Help me organize this living/dining rectangle nightmare!

PeaGJune 12, 2012

We're buying a condo because it's a great deal in an extremely expensive town that we would otherwise never be able to afford. It's actually an affordable homeownership opportunity. The whole unit is 1250 sq ft., which is totally adequate for our family of 4 and we plan to live small. However, the layout downstairs is terrible! The unit was built on a slab, so we have no storage other than the small space you can see attached to the bathroom. The plan as of now is for that to house the kids' toys, since we're not the type of family to play in our rooms. Our children will share a bedroom upstairs, and that's going to house only books and soft toys.

How can we arrange this downstairs living space?! We want to have a TV down there, but ideally everything isn't centered around it. The TV we have can mount on the wall, if necessary. We also have a rectangular dining table that seats the 4 of us comfortably (and has expansion leaves) that we'd like to bring with us. Otherwise, we're happy to sell our existing furniture and buy whatever will work. We've tried drawing a layout, and we just can't seem to make it work. The entryway really cuts into the living room and seems to be mostly unusable space. Can you help?

Thank you!

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camlan

How about some built-in storage in the living/dining area?

Frankly, I think using the storage off the bathroom for toys is going to be a nuisance. Every single toy is going to have to be picked up and carried from the living room through the bathroom and then put away in the storage room. And what if someone is using the bathroom when a kid wants a specific toy?

The general rule of thumb is to store things where you use them. Maybe do built-ins along that bottom wall of the living/dining space. Closed cabinets on the bottom, with shallower open shelving above and a window seat with drawers (not a lift-top box) under the windows. Lots of hidden storage for the toys and kids' craft stuff, plus shelving for books or pretty things or even attractive bins or boxes for more toys.

There would still be room for a dining table at that end of the room, handy for the kids' board games and crafts. Then you could wall-mount the TV on the wall next to the closet and put a small console under it for the assorted electronics. Create an L-shaped or U-shaped seating arrangement, with a sofa under the windows and a couple of comfy chairs. Get a coffee table or large ottoman with storage built-in. Same with end tables.

Get a storage piece for immediately to the right of the front door. Someplace to put keys and bags and backpacks, and hats and gloves. I might switch out the closet doors for sliding doors, so that you don't have to allow room for them to swing out. Then you could put a bench, again with storage built-in, along the stair wall.

Outfit the storage area off the bathroom with a good storage system, like Elfa, so that you can use every cubic foot of storage space that you have.

The smaller the space you are in, the more you need to customize it to fit your needs. For inspiration, take a look at some RVs and boats. The designers of these fit in storage in places you wouldn't believe. There are cabinets over closets, under beds and over them, fit into tiny spaces that most people wouldn't think of.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 9:45AM
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housefairy

I would suggest taking the back wall out of your closet and closing up the door in the bathroom. Depending on the actual room clearance then I would look at swapping out the closet doors for one door. You could then put hooks and a shelf system (to hold keys) on the back of the door for your everyday stuff. Then put up custom shelving that you can specialize to your needs.

Possibly an open bookcase would help to cut the entryway off from the living area. As far as purchasing furniture I would wait till you actually move in. Personally it helps me to visually study an area before making decisions.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 10:23AM
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graywings123

That living/dining area is about 13x19. What are your needs, exactly? You have a dining table. You could get a scaled down L shaped sectional and one smallish chair. Do you need an office/computer space? I would think about floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving units with doors on every wall.

Are you really committed to buying this place just so you can live in this extremely expensive town? It's not an affordable home ownership opportunity if you are going to be miserable. It isn't the size of the unit that bothers me as much as the open floorplan concept. There's no place to get away from one another.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 3:21PM
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PeaG

Thanks for your feedback so far.

I thought of your first idea, housefairy, but since we will have coats hanging down in that closet and shoes on the bottom, it would make accessing the things behind it awkward, so I don't think that would work.

graywings, we have our reservations, but, basically, we live in a very expensive urban area and have been getting by renting, saving very little, and living paycheck to paycheck. This opportunity allows us to buy with little down, allows us to build equity, has great schools, and is 2.5 miles from my husband's job. It's certainly not our dream home, and we can list many reasons why it's not perfect, but, at the end of the day, we will benefit from the forced saving in the form of equity, even if we only stay there for 5-7 years or so. And we can't afford even the most modest of single family homes in this area right now, so this is basically our one shot to buy, and it keeps our monthly output at what we're paying for our rental now (which is, sadly, a much bigger and nicer place). We're not 100% on board yet, but we're trying to make it work and be optimistic.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:56PM
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graywings123

I don't know how much input you want from strangers, or how much about your personal situation you care to share, but you might want to start a thread on the Buying and Selling Homes forum. Equity appreciation in the first years of a mortgage is low absent a rise in prices.

