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Smaller home with expandable living space

Posted by lavender_lass (My Page) on
Thu, Sep 29, 11 at 22:25

I've been thinking about this a lot, lately. My grandmother used to talk about the Depression and say that many families had to move in together, not because they expected one member to 'take care' of them, but because they had to consolidate their resources. To maintain a standard of living that was easily attainable before, sometimes meant families sharing expenses, as the economy got worse.

So I started thinking...big houses often have daylight basements and extra rooms, but smaller homes have less 'extra' space. How to design a home that can grow when necessary, but not feel too big the rest of the time? For me, I think the key would be a big kitchen/keeping room, with a large dining table (or one that can expand to a large table) with smaller living spaces and bedrooms. An unfinished attic could become a couple of bedrooms and a bath...maybe one being more of a sitting room. A basement could have a study that could be a bedroom. As long as the 'family spaces' were large enough to work for a holiday meal or party...the other spaces could be heated/cooled or used as needed.

Has anyone else ever thought about this? I don't have any children, so I don't need the space for kids, but I do have a lot of nieces and nephews...and I do have concerns that they may have a very tough time, if things don't improve, soon. I guess living on the 'family' farm and having the space for gardens and animals (if necessary) has me thinking about this a lot, lately.

Again, this isn't about one person expecting a 'free lunch' and not having to work, but more about consolidating skills/abilities and assets to maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle that seems to be increasingly moving out of reach, for many. Any thoughts?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

I've thought about it too. I think I posted a photo or link to photo that showed how a garage could convert quickly to a guest house. The garage doors were actually French doors so had a better seal than a regular garage door. I don't remember how they opened, but I remember thinking for every day garage use, they would be a pain to get out and open every time. But I can see that it would be great for a 3rd car garage.

Had a Murphy bed, a small kithenette tucked away in the corner and a bathroom in the other corner as I recall.

Because of building costs and RE taxes, I've wondered if that wouldn't be the way to go though on our next house. Our spare rooms are wasted most of the time, or were until dd#1 moved back home. We spend most of our time in the kitchen or in a small section of the den in front of the tv, or asleep. So why do we need the other 1000 sq ft? It would really be nice to only heat, cool and pay taxes on the part we use 360 days a year.


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

In the old days, when they first built the cape style homes, they often began with a room and a fireplace, and it became a style that easily accepted additions in phases. There is a really great book about Capes available which shows the ways in which the steps were added.

Many older capes have low ceilings compared to other styles of homes. It was easier to keep a low ceilinged space warm with a fireplace and a smaller wood fire, than a space which was high ceilinged. Look at larger homes, and note that they frequently had simple "inglenooks" and alcoves with the ceiling lower around those spots, and the fireplace the focal point there.

But some of the southern homes were built up on stilts or piers so air would circulate beneath them, and the ceilings might be high (sometimes 14 feet) with nice operating shutters and deep deep verandas and the kitchens in totally separate buildings....or summer kitchens on the other side of a breezeway. If you deal with hot weather more than cold weather, you need good ventilation.

Some places where you have a lot of visitors or many kids same age spending the night, the attic can become a real "barracks" with multiple beds and chests for each one, and if privacy is needed just put some tracks on the ceiling for a curtain to be drawn a la hospital style. You can put in partitions that are reconfigurable if need be, but a bathroom would need to stay as a permanent fixture. I really love the idea of outdoor facilities, especially a shower, which can be done with 55 gallon drums like in MASH, or like at a beach house.

Even though times are tough, you can still have fun coping with the necessities of living. And by all means, everybody has to be willing to pitch in and help, no whining.

If you want to plan on doing an income property or apartment addition for your next home, be sure to buy in a section of town where double dwelling is permitted. If you see and home numbers with A or B or 1/2 on them, that might be a sign that they have rental units permitted. My Teahouse cannot be living quarters, because city code does not want population density to increase. So they look hard at approving any building permits which include features such as cooking/sleeping/bathing or plumbing/sewer/electrical/gas.


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

This thread makes me smile.

My grandparents & parents lived through the Depression. After the war tons of houses were built for the GI's. My dad bought one of these little shoebox's of a house with his GI Loan for $6,000. The main floor was no more than 1,000 sq. ft. 2 BR's, one bath, living area & eat-in kitchen. All the rooms were tiny. There was a full basement & walk up attic though.

