Pondering "big" vs. "small"......

carpecattusAugust 10, 2012

The recent post asking what do we consider big has me rethinking our plans for our new home which we hope to build in a year or two. Our current home, which we've lived in for over 20 years, is around 1350 square feet - three bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, small cozy rooms that we love. Cheap to heat and maintain, easy to clean, and a built in excuse for not hosting big family holiday gatherings - just too small! ;-) (Just hubby, myself and our cats - I work at home so one of the bedrooms is my office.)

Our new home will be our forever home, so we're planning for creaky old age. Our initial plans have been for a one and a half story home - the first floor will be designed as if it was a rambler with a master suite, around 1500 square feet, and the upstairs will be a master suite and a home office, roughly another 500 to 700 square feet. (The idea is enjoy the upstairs master while we're young and move downstairs when we're old. We have a wonderful water view, and hubby really has his heart set on an upstairs master suite with a balcony to enjoy the view.)

We are envisioning a small cottage style home, with the same cozy rooms we currently enjoy, but hubby and I both come from large families and hubby would love to host large family gatherings. We are also planning for the possibility we might end up having one or two of our parents move in with us if they end up needing care.

I'm hoping to keep this home at 2000 square feet, but I have a growing sense of panic that even 2000 square feet is going to feel too big. If we keep most of the rooms small, will this help keep our home from feeling too big? I am anticipating our largest room will be the living room, at around 12 x 15, which sounds huge to me, but it will have a fire place and lots of built in bookcases which hopefully should make it more cozy. Would love any advice, and would love to have folks share their experiences. Has anyone lived in a 2000 square foot home that felt cozy, and if so, what made it so? (Other than 10 kids, 5 dogs, 3 cats and a parakeet! :-)

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If you added the fish it might feel more cozy. LOL

Our 1375 SQ FT home has a 12' 8' by 19' 6" living room and kitchen dinning room is a few feet longer same width. They feel very cozy even being a bit larger than the living room you describe. I do not think it really is the size of the room that dictates cozy. I think it is what you put in it.

Our master bedroom is 14' 6" by 12' 8". It is also cozy. Course I am a total furniture hog. I would love to get rid of some of it, and I have sent a few things packing. Still I bought a better chair for my husband and squeezed it in. But I think this new arrangement for us will be great.

I would be more inclined to go with larger rooms then small ones. It is so much easier to make a larger room feel cozy then to make a smaller room stretch.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 6:53PM
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I agree about the larger rooms. Being already at the creaky age, I'd rethink the upstairs office. In fact, I'd rethink upstairs period, but your knees and hips my hold out longer than most too. When we were at my dd's this spring, I just dreaded going down the stairs to the garage, especially if I had to carry anything.

And now I'm going to pass on some advice that was given to me when we were considering building on an addition for a mother-in-law suite. Don't do it! I know, you get along great with your parents and it will work out great. That's what I thought too. But while we were considering our alternatives, the in-laws moved into an apartment nearby and both of them have deteriorated mentally. Fil is now in a nursing home and mil has changed from being self-confident and capable into a baby-talking, needy, old woman. She drives me absolutely nuts when I'm around her very long and I thank my stars every day that we never built that addition.

Also, in the advice I was given, I was told that when mil moves in (and the person who gave the advice had mil living in an apartment in their home), the relationship changes between you and mil and you and siblings. You are also out more money than siblings, and while that may not matter, or you think it may not matter, chances are that the in-law's last will and testament will still divide the assets equally, which may or may not cause more friction between you and siblings.

Now with us, dh only has one brother and I am an only child, so I don't think that last piece of advice would have applied to us. We already drive mil to dr appointments, take her meals and out to eat, which bil doesn't and can't do. And that's ok with us, and I know her will divides everything equally.

But it's something to think about.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 8:36PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

carpecattus, I have the house you want! Except that the upstairs is comprised of 3 teeny BRs, a den (glorified hallway), and a half-bath, which was all my children's domain when they were growing up. There is also an under-construction guest room--part of an addition that can be converted to an efficiency in-law apartment. When the guest room is finished, the total square footage will be around 2000.

The master suite is downstairs, and when my kids finally leave home (and quit coming back), the upstairs can be closed off to conserve energy. A few pieces of 1/4 round, a sheet of plywood, and one of foam board, and I'm all set.

The addition is used to host our large family dinners, although it's not quite finished either. It's also used as a playroom for the grandson, and I really like setting up folding tables in there, while keeping the LR clear for socializing. It's much better than pushing all the LR furniture against the walls to set up tables, or everyone trying to eat while balancing a plate. We also have plenty of space for parking, so turning our home into party cental made a lot of sense.

We kinda have a water view, too, if you count a couple of small farm ponds, :) best viewed from upstairs as well.

