Alice in the Rabbit Hole

palimpsestDecember 17, 2012

My first condo was on the parlor floor of a house and had 14-foot ceilings, and the main room was roughly 18'x 25', although a loft area was carved out of that. I actually felt very uncomfortable and exposed in that room, with its 11-1/2 foot, floor length windows.

My next condo, in the same block, was on the third and fourth floors of the same type of house, with 10-foot ceilings on my living room floor, again with an 18'x 25' living room. I preferred spending time on the bedroom level with 8 foot ceilings and nicely sized but not overly large bedrooms, and the MBR was actually the smaller bedroom.

My newest house has 8-foot ceilings, and a third floor living room (often used as a MBR) with a dark wood peaked ceiling that drops to 5'foot knee walls at the sides.

There is a small dining room, open to the entry, that closed up will make a room that is about 7x10 and the plan is to have a banquette/daybed of twin width at one end and the TV at the other with a table of some sort in between, a very cocoon-like den.

Rather than wanting bigger and bigger, I find myself moving into smaller and smaller areas. Anybody else having this type of experience?

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The first home we purchased was a gorgeous new loft in a former cannery building - very trendy and very"wow". But living in it felt strange - everything echoed despite our efforts to use textiles to absorb sound, and the loft layout made it difficult to place furniture practically.

Our current home is a more "boring" townhome - though in a location we like much better - but it is so cozy and comfortable, and the space is more useable and practical! The square footage is actually the same, but guests used to walk in to our previous condo and actually say "wow". No one says that here, but we like it better!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 12:10AM
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Oh yes, I now live in the smallest house I've every owned and I love it. I have a 18 x 20 den with beamed vaulted ceilings and an adjoining 10 x 10 3 seasons room, lots of windows and we live with woods all around, smallish kitchen and a living room, dining room plus 3 bedrooms and I find it sooo cozy and comforting. My lakehouse in Maine is only 1000 feet, all wood walls and ceilings and is 120 years old. Outside of the living room which is 12 x 16 the rest is small, really small. Just enough for the beds and a nightstand. We have a big screened in porch and surrounded on 3 sides by water so we live on the porch most of the time. I can't imagine living in a big house anymore and the bonus is the $ we save on heat and repairs.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 1:24AM
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I am now in a home half the size of the previous one, but did so intentionally as I no longer want to be heating and cooling that amount of airspace merely for two adults (one of whom pretty much only sleeps here).
When I see a 3 or 4K+ sq ft home I always wonder about the utility bills, lol. I could eat for a year on what they pay per month- if my bill is over $100 I can usually point to why.

What's not to love?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 7:12AM
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Elraes Miller

Age caused me to move to a smaller home, 1100 ft. The only problem I have is existing furniture, or feeling comfy
with replacements bought. Although the decor puzzle is actually fun to work with.

I love the little houses so many have decorated with layers. But am minimal. Sometimes when seeing small room decor I do start to change my mind and want to add something like a corner chair in the bedroom or a bench at the end of the bed...neither would probably fit. Many seem to make it work really well.

Also, my bedroom is the second smallest, but it has wall to wall windows which makes it feel larger and love seeing the garden view. Am using the master as an office/art room. Most of the rooms are actually well laid out and roomy.

The one mistake I made when buying was one bath, it becomes an issue with visitors thinking they all need to use it at the same time. Oh, and I really wish there was a small foyer.

Right now I am working on moving kitchen cabinets and appliances around. Updated roomy kitchen with wasted space. I'll always be thinking of something to do. Too much creativity running through my head. Thankfully I am still able to do most of this myself.

Enjoy the ideas and new creations. There are so many options to make a small home "you".

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 7:45AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

There's a whole forum here on small houses....

While not small to some, our house is certainly small for the area. (Many of our neighbors have master baths that are larger than our library.) It was built to feel cozy, not grand, and we are very happy with it.

DH and I recently went on a holiday house tour which was mostly antique homes, but they threw in a 90s McMansion and we left the place scratching our much cubic footage, designed so inefficiently and none of it made sense or felt homey. It stood in stark contrast to the antique homes with their wonky floors and lower ceilings and smaller rooms that just seemed to exude "home".

