The Quest for Space and the Open Concept

Many homes in and around the Greater Toronto Area predate the boom in open concept floor plans that gained popular in the 1980’s. Many of these homes were designed with compartmentalization in mind and aimed to add privacy for the occupants and assist with environmental control as HVAC systems where not what they are today. As HVAC systems improved architects started to design more spacious layouts by creating more open floor plans that incorporated design elements such as half walls (Knee walls) and glass block partition walls as to create a more open feel. The idea is that Open floor plans foster family togetherness, as well as increase your options when entertaining guests. An open floor plan can make a home feel larger, even if the square footage is modest. As consumer taste’s evolved so did the incorporation of basic elements like glass block and knee walls, but the revolution for openness had begun. As times passed home sizes grew and so did the openness inside. Many homebuilders took this demand to heart and produced more spaciously designed layouts in their newly built custom homes and subdivisions, but as this is only a fairly recent trend the fact still remains that tens of thousands of homes built in the GTA remain compartmentalized.  Fast-forward to 2015, Toronto has witnessed steady construction boom resulting in available undeveloped land being pretty much non-existent. This has left potential buyers with 3 options. Move way out to the suburbs where affordable cookie cutter subdivisions await. Rebuild a home, which is extremely costly as the old home must be purchased at market price, torn down, and then rebuilt or finally buy an existing home and remodel it. So based on this if one wishes to stay in City of Toronto or close to the City of Toronto then the more popular alternative is definitely going to be the remodel. Let’s discuss ways a home owner can remodel and either create the illusion of larger area or  open up there vintage floor plan by bringing utilizing modern techniques in a classic build.

Paint:

There are many simple ways to make your home feel more spacious, but no easier way than to just add light coloured paint. Adding a fresh coat of light coloured paint to the walls will instantly make any room seem brighter thus larger. It also helps if you paint your trim and mouldings in whites or off-whites, this will help add depth to the room by making your walls appear further away. Painting trims in a high gloss white will make the room feel brighter as high gloss reflects light. (Note: It is generally not recommended using high gloss on the walls or ceiling as while glossy paint will help make the room feel larger it will also show all wall imperfections). Finally it is extremely important to use high quality paint, low quality paint tends to have a chalkier look to it, which will make the room feel smaller.

Flooring:

Another simple way to add the illusion of size to your home is too change out the old smaller sized tiles and replace them with larger ones. The most common tile  size that is found in most older home in the GTA include 12” x 12”, 8” x 8”, or even mosaics. Today you can commonly find larger sizes including 12”x 24”, 18” x 18”, 24” x 24”, and even larger. By using larger tiles it cuts down on the amounts of grout lines, therefore it visually makes the room appear larger and cleaner. If you are going the hardwood or laminate path, then modern products with wider boards and longer lengths will also add depth and openness. Like paint using lighter coloured floors will help reflect light and thus trick the eye and the mind into believing the room is larger than it is.

Windows and Doors:

When it comes to brightening up a room no light coloured paint or tile is going to do what a window can do. If you want to make your home feel more open then there are a few ways adding glass can help. Many older homes are equipped with ancient windows that have hazy glass and window configurations that don’t allow as much light to enter. By installing new windows you can allow more natural light to enter your home.  If your home is not equipped with enough windows, cut outs can easily be made as long as there are no impediments in the walls such as electrical wires, parts of the plumbing network, and ductwork. Cutting out exterior brick or siding and reframing can be done, just ask your contractor before proceeding. New thermal windows are built to with stand the elements so adding a few extra is an amazing option to not only bring in more light, but help you save on energy costs and improve your home’s environmental efficiency. In the 1980’s when the open concept layout started to become desirable many homeowners and builders installed skylights to bring in more light and assist with that open concept feel. The only issue was that most of these skylights had manufacturing defects that caused terrible water damage to the home, as a result the popularity of skylights diminished. Recently new skylight designs have been revolutionized and when installed correctly completely eliminate leakages. Not only are new skylights water tight, but they look much better, are equipped with remote shutters, and can even open like a window to allow in fresh air.

Doors can also be installed with a larger glass inlay to let in more light, or similarly to windows, new door cut outs can be made to accommodate a new unit equipped with lots of window. Let that sunshine in and your certain to make your home feel larger.

Walls and Halls

The most invasive, yet the most effective way to create an open concept layout in an existing home is alter or remove walls. It should be explicitly noted that a licensed professional must be the only one trusted to alter or remove wall. While the benefit of removing a wall to create an open concept space is unparalleled, If the wrong wall is removed in the case of a load bearing wall it could lead to costly damage or even worse, a complete structural failure. This should not be taken lightly. Load barring walls can be removed, but the necessary supports such as “beams” and columns need to be inserted to support the weight. “Beams” can come in a few different forms Laminated Veneer Lumber, which is an engineered wood product that uses multiple layers of thin wood assembled with adhesives, steel beams or I-beams are usually made of structural steel and are used in construction and civil engineering, and sistered wood that is basically nailing two, three, or even four 2” x 10”, 2” x 12”, etc. together. If a homeowner wants to remove an unsightly column and open up an area then a beam must be inserted into the ceiling and walls must be able to support the extra weight. Removing load barring walls is a very popular thing to do nowadays, but again it must be noted that this is beyond the scope of standard home renovations as you are now crossing into engineering. If removing a load barring wall is either too costly, labour intensive, or not possible then creating an interior wall cut out may be a great alternative. An example of a interior wall cut out is a breakfast bar cut out. A desired hole is cut into the wall beside a kitchen, drywall is cleaned up, painted, and a piece of stone is inserted onto the bottom of the cut out acting as the countertop. Bar stools can now be placed into the adjacent room. This really helps expand the kitchen and creates a brighter, more open feel. Lastly, another quick and easy way to make your interior feel larger is by eliminating doorways. This is a really cost effective way to an open concept passage.

As times change so do homeowner’s tastes, but one thing that is certain is that open concept home designs are here to stay. If you are like many living in and around the City of Toronto space is limited, so by following the tips above you improve the feel and overall spaciousness of your home without altering it’s footprint. If more space is needed then there are two options. You can add on to your existing home by constructing an addition if you are lucky enough to have the property or It’s time to move, either way make it an open concept. You won’t regret it.

Open Concept