My sister is 7 yrs older than me, & my brother is 4 years younger. We all grew up in this tiny house & we all survived fine. The basement was "finished" (the cement block was painted & there was a linoleum floor. They built a little bar to the side & called it done) Many many Christmas parties were held down there. We used it for many years as a "rec room" - pool table, sofa, recliner - even the Christmas tree was always down there. There were 2 tiny windows down there about 2'x1' each. My dad had his little "shop" in part of the basement & of course that's where the washer & dryer was. We even took in a homeless woman for a couple years & she lived in the basement. Today though, the basement would require an egress to use the space as a living area.

Once my brother came along, us girls were moved to the attic as our bedroom. It was totally raw unfinished wood with rolled insulation between the rafters. We had 2 large double windows on both ends of the attic, so air & light wasn't an issue. Various combinations of rag rugs were on the floor. Dad "built in" dressers between the rafters. We had hand-me-down beds & the electrical outlets were on steel poles. Storage items were stashed between the rafters on top of the open joists. Every once in awhile a bat or bird would get in.

Today, having kids living in these "conditions" would seem cruel. But this was my dreaming room. I would daydream constantly about how I would finish that attic - where a bathroom would go, closets, a sitting area. To this day I love sloped ceilings, raw wood, & small spaces.

I don't think my parents envisioned that they would be in this house until my mother died - 45 yrs. But it served all of us well with great memories - as many as any large house could've held.

It taught me to never waste space & make the most of what you have. And, it was the first seed of my design career.

I think most of us could do without most of what we have. Or that we could do more with what we do have in creative ways. So attics, garages, basements can all be used effectively for additional living space. If you find a house with these possibilities, then you're going to be able to expand & contract as the need arises. Multi-use spaces like office/guest BR, & just thinking out of the box...kinda like re-purposing, is what your eye needs to see.

~Jeana


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

In addition to what has already been mentioned, there are a lot more codes you have to worry about now, which means you may have to incorporate some things early on in the building process. If you are in a rural area, your septic system must be large enough to accommodate the additional bedrooms/bathrooms. Bedrooms require egress - are the windows large enough? It is not always as easy as just turning a couple of rooms into bedrooms.


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

When we built our new addition, currently used as a family dining room and play room, I designed it with a layout that would allow it to be converted to a small efficiency apartment. It has a small sink and counter with room for a coffee pot or toaster oven. (Incidentally, I am using that as my kitchen sink this week--my sink run is in transition.) :)

A large closet beside the sink counter can be storage and/or pantry, and can house a pull-out cart for extra prep area. For a few hundred dollars the room can be divided with a temporary wall which would align with the main support beam in the original part of the house. A platform could be built to convert either window seat to a bed, and we have small chests of drawers that will fit into the two smaller closets. Another closet can be converted to an office/desk area, and the opening to the LR can be closed off to make an alcove for a TV or other cabinetry.

It has its own back entry and front porch area, and a room that will be a small bath. The addition was planned with the idea that one of our parents may eventually need assisted living.

The guest room over the addition will (some day) be set up with a full-size bed, two built-in bunks, a twin day-bed, and room for a crib--sleeping arrangements for a whole family with small children. The room has sloped ceilings with room for built-in storage under the eaves, and storage drawers under the bunks.

I recall an issue of Country Living magazine that featured a Scandinavian style home built with guest quarters and built-in bunks for the couple's grandchildren. It was painted with bold patterns and bright colors--very cheerful.

If one plans to stay in a home long-term, planning ahead for elderly parents or boomerang children is a great idea, expecially in the current economy.

Here is a link that might be useful: New addition


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

Wow, Mama, I had forgotten those pic of your new addition, and I was not aware of the "assisted living" option you planned into it. Now that I am so familiar with your kitchen, these pics give me a good idea of the adjoining space. What a lovely setting for your home, as well! You and your late DH put a lot of thought into it all. Love the swings, too.