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:05AM
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I have always lived in small spaces, at least as an adult. My first apartment was in a sketchy area of Hartford CT. It was half of the second floor and all of the third floor of an old house. Only the kitchen was on the first floor.

Pal, you will know the area of my next apartment. It was at 48th and Baltimore Ave in West Phila, just a couple doors down from Calvary Methodist Church, that has the amazing Tiffany stained glass windows. My apt sounds a lot like your first apt. It was the first floor of a big old twin house. My bedroom had been the dining room and had lovely big windows and a beautiful inlaid floor, along with 12 foot ceilings. I did love those high ceilings.

Now my ceilings are low and I would love if they were just a foot higher. I used to think I wanted a big house, but even if I had the money to hire other people to do everything, I would still have to manage it all and that's not how I would want to spend my time ( or maybe it's sour grapes since I cannot begin to afford that!).

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:38AM
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Square footage wise, this new house is the largest place I will have owned (although it's not large).

I guess I am thinking about Volumes. The building my condo is in was once a single family house, @ 10,000 sq ft + with 14, 12, 10, 8 ceilings. Some of the apartments are small, but all but the top floor unit has these large cubic foot spaces.

When the seller's Realtor of my new place ("new" meaning 50 years old vs. 170), he said "I imagine most people would open all of this up".

Currently the first floor is divided into a full-width living room across the back and the front half contains the kitchen and a dining area. The front door opens immediately into the dining area.

"Open up only two real rooms into one?" I thought. So you would walk in the front door, right off the sidewalk, into the entire first floor of kitchen, dining room AND living room with nothing partitioning the space except the stairs going up and down...

And in my head I was thinking about how I could Close it Up into three Real rooms, plus a vestibule proper. Although the house is wide for the block, this leaves me with two 7-1/2 foot wide rooms with a 4 foot wide hall down the center in the front half of the house.

The more I am thinking about it, the more I am liking these small rooms that I am developing in my head. (A 7-1/2 x ~13 kitchen will seem Huge, compared to what I've lived with since 1995).

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:51AM
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I've come to love low ceilings (so did Frank Lloyd Wright).

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:57AM
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Living with a tall (6'4") person is enlightening. He wants to be able to stretch his arms upward without colliding with whirling fans and chandeliers. Like I can do.

So our "normals" are based on his dimensions. The 10-foot ceilings were a large factor in buying the house we did in NM. The other contenders all had modern standard 8-footers and he's tired of dodging the obstacles.

We will have some lower ceiling areas in the new construction, because a small bath with a 10" ceiling is like being in the bottom of a well.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 9:13AM
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Frank Lloyd Wright was about 5'4" and there was some complaint that he scaled his ceilings to his height.

But he did understand using compression and release in architecture: having one enter through a small-low ceilinged vestibule, so you could appreciate the expansiveness of the living space beyond.

(We've lost this a bit, we often enter into a tall toaster slot of an entryway, only to be directed from it into smaller and more ordinary rooms--it's a bit backwards, but that's another story)

I am not speaking out against high ceilings, but maybe a feeling of lack of containment.

I like to sit or lie on the floor so I also like a bit of horizontal open space in certain rooms for that.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 9:27AM
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Low ceilinged rooms can be cozy. Or they can be confining. A lot depends on the lighting and scale of the decor. A small poorly lit room with oversized furniture is claustrophobic. The same room, with better lighting and the proper scale furniture can be wonderfully "hobbit hole" charming.

I, too, am not enamoured of the current trend towards triple height bell tower entry ways. They are mostly default designed by architects to be impressive and have little to do with the basic function of an foyer, which is actually making visitors feel welcome. If you examine an entry as a functional space, it needs to be large enough to have the host open the door and allow visitors in, then have enough room for them to easily remove any outerwear that the weather might dictate (maybe requiring seating for this need), then storage space for that outerware. You don't need a lot of cubic space, or even square footage space for those needs. To make the space seem "gracious" does involve a bit more room than you would for the basic necessities, but it doesn't at all need the hard to heat and cool vertical space that most entry ways have morphed into.

