Less Can Mean More : Some Small Homes Have Grand Designs

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The Kiplinger Magazine

Houses are shrinking, and if it weren’t for the efforts of builders to make efficient use of the smaller space, you could feel a bit like the old woman who lived in a shoe.

The median-sized new house, which peaked in 1978 at 1,655 square feet, had shrunk 90 square feet by 1983--about the size of a small bedroom or a dining nook.

But builders are using every square inch of space and including extras that appeared only in expensive custom-built homes.


When you’re looking for a smaller-house design, you’re often better off with a plan conceived by an architect or residential designer. Call your local society of architects or home builders association for the names of architects involved in production housing and of their builder clients.

Do Some Research You can also check residential plan books, available at lumberyards, bookstores, and through direct mail advertising in home-related publications. A residential designer should belong to the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD).

Some of the popular features that make smaller houses more liveable include the following:

--Raised ceilings: A great way to open up a home is to use a higher ceiling, perhaps cathedral or vaulted, in at least one room. In multistory units, a builder can raise the flat ceiling to 9 or 10 feet.

--Sunken or raised floors: Another visual device is to sink an area, such as the living room, or to raise a room a step or two above its surroundings.

--”Blended” space: Builders can eliminate hallways where possible and reclaim the space. Other rooms may open directly off the living room, or the living, dining and family rooms may become the “great room.”

Creating a Focal Point --Built-in furniture: Built-ins like shelves, window benches, desks and breakfast bars can turn a corner into a focal point.


--More light: Natural light gives a room an airy feel. Thus, well-designed smaller houses make good use of skylights, clerestories, kitchen greenhouse windows, rounded window arches, unusually shaped geometric windows--often placed above panes of conventional rectangles, and sun rooms.

--Window placement: Designers try to provide straight-line views to the outside so the occupant’s sense of space expands to include the outdoors.

--Mirrors: Builders are installing mirrors in every room of the house to create the illusion of more space.

--Customized touches: Other features with the feel of luxury include lofts, curved walls, exposed ceiling beams, ceiling fans, professional landscaping and special flooring materials like wood, tile or slate.

Some Rooms Bigger Buyers aren’t sacrificing when it comes to bathrooms. This room and the kitchen tend to be getting bigger and snazzier.

A master bathroom shower may feature one or more of the following: an oversized tub equipped with whirlpool jets, a separate spa, hot tub, sauna, or his and her sinks.


Bedrooms aren’t necessarily equal size anymore, with the master bedroom reigning supreme at the expense of the rest. Double masters are showing up in houses designed for purchase by unrelated roommates. A greater number of bedrooms seems to be less important.

Singles, who may eat out more than in, can find small, basic kitchens. New lines of space-saving appliances are being introduced in some kitchens.

Young professional couples can find kitchens designed to accommodate two cooks at once, or with a small den area immediately adjacent to facilitate conversation with the day’s chef.

Kitchen Space Needed The young family needs a kitchen with plenty of space. In homes designed for them, the living and dining areas tend to be immediately off the kitchen.

If you have bought or are considering one of today’s smaller homes, here are some furnishing and decorating tips that Carole Eichen, president of Carole Eichen Interiors in Santa Ana, suggested.

--Choose a single color scheme and select light and bright shades. Choose furniture with a lighter stain. Avoid a dark accent wall or dark ceiling color.


--Keep wall treatments light, and stick to smooth-napped carpet and light-colored floor covering.

--Use miniblinds or open-weave draperies to allow as much light as possible.

--Steer away from large overstuffed sofas and chairs or heavily carved or ornate pieces.