A Brit Weighs in on America’s ‘Open Kitchen’ Debate

(Home-Designing)

An open kitchen is great for people who like that lofty feel but some people just want some nice, old fashioned walls. (Home-Designing)

When looking at housing options in the U.S., Brits will notice a distinct lack of doors and walls. It’s very common to walk through the front door and find yourself in a living room, which in turn leads straight through to the kitchen and out the back door. Even where there’s an entryway with walls, there are usually holes where we might find doors in the U.K.

I’ve recently noticed this open plan design creeping into British homes too, especially when it comes to kitchens. One friend, who lives in a beautiful old country house, has just bashed three small-ish rooms into one enormous kitchen, complete with armchairs, a dining table and a small TV. Another friend, with a flat in London, basically has one large room that triples as kitchen, living room and dining room. Apparently open kitchens are fifty per cent more popular in the U.K. than they were a decade ago. Very American.

Personally, I am totes over the live-in kitchen. In my last house we had one, but in my current house (which we gutted), I deliberately installed doors and walls. Who wants to sit watching TV with unwashed dishes in the periphery? And quite frankly, it’s bad enough with the car keys and mail on the counter-top but homework and Lego while I’m trying to cook the dinner? No thanks. As for being able to keep an eye on the kids, I installed double doors to the family room that open up for maximum supervision and scolding when needed. Oh and did you know the open-plan kitchen can lead to uncontrolled snacking and is perhaps to blame for the recent obesity epidemic? It also encourages shouting; who needs to walk to the next room and merely talk when you can stand still and yell at the top of your lungs to announce dinner?

When it comes to entertaining (you know, that thing the TV shows think we do all the time but in reality we don’t?), my guests don’t need to bear witness to my culinary inadequacies. I don’t want them gathered round the kitchen island while I sweat over a risotto and try to maintain lively conversation without swearing profusely. When I serve up dinner (which is usually prepared and cooked way ahead of time), I want the effect to be one of grace and effortlessness, not whether the “three second rule”* was invoked.

While I don’t quite feel the “total disgust” expressed by some architecture aficionados in a recent article, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my love of isolated kitchens. (You must read this article for the pure drama of the open-versus-closed kitchen debate. Who knew it could arouse so much passion?) Unfortunately, if you’re a door-and-wall lover, you may have a search on your hands for your ideal kitchen here in the U.S. Indeed most American realtors won’t even get your desire for the closed-kitchen concept and will remind you, ad nauseam, of the resale considerations of open-plan.

* Three-second rule – Technically, this is a safe and recommended way to check that you’re driving at a safe distance from the car in front of you. The alternative definition (used above) is the length of time many people deem okay to retrieve and eat food that has been dropped on the floor. (Oh come on….we’ve all done it.) Apparently this theory has been tested, and most foods found to be safe to eat, so I’m all good, as they say!

What’s your preferred floor plan?

See More: 
A Glossary and Guide: Home-Buying in the U.S.
Rule-Bound Brits: Wanna Break Out Just a Little?
10 American Places Every Brit Should Visit

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

See more posts by Toni Hargis
  • Sandy

    While I’m not a fan of the small claustrophobic closed-off kitchens some older homes have I also don’t care for the wide open floor plan kitchens, either. Something in between is best for my sanity. How can you have a stolen kiss, a private conversation, or a brief meltdown when you’re always on display to the rest of the house? My mother cooked for our family of 11 and in the evening when the last meal had been served and the dishes were done she would close the swinging door to the kitchen and proclaim “The kitchen is closed!”

    • Tim Callaghan

      I remodeled my oulder home by making a 10 x 10 feet “window” in the wall where the stove and counter space is located, separating the kitchen from the living room. I installed shutters so they can be open when I like, especially when I have company over. It feels less crowded and claustrophobic in the kitchen.

  • dw

    I’m afraid you’re not a Brit any more, dear :)

  • Helen

    I have to agree with this! Our open kitchen/breakfast room/family room is not for me. I hate that you cannot watch tv without turning the volume way up when somebody is clattering around in the kitchen, or vice versa, you are cooking and can’t quite hear the tv, so it becomes annoying! I dream of closing it off, but know that it would hurt our chances of selling when that day comes.

  • saxonchap

    Absolutely love big bright kitchens, but American kitchens definitely need the ability to be closed off to the smells of the left over pizza boxes, McDonalds cartons, and doughnut bags … ;-)

  • Susan Webb Strickland

    I dislike the open kitchen because you know how greasy everything gets in the kitchen, well it has a lot of room to expand.

  • Julia

    What about the little mistakes that you might make whilst cooking or more “fragrant” dishes? In those kitchens without vents, one burnt offering could linger on your living room upholstery for days…never mind if you do have guests! I miss closing the kitchen door and opening the window. ..

