Downsizing . . . but is it too much?

mrspeteAugust 4, 2012

Right now I have a large kitchen -- approximately 20x12 PLUS a pantry, a breakfast seating area, and a dining room. All that space, yet it doesn't work. It's poorly planned and inefficient. To give a couple examples, my walk-in pantry is approximately 6x12, yet my floor-to-ceiling shelves are only one-can deep; so much space, yet it holds so little food, and I can't store appliances on my pantry shelves at all. The kitchen has a built-in desk, which I hate -- smack dab in the middle of the best prep space. I have miles of cabinets, but all my small appliances are shoved to the back of those dark holes, so I don't like digging them out. I am only 5' tall, and my cabinets are so high that I can literally only access the lowest shelf on my upper cabinets. This kitchen doesn't work. Because it's so large, replacing anything costs a fortune.

We're planning to build a smaller house that'll be better suited for the two of us as we transition into retirement. We're very much in the planning stage; we want to think through every detail before we embark on this journey. I want the kitchen to be significantly DOWNSIZED, yet I want it to include more usable space, better storage, and only one eating area.

This new house will be for just my husband and me -- with visits from our children and family. We want something significantly smaller than our current house, but we want it to be well-planned. It's important to us that this house gives us the ability to "age in place".

We will build our house with quality materials -- brick, hardwood floors, nice tile -- and a few splurges such as a box bay window seat in the office, fireplace in the master bedroom, floor-to-ceiling windows throughout. But it will not be an over-the-top showplace fit for a magazine -- no marble countertops, no chandaliers in the closets, no 6-burner Viking range, no media room. It'll be a middle class house.

Okay, with that back story done, I'm working up to my question: I'm in love with a houseplan. A 1700 SF farmhouse perfect for our 40 acres. The kitchen /eating area is 14.5 x 20. This is a big step down in size, which I fully embrace! But is it going to come out too small to be comfortable? I'm more concerned about the dining area than the kitchen area:

The space will be cut approximately in half. I'm looking at 14.5 x 9 for the kitchen -- that'll give us a "U configuration" with 5' walking space in the middle of the cabinets and a 9 foot bank of cabinets/refrigerator at the bottom of the U. Years ago I lived in a rental house with this very configuration, and I found it very workable and efficient -- except that I will eliminate the upper cabinets from above the penninsula, which opens the place up so much. If memory serves, the kitchen in that rental house was just about this same size.

I am not planning bar-type seating on the penninsula. Though I would certainly like it, it's not tops on my list, and I don't think I can afford the space.

It'll leave 14.5 x 11 for the dining area. I don't think this'll have a small feel because it'll be "open" on three sides: Open doorway to the living room, sliding glass door to the patio, open to the kitchen -- I'm thinking the dining room will "feel" more spacious than its dimensions might suggest because it's going to be in the middle of an open floor plan.

I am considering a built-in bench against the wall to help the dining table require less space.

Adding more space lengthwise IS possible; that is, I could make it 14.5 x 24 or so (expanding the 14.5 isn't realistic -- it would lead to expensive changes in the roofline). However, I would like to leave the kitchen size "as is" because the rooms surrounding it are PERFECT "as is", and altering the kitchen would alter them as well.

Details that make me believe this'll work:

- In addition to the kitchen, we'll have a 12 x 8 pantry. This pantry will have built-in shelves floor to ceiling. I want to store ONLY my smaller, everyday pots/pans and dishware in the kitchen . . . and I want my larger, less-used pots/pans, cookbooks, canned goods, etc. to be stored on deep, easy-to-access shelves in the pantry. This pantry'll include a 4' workspace where I can unload groceries, leave bread to rise, or let a crock pot simmer. I want NO clutter in my small, efficient kitchen.

- I have gone through my kitchen cabinets "taking inventory" and mentally placing everything in an appropriate spot in my new kitchen (or pantry). Everything fits. In fact, in spite of having less floor space, my storage space will be vastly improved. I'm not at all concerned about storage -- just about kitchen usage and eating area.

- My husband and I both cook, but we are solo cooks. Either he cooks OR I cook. It's a rare, rare day that we cook together.

- When we entertain, we tend to serve casually: I'm imagining one arm of the "U" serving as a buffet and drinks are on the cabinets at the bottom of the "U" . . . while the desserts are "holding" out in the workspace in my pantry.

- We have used our formal dining room 4-5 times in the 11 years we've lived in this house. I have NO PROBLEM giving up one eating area. But I do want to be sure it's spacious enough.

- We plan standard sized appliances. No 6-burner ranges or double-sized refrigerators.

- We live in the South, and we plan to build a pation /swimming pool /small outdoor kitchen /covered seating area. I anticipate our entertaining will mostly be done in the spring/summer/fall. This doesn't necessarily knock out Thanksgiving -- we have had Thanksgiving dinner outside more than once. Did I mention that I love living in the South? This outdoor space will give us the room to host a large group of people.

