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Living Space: Introducing privacy to open concept living

Sept. 1, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.

While beautiful to visitors,  open rooms can be disconcerting for homeowners.

While beautiful to visitors, open rooms can be disconcerting for homeowners.

By Kathryn Weber

The open house concept has been a trend for the past two decades. Open concept homes often have big, beautiful views and feel very spacious. But can there be too much of a good thing? While beautiful, the openness can morph into overexposure and a discomforting lack of privacy. This fishbowl effect can make living in an open concept home uncomfortable. The key is to balance the open concept with our need for privacy and security.


Owners' enjoyment of an open concept home is often dampened by complaints of "living on exhibit."

"The open concept problem isn't as apparent during the day," says Leslie Plas, senior design consultant with Austin Window Fashions in Austin. "It's the nighttime when you're completely backlit and living on display." Plas' clients frequently ask her to bring some privacy into their homes, and that often begins at the front door.

"Security and privacy are a concern for many homeowners with glass front doors and sidelights. You want to be able to see who's at the door before they see you," she notes. Shutters can be used on both sidelights and glass doors, also providing good light control.


While it's clear that the open concept in home design is not going away, the trend is moving away from large lots with natural privacy toward open concept homes in dense housing developments.

"There's a big desire for expansive views, but with higher density housing, the need for privacy is also enhanced," Plas explains. She recommends shades that can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button as lighting changes and the need for privacy is enhanced.

Plas says her clients are seeking privacy from the front door to the shower. Big glass showers look wonderful, but offer nothing to shield the modest bather. Customers can install frosted film to boost privacy but preserve light. A fresh idea is a single frosted section that obscures the torso but preserves the beautiful clear glass.


Another frustration in open concept living is "big room syndrome." Someone can be watching TV in one part of a large living room, making it difficult to carry on a conversation in another area. Or maybe you can look through the front door and see all the way to the back yard in one visual sweep. While beautiful for visitors, living in this type of home can be disconcerting.

An easy fix that adds privacy to a dining or living area or blocks the view from front to the back is to hang a curtain, add a room divider, or install a patterned glass panel. This helps create a visual stop and introduces some coziness, while retaining the room's open, spacious feeling. Another option is to install shutters on a track system that can be pushed to the side walls to open up a room or pulled together to close off an area or provide privacy. Bookshelves offer another option for creating a distinct area.

Kathryn Weber is a home and decorating columnist and publishes the Red Lotus Letter feng shui E-zine. For more information, contact Weber through her website,



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