The only time I go upstairs is to work on the guest room, or to use some tools that are currently set up there. I am widowed, and when all of the kids are away, the downstairs is plenty of room for me, as it was for both of us when my husband was living.

I feel that my house is cozy, but part of that is the colors that I've chosen, as well as the low ceilings (and the fact that it's full of stuff).

You plan a forever home, but eventually it will be sold, and I think that the extra space upstairs will be a plus when that time comes, even if it's not necessary now. My advice would be to incorporate elements that will allow you to 'age in place' as comfortably as possible.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 9:57PM
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Thanks so much for your responses; I'm feeling a little less panicky with your help! It's reassuring to hear larger rooms can still feel cozy - I think what I need to do is pay closer attention when I'm visiting family and friends to see how I feel in their large living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens, and figure out why some rooms feel cozy and others cavernous. I know from past experience that I'm more comfortable in rooms with ceilings that are not too tall, so we want our ceilings somewhere between 8 and 9 feet. I had to laugh at the furniture hog comment - our spare bedroom is filled with "projects", furniture found cheap at consignment shops that I know will one day look fabulous after I've refinished/repainted them. First challenge is finding the time, second challenge will be figuring out where to put each piece when it's done. (Part of the reason why I'm so eager to build our new home - I can't wait to decorate!)

My original dream was for a small rambler, but hubby really wants the upstairs master, which at our current age (early 50's) we should be able to enjoy for at least the next 15 to 20 years. I love the idea of being able to shut off the upstairs if and when we decide to no longer hike up the stairs, so I'll be playing with designing something that will allow us to do that. (Hubby loves the idea of an elevator, but after reading the story of the elderly couple who died in their elevator a few years ago I'm not so crazy about the idea.) I am planning on having the laundry room on the main floor, as part of the main floor master suite, and I would love a laundry chute or dumb waiter from the upstairs directly down to the laundry room.

Also very good points about having a parent or parents move in - my mom has already announced she would much rather have a tiny place of her own, rather than move in with one of us kids - she loves us dearly, but would hate to give up her privacy and independence. Perhaps we should treat our downstairs master as an office and guest suite while we enjoy the upstairs master; hubby loves the idea of a Murphy bed! Perhaps this might eliminate the need for an office upstairs. Mmmmm, more to ponder!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 11:29PM
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I would advise taking your tape measure with you to those homes, too. I just redid our living room into a cozy library/music room, and If DH ever gets it straightened, I will take pictures! Anywhoo... that room is 12 x 16. When I added a wall of bookshelves that are 10" deep, plus base cabs that are 18" deep, the room became very narrow. It is a good thing that it is 16 ft long, we have room for a desk, a loveseat, a chair, a side table and a filing cabinet, and not a thing more. If you add bookshelves on more than one wall and a fireplace to a 12 x 15 room, you will have it so cozy that it will fit a couple of comfortable chairs, a small desk, and not a whole lot more. The photo below is my new library, walking in the door and looking over the desk to the empty bookshelves 11 feet away. The bookshelves with the counter below them cut the 12 ft dimension down to only 10.5 ft.

I also caution you to plan for having to maneuver a walker around the furniture. One never knows when a fall, sports injury, or needed surgery will temporarily or permanently cause the need for steady support. Another option to consider is to make the stairway to the upstairs extra wide, so that it can accommodate a stair-climber chair mechanism. That extends the usability of your master suite to the point at which you need real assistance. Planning ahead for these things makes sense. It is a shame to have to move because you can't get a walker or wheelchair into the bathroom or bedroom. If/when we remodel our bathroom, I expect I will be leaving room for a wider door.

Here is a link that might be useful: A random stair lift, no reccommendation for this or any other one!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 9:14PM
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I think a split level will work for you and you have an upstairs but not too many steps. I found a house 1328 sf with 1081 unfinished. You can take the unfinished part and make a MIL suite.

Here is a link that might be useful: from cool houseplans website

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 7:02AM
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If your husband wants an upstairs to enjoy you need to do it. We are finally in our beautiful log home my husband and I built ourselves, but I got talked out of building a loft that I wanted very badly for a sewing studio.I love lofts, and we have a magnificent view of our property from the back of our house. We built a single story home, and the doorways and layout will allow us to age in place, but I don't have my beloved loft.

While I truly like my home, I am extremely heartbroken that we did not do the upstairs and it has tainted the enjoyment of my home. I, too, would have at least 20 years to have enjoyed it, and maybe much longer than that if mobility doesn't become an issue.

Four months after moving in, I still do not have a sewing studio or room. We will have to build one that is detatched from our home, because to add on a room would destroy our beautiful walk around porch. I am discouraged as I have not had a sewing space for 3 years now.

