Modified Open Floor Plans Increase Accessibility and Quality of Life

by Carolyn Andrews 09/12/2021

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels


It may come as something of a surprise to prospective home buyers and contractors, but the open floor plan was popularized as far back as the 1950s. The open floor plan boom took off during the 1990s, and that’s when it evolved into a new construction norm.

By its very nature, the open floor plan reduces many of the accessibility impediments found in traditional homes that emphasize separated rooms and sometimes narrow doorways. In terms of new construction homes improving accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, walkers or have growing physical limitations, these are ways open floor plans can be modified to increase accessibility and quality of life further.  

What Constitutes an Accessible Floor Plan?

It’s essential to understand the open floor plan through a lens of accessibility. Although new construction homes are typically exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, elements that improve accessibility also tend to enhance the enjoyment of living spaces. Layouts that merge rooms eliminate things like door thresholds and tight spaces, among others. These are three popular open floor plans that increase accessibility in this fashion.

  • Kitchen Merged with Dining Room
  • Dining Room Merged with Living Room
  • Kitchen, Dining & Living Room All Merged

Merging rooms in a new home design only increases accessibility. Given that new residential property owners want higher resale values and better quality of life experiences, these layouts make sense.  

How Can Open Floor Plan Modifications Improve Living Spaces?

The basic open layout can be a jumping-off point for more robust accessibility. Many are designed with little consideration given to the physical limitations of our valued community members. By rethinking living spaces in terms of accessible use, simple changes can be integrated that deliver substantial benefits.

  • More Large Doorways: Front door entryways are typically the largest in a new home. This tendency makes that entrance point the most logical for accessible ingress and egress. But this design element also tends to limit how people with physical challenges use the living space. For example, larger doorways out to backyard decks, patios and verandas make fresh air more readily available.
  • Hardscapes: Too many people with physical limitations require assistance to enjoy outdoor dining areas and leisure spaces. Hardscapes that include flagstone walkways with concrete between the flat stones and other materials can create a pathway from non-threshold doorways to any point in the landscape. Open floor plans are not necessarily reserved for interior layouts.
  • Lower Countertops: Both interior and exterior kitchen and dining areas can benefit from lower countertops or accessible tables. These spaces need only meet the ADA guidelines. They also double for convenient meal preparation counters when not needed by a loved one.
  • Storage Space Modifications: When home buyers work with contractors to create open floor plan homes, the next logical step may involve walk-in closets. Wide doors without threshold lips make these storage areas perfect for people with specific accessibility needs. An extension of open floor plan spaciousness, walk-in closets and storage rooms generally increase values.

Open floor plans still rank among the most popular new construction layouts used today. They are inherently accessible due to the elimination of walls and doors found in other designs. With a few cost-effective modifications, an open floor plan home has the potential to become fully accessible.

About the Author

Carolyn Andrews

Carolyn Andrews has over 30 years licensed Brokerage experience in both California and Colorado. Born in England, Carolyn moved to California in 1980, then relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1991. Carolyn has also received recognition for Top Sales at RE/MAX Alliance Aurora in 2007-2008 and is a member of the RE/MAX Hall of Fame & Chairman’s Club, as well as a recipient of the ReMax Lifetime Achievement Award. Carolyn has sold over 2000 homes personally in her career. Carolyn has been actively involved in many aspects of the Real Estate business including investment property, luxury homes, mountain resort property, skiin/ski out, REO/default management, loss mitigation, valuations, and disposition. She has been a speaker and panelist at several conferences and has been consulted on many occasions by various organizations in the REO/financial industries for her expertise and served on many boards. She has attended numerous ongoing classes to stay abreast of changes in the ever-evolving Real Estate industry. She is the prior State Director for Colorado for VAREP(Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals). She is a member of 3 boards of Realtors including Metro Denver, Colorado Springs and Summit County mountain areas. She heads up The Andrews Group and is or has been an active member of NAR, CAR,REOMAC, CIPS, CRS, AREAA, NAPW, NAHREP, and is an original member of the ELITEReal Estate network. She was ranked #1 for most homes sold in Denver 2007 by Denver Board of Realtors, #2 for 2008, and #2 for 2009, #5 in 2010 and #4 in 2011 and has been consistently in the top 10 ever since. Carolyn Andrews has been a top rated Endorsed Local Provider for the Dave Ramsey Organization and also a Top Producing agent for 2018 for the Homelight Company.