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What's So Great About Great Rooms?

There is a reason that Great Rooms were given that name: they are both great in size (large) and they can be a great addition to a home. I personally love them when the concept works for a homeowner. And I usually use it as my standard of design for a kitchen: can I create that ‘great room’ for my clients or not?

A Great Room is a kitchen that opens on to a living space, making the entire space one large room where different functions happen together or are visible across the space: cooking, cleaning up after meals, eating, studying, entertaining, watching TV, listening to music, playing games, etc.

I think that the great room concept is actually very old and was how most people used their ‘homes’ from caveman times on (sitting around a fire cooking, eating, sleeping…). But with the rise of wealth and very large homes, came the luxury of hired help and no need for the homeowner or family members to use the kitchen. You see this in large mansions and castles. By the early 1900’s, tract homes were being created, some of which continued with this concept of a luxury home that compartmentalized the kitchen. And the many, many homes designed until the 1980’s or later that continued to close off the kitchen came from this idea.

In reality, few of us live with cooks and a house staff. The homeowner is typically the cook and cleaner, as are other family members, too. The cook usually wants to interact with family and guests in the living room and they want to interact with the cook. And if the home has a gorgeous and spacious open kitchen, everyone wants to be there. This is why people now think of the kitchen as the heart of the home. And the great room concept allows it to really be that heart.

Today most well-designed new homes do have a great room, and many remodels of older homes strive to attain a great room. For someone looking for a home to buy, I’d suggest checking to see if the kitchen is part of a great room or not, and if not and it’s something you’d like, find out what it would take to remodel it into a great room.

Constructing a great room from a compartmentalized kitchen can be costly. Often the wall separating the kitchen and living space is a load-bearing wall. This means that it can’t just be removed and opened up. A contractor might need to look to see if it is load bearing, and a structural engineer might have to specify how that load will be transferred to the footing if the wall is removed. This can be additional cost in engineering, construction, and permits. And it can increase the construction time.

There are some people who don’t like great rooms. I’ve met a few. One couple I talked with entertained a lot and did not want to see the dirty dishes from the living and dining area and wanted to leave the dishes in the kitchen until after the guests left. So they wanted a closed-off kitchen. Another couple did not want the noise of the kitchen interfering with their listening to the TV.

Whatever your needs are for your kitchen space, think through how you plan to use it and how important it might be to you to have a Great Room or not. People seldom remodel their kitchen twice….so do it right the first time and enjoy that great room.


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