and help filter traveling noise. Both approaches have the benefit of retaining the flexibility of the open plan without permanent changes.
Careful planning and some relatively easy changes can make a huge difference between tolerating the noise and lack of privacy in an open plan home, and being able to truly enjoy the lifestyle these spaces can provide.
Dan Steward is the President & CEO of Pillar to Post.
For more information, visit www.pillartopost.com.