And that's why my personal preference does lean towards the "compression and release" that Pal alluded to. High ceilings everywhere become cold and unfriendly and, well, ordinary. It's the contrast between the smaller cozier spaces and the taller ceilinged large volumed rooms that end up making each feel like special and unique places.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 9:53AM
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But he did understand using compression and release in architecture: having one enter through a small-low ceilinged vestibule, so you could appreciate the expansiveness of the living space beyond.

I read somewhere that this is also more comfortable/comforting, and even before I read, I knew it was the way I felt. Don't like high ceiling/grand entrances all at once.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Pal your new home sounds interesting. I am living on the other side of the spectrum - 780 sq/ft. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I feel like I am way too confined. Its a toss up. It certainly stops me from accumulating much.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 11:49AM
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Did you see the article in yesterday's Curbed:Philly about the Hobbit Homes? There is something truly appealing about a cottage - maybe it takes us back to our childhood and enchanting illustrations in our Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hobbit Homes

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 12:33PM
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Thanks for the link to curbed Philly.

The place I am in now is 1050, so I am going larger, but not large. The entire kitchen in the new house is about the same size as some of the islands going in on the kitchen forum (It's currently slightly under 7 x 10, so it's bigger than the islands but not much.)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 12:46PM
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I'll eventually put in what we like to call a continent...not an island pal and it probably will rival that kitchen size...I'm thinking about 7 or 8 x 10 or 12 ish :)

I have gone the first house was 748sq ft. Second with DH was about 2100, with the top being a master suite at 648. It used to crack me up that my bedroom was about the same size as my previous house (which had two bedrooms and two baths and a very very small kitchen).

Now I'm at 8000...which I would have thought was rediculous but it frankly fits our life well. We have lots of guests, lots of big parties, etc.

The difference is as I age we keep expanding our life, ie children, dogs, cats, various vermin, monkeys etc (I haven't seen the last two but I think they might be around given the mess).

When I have to pull the place together though...I dream of a cute little cape cod with maybe four rooms! I can see that being my next joint when DS grows up and leaves us.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Pal, I can so relate. I couldn't wait to "downsize" so as soon as our last son flew the nest, we did too. From 5 beds, 4 baths contemporary, to 1908 half that size. Love it!!! Rooms and windows are more well proportioned, love the plaster, love the original trim and most of all love the cozy feeling of this house. And when our sons and their families visit, the house miraculously fits the whole clan.

I was also suprised at how liberated we felt after getting rid of all the stuff we had accumulated in the big house.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 1:19PM
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Love the topic and I find the compression and release concept intriguing. I'd like to learn more. In my home, some areas have tall vaulted ceilings that have a very different "feel" than the areas with standard 8' ceilings. While I generally like the layout and architecture of my home, it's certainly nothing special. I do find myself sometimes wishing for less space in some rooms, while others (like my kitchen) I find myself wishing for more.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 2:52PM
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This is has been an illuminating thread for me to read. The visual appeal is one thing but I realize that how a space feels is very important to a home. Alice in the Rabbit hole indeed - I want cozy warrens for nesting. As I look back at my history, I see some common threads. My first aprtment was a one bedroom affair with lower ceilings but it was so cozy. The next home was a bigger home with 2400 sq.ft - it was new builder community with the two story entry and living room. I remember that the cathedral ceilings were mentioned multiple times by our realtor during the sale but in the 6 years we lived there, we pretty much avoided using it. The space felt cavernous and cold. Even during large getherings, more people squeezed themselves into the smaller family room/ kitchen. The double sized master bedroom was such a waste as we never went to the 'master retreat part'. Our next home was a 1300 sq.ft 3bed/ 2ba rental home with lower ceilings and we loved it. After a short stint at another smaller 2bd renta, we purchased our current older home that has many ceiling heights. The tall ceilings in the living room and shorter ceilings elsewhere. In our pretty major remodel, we were able to increase the ceiling height for the bedrooms to 9ft but I chose to keep the 7ft9in height for the family room and the kitchen partly because of the lovely redwood tongue and groove ceilings but also because it just felt cosier. The home is also just under 2200 sq.ft but the common space is much larger than the private space in bedrooms. I also resisted multiple recommendation to open up the kitchen to the living to create a larger space. We added some pony walls and columns in the entry to create a vestibule of sorts that helped people entering to stop and take stock before releasing them into the living room with higher ceiling or welcoming them to the family area beyond. The existing architesture had these 1ft wide redwood panels that were sort of like crown molding, and in the rebuild, we continued that concept to keep the architectural integrity. This also made the transitions between spaces just 8ft tall.

