Room size priorities

rosefollyMarch 25, 2013

I love to design houses in my mind. I suspect I'm not the only one who does this.

I was thinking about house size and room size, and how to get the most function for the square footage. I would put the space in the shared public rooms where people gather for the most part, and reduce the size elsewhere.

For me that begins with a large farmhouse style kitchen, and no separate dining room. This is the primary social gathering room (and the only room where I personally would bother to put a television since I don't watch a lot). A big laundry/utility room with windows and space to dry laundry indoors if need be located off the kitchen is important to me. A large bookcase-lined living room with a fireplace would be my other large room. Here is where I would put a a stereo (or possibly a piano if someone in the family plays). I'd love a window seat here, too. It is a room for music, reading, and conversation. It is a shade more formal than the kitchen. Your book club could meet here, or the parents of you child's future spouse, or a committee from your church or school. Easy access between the two rooms for easy passage when entertaining larger groups, perhaps a large archway. However I don't like the complete openness of the true open concept. I find that noisy and confusing, and strongly prefer a partial separation. A small vestibule of some sort with a coat closet and half bath, because I like transitions. As for bedrooms, I know the current fashion is for big, big, big, but honestly, I would just sleep there. It needs to be big enough to hold a bed and dresser and a couple of night tables comfortably and easy walk around room, but really that's all. So this is one way I would save space, keeping the bedrooms moderate in size. I would like at least two windows in each, being a fresh air fiend and a lover of natural light. So a couple of bedrooms, neither too big, and a decent-sized bathroom located between them (not jack-and-jill style, which I dislike). I like a window in the bathroom, too. If the second bedroom is actually a guest room and not for a family member, it could be made a bit smaller. A porch, screened or open, would extend the living area outside very pleasantly to breeze, shade, and views of the garden or neighborhood. If one of the family members has an activity with serious space requirements such as wood shop, sewing room, ham radio station, exercise studio, hobby room, or home business, I would probably accommodate this with a finished walkout basement. I suspect a second television might appear in such a room, even for me! We have such interests (no, not all of them!) so we would do this, but if not, I would skip having a basement altogether. After all, the utility and laundry requirements have already been met in the room off the kitchen.

Anyway, this reflects my thoughts on what appeals to me. No doubt others have their own. What I described would not work for a large family, but (I think) would suit a couple with one or at most two children, or empty nesters.



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mama goose_gw zn6OH

You had me until I got to the bathroom--none of my fantasies include sharing a bathroom.

As a child, I lived in two different split level homes. I still don't care for that style, and basements remind me of those too dark spaces. We have a combined laundry, storage, crafting, and desk-top computer area, although with the laptops, computer use has switched to the dining table.

Woodshop, such as it is, is in a detached, unheated, garage. I'd love to have a large room, attached to the house, dedicated to a woodshop.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:44PM
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Rose folly....if you have seen my new house pics on this site, you pretty well can see my priorities....first, handicap accessible...then open concept..beautiful view...three bedrooms, because of resale necessity in this area..two bathrooms..laundry and office in one room...double garage...lots of steps that I need to basement....etc. I love it is me!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 7:58PM
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Your plan would work for a couple. A family with kids, not so much. It'd be doable, but there'd be issues.

At the very least, I'd want pocket doors between the living room and the kitchen, so that two different groups could socialize at the same time, or the kids could be in the kitchen and the adults in the living room.

Or, you could make the kids' bedrooms larger, so that they have room to entertain their friends. The kids would also need a quiet space to do homework in.

Sarah Susanka in the "Not so Big House," suggests an "away room," a small room off the main living areas that can be closed away and used for quiet activities. In your planned house, I'd add a away room. The kids could use it for homework, or the adults to escape the noise when the kids are rowdy or have their friends over.

Basements in my area are dark and frequently damp. I'd want my hobby or sewing room above ground. It wouldn't have to be big, but would have a lot of built-in storage.

I have six siblings. We once lived in a house with three bedrooms, a galley kitchen and a combination living/dining room. One bathroom. A utility room. And a large walk-in closet off the front hall that my parents turned into an office for my father. Frankly, while there was space for all of us, we couldn't get away from each other, ever.

I used to sneak into Dad's office when he wasn't there, just to be able to read in peace and quiet. The tv was in the living room, my sisters were always in our bedroom, chattering away--they are 9 and 8 years younger than me. There was no place other than Dad's office to be alone in.

My parents had to regulate tv watching, because the only place we had to do homework was the dining room table--the bedrooms were filled with beds and dressers, no room for a desk. So we all had to do our homework at the same time, all around the dining table. The oldest was in high school and had a couple of hours of homework a night, so the rest of us finished before him and had to either play in our bedrooms or go outside or be very quiet until he finished. (My parents didn't choose to live in that house--it was assigned military quarters on an overseas military base. There were no other options.)

