May 23, 2019

The Humble Origins of the Open Floor Plan

“Jesus was not born in a stable. That’s not to say the birth wasn’t attended by farm animals — the Gospel of Luke tells us twice the baby’s first bed was a feeding trough — but rather that the animals lived in the house.

Peasant homes in first century Bethlehem were designed with what we would today call an “open concept.” They typically had one large room with the nicer living space in an open loft or on the roof, while the main floor area was where the family’s animals would be brought for safekeeping at night. The guestroom that was unavailable to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was that loft or roof space, and the big room where they stayed instead served as the kitchen, living room, dining room, and farmyard all at once. The defining feature of Jesus’ birthplace was not isolation, as we often tend to think, but an utter lack of privacy: Mary delivered in a crowded farmhouse with few, if any, interior walls.

And that was perfectly normal, if not exactly desirable, for our modern fixation on the open floor plan is a historical anomaly. It flies in the face of literally millennia of consensus that more rooms is better, and it is a dreadful mistake. The last 70 years of open concept construction and remodeling has left us with dysfunctional houses, homes that are less conducive to hospitality, less energy efficient, and more given to mess.”

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