Designer Insights
May 31, 2023

Office Hours - A Designer’s Perspective on Knocking Down Interior Walls

Office Hours -  A Designer’s Perspective on Knocking Down Interior Walls

The open concept is the design trend of the 21st century that is showing no signs of fading.  Most of Dreamie’s kitchen projects involve some form of wall demolition and while it’s easy enough for our designers to draw up an open kitchen design, it’s a bit harder to evaluate what knocking down that wall actually entails. So we decided to do a quick Q&A with Jill Paganelli, lead designer for Dreamie, to share some of her top tips on wall removal and open concept design.

This one might be obvious, but in your mind what are some of the advantages of a more open space?

It is obvious, but still a good question! Open spaces are more advantageous for entertaining and for bringing people together - they act as gathering spaces for residents and guests of the home. A thoughtful open concept should be designed so that the public areas in your home are combined together to easily separate the house from public and private space. In essence, the “residence” portion of the home (bedrooms and bathrooms) becomes purposefully removed from the public spaces. Functionally, the act of opening up a space also means that there is freer flow of air and natural light that can carry through the home which is an attribute that the modern homeowner is looking for.

Lastly in warmer climates, and especially in California, a lot of open concept design brings the outside in. So you will have great room concepts which create natural access to the exterior of a home (via french, sliding, or bi-fold doors) and invite your guests to flow in and out of the kitchen, living, and dining room areas.  In short, there are a lot of advantages if done the right way! 

From a designer’s perspective, what is the best way to tell if a wall is load bearing? 

I always recommend crawling up into your attic and looking to see if that wall connects to any joists which are tied to the structure of the roof or if the wall extends all the way up to the roof.  You can also look at your roof line (determining the direction the pitching of your roof extends across the part of the home where the wall is located) and if it runs the same direction as the roof line there is a good chance it’s load bearing.  If it’s perpendicular to the roof line, you may be in the clear.  But go up into your attic, you’ll learn a lot about your home by spending some time up there!  

If structural, will I need both an architect and a structural engineer? 

This is a common misnomer and a good question. For the removal of a load bearing wall, you only need a structural engineer to provide the new specs required to maintain the structural integrity of the home with the wall removed (in most cases this is a beam or post that is installed to reinforce the structure). In the scenario where you have an idea of what you want in terms of layout and floor plan schematics (ideally you’ve already worked with Dreamie for this piece!), then most of the time a structural engineer can firm up the drawings, hand off to a draftsperson and give you a permit ready set bypassing the need for an architect all together.  I will caveat that if there are any changes to the roofline, you’ll need to engage an architect. 

How might existing plumbing or electrical lines impact the wall removal process? 

For electrical, the best advice I always give is to check your sub-panel - you must have isolated wiring for a kitchen and bathroom and they both have to be wired to 20 amps.  Your HVAC routing is also something to pay attention to as it can be complicated to re-duct / re-route your ventilation. This is where it’s best to consult a licensed contractor to (1) assess what critical systems for the operation of the home lie within the wall and (2) understand the implications of removing the wall will have in terms of re-routing and ensuring all new plumbing/electrical work meets current building code requirements

What are some other unknowns or watchouts (either from a design or construction perspective) that may exist with wall removal? 

  1. Be aware of the acoustics of the space and go in with the assumption that open space concept can be very disruptive
  2. Always consider how you live in the space - if your family needs separation then it’s best to keep a partition up.  Everybody wants open space when kids are little and then wants to privatize the space once the kids grow up. You grow with your house, so you have to make decisions with the understanding that your needs now may evolve or change as your household dynamics change

  3. Pay attention to design changes that may be seen unfavorably to a potential buyer in the scenario that you decide to sell your home. There is usually less risk with open concept design, but if executed poorly it may not translate to a potential discerning buyer

What other design elements would you say are complementary attributes to open concept design? How can a remodeler make sure they execute the project the right way?  

The rudimentary perspective on open concept design is that all you do is knock down the wall and you're done. I would argue that knocking down the wall is just the beginning. The difference between good and mediocre design is that a good designer is still going to find ways to ‘break up’ the space. You want intentional breakage of the space, but that doesn’t mean that the breakage has to mean on an architectural level. A lot of times a designer may keep a part of a wall or design an arched opening to symbolize a transition of spaces. Lighting is also another component that many people forget about but is critical to a thoughtful design - a chandelier piece over a dining table in an open concept space signifies that being the area in which you dine (it is subtle but very intentional).  Other tactics include furniture design / layout in addition to textile elements, like area rugs that help to create visual cues for distinguishing one space from another in the absence of walls.  

Designers think about all of these things (and more) and I encourage any person remodeling to do the same!   

Jill Paganelli is head of design at Dreamie. She is based in Lake Tahoe, CA
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