Wide Open Spaces Older, 'Boxy' Houses Transform with Updated Open Floor Plans

By Miles, Arlene | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

Wide Open Spaces Older, 'Boxy' Houses Transform with Updated Open Floor Plans


Miles, Arlene, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Arlene Miles Daily Herald Correspondent

The days of bigger is better and supersizing not only one's french fries but also homes, turning them into McMansions is not that far gone. Although waistlines may still be expanding, the housing market has decidedly contracted over the past several years.

However, our craving for architectural size remains. What's the solution?

It's as simple as opening the floor plan in your home. Take out an interior wall here, move something over there, and maybe bump out an exterior wall, and what once was a cramped area has become a spacious retreat.

"A lot of this stems from what was being built in the 90s the McMansions with the wide open floor plans," said Mike Dew, owner of Oak Tree Construction in Schaumburg. "Of course, no one is building those anymore and no one can afford to move up to larger houses, but people still want to have that spacious feeling."

A significant portion of the remodeling that occurs in homes today makes livable space more efficient. Most homeowners looking to knock down walls and open interior areas have homes that are 20 years and older, with many built in the 1960s and 70s. Kitchens are by far the most popular area for this type of renovation, but even dining rooms and living rooms, and in some cases, bathrooms, also lend themselves to renovated floor plans.

"People who are doing this are planning on staying in their homes for an extended period of time," said Randy Franz, owner of R&W Construction Co. in Cary. "They have formal dining rooms, formal livings filled with furniture that they don't use and they realize that those spaces are just sitting there."

Most homeowners approach contractors with a vague idea, knowing that they want something done, but fuzzy on the details. Yet others are insistent, sometimes to the point that it can be detrimental to the project at hand.

"People believe that things can be done because of what they have heard or seen, but without knowing what really is behind all of the work," said Bryan Sebring, owner of Sebring Services Inc. in Naperville.

Words of caution are well advised in such a situation. What you wish for may be impossible, or if not so, may produce a negative effect on your home. The bottom line is if your contractor is uncomfortable in tearing out a wall don't do it. There's usually a good reason for it.

Oddly enough, if the wall between your kitchen and your dining room happens to be a load-bearing wall, which essentially means it helps support the house, that's a lesser worry. Support walls can be erected until reinforcement can be achieved through installation of horizontal support beams. Greater problems occur when you want to remove an interior wall that contains plumbing and ventilation ductwork. Such was the case when Pat Hoffman of Woodridge wanted to remove a wall between the kitchen and dining room in her townhome.

"We found that there was plumbing in there for the dishwasher and the sump pump, so it had to be moved," said Hoffman, who had her kitchen remodeled by Oak Tree Construction.

The rule of thumb here is listen to what your contractor says. Most likely, the work can be done, but it may cost extra money to move utilities. Even if ductwork can be moved, however, it may not be a good idea, especially if you live in a two-story house.

"We can do rerouting, but we have to be cautious about not harming the airflow to bedrooms because for every duct that goes up, it could supply two or three bedrooms," Sebring said. "If you don't do it properly, you could have bedrooms that are too hot or too cold."

One of the hidden areas where ductwork and utilities are placed is in the header area over doorways. Even if the rest of the wall is removed, that foot or so at the top is where such problems lurk. Aesthetically, however, homeowners don't want that top foot of the wall to remain, so it needs to be removed and the resident utilities rerouted. …

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