We recently spent 4 hrs touring Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale and I loved the compress and release feeling in the house. The smaller proportioned built in furniture and the indoor outdoor views that were so beautifully frames felt nice.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 5:03PM
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I don't like short ceilings...but vaulted ceilings are too tall! I guess I feel more like Goldilocks, with something in between (9'-10' ceilings) being just right. But, I'm 5'11" so I can touch a 7' ceiling without standing on a chair :)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Maybe in 'a day or two' i'll decide to downsize, but it will have to be something I design myself since I have mandatory specifications, at least in my head.

At the moment, with kids/grands visiting frequently, I need space. It's just a matter of time until I can have the house that will suit *my* needs only. Those babies grow up too quickly so i'll take 'em anytime I can get 'em. ;o)

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 6:03PM
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My sister's house in FL is mostly one big space, with unused living and dining rooms in front, separated from the kitchen and family room by a single wall that does not touch the ceiling. At night I hate watching TV there. I prefer the office, which is the smallest bedroom with much lower ceiling height.

However, I do have to say, when we moved from a craftsman two-story house to '50s ranch when I was in high school, I found the relentless parade of small, low-ceiling roomed to be claustrophobic. The LR was quite large, but of course we weren't allowed to sit in there except on holidays.

It's not just the size of a room that affects how you feel, but the shape. Low-ceilinged rooms that have been "opened up" feel like pancakes. Two-story foyers make you feel like you are at the bottom of the well. And when they built the original Bag End set for the LOTR movies ten years ago, everyone remarked how amazingly comfortable it felt because the walls were round.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:04PM
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Yes, it's really about proportion not just high ceiling or low ceiling. And this is where a lot of newer construction has gotten it wrong.

To take it to extremes, think about being in a parking structure with an eight foot ceiling.

Now think about being in a bathroom with an 7-6" ceiling.

Which ceiling feels like it is pressing down on your head more?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 8:12PM
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"It's not just the size of a room that affects how you feel, but the shape. Low-ceilinged rooms that have been "opened up" feel like pancakes. Two-story foyers make you feel like you are at the bottom of the well."

marcolo, could it be the other way around? IOW it's not just the shape of a room, but the size? I'm sure our LR originally was two rooms in an 18th C. house. The ceiling is low; the room is a long rectangle. I don't feel like I'm pancaked at all however, and I think it's because the rectangle is long but not too long, and the ceiling is low but not too low.

Not only two-story foyers. I'm thinking of a house, the original part of which is 19th C., and with high ceilings in its formal rooms. Unfortunately, someone had tacked a very large great room onto it, among other changes, and this room's ceilings are so high that not only do you feel physically chilly when in it (despite fireplace), but there is a pychological feeling of coldness as well.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:19AM
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It's really about both, it's about the proportions, or volumes.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:23AM
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Look up the Golden Mean if you want to get proportions correct. It's especially helpful for those planning a new build. Not so much for people dealing with other's sins that they've inherited.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:47AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Try barrel vaulted ceilings some time....they have a very different feel than a peaked cathedral ceiling...much warmer and more livable yet allow for some height. Nice and soft.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 3:18PM
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this is a VERY timely topic for me!

my former home had high ceilings and my current condo is standard 8'

i have to say i prefer higher ceilings but not the oversized crazy tall ceilings you see in many 'mc mansions'

i'm currently working on remodeling a 'cottage style' home that is attached to a vineyard we are purchasing and the ceilings are 8' pretty much through out (except the 'vaulted' living room

i guess my biggest question is how to deal with painting....right now i have standard ceiling white (with simple white crown moulding) and i'm wondering if i dare go for colour instead

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 4:32PM
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Here is an example of what I will be dealing with, although I think this is the only "bad" room in the house, and it's currently not a room. This is all Realtor staging. I think the tenants have a bike and their treadmill there and that's about it.