- The one downside to a "U" shaped kitchen is the two blind corners. I'm thinking we'll do a Lazy Susan in one (I've had one and liked but didn't love it) and will turn the other cabinet around to open in to the dining room /right beside the sliding glass door -- it can hold outside cooking necessities.

- If I can comfortably seat 8-10 people in my eat-in kitchen, I will be satisfied with my indoor dining area. I will have a smaller table in my adjacent office/craft room, which could be a good kids' table.

- We plan to travel extensively in retirement, and taking care of a large house doesn't necessarily mesh with that goal.

- We want our retirement house to be spacious enough to be comfortable for us (and our guests), but we do not want to build something so large that it'll strap our budget for the few occasions that we'd want to host a large group (and leave us rambling around in an over-sized house the 95% of the time that it's just us two).

- I do have a slight concern about space IF one of our children should want to return home to live with us after college (or even later in life). I think the house we're planning could absorb one adult child comfortably . . . but if she came home with children of her own for an extended time, it would be uncomfortably small. However, if that were to come to pass, I could see us converting the 3-car garage into living space OR adding a small pool house for another bedroom. But, again, I don't want to stretch the budget today to prepare for a possibility that may never happen.

Words I want to describe my kitchen/eating area: Comfortable, efficient, light-filled, clutter-free, charming, calm.

Words that I do not want to apply to my kitchen/eating area: Dramatic, trendy, over-sized, busy.

So, in all seriousness -- I can take it, if you think I'm wrong here -- will this kitchen/eating area be large enough for my needs?

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You described my house to the T- minus the 40 acres or even the large outdoor space to entertain in and we love it. I don't even have that pantry but I do have a longer galley that stores all you describe very efficiently. We only have a small eat in kitchen space adjacent to our kitchen and we hold all the family dinners that my single without children BIL with an amazingly large house does not, without an issue. It does help that we live in southern Cali and use our small outdoor space too to entertain but your layout sounds fine. We are currently living with 2 kids AND my parents in 1,800 sq ft and although tight we are ok. You could handle a returning child to your space and with 40 acres build if forced to if you needed. Good luck with your new build- I sounds perfect!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 12:33AM
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Now that it's only 2 of us; we've downsized from a 2500 sq.ft. 4 bedroom home to a 1200 sq.ft 2 bedroom home. For our size home... the kitchen is spacious and without doubt the "heart" of the home. It's approximately the same size as yours... perhaps a tad more dedicated to the kitchen proper since the ovens are off around a corner. We also are in the south and entertain outside year round. One difference is we do have an overhang we eat at 90% of the time. The dining/kitchen table when without the leaf is round and seats 4... oval and 6 with the extension. So Holidays when I have upwards of 25 for dinner... we have people eating everywhere. 14 can sit at dedicated "official" eating areas inside. But our furniture is also informal and others who want to be inside will sit on couches and use the oversized ottomans or coffee tables. Outside we have a choice of 3 different dining tables, an eating bar, and more couches and chairs with oversized ottomans. This kind of informality suits the way we live. I've hosted parties for 80 and no one got in each others way and there way plenty of room.

I think you will love a life with less "stuff". My DH is already retired; and I figure I'll teach 4 more years. I don't for one second miss all the extra space or having a home with rooms I never go into. DH and I each have 2 boys who all have their own lives now. When one of my boys come down to visit; we have one spare bedroom. When the day comes when they are both married with children... we plan on replacing the furniture with pieces that have pullout beds. My boys live in NY, his boys live down here. I think the memories we'll build all "camping" at Grandmas and Poppas will be glorious... and I absolutely cannot wait for those days!
Good luck... you're going to be very happy with your decision.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 7:09AM
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OT, but the building a house forum has some great ideas about things people wished they had included in their new build and other helpful stuff. One thread is full of great ideas, don't recall the name but it should be on the first 2 pages or so. If I had to guess, they probably have a thread on aging in place, or you could start one!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 9:18AM
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Williamsem: great thread on the building a home forum. Excellent ideas and well worth reading! Thank you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Little things that get forgotten

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 12:14PM
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I have come to the conclusion that I will not build another house with plans to house tons of company. I plan on putting them up at the local B&B on those occasions when I won't have enough room for everyone. It's just the two of us and we could do with a lot less space but then I think but what about when we have company? That's where my idea of the local hotels come into play. Rather than put the money into a house that is too big, too costly to keep up, heat and cool I'd rather pay for the hotel for guests on those few occasions! Of course this would not work for everyone but we live in a quaint town that has lots of reasonable options for people to stay and be very comfortable.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 1:22PM
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We have almost the exact kitchen you describe only it is only 12 1/2 foot wide. Works great for us and the dinning room is fine. The added couple of feet would have made it wonderful.