Take my advice and build your upstairs.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 3:59PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We built a 2100 sq ft home and went down with a full walkout basement instead of up. What's down is what we can live without should we become infirmed...a guest suite, exercise room and craft room. (We figure if necessary the guest room can become the granny nanny room if we need live in help) We also have space to put in an elevator if necessary, but we havent at least not yet.

The house is very cozy....that's what people tell us. It has 9' ceilings and even a high tray in the study and a barrel vault in the DR. What makes it cozy is the size of the individual rooms, the woodwork and crown, the colors, and the use of light and visual cues to define the spaces. What's also interesting is people think the house is much larger than it actually is. The main floor is really just a 2 bedroom ranch.

DR is 12x14

Library is 14x17.5

FR which is open to the kitchen and breakfast nook is 14 x 20

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 12:28AM
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AnnieD your house is Gorgeous!!!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Thanks, shades...we invested a lot of time in the design...and we are happy with the outcome. Friends of ours have a home that is tremendously larger than ours, but I would argue that ours is more livable....they keep adding on spaces, making it even larger, but I suspect it's because they are still looking for...but can't find...homey.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 6:18PM
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Annie - your home is lovely! and it was nice of you to post the pics of some rooms and list the sizes. That will help the OP visualize better.

I wouldn't call 12 x 15 huge but it is a fair size for most rooms - just depends.

Do be sure to do what you need to in advance (while building) in case of a future injury or just unable to get around like you can now. Wider doorways, halls, grab bars, large shower. Even if you don't want the grab bars now be sure they reinforce areas so they can be installed later. Take pics before they close up the walls - and tape measurements to the pics or write them on the back of the pics. Have enough space in rooms to get around on a walker or with a cane or a wheelchair (as someone else posted).
I broke my kneecap about 11 yrs ago and man is it painful to sit down and get up without something to grab onto for help. It's painful with the help - but unbearable w/out it. Think potty time - I would put off going and I don't think my bladder appreciated it! I dreaded every trip to the bathroom.
It'll be much easier to find a few extra inches for a doorway or hall while building than it will yrs from now after it's all in place and it'll mean tearing out and replacing walls, flooring, built-ins etc.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 9:04PM
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sandy - where have you been? why haven't we seen the new house? why didn't we getta see it going up?

I'm sorry you didn't get your loft - you really wanted that.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 10:41PM
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Oh, thanks so much for all of your suggestions and advice, and special thanks to Nancy and Annie for posting photos of your wonderful rooms and providing measurements - very helpful! I love the built-in bookcases and I can see how they will help make a large room feel more cozy. Nancy, I only wish I could have seen all of your dog. :-) (We have two cats and I've put hubby on notice that we will have a dog in our new home!) And your suggestion regarding the tape measure made me smile - I've been known to ask my husband to lie on the floor so I can get a feel for the length or width of a room. (He's 6' 7" so he covers a lot of space!)

Annie, your home is beautiful and definitely looks so cozy! We've been pondering our ceiling height, and it's very helpful to see your 9' ceilings. I completely agree with you about how the right floor plan and room flow can make all the difference in the livability and feel of a home. Our current home is very livable even with it's limited square footage.

Sandy, I'm so sorry to hear you didn't get your loft - I'm fortunate to currently have a room dedicated as my studio, and know how unhappy I would be without this room of my own. I have a friend who remodeled her home several years ago and she tells me her biggest regret was not being more adamant with her husband and their architect about features she wanted - she keeps reminding me to speak up during the design process. I've assured her I don't have any difficulty doing that! ;-)

As suggested by desertsteph and others, we will definitely have wider doors and halls - after watching my husband's father trying to deal with a walker after a prolonged illness, we are determined to make our home creaky old age friendly, just in case.

Again, many thanks - you are all much appreciated!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 1:12AM
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desertsteph, I've been dealing with the whole exhausting process of building. It took a lot out of me. I should have shut the contruction of it down by taking a lengthy "vacation" until I was listened to about what I felt I needed to be happy. I spoke up...many many times...it all forged ahead anyway.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 11:16PM
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oh Sandy - that's so sad, after all of your plans!
your silver lining thread tho does say a lot. I guess we all (well, most of us) do have to make adjustments and compromises along the way.

I know I've gotten so disgusted with some workers here I've given up for a time. And I've decided that changing out my cabs is too much hassle and mess so I'm gonna try to work w/what I have. I have so many other things that really do have to be done. I don't even have flooring down yet (just the old vinyl in baths and laundry and laminate in kitchen).

Making my list of priorities - like water and working toilets! just important things - lol!

My son might be in the area next month and asked if I have a good 2 days work for him - do I EVER!

and I'll follow him around and talk his arm off - well, he might need that!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 9:51PM
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