August 17, 2014

"So strong was the allure of the loft..."

"... that even staid Upper East Siders could be found whacking down walls in their Gilded Age townhouses, installing hulking industrial ranges in full view of their delicate, plasterwork parlors...."
Classic layouts came to seem matronly by comparison, the sensible station wagon to the sleek speedster. To this day, it remains virtually impossible to turn on HGTV without seeing some design guru raving about how knocking down a wall or two will “open the place up.”...
But soon there will be episodes where the designer expresses dismay at the openness and instructs us about the wonderfulness of walls.

“I’ve always loathed open floorplans,” [some fancy, nonHGTV designer] said. “Why wouldn’t one prefer one’s home to have rooms? My heart aches when I see a lovely house from the ’30s or ’40s that’s been disemboweled, torn to pieces. And besides, furniture looks perfectly ridiculous floating in empty space. Is there anything worse than a dining table floating in a void?”...

“Several years ago, one of our new shareholders jumped on the ‘open layout’ bandwagon, taking a sledgehammer to his lovingly preserved 1920s wall … He blew out his foyer. He blew out his kitchen. And then it looked not like an open loft, but a dismal studio, ” [said some co-op board president.] “He almost immediately regretted it and ended up paying $50,000 to restore everything.”

And even large lofts can feel like a squalid studio when shared with children....
Whatever you do, however you feel about your living space, don't take a sledgehammer to the children. There's no paying $50,000 to restore everything after you've made that mistake. And yet you will get walls. Here's a song for you:

24 comments:

David said...

That is a very quiet song.

Just Mike said...

Where I live out west the open floorplan is de rigueur - my family members homes are like this and whenever there is a gathereing larger than just a few people, the noise is almost unbearable. I choose to live in an older home with actual separate living, family and dining rooms. My wife and I like it this way. When we have company everyone hangs out in the kitchen anyway.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Hey if some guy somewhere didn't like something that's all the evidence I need to know, perfectly, that that thing sucks.

Kelly said...

My parents home had an open floor plan before open floor plans were 'in". Family gatherings were almost unbearable with my sisters four, very noisy children. My parents downsized, again they got an open floor plan only this time with a finished basement where the children could be sent.

Ann Althouse said...

We live in a house that has a 1923 front and a 1970 addition. The front has rooms and the back is very open. I've lived here for almost 30 years, so I've had the experience of getting to choose, day to day, whether I want the rooms environment or the open environment. I've lived here with a husband and 2 children, with only 2 children, in solitude, and (now) with a husband. That's a lot of variations. I did renovations to open up the new half of the house more, but I've never knocked down walls in the old part, though I've thought about doing that.

With the children, the rooms worked well, and even the basement areas were used to get more and different spaces to suit various needs. But without the children, I prefer the open spaces, especially as they open out, with big windows, onto the outdoors (that is, the feeling of even more open space).

My ideal now, would be to go smaller, completely modern, and as sleek as possible, with as much window as possible, as close to The Glass House as I could get on whatever site could accept a house like that.

I would want the bedroom walled in, and I don't want just a little pod of a bathroom like that. In fact, I would need 2 (or 3) bathrooms. And a spare bedroom too, which needs to be a room. But other than that, I'd like The Glass House.

Of course, that's in my mind, and that's the point of the article: In real life, people don't want it open. But I think I've had lots of real life in my 2-part house, and I prefer the open space.

tim maguire said...

I like the open concept. It's nice to maintain a separate space where you can send the kids when they're getting on your nerves, but the open plan makes even the modest kitchen feel spacious, lets you entertain without forcing the cooks to leave the party to prepare. Everything's smoother, more comfortable.

Walls are an artifact of a time when heating was expensive, they let you section off rooms so you only heat the ones you're using. If you can afford your heating bill, then the primary reason for your walls is gone.

tim maguire said...

Also worth noting that the apartments in that article sell for multiple millions. Most New Yorkers would have to knock down all of their walls to make just one room as big as almost any of these.

Ann Althouse said...

"That is a very quiet song."

That's the original recording of "The Prisoner's Song," by Vernon Dalhart (1924), which is the first song I think of on the subject of prison walls.

"The Prisoner’s Song rates as a 1920s all-time best-seller with a staggering seven million-plus copies sold worldwide in the version by Vernon Dalhart... marketed in the hillbilly music genre. It became one of the best-selling records of the early 20th century...  It was later performed by, among others, Hank Snow and Bill Monroe. The first verse was sung by Liberace at the end of an episode of the 1960s television show Batman in which Liberace played the double role of twin criminal brothers, both of which ended the episode behind bars."