Based on my experiences in that house, I think every house needs one public room that has a door that shuts and that can be somewhat isolated from the noise of the rest of the house. Open floor plans have many merits. But they are not perfect.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 11:48AM
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That's a whole lot like our house, actually, except that we do have a separate dining room (though many people with our layout take down the wall between kitchen and dining room, and even in our house with a door between them, the dining room is informal and used for daily meals). It is lovely and works well for a family of three, though I can imagine it would be tough with more than one child or with a teenager (the one bathroom in particular--I have searched and searched for where to add another to our home, but there really isn't any place to put one!) But it was a very common bungalow design in our area in the 1910s and 1920s--basically one big front room with a fireplace and built-in bookshelves that spans the width of the house, and then behind that, on one side is an entryway, the dining room and then the kitchen, and on the other side is a bedroom that opens to a little hallway with a bathroom off of it, and then another bedroom--two windows each in the bedrooms, and then one window in the bathroom. They're not huge rooms, but fit beds and dressers with no problems. Our house has a sleeping porch off of one bedroom and originally had a breakfast room off of the kitchen; some people use that for a laundry room, but we rolled it into the kitchen when we remodeled.

Interestingly, while the layout of the public rooms is pretty open (there's a swinging door between kitchen and dining room, but otherwise spaces on either side flow into each other), the house originally had french doors closing off the dining room and columns dividing the living room and entryway visually. Over the years, people seem to have had different views on this and took these out. We find that the bedrooms offer enough privacy for now, though.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 1:16AM
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Our new house will be pretty open. Our priorities began with the kitchen. With two cooks, its definitely the main room of the house. Since there are only two people, our house is laid out for our comfort and convenience. Resale will probably suffer, but I plan to stay there for the rest of my life, so I don't care.

The kitchen is almost entirely open to the kitchen, and the dining room is almost entirely open to the living room. I'll build a small partial wall with a dropped header to give a visual break between rooms. I'm going to build this feature as I go, seeing how much of a wall is required to get the feel we want. Building it myself, I can always increase/decrease the walls to suit.

To make the rooms large enough and keep the house small enough, there is only the master bedroom on the main floor. Plans call for a finished BR in the walk-out basement which we will uses as a den and guest room. A full bathroom in the basement will make it more livable.

Here's the current floor plan, which is getting more and more locked in as I proceed:

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 6:55AM
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Like you say, public rooms with the most space. However, we have very little company coming over. We have spaces where we are free to be alone or together.

Like a sun porch, we have a sofa/daybed out there, perfect spot for a nap on a rainy day, or the swivel rocker to turn facing the other person, or turn to watch the wild birds feeding or enjoy the secret back garden. Then our #2 bedroom became a study, which (until I stored the whole lot of them) was a wall of books, one long desk for us both, and a flat screen tv. The ugly part of owning computers is hidden in the wide closet, paper/printer/cables/file cabinets.
I once had the wall of bookcases in the living room, but since I decided to turn it into a guest room/living room, I wanted it to be more I'm adding a nice little entry spot to avoid dumping new arrivals straight into the living room itself. I do so love a real entry! We will add the wall of bookshelving (wall mounted not cases) to the entire wall behind our bed headboard. Floating bedside tables mounted to the wall too, because ours is a storage bed and I like to pull out the drawers. I saw a bunch of shelving done this way somewhere, and I liked the look.

Then we are adding a window seat as part of our dining room, and we will also have a two-seater 42" high bar for chatting with the cook....we both cook and the new kitchen will have room for it. Plus, we are adding a sitting area as part of the master suite, although it would be easy to close it off from the bed area if we wanted to add bifold french doors to the wide opening. The glass wall of the back overlooks the wide but skinny deck with room for a small bistro table and 2 chairs, and an outdoor shower too. But the large table with umbrella sits on a ground level patio where it is close to the gas grill. By being lower than the deck, our nosy neighbor will not see us so easily.

Also, I have my beloved Teahouse, which is presently full of building materials and appliances and such, but once it is cleared out, that is my studio and home for my three parrots. My private space. My DH has a garden shed, where he does his tinkering. So pretty much, we live on every square inch of our property, house included.

Oh yes. The architect said that with the new space across the back of the house, our total sq ft for wood floors (not bathrooms and not master closet) will be 1094 sq feet. So I figure about 1200 total and that is a lot bigger than when we started.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 8:37PM
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Rosefolly, we have an ancient sort-of single wide down in Florida that confirms so many old notions I've developed over the years. (My first home had a long hall with bedrooms far away to the back, and I've always loved what it did for us.