My grandma had a swing in her 'finished' basement. Like Interior Stylist's childhood home, it was a tiny post-war home (a cape style) with an unfinished attic. But it had a regular staircase heading up there, so it was easily used as living space. It was my sister's bedroom when we inherited Grandma's house and moved into it in my late teens. DSis lived up there until we sold the house. I only lived there one year, and my room was the smaller of the two main floor bedrooms. Mom had the larger one. DGma's basement had the lino tile floor and painted walls, but her bar was quite large, with knotty pine paneling behind it and a real bar-style footrest (pine, not brass) that made it all seem so posh to me. Many family gatherings were held down there in my youth and then in my late teens when my mom and her friends gathered there. Her BF's daughter was from the South and had never seen a basement. She used to call the pantry storage area under the basement stairs the "downstairs attic" and the name stuck. Fun memories.

I still have the oak folding screen that DGMa used to hide the furnace and HWH. I wish I still had the original fabric, so 1950's. I have hauled that screen from home to home for 30 years, never using it, just carrying it and putting it in whatever storage area I have had. Someday, I know, I will want it. It is funny how short it is. If I tried to use it as a dressing screen, my upper "lady parts" would show over the top!

I wonder if the staircase going up to the attic is the defining feature between a cape and a ranch? That, and the roof line. My house that I cannot sell, here - the one with the new $30,000 kitchen remodel in 2003 is a basic 900 sq ft 1950s ranch. It has, however, a one-car attached garage. Because the house is up on a basement foundation, 36" above grade, and the garage has the same roof line of the house, there is room above the garage for a cape-style second-storey room. So the real estate agent listed it as a cape. It does have that 'regular' kind of stairway that a cape has, not a pull-down stair (like in a ranch access to an attic) to get to the room above the garage. That room was 12" x 23" of usable living space, plus the low ends. I always thought that the room needed a shed roof bump-out overlooking the back yard. Before we ever got to considering that, though, DDad in-law moved in with us when DM in-law died. We learned there was no easy way to make a second bathroom there, and that was the main problem with the house once a 90 year-old was added to the family! I even had the drain in the garage floor scoped, hoping it was a sewer drain and I could make the garage into living space, but it turned out to be hooked into the rainwater drainage, instead. So we moved.

When I had first moved into that house as a single divorced woman with a new degree and new career, I replaced the old gravity furnace. That room above the garage was a challenge to heat. It had an illegal gas furnace up there before I bought it. The HVAC men said there was no way to get duct work up to heat the room because the wall connecting the garage to the house had once been an outside wall and that somehow made adding duct work undoable. (The first family to live in the home added the garage a year after the house was built.) I went out into that garage, pointed at the windows looking from the house basement into the garage and said "aren't these big enough for duct work? they said they COULD get duct work through, but that since the garage had finished walls and ceiling, they could not hide the ducts. Being a great fan of the movie "Brazil," ducting was not ugly to me, so I just had them strap the insulated ducts to the garage ceiling and walls. I figured if anyone ever opened up the garage ceiling and walls in the future, they could be hidden, but that it was worth it to have the plastic-covered ducts making the garage space ugly, meanwhile, in exchange for having usable living space above. DUH! Men! Were they more concerned about their nice finished garage walls than whether the room above the garage was usable? It wasn't even THEIR garage! (Sorry Scott and Jay and all you anonymous Smaller Homers who have the Y chromosome, just a generalization not meant to hurt your individual feelings!) So that is how we fixed that problem. Heated upstairs space - ta da!


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

OMG, in all of that exposition I forgot to say that it dawned on me that our new living room, our Library/Music Room, is an ideal extra bedroom. The french doors give it privacy that it never had before. The loveseat we have in there is a fold-out twin bed, and I have plans to buy a good inflatable queen bed for guests.

Here is a link that might be useful: Inflatable bed with headboard


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RE: Smaller home with expandable living space

nancy, thank you :)

The swings are one of the best things about the new room. Who can resist smiling and remembering their childhood, when they see a swing? And, as I said in a caption, everyone has to try them! I've enjoyed the descriptions of shared spaces, and the magic that everyone has made in each one.

I think I've mentioned before, that our house is set up well for accommodating someone with disability/aging issues, and the upstairs could also be closed off to conserve resources.

Because of the lay-out, for very little investment it could be divided into several efficiency apartments, with plenty of parking. My social-worker daughter wants to (eventually) turn it into a group home and teach practical living skills--organic gardening, cooking, home & auto maintenance, etc. Oh, the idealism and energy of the young!


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