The door is the front door. Outside the front door is the sidewalk, right up to the edge of the house. (There can be a strip of plantings or something but right now it's the concrete sidewalk touching the house.)

Between the edge of the front door and the corner is just shy of 8 feet. The room is about 10-1/2 deep until it hits stairs. It's not currently a useable space in my mind, so I am actually closing it off to make a very small, but real den.

This post was edited by palimpsest on Wed, Dec 19, 12 at 22:17

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 9:16PM
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I don't think I'd find a 7' wide room with 8' ceilings cozy. I'd start looking for a stainless steel toilet on the wall and a lunch tray coming through the door.

First thought I had looking at that picture (I forget when you first posted): If you want to divide that space, I could see a knee wall, perpendicular to the door and as high as the bottom of the window, and an uncased opening around where the "est" is in your watermark. Then I'd frame out the floor to add a step or two up into the space (7' ceiling height is code around here, don't know about Philly). This would create a seriously cozy space but without any claustrophobia, due to the continuous ceiling and an actually enhanced (higher) view out the window.

It would also hide the TV and be OK for good friends or family to stay over, though it's an unsuitable level of privacy for hosting a sleepover for the Wanamakers.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 2:59PM
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It will probably be close-up-able rather than strictly enclosed: sliding panels, or something. But the kitchen is going to be in the near mirror image space (a couple feet longer because no stairs, so I'll start looking for the lunch trays. I already know where I can get the prison toilet.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 5:11PM
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"I already know where I can get the prison toilet."

Fess up. I've always wanted one for the guest bath.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 5:42PM
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Here you go.

Here is a link that might be useful: MetCraft

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 5:49PM
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I read a design book about this topic recently (I don't remember the name). It was about the psychology of design and contained no photos. It said that there are two competing desires in our genes. One is for expansive spaces reflecting our need to explore and roam. The second is for smaller spaces reflecting the caves and protections our ancestors craved. The perfect space combines both. For example, our living room has 8-foot ceilings and isn't too large, but all the windows have expansive views down the valley. You get the feeling of space, but are in a protective environment.

We have lived in all sorts of houses-- a 1927 Tudor, a 1990 cookie-cutter vaulted builder special, townhouses, apartments, a 1885 Victorian with 14-foot ceilings--but this modest 1970s ranch with three quirky add-ons is our favorite. No one else has one like it, people comment on how warm it is, and nothing beats an amazing view. Our Victoria house was stunning but always cold.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2012 at 11:52AM
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I would downsize if I could design the new space for our present and anticipated future needs. Our main floor is about 4400 square feet, and we have that much downstairs. It's too much for us now that we just have one child up north in college and the others are on their own. But when everyone is home, we find we do need the space, and it's a useful place for the extended family to gather on holidays. If we sold, we'd take a bath on the house, and could possibly spend just as much on a newer, smaller one---although a newer house would be less expensive to maintain. Right now there's no really good solution.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 12:52PM
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Pal - to respond to your initial question; I railed against this small home in which I landed out of financial constraints after many years of living in a much larger home with more rooms, all substantially larger. In fact I am living in a house with a footprint smaller than the small barn we had built out back with a studio and family room upstairs....however after living here for quite a few years, I am beginning to embrace this small place, no larger than many garages!. The only reason I now still wish I could move is that my location concerns me for a variety of reasons. But, I misjudged the feasibility of moving at my current age. Should I be able to ever manaage it, I would be ok in the same size...I would not even have said this 2 years ago.
I think the size of your proposed den would indeed be cozy, and functional. I especially like the idea of a partially openable wall, like with opaque folding french glass doors.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 1:14PM
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