This trailer was originally only about 10 x 42 or so inside dimensions, then someone doubled the width of the front, living room with an extension of about 10 x 17, for a total of about 590 square feet-?? I'm pretty sure that's too high, but definitely under 600. One queen bedroom, 1 single, 1 bath.

But this tiny thing lives and feel so large because it has a 15 and 17 by 20 foot living room.

The miniscule bedrooms and bath are in their own wing extending to the back from a door in the kitchen area, where no sight and very little sound navigate the long narrow hallway from the front. We call it the north wing. Our bedroom, which is about 10 by 10, including built-in closets, is at the very end with the best view of the water, and lacks nothing we need. In a vacation home, anyway. We really like it. The separation really adds to the sense of space, something the typical cost-effective short rectangle just can't offer.

Something has to give, of course. The single bedroom is like a train sleeper, and the washer and dryer are outside. We'd give up the bedroom without a blink, though, before we took space from a living room that'll hold a small crowd and allow the dining table to extend right across the middle.

In a "real" house, I would love to have a not-too-large kitchen (have one of those now) with a dining table right in the middle of it, a W/D stacked in a closet, a sunny, enclosed porch-style sitting room/office (so not very big), a guest room for two with bath preferably, a compact en suite for us, adequate but NOT extravagant storage, and the entire thing made "big" by a spacious multitasking living room, including room for gracious dining and game playing, that would be nice for the daytime and an especially great place to be at night and in bad weather.

But what I'd really like would be for all this to be in an L or even a U or a T. I just love what one big room and a long hall do for a place.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 8:09PM
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Hi Rosefolly, that sounds like our house, too, although two bathrooms. I have my computer in the living room which works as it is in the corner and I can look out our front window and see what's going on, plus it's about the only way our living room gets used these days! I believe our house is about 1500 sq which works well for the two of us. Believe it or not, we had six in here when my son and his three small kids moved in for five years. We only had one bath working at the time, and felt like sardines, but made it work!

My main area is the yard, I have a good sized garden shed with windows in the back, so it all works out...

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 6:27PM
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Rosefolly, I love your laundry room big enough to hang laundry inside!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 8:38PM
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So many great responses!

Mama Goose and others mentioned that this house having only one bathroom would be a problem. Actually it has a bath and a half, with the half bathroom off the vestibule along with the coat closet for guest use. I grew up in a family of six children. From the time I was nine years old onward we lived in a 1200 square foot house and a bath and a half. Yes, it was too small, and I thought this would be generous for a family of two to four people. However, if the consensus is that two full bath are absolutely necessary, I will give it more thought. I have also given more thought to the basement and my rather hazy thoughts have clarified. I would prefer that if there is a basement at all, it is only for storage. Better to have a craft/hobby room on the main floor, or if it is for a noisy activity such as woodworking, in a separate structure on the property. Perhaps it could be attached to a separate garage in the back for ease of setting up utilities.

Phoggie, I have not seen your plans on the forum but I will look for them. I was not specifically planning handicapped requirements as I do not have that need, but in the back of my mind I was thinking of the needs for a couple that would want to age in place. For example, no changes in floor level. I have never understood the desire for a step up or down going from one room to another. I would always be tripping on the step. Personally find the split level to be the worst floor plan style possible. I lived in one once and loathed it from the moment I moved in. Wide enough doors to accommodate a walker easily, should that ever be needed, would be another unobtrusive but useful feature.

I like Camlan's idea of pocket doors separating the living room/library from the noisier parts of the house. I had envisioned a wood trimmed archway since I love arches. I wonder if an archway could be fitted out with pocket doors. In my earlier childhood we lived in a circa 1900 American Foursquare, my favorite house of my entire life, and it had wonderful pocket doors to separate the living room from the dining room. (Dreadful kitchen, though, badly chopped up.)

Artemis, I love it that you have made a bungalow your home. If I were ever to remodel a vintage home to my tastes, it would be a bungalow. I am a faithful reader of the magazine American Bungalow. The American Foursquare I once lived in had a lot of bungalow characteristics in a true two story, and how my whole family loved that house! I used to dream about it at night for years after we moved away. I still miss it.

FL Gargoyle, it takes a personalized home to suit us perfectly, doesn't it? Mass-produced housing is like mass-produced clothing. It may be attractive and stylish, but it never really fits right. Individual needs requires an individual fit. It looks as though you have worked out something very livable. I also like your staircase with the full-stop landing. I'm planning a one-story house, but if I were going to have a two-story house, that is the kind of staircase I would use. There are houses that when visitors walk in, they feel a sense of rightness and comfort. I'll bet your house will be one of these.