The final verse: "Now, if I had the wings of an angel/Over these prison walls I would fly/And I'd fly to the arms of my darling/And there I'd be willing to die."

Here's Johnny Cash (introducing it as "The first country song to sell over a million records").

FleetUSA said...

We love the open concept and big windows to the trees, etc outside BUT when it comes time to repaint the kitchen we realize more than just the kitchen and open den will need repainting it might even extend to the central hall of the house. Yikes.

EDH said...

Whatever you do, however you feel about your living space, don't take a sledgehammer to the children. There's no paying $50,000 to restore everything after you've made that mistake.

"It's bad for the environment... Put your murdered child in the red bag with the logo of a murdered kid on it, next to the other logo that tells you not to let your alive kid play with the plastic bag, because they might suffocate, in which case, you can just leave him in the bag."

madAsHell said...

We recently remodeled the kitchen, and opened it up. Thanksgiving proved that the design works. We had six people working on the meal, and no knife wounds.

Sam L. said...

Reminds me of the Fawlty Towers episode when Basil hires O'Reilly to take out a wall--a load-bearing wall...

Michael K said...

"when Basil hires O'Reilly to take out a wall--a load-bearing wall…"

I wonder how many New York coops have sagging floors because the guy downstairs took a sledgehammer to walls ? I suppose they must have some rule about architects.

Carol said...

We have a Vo-Tech here that was built during the era of Open Classrooms. It's basically one great big room with moveable walls..yeah it's a mess and now we're building a new Vo-Tech.

Hagar said...

A little old townhouse (or patio home)and I live alone. I do not mind the dining area being open to the living room so much, but I had them extend the kitchen walls to the ceiling before I bought, and I sure wish I could have got to them in time to have a pair of pocket doors installed to seal off the kitchen smells and noise.

Hagar said...

and I think I would freeze to death in one of the Professor's favorite interiors.

Ann Althouse said...

"and I think I would freeze to death in one of the Professor's favorite interiors."

They make great windows these days.

I spend most days in a room with a 40-foot wall of windows, practically floor to ceiling, and I'm just fine here in the Wisconsin winters. I choose to keep the room at 62° when it's cold out, but I could make it hot if I wanted.

From Inwood said...

Went on a tour of the Tenement Museum on Da Lowah East Side of Manhattan some years back.

The museum is actually an almost "the way it was" tenement.

The original block consisted of row houses 200 Ft deep from building line to building line, with the museum/tenement about 88 Ft deep facing Orchard St & an 88 Ft deep tenement facing Allen St. That is, 24 Ft of space in the rear of the two tenements.

In the 1930s, Allen St was widened & the tenements facing that street behind the now museum were demolished.

So now, as the Sun sets slowly in the West, there's open space behind the tenement/museum &, to the inattentive tourist, what's all this about your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Tim McG is right about the size of NYC rooms. Like a submarine. WW II vintage!

As is Sam L about load-bearing walls, which problem is not just in NYC.

And those stories about cost-cutting in bridge construction....

Hagar said...

67-68 is good for working in, but the temperature is not what I meant.

AReasonableMan said...

House interiors are part of the fashion industry. Hemlines go up, and then they go back down again.

Freeman Hunt said...

I greatly prefer sitting in open spaces, but I also like having rooms. I like the kitchen to be accessible to but separate from the living room. Same with the dining room.

The house we live in now works well for me. There are rooms, but the living room is very large and has a passthrough to the kitchen, giving a feeling of openness in spite of the rooms.

mrs.e said...

We took out the wall between our kitchen and living room about a year ago. It had only one small north facing window - not a lot of natural sunlight. Now, with the wall gone and use of the west-facing living room windows, it's a much more inviting space.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

My late brother bought a house in NoVa in the late 80s. It drove me nutty. Not a clean (unbroken by a door or a doorway or a fireplace) wall in the entire room. One unmolested corner. That's it. A decorator's nightmare, I assume. I grew up in a tiny Cape Cod-style home, four modest bedrooms, just under 1,400 sq. ft. An unfinished basement and an unfinished cellar. The exact opposite of an "open floor plan." I never thought it was small until I grew much bigger.

Auntie Ann said...

Open is okay, but you need at least one room to serve as a library/den--a quiet place to get away and read. Also, unless everyone wants the TV droning in the background--or if kids and adults want to watch different things, it needs to be isolated or isolatable.