Are 'Great Rooms' Great?
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
Great rooms are large, multi-purpose spaces that typically replace separate living rooms, dining rooms and family rooms. That is, instead of three individual spaces, there is just one. They became popular in the 1990s although their concept harkens back to great halls and chambers in medieval castles. Great rooms are usually adjacent to open kitchens, are centrally located, and have vaulted, cathedral, or otherwise raised ceilings.
In the mid-2000s, their popularity declined with homeowners complaining of the cost to heat, cool, paint, and clean due to their height and sometimes-unavoidable odd angles.
Are great rooms great? Each case is different. If omitting walls exposes a beautiful view or allows for more natural light, then yes. If rooms would otherwise be too small to function comfortably, then yes again. But if a person is an introvert, a great room is probably a bad idea. What? Where did this train of thought come from?
The truth is, today’s column is not really meant to be about great rooms, specifically. It’s not about their architecture or history. It’s about the way they make you feel. Let me explain.
I had an ‘aha’ moment the other day while listening to a podcast hosted by Rachel Canon. Rachel is an interior designer in Baton Rouge who just launched her new podcast, “Loudmouth Introvert.” We’ve corresponded a few times through Instagram and I’ve heard her interviews with other podcast hosts. I wouldn’t call her a loudmouth (she doesn’t even speak in a loud tone) but would say that she has strong opinions about design, is self-confident, and has just the right dose of exuberance. Even so, she describes herself as an introvert. So am I.
This does not mean that we are abnormally shy or socially awkward. It does mean that we need down time, alone time, and a space to regroup, recoup and rejuvenate. We need to focus and hear our own thoughts. Where extroverts and other personality types might thrive on an abundance of outside stimulation, this drives introverts nuts. The sounds and activities of any combination of television, music, video games, animated conversations, kids playing, or dogs barking translate as chaos to introverts and leaves us stressed and exhausted.
My ‘aha’ moment came when Rachel mentioned that, as an introvert, she did not like great rooms. Even though she quickly moved on from this notion, I paused to savor it. I don’t like great rooms, either. That is to say that I don’t like the thought of one in my own home. I just never knew why until I associated them with me being an introvert.
As I mentioned before, I’m all in favor of natural light and beautiful views. That’s because sunlight, landscapes and seascapes make me feel good. If this feeling means having a great room, I’d make sure to also create a cozy spot for myself elsewhere in the house where I could retreat and recharge.
If you’re an introvert living in a house with a great room, you may relate to my aha moment. Great rooms can make us feel overwhelmed, overstimulated or overexposed. On the other hand, if you’re an extrovert living in a house with small spaces, you may feel uncomfortable and even isolated if your family is spread about the house. After all, the idea of a great room is to have a large, central hub where everyone gathers and multitasks. Extroverts need an open-planned configuration.
Today’s question is to be answered individually. We all have different temperaments. The first step is to identify the way you feel in your home and relate it to your personality. My hope is that you feel optimum compatibility. If not, the second step is to think of ways to modify your home that will make you feel nourished and safe.