Agents: how many times have you hosted an open house for a listing with a traditional floorplan, only to be asked by every single buyer who walks in the front door: “How can we knock down this wall to create one big…” Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t…. “Great room?” You finish the sentence for them.
Yes, the great room is not always so great if you’re a Realtor — or if you’re a seller who happens to like your walls. For years now, the great room concept — that is, a large space that combines the functions of a living room with a dining room, family room and often with sight lines to the kitchen — has been touted as the most-wanted kind of layout. Something every house, in every price range should have. In an informal poll taken in 2015, the majority of Houzzers preferred an open-plan to a closed-plan layout. In fact, a 2015 survey of the wealthiest 1.5% of the U.S. population by the Coldwell Banker Previews International® program and Ipsos MediaCT found that 36% of affluent buyers want an open floorplan.
However, some critics of the great room concept complain of drawbacks such as lack of privacy, and smells permeating from the kitchen and unsightly dirty dishes. Is the great room a fad in danger of dying out?
Don’t count on it, according to architects and real estate agents in California.
“It’s more popular than ever,” says John Klopf, principal of San Francisco-based Klopf Architecture, who estimates about 97% of his clients ask for open floorplan concepts and great rooms.
Joshua Deitch, a real estate agent based in the Mill Valley office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, agrees.
“I really don’t see it going away,” he notes. “I find that it is still an attractive way of living for people. It’s still in high demand. Every time I show a house with a galley kitchen or a traditional closed-off kitchen, the first thing anyone asks me is, ‘Can we knock down that wall’?”
In many parts of L.A., it’s the same story, as Noelle Gayral of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Beverly Hills, has found.
“Everyone still wants it,” she says. “I just showed a gorgeous 1926 Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills to a young buyer, and she asked me, ‘Can I open up the kitchen?’ I told her that she could, of course, but that it would take away from the authenticity of the original architecture.”
Gayral, who has spent the last two decades working with luxury condo developers and traditional buyers, says that builders and contractors sometimes go to great lengths — and costs — to create more volume and openness in great room spaces. Forget tearing down walls — in some cases, they will reconfigure an entire roof of a house to raise ceilings.
“Developers are still raising ceilings whenever and wherever they can, even though there is a cost associated to it,” she says. “They get it back when they sell. ”
As a professional residential developer in South Marin, Deitch has been building houses with the great room formula for over 10 years. He estimates that more than 90% of the buyers in the area prefer the great room concept. There are a number of reasons why the layout is so popular. For one, notes Deitch, it maximizes square footage and creates greater sense of spaciousness.
“It’s the formula for anything under 5,000 square feet,” he says. “There is much less wasted space.”
418 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, CA 94941 | $3,800,000
Klopf, who specializes in modern design, says his typical residential projects range from about 1,500-3,000 square feet, making it almost necessary to look at ways to efficiently use space.
“It used to be that a formal dining room was a selling point, and that may still be true if your home is big enough to accommodate it,” he says. “But a lot people feel like it’s not very usable space, especially if they only use their formal dining room for Thanksgiving. That real estate is expensive, especially here in California.”
Beyond efficiency of space, great rooms promote togetherness. One child can watch TV in the great room while another child tackles homework at the dining room table and their parents are making dinner in the kitchen — all within eyesight of each other in one big open space.
“It’s all about lifestyle,” says Klopf. “The 1950s are over. People don’t have maids in their houses. Mom is not doing the cooking while the kids do their homework in their rooms and dad smokes a pipe in his easy chair in the living room. Families are doing things together. Kids are learning how to cook with parents. When guests come over for a party, they want to be involved and will gather around the kitchen island, talking. Even if you have a TV in living room, you want to watch it while you cook.”
Adds Gayral: “People lead a different lifestyle now. Kids don’t sit at a formal dining table anymore. Adults want to socialize in one big room.”
There is also a feeling of casualness with the great room concept, reflective in the breezy, come-and-go-as-you-please way Californians so often want to live. That is the case for buyers across all spectrums, even at the high-end of the real estate market.
838 Rhode Island Street | San Francisco, CA | 94107 | $3,495,000
“Even the ultra wealthy still want that casual and open smart layout verses a traditional layout,” Deitch points out. “The one difference I have noticed as you move up in price point is that affluent buyers do like to have their separate dining rooms because they often entertain. And, if they have the square footage, it is most optimal to have a great room concept with a kitchen, living and dining space with an attached media room off the kitchen. The spaces must still speak to each other and connect. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Few see the great room going away any time soon. If anything, they see the great room concept becoming even more popular in the future, thanks to technology.
“The portability of computing, with laptops and tablets, just reinforced the great room concept,” says Klopf. “The great room has become one gigantic flex space for your house — you can work on your laptop, read, watch TV, cook or talk around the table. You just don’t need separate spaces for those activities anymore.”