  • Ellen H.

    I prefer my kitchen with walls. I don’t have an actual door, but it has a thick curtain I can pull across if I wish.

  • Cathy OB

    As a teen a fault in our hob resulted in a kitchen fire. The presence of a closed door separating the kitchen from the rest of the house and effective double glazed windows was the only thing that suffocated the fire and made the difference between a destroyed kitchen and a totally destroyed house. Now that I live in the USA I often worry that if anything similar happened here the results would be devastating!

    • Jwb52z

      As long as you have the different kinds of fire extinguishers on hand and the fire department on speed dial, you’ll most likely be fine.

  • scootergirl

    omg… cleanliness … you cook.. you clean as you serve… you open your beautiful sliding doors… you have your window for cross ventilation in your kitchen… you have beautiful huge sofa’s and plants… you have watercolor paintings and adjustable lighting for ambiance… you bake cakes and delicious buttery garlicy aroma’s.. you have overhead fan for smoke… but that’s what those giant glass sliding doors are for… you have a fireplace for the family… you do homework after dinner on the table… you pay your bills and play on your Ipad while the family is watching SHERLOCK… come on people… think ZEN rather than FORMALITY…. just my 2 cents… :)

  • Emma B.

    I am an open-kitchen person, but I would never put a TV in there! That’s crazy. I am a professional cook, though, so my kitchen is the most used room in the house, and indeed the heart of it. It’s where my family spends most of their time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidmichael.mitchell David Michael Mitchell

    I have never eaten anything that has dropped on the floor! I wouldn’t touch my food to the bottom of my shoe before eating and i certainly wouldn’t slide it along my bare foot! 3 seconds? That’s just disgusting. As for ‘Open-Concept’ kitchens i can not say I like a totally closed off kitchen but some separation is a must!

    • MontanaRed

      As Dale comments below, in the US, it’s the 5-second rule. The TV show Mythbusters proved it’s plausible, too. The germophobic (pas moi) among us need not apply it.

  • Dale

    It’s a five-second rule. FYI.

  • KyleAdam

    Less walls the better for me. I love it big, open, and bright!

  • Aaron Davis

    I’m a closed kitchen fan, because then I can spin and kill all the cooks in there with smoke inhalation! :D (An extremely bad kitchen joke…)

  • Dawn Mills Self

    I’m an American who is not a fan of the open kitchen. When we were house shopping, I told the realtor that my theory on cooking is that if it is just me and the food, eventually, I will win. I am not a multitasker. We looked at older homes that had not been renovated. I have swinging doors to the dining room, that usually stay open and the other end of the galley opens to a breakfast nook with a doorway to the living room, a laundry room door, and a sliding glass side door. There are just too many kids in this house to let all that stuff and all of those germs into the kitchen. In fact, I require handwashing, just to come in the kitchen. 5 schools + my work = a lot of places to bring germs home from. We don’t want the kind of traffic that an open kitchen lends itself to. So, all of the idealist can keep their party house, I need to live more practically.

    • Jwb52z

      Just out of curiousity, are you sure you’re not OCD? I don’t hear very many people who sound as petrified of germs as you do.

  • EmmaK

    I had two rooms knocked together to make an open kitchen. The doorway is an archway. It is absolutely wonderful, light and airy, apart from when my husband is frying onions and the whole house reeks of it!

  • Aaron Chamberlain

    Totes… really?

  • http://trueliberty.us icecycle66

    It seems like a lot of issues with the open kitchen is that you don’t want to see the filth you leave in the kitchen while you are in your living room.
    Why don’t you just clean your kitchen?

  • Kelsey

    My family grew up with an open doorway between our living room and combined dining room/kitchen and it drove me nuts! Maybe other people would be fine, but my family is so freaking loud it makes watching anything on the TV impossible lol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LittleMissRightOfficial Ingrid Cherry

    I’m an American, and I grew up with open-plans, and absolutely hated them. When I got married, my ex-husband and I moved into a house that was built in the 1920′s and I loved the postage-stamp sized kitchen, and how every room had a door that shut. Each room had its particular function, and I loved that. I wouldn’t have an open-plan house if you paid me.

  • Mimi

    I’m an American and I HATE open kitchens. If I had my choice (which I don’t) :( I would have a fully closed off off large kitchen (think country kitchen meets galley style) with a good ventilation system and access to the outside garden in the back of the house somewhere.

    The living area would bee out of the door and down a hallway and through a separate door well away from the kitchen. The dining area would be out the door, down a hallway (could be the same hallway) and through a separate door as well.

    Different rooms, different functions, separated from each other.

    Aside: The dining room could also be located on a different floor with food being transported by one of those wall elevator things like the old mansions used to have. I could live with that too.