Here are six pictures of our kitchen, the link.You need to click through the thumbnails on the right. I know for most the back splash is crazy but that is me and I love it. I just moved the hoosier back out of the space the other day and put a desk back. The hoosier was too much in my face and blocked my view out the window. I can pull that gate leg table out to feed four as needed. We do not have company or even eat at the kitchen table very often so I only have a small one. BUT when we do need to serve lots of people I haul out a longer banquet table. Put a cloth on it and no one cares. I put the trestle table in front of the couch works well.

I am also moving a different couch back into the dinning room today and the love seat back to the living room. Musical furniture on our house. LOL I like to keep my chiropractor in business. Then the longer couch acts like a banquet seating. Love it and so do guests.

We opted out of bar seating at the peninsula too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our kitchen

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 2:02PM
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Sounds similar to our kitchen but no peninsula - and we have an exit to the DR.
Search Gardenweb for A2gemini - it is still incomplete.
I think our kitchen is 11 feet wide by about 17 feet plus the sun room area, so maybe a bit bigger than you want.
I hated our first kitchen - I made minor changes and even though not complete - it is so much better.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Make sure your kitchen and entire house really will be allow for comfortable use of a wheelchair or scooter if this is your forever home. If you or your husband should take ill, break a hip, or whatever and you wanted the option of home health you need to be sure that your house could accommodate that. I assume your are building a 1 story. Make sure the shower can be a roll in for a wheelchair too.

I'm sorry I know that has little to do with helping your kitchen layout. But I have aging family who will need care and these are all things we are taking into consideration.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 4:33PM
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Mrs. Pete, my kitchen is 18 feet long and just shy of 14 feet wide. I am one of the few U-shaped kitchen remodels of late. This kitchen suits our needs pretty darn well (I will not say perfectly) and we are a family of 5. I will post my link and some of the thought process we went through to help you visualize.

Remodeling our kitchen really allowed me to design my storage much better and that has cleared off my counters, making my kitchen far more usable. So the good news for you is that if you had a rental home 20 years ago with a U and yo liked it, things have only gotten better. Your storage will be more efficient and you should be able to eliminate cabinets and yet store as much or more. Note that I did keep one cabinet in glass over part of my peninsula, but then we need a LOT of food storage with two teens and a near-teenager. As an example we have a cabinet strictly devoted to cereal storage.

So if you took my kitchen and added two feet in length and one in width? The width answer is very simple: I would add a foot of walkway at the end of the peninsula and down the length. I hit all the minimums, but roomier would be nicer.

Two more feet on the room's length would give you room to have bar stools and a table. But, do you really need bar stools at this point in life? With a large group you probably wouldn't be putting people at both the table and the counter to eat. Better to get a table with leaves in it for a larger crowd. Then that table can be folded back to a manageable size when it's just the two of you. Again, give yourself the elbow room.

I might make the base of my U longer. As is commonly taught on GW, prep zone and clean-up zone run into each other when you only have one sink in your kitchen. A little more room might alleviate the crunch. I do like having a double-bowl sink, where the right sink is for dirty dishes and the left for prep work.

But really, if you look at my kitchen, most people would say the stove should have moved to the back wall, removing the need for the island mount fan and opening up the space. And a large peninsula without a stove would be better for serving food buffet style. I tend to agree that if I were designing from scratch I would place the stove there.
Another thing some posters here advocate is for moving your sink to the peninsula (or island). The reason to move the sink to the peninsula is that you will face your guests as you prep the food. On the other hand, most of the time, I don't have guests waching me cook, so the window is nice to look out.

Hope this helps give some of the pros and cons to think about when planning your U shaped kitchen!


Here is a link that might be useful: Colorfast's nearly done U Shaped Kitchen

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 5:21PM
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Thanks so much to all! I've been walking around the model kitchens at Lowes and imagining them in my space . . . but it's good to hear so many experienced people say that this is a do-able size.

Little notes:

Yes, I'm sure that we won't miss "stuff". By the way, I'm a teacher too. I just finished my twentieth year, and I'll be 57 when I finish my 30th year and retire.

I already read the link on little things that are often forgotten -- I incorporated some of those things into my ever-expanding notes on this house-building project.

Love the wild backsplash.

On the subject of putting friends and family at a local B&B, have you heard of the 20/80 principle? It's that we use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. For me, I know it's the truth. I wear my favorite outfits over and over, reach for the same favorite sauce pan, etc. I wanted to buy a small car, but I was concerned about the occasions when I'd be expected to transport kids' friends or large items -- we bought the small car and agreed to rent when necessary; it's turned out to be much cheaper than owning the large car all the time! Anyway, I want to store the 20% in my downsized kitchen and keep the 80% in my nearby pantry!

I have a 98 1/2 year old grandmother, and as I watch her struggle with physical tasks, I often think to myself, "Will the house I'm building help or hurt me when I'm this old?" So I"m definitely thinking about width for walkers or wheelchairs, a seat in the shower, a laundry room just off the master bath, and so forth. I want to be able to stay in this house for the rest of my life, perhaps with one of my adult children as help. Some planning now will help me with that in years go come.

Again, THANKS to all for your advice!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 9:16PM
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