Closing the Door on Open Space Living

Mia and Will Thomas in activity room.
Mia and Will Thomas in their Sunset Drive home. The family moved into the house in January, partly because of their need for more private spaces to accommodate working and schooling at home.

Is the “open concept” home floor plan going out of style? It depends who you ask. But one thing is certain: the door is having a shining moment.


nnie Skiba and Dan Thomas had renovated their Tampa Avenue home to open the entire first floor—no walls or doors. At the time, an open floor plan allowed them to see their young children better. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and private space within the home was lacking, Thomas resorted to using his truck as his office space. In January, the couple upgraded to a new home on Sunset Drive, with a private wing including two office spaces and a bathroom. They don’t miss the openness of their previous home. “It’s nice to be able to close a door,” said Skiba.

Thomas and Skiba's former living room. Light colored with cheerful decorations.
Thomas and Skiba’s former home was a prime example of the open space plan, which some experts say is giving way to a desire for more privacy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced a lot of people to spend less time away from home./ Photo credit: Howard Hanna Real Estate

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things in the past year, not the least of which is the real estate market, and everything having to do with the home. With many people spending more time at home than ever before, as 71 percent of American workers now perform job responsibilities at home all or most of the time, and 54 percent look to keep it that way post-pandemic, according to a Pew Research study, the cohabitating, coworking, coschooling environment has prompted homeowners and home seekers of all generations to question their living situation and make changes.

Many of these sought-after changes include more private spaces in the home—adding walls, transforming previously unused spaces into private areas, or finding a more suitable home with multiple office spaces—seemingly reversing the decades-long trend of door-shunning, wall demolition, and open-concept living.

Has COVID forced the open concept trend to come to an end? It depends who you ask. According to Valerie Rose, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, yes, the open concept is going out of style in favor of office spaces and walls. 

Real estate agents Faith Williard of Coldwell Banker and April Bartley of Howard Hanna don’t think the open concept is going anywhere any time soon. “People are looking for private spaces, but not all day and all night,” said Williard. “They still want a big room where people can move around and enjoy each other.” 

Dan Thomas in office space, smiling.
In January, Dan Thomas (pictured), and his family moved into a new home, after renovating their Tampa Avenue house to open up more space. The openness of the renovated house meant Thomas had to use his truck as a work-from-home space.

“People are still knocking down walls, and I’m one of those people,” explained Bartley, who believes that, like Skiba in her previous home, those with young children still want the ability to keep an eye on them, and an open concept allows them to do that. 

While Rose, Skiba, Williard, and Bartley may have differing opinions on the fate of the open concept, they agree on a more open-and-shut trend: The door is having a shining moment. 

That is, if you can get one. A February report by Bloomberg describes lumber prices as relentlessly rising due to home renovation popularity, with prices climbing 40 percent in the last year. Chuck Carlson of CW Carlson Construction, Inc., has done most of his business in Mt. Lebanon since incorporating in 1984. He describes this past year as unusual as far as demand for home renovation services. “We’ve gone from two to three inquiries a month to eight to 10,” said Carlson. He noted that the supply chain has slowed down, and now takes about as long as three months to secure materials, while at the same time, material costs have risen.


The Lebo market, and
home layout, is hot

In Mt. Lebanon, as many of the houses were built mid-century or earlier, separate rooms aren’t hard to come by. “Older houses have more rooms, and are more compartmentalized which is good,” said Rose. “People want to be here.” And the houses in Lebo are quick to go. According to Rose, a house that’s properly prepared and listed can sell within a matter of hours. 

The market in Lebo has always been that way, said Bartley, but the difference now is that people are paying more, up to 10 to 15 percent. “This year has put a curve ball on home values.”

Another challenge for those looking for the ideal home layout is that there’s historically low inventory, said Williard, as many sellers are apprehensive about an uncertain economy and are unwilling to take a health risk by allowing potential buyers into the home, despite thorough cleaning processes and other real estate requirements geared toward safety including limited foot traffic and mandatory mask wearing. 

Despite challenges and short supply, desire and demand among home seekers and home renovators in Lebo doesn’t appear to be wavering. Clients are still interested in “everything you can do to a house,” said Carlson, including both opening up rooms and creating new private spaces. And they have exercised patience. “All of my clients have been very understanding,” he said.

If and when homeowners are fortunate enough to secure that private space with a door, the icing on the cake is another emerging trend in the Lebo market—a good view. Unlike traditional home office spaces of the past, which tend to have been small and claustrophobic, “A corner in the basement might not work,” said Williard.

Time will tell what the pandemic’s lasting effects will be on home buying and renovation, but as Skiba said, “Doors are a trend in 2021.” 

Photos by George Mendel