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Large, framed openings are a great way to open up an older home to live in a more modern way.

Custom Residential

Ways to Open Up an Old House

Old homes are often compartmentalized: broken up into separate rooms, rather than the “open plans” of modern homes. So what can you do if you’d like more connected spaces? Here are some ways you can create a more open feel in an older home, without sacrificing a traditional look.

May 1, 2020

How do you convert an old home with many compartmentalized rooms to have a more open plan?

Old homes aren’t necessarily for everyone, but for many people, there’s a definite draw. They fall in love with the detailing, character, and cozy spaces that old homes invariably have. However, a lot of people also realize that old homes are often chopped up, and the smaller, partitioned spaces are not that easy to adapt to serve a modern way of living.

We work on a lot of remodels of older homes, however, and there is a way to help an old home keep the character that people love, while allowing for living in a more open way.

Use Corners, Not Full Walls

In my years analyzing older homes and trying to understand the features people really do care about versus the ones they don’t, I’ve come to a simple rule that solves a vast majority of problems: stick to a rectangle.

Corners. For whatever reason, I’ve found that having four corners to a room or space is a simple design solution that provides a real or imagined boundary, helping the space not feel too vast and unwelcome, while also allowing a sense of openness. Once you have a large rectangle on a floor plan, you can easily open up the walls with large framed openings. This means that you can get the feel and function of a big open room, while keeping the notion of distinct rooms that is so characteristic to older homes. This helps organize furniture, lighting, and art and really helps a home come together.

From the living room of this Craftsman home, you view the dining room and family room.
Keeping Just the Corners of Rooms, Not the Whole Wall

Wide, framed openings like these can help open the home up while preserving the notion of separate rooms. You don’t need very much wall on either side of the opening for this to work, so these rooms can feel almost as open as in a modern home.

(Like what you’re seeing? Check out more images from this home over in our portfolio.)

Add Windows

The other option is to consider windows. Older homes tend to have windows in weird spaces that don’t always work with modern furniture placement. Consider new window options that can help you put a bed against a solid wall. I guarantee you that if you have an older home, you have at least one bedroom where there’s no logical spot to put the bed. I don’t have any idea what the heck that is about; however it is a true challenge just waiting to be solved. The additional windows also help provide more, light which is often welcome in an older home.

Link to the Outdoors

The final big piece I see when considering opening up an old home is finding a better connection to the yard. Did people not go outside back in the day? Yards tended to be more service-oriented, rather than leisure-oriented and that is apparent when you see the appalling connection most older homes have to the yard. If at all possible, a nice big open kitchen with a wall of windows or glass at the back of an older home really helps open up the connection between the home and the yard and should be considered if feasible.

Older homes also don’t need to be stuck to the period style of the home, and a well-crafted modern intervention can also be appropriate depending on the goal of the remodel. Thinking about the space carefully can help you achieve a modern floor plan in whatever style you happen to love.

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