I also really liked Moccasin Landing's sun porch suggestion. The American Foursquare had a screened back porch and an open, airy front porch with stone pillars, the stones filled with fossils. We would climb the pillars to look at the fossils, much to our mother's alarm.

Rosie, I just loved your description of the delight you find in a single wide. Having once lived in a adobe block house with a similar floor plan, I can say that it did not work for me. Maybe it was because I can still remember the kids rollerskating up and down the hall on rainy days, with the bump-bump rumble as the wheels of their skates went over the tiles! However, in reading your thoughtful analysis I am thinking that it may have been the way it was set up that was the real problem, not the long hallway itself. Like you, I like U's and L's and T's better than rectangular houses. They cost more to heat and cool, but they are very pleasing to the eye and offer more window opportunities. Natural light is so very important in a house.

I didn't mention the yard. OGRose knows me well enough from the Rose and Antique Rose forums to know that there would be garden front and back, full of all sorts of fragrant flowers, and room enough as well for an herb bed, a couple of fruit trees, and some tomato plants. Glad you got through your crowded time reasonably well, and with only one bathroom, too!

Nancy, that is one of my favorite features, too. I just love line-dried laundry, not to mention that a good number of my clothes can't go in the dryer anyway. The family insists that bath towels much be machine-dried for softness, but that is about all that I put in the dryer. (Of course people who do their own laundry get to pick their drying method.) So my clothes don't shrink, stains rarely set, and the actual fabric lasts much longer since it isn't steadily dissolving into lint.

I keep mentioning houses I've lived in. They have been many. When I was little our family kept growing and my father's employer moved him around a lot. We lived in about a dozen different places by the time I grew up, but lots of them were when I was so little I don't remember them. I do have vivid memories of five of them. As an adult I lived in various apartments and dorms, but in at least six different houses. I may be forgetting a couple along the way. Anyway, I always think about what I do and do not like about each house, and dream of getting it exactly right some day.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:46AM
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Rosefolly, that is one of the nicest posts I've read in a long time.

Wish I had time to respond appropriately now, but I'm catching up with gardening chores today. Slugs are out in force after all the rain we had.

But I'm thinking that my habit of falling asleep imagining house designs and walking from room to room, might be a result of having lived in many many houses as I was growing up. My mother was a restless soul who was never satisfied, and so we moved a lot. At one time I may have kept track of the number of times, but will have to apply myself to the task to give a real count now.

And, perhaps if you have the right climate, an outdoor shower would work nicely to take the pressure off of the single shower and tub in the house. If there is a closet backed up to your half bath, would that be a place to install a shower and create a 3/4 bath? What we have as our second bath was created out of a hall linen closet, a square small closet, and a piece of passageway into the former bath layout. Then the balance of the original bath was used to create the master bath with a bumpout for the clawfoot tub. Sure do like the arrangement now.

Gotta go.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 1:19PM
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Moccasin Landing, thank you for the lovely compliment! If I ever do build such a house, I can see that I will need to think more seriously about the second bathroom situation.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 1:04AM
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Your thoughts aren't too far from the plans we're creating for our retirement house:

You said start with the kitchen. We did, though it isn't going to be large; rather, we're planning a moderate-sized kitchen with nice finishes, which'll be backed up to a HUGE pantry with space to store everything. A pantry, with its simple, plain shelves is less expensive than the least expensive cabinetry -- plus I like being able to see all my cookware and food at one glance.

A moderate-sized living room and dining room branch from the kitchen, forming an "L". The kitchen is the mid-point. I like this arrangement for several reasons: 1) When it's just the two of us, the living room and the kitchen are the two most important rooms; we'll have the option of casual dining at the island. 2) When we have a large gathering, it makes sense for the food to be served on the kitchen island, and people can take their plates either to the living room, to the dining room, or outside to the covered porch . . . without crowding one another.

I'm totally with you on the idea of small bedrooms. We all have only so many housing dollars, and I choose not to spend mine in a room where I'll keep my eyes closed most of the time.

Just as you mentioned, we absolutely want windows on two walls in all our main rooms -- this adds such a nice touch to any room, and cross-breezes are so nice in the spring and fall. We'll have this feature in every room except the laundry room.

I'm also fine with the idea of one bathroom on the main level. Bathrooms are very expensive, and we have no problem with the idea of one large bathroom with two doors -- one opening into our bedroom, the other opening into the back hallway. Of course, we'll have another bathroom upstairs to serve those two bedrooms.

