Go small or go home??

caymaidenMarch 8, 2013

Hello, all! I have been reading and reading the posts on this forum and learning so much! Thank you all for sharing your expertise and experience. I have a dilemma I am hoping you can help me explore.

My husband and I, along with our two boys, are building a a new home in the Caribbean. We have been through one hurricane in our current home, which is four feet above sea level, and had a huge mess on our hands. We initially thought we would like to build a sacrificial floor into the new house by raising it on pilings, which would put the garage, storage, a guest room and a large open-air, shaded "rec room" under the main accommodations. This would mean protection from flooding and would also create some much-needed outdoor shade for our boys to play in, plus give us ample storage. All good things! The cost to do this is not horrendous and might in the end cost less than the fill we would need to raise a house without this "basement" space.

But there is a catch. In order to avoid huge government fees, we have to keep the external measurements of the house and all covered spaces under 5000 square feet. This seems like a lot, but would include the entire washout floor including the garage and open air space as well as upper balcony spaces -- essentially anything with a roof. What we have left is a main floor of around 1400 square feet of conditioned space (external measurements, so a little less, in fact). The main level would include the master, great room (kitchen, dining, living) and a small "away" room. There would be a large covered balcony on that floor as well. Two small children's bedrooms and a small study loft would be located upstairs. The space allocated to the great room is currently 700 square feet or 35 x 20 external feet, and the master suite has 370 external feet.

These spaces are MUCH smaller than the average where we live. Most people build massive houses here with little thought for cooling costs or general cost to the environment, and it is our hope to create something a little different. However, I am worried we will be building something we can't sell if we ever need to.

The other option would be to do a single story with attic bedrooms and a covered outdoor cabana space, which would be more "normal" here and would give us slightly larger room sizes, say 40 x 20 for the great room and 400 square feet for the master suite. These are large enough spaces but actually on the small side here.

Can anyone see a way to make the expected "master suite" work in a space of 370 square feet? I can certainly see how creative space planning would work to enlarge the feel of the great room -- having a dining space outside, for example, and only the kitchen and living inside -- but the master is a little scary. I don't want to end up with so little storage we're tripping over our things.

Any experience, insight, reaction, sample floor plans, thoughts or anything else very much appreciated! Do I trust our original instincts (not to mention our architect, who is a master of the vernacular here and is encouraging us towards the raised option despite the smaller spaces)? Or is this little voice in my head that keeps saying, "Too small, too small!" right?

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Annie Deighnaugh

You might want to post over on the smaller homes thread too....they would tell you that 1400 sq ft is plenty large...

Open concept is the best to make the house feel larger yet not be larger.

You might also peruse the "not so big house" books by Sarah Suzanka who talks about the design principles to make smaller spaces work even better than larger ones.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:00AM
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I have a 1.5 story house and the main level is now 1100 sq ft (we added 300 3 yrs ago). At 1100 sq ft, we have: an open kitchen/family/dining (space); LR; 2 bedrooms and a single (large) bathroom. I think with 1400 sq ft, you can get what you need. You might need to shift your spaces some though, esp if you want a true master suite with its own bathroom. I suspect you may be contributing too much space to the kitchen, for example (mine is only about 8x9, but after our addition it *feels* much larger because it isn't enclosed on 3 sides like it used to be).

Smaller homes forum would be a great place to go. As well, bring your floorplan there! They can help you to see areas that you may be able to shift and do better with than scrunching your Master.

That said, I'd not be too worried about missing storage space on your main floor, as long as you have plenty in your "sacrificial" floor. Sure, you'll want a closet in your MB, but you probably don't need a huge closet. Do you need a foyer closet for guest coats (probably not). Make sure you have a place for the things you need, and put the rest in bins downstairs.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:25AM
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I am not sure why you are limited to 1400 sq ft though, still. If you double 1400 (basement) you get 2800 leaving an additional 2200 for other areas--the upstairs and decks. That seems like too much excess for just the upstairs and covered balconies.

Do you have a plan yet?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:28AM
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Kirkhall - I think the OP used 1400 sq ft per floor because of the sacrificial first floor. Sacrificial first floor @ 1400 sq ft plus two living floors @1400 sq ft each leaves 800 sq ft for covered decks and balconies.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 12:08PM
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No, kirkhall is right -- I messed up. I was so focused on the main living quarters that I forgot to throw a few of the extras into the mix. There is also a powder, pantry, entrance hall and stairwell on that main floor, but yes, 800 sq feet for covered decks and balconies beyond the open air basement. Sorry about that!

AnnieDeighnaugh, thanks for the tip. I'll head over to the smaller homes forum and have a look around before posting. Maybe someone will have posted a floor plan that will calm my nerves. I have read and enjoyed Sarah Susanka's books; I'll have to pull them out again and reread.

Kirkhall, we don't have a floorplan yet, just some basic concept sketches showing the footprint and possible room interactions. Right now, the kitchen lies across one end of the great room, so would live in a space that measured 20 x maybe 12 feet (the 20 feet is based on external measurements, so actually less than that. We've been looking at small but clever kitchen designs to see how we can manage the space more creatively. As for closet space, no, we don't really need a coat closet -- just a "pool and beach closet" for toys and boogie boards. ;) That would be on the ground level. We don't actually have a great amount of clothing since the weather is pretty much the same here all year long. Ski stuff and clothes for traveling to the "real world" could easily be stored downstairs in a closet designed for that purpose -- good idea. I do think we would need a "master suite" with its own bath and a reasonable closet for resale, unless we can design something extremely cool!

This post was edited by caymaiden on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 13:37

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 1:36PM
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Cistern location?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 2:55PM
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Have you thought about doing a 1.5 story type home, rather than a full 2 story house? That would get you more of the living area on your main floor, which is what it seems you really need... (So, rather than 3 equal area "floors", you have the main floor of X larger size (and the "basement of the same size out of necessity) + a smaller upper floor.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:51PM
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Brickeyee -- we will have a cistern located to the side of the house.

kirkhall -- this is a 1.5 story home, or I guess 2.5 story if we do the "basement". The children's bedrooms and study loft are in the attic space over the front of the main floor. The great room is to the back and will have a slightly vaulted ceiling.

My husband has been sketching a version of the house that combines some raised elements to the sides and a step-down great room. I have no idea if that's feasible in terms of construction or more/less expensive to build (seems to me it would cost more) but we can run it by our architect on Monday.

Thanks for the replies everyone!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 9:50AM
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Many idland houss have a cistern located under the house.

It is a waterproofed basement (no leaking out instead of in) with a concrete ceiling t build on.

After a hurricane went though St.John it was very apparent what houses had disappeared.

You could see the concrete slabs of the cistern tops cleaned off by the storm.

Time to rebuild the framing.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 12:44PM
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Yes -- we saw the same thing here after Hurricane Ivan! We have been advised to build the cistern away from the house for ease of access and repair, and in case of leaks. We have a cistern placed away from the house in our current home and it has served us well.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 2:04PM
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