You might be doing a very smart thing by buying this condo, but I would advise against buying it simply because right now you see no other choices. Seldom is there just one shot to buy a house.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 10:44PM
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LuAnn_in_PA

"we will benefit from the forced saving in the form of equity"

No, please don't count on that!
Your house is not a bank.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 9:29AM
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LuAnn_in_PA

PLEASE read the posts here regarding equity...

Here is a link that might be useful: other post

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 9:36AM
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PeaG

Ha ha, LuAnn. That's my post! :)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 11:57AM
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PeaG

LuAnn: I don't mean to imply that I think the property's value will go up over time. Just that we will be "paying down" a mortgage, rather than simply paying rent. It's the same outlay for us each month. According to an amortization calculator online, if we sell in 7 years or so, we'll have paid approximately $35,000 toward the principal. Is that not equity?

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:05PM
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anninthedistrict

Small is not bad. With paying rent you will never get equity so if you are paying out the same each month even if value doesn't rise I don't see you "losing".
Learning to live with less is a good thing in my opinion. We are too focused on bigger is better.
Are there nice outside areas for the kids to play?
I think if you teach the kids to pull out a few toys at a time the closet off the bath can work.
Best of luck!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 4:39PM
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housefairy

Pea if you were to remove the back wall you would turn it into a walk-in. The bar would be moved to the side. Actually I would install a double bar. You should make up that room with the bath door you would enclose. This would all be part of a customized closet system. If you changed the bi-fold to one door you could then put hooks and a basket system for quick retrieval of your daily stuff on the back of the door. Also use a motion activated light. No way do you want to try to wade through the coats to get to the back of the closet.

Just stating the obvious, but as far as your other discussion about your equity. You do need to keep in your equation the fact that since you are the homeowner, you will have to foot the bill for all repairs. The outside should be covered by your condo association fees. Have you checked their books? Made sure they are sufficiently funded in case the roof (or whatever) needs to be fixed? But the inside, if say the faucet leaks, will be your responsibility. I am not trying to scare you, but don't assume you will have x amount of equity in so many years. Still it is one of the few remaining tax write-offs. Saying all that, we have always owned.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 11:23AM
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LuAnn_in_PA

"Ha ha, LuAnn. That's my post! :)"

Ummmm, yeah. That is why I suggested YOU check out your other thread.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 12:50PM
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PeaG

"Ha ha, LuAnn. That's my post! :)"
"Ummmm, yeah. That is why I suggested YOU check out your other thread."

Um...Ok. Since I posted it, I have been following it, surprising as that may seem. :/

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 1:46PM
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PeaG

housefairy,

What isn't clear from the floor plan (and which I neglected to explain) is that the storage unit off the bathroom is actually partially under the stairs, so it's not a ceiling-height room all the way through. It also stores the hot water heater. Unfortunately, I think we'd have to leave it. It was a good idea though, and I wish it could work.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 1:48PM
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karinl

I think much will become clearer as you live in the space. Although I am no genius at reading plans and obviously they can only convey so much anyway, I can see tons of opportunity to make the space workable by creating storage, but whether it will work for you depends on your personal style, how your family interacts, and things like how the drafts are, where the light falls, and what views you like, etc.

As a general principle I think I would plan on dividing the space with furniture, whether a couch or a wall unit, and also having lots of shelves against the walls with other furniture pulled away in front of them. There seems to be a dearth of walls due to windows, so you will have to use what walls you have and maybe create a bit of one as a room divider.

You can also put shelves in front of windows if the views are not great or you don't need the light. I've done that in our bedroom where the curtains are never opened anyway (window is to front porch).

I also would NOT give the children's toys priority over household storage. Toys change so quickly that you can make provisional storage for what they are playing with at any given time much more easily than you can adapt the only household closet to adapt to this year's toys. I come from experience on this - I focussed too much on toys and not on making the household work. My kids are grown now and finally I am able to prioritize a logical house.

Storage locker might help, even just a small one.

As for rent vs. buy, this is clearly weighing on you as you are maybe uncertain of having made the right decision, otherwise you would not have mentioned it in this thread about organizing! Obviously places and times may differ, but I don't know anyone who stuck to renting for decades and was glad they had. Equity is less the issue to me. What you want with kids is housing security, and that's hard to get in a rental.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 6:42PM
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