We are also including a small sunroom on the first floor, which will be an office (with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves) and a project room. This'll allow us a spot to leave out a project that's halfway done, or for one person to work in quiet while the other is watching TV or listening to music in the living room. IF we were forced to cut out something, this room would be first on the chopping block. This is primarily a house for two people . . . and we do have the bedroom as a get-away space as well. We could line the entryway and back hallway with bookshelves and get away without this room.

Finally, we're also including a large covered porch (not a screened porch) on the back. We have a covered porch now, and it gets lots of use.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Mrs Pete, that sounds like a lovely house. I also like walk-in pantries. In fact my absolute favorite scene in the new movie The Hobbit is the scene of Bilbo's wonderful pantry.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 11:09AM
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I would want glass sliding doors like threelittlefish's, separating the kitchen from the family/living room.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 2:21PM
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Thanks, Rosefolly. Now I'm off to see if I can google images of Bilbo's pantry. I also love that house . . . but I hadn't considered it inspiration for my own. I suspect my color scheme'll be off because I anticipate simple, clean, soft-white shelves filled with canned goods, while he favored earth tones.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Bilbo's pantry is all natural wood in a light color. Douglas fir or maple or hickory would replicate it very well. Maybe clear pine, but not knotty pine.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 12:07AM
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I'm interested that you don't like Jack & Jill bathrooms - why? I guess lots of people don't, because one rarely sees them. Though when I think of a Jack & Jill bathroom, I think of one that has really 3 compartments - 2 outer rooms each with toilet and sink, and a shared inner room with tub/shower. It makes sense to me, because I can share a tub or shower but want my own space for the stuff I store in the bathroom 9separate from my husband, we drive each other crazy with this), and because I want 2 toilets. However, at least one would have to be accessible from a hall, not just from the bedroom.

I also like the large combined kitchen - eating area, and it has to have windows. I will not look at a house if there are no windows in the kitchen. However, I want the main living area to be at least separatable, so pocket doors are really good. And, like others, we need some quite space - my husband needs office space, though it doesn't have to be large.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:43PM
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Elisabeth, it is very simple. I like my privacy. If I have to lock two different doors to be sure someone will not accidentally interrupt me, that is something I find annoying.

I am fine with a bathroom located between two bedrooms, so long as it opens to a hall, not directly into two bedrooms.

Finally, I have strong feelings about all bathrooms having windows to the outdoors. I will use fans when I must, but I don't really like them. Weather permitting, I far prefer to open a window and have fresh air pour in.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:02AM
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Mrs Pete, there is a drawing of Bilbo's pantry in the book The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles. If your library does not have it, you might find it at a Barnes and Noble or independent bookstore. Look at page 20.

You will see more of it in the movie, but it keeps moving so it is hard to get a serious look, mostly lots of quick impressions.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 11:39PM
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"I'm interested that you don't like Jack & Jill bathrooms - why? I guess lots of people don't, because one rarely sees them. Though when I think of a Jack & Jill bathroom, I think of one that has really 3 compartments - 2 outer rooms each with toilet and sink, and a shared inner room with tub/shower. It makes sense to me, because I can share a tub or shower but want my own space for the stuff I store in the bathroom (separate from my husband, we drive each other crazy with this), and because I want 2 toilets. However, at least one would have to be accessible from a hall, not just from the bedroom."

This is exact set-up we have in our current home, but as the only bathroom(s) in the house. The only addition is that the W/D are also in the center room with the tub, and each "half bath" also contains a linen closet. On the plans, it's called a "compartment bath", so maybe that's as a distinction from the traditional "jack and jill" that is a single bath open to two rooms. Ours is an MCM home, and the two doors into the compartment bath are from two short halls that each serve two bedrooms.

It works just as you think it would. The only downside functionally is that there are a LOT of doors in a small area. It's an ideal set-up for just the two of us. But it will give us fits when it comes time for resale. A traditional buyer won't get it. Heck, they probably won't get the MCM house, either. So we'll be looking for just the right buyer (as were the POs when they sold the house to us).

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:25AM
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Jakabedy - that layout with the halls sounds interesting but I can't visualize it (no imagination). And what's an MCM house (1900?) - I have never heard that phrase before. Intriguing.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 4:43PM
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Rosefolly, I will look for that book!

Jakabedy, Jack-and-Jills have a couple incarnations:

- Two sink rooms, each opening into a shared full bath
- Two half baths (with sink and toilet), each opening into a shared tub room
- One half bath opening into a full bath

They come in all sorts of varieites, and people do have strong opinions on them. Personally, I like them. They're practical.

Elisabeth, You might not know the term MCM, but I bet you've heard of MidCentury Modern -- MCM.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 9:48PM
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