Efficient Living, Not Small in Spirit


There has been a litany of small house design permeating the media lately. These articles are typically forwarded to me by friends, family and clients with the premise of how wonderful it would be to live simply and without so much stuff and how impossible it would be to actually undertake. Personally, I am a huge fan of efficient (see, I’m avoiding the word “small”) living spaces.

For quite a while our society has adopted the bigger is better mantra while still expecting costs to be minimized. Somehow larger equates to better value when typically bigger is just, well, bigger. A well designed home will counter the need for “space” by being more efficient in layout and smarter in use. I can’t list the times I have been in newer homes that have unusable left over space in the form of over-sized (and seemingly empty) master bedrooms and bathrooms yet still lack requisite storage space. Model homes can be a prime example. The ease at which extra (or bonus) rooms can be added belies the fact that these spaces are inefficient and add little to the home but square footage. This square footage adds not only to operational costs (heating, cooling and lighting) of the home but also adds space to clean and accumulate more underused “stuff”.

An efficient and well designed home will minimize underused space but will not sacrifice comfort, storage or privacy. When we talk about custom homes, we mean homes in which the future owner and architect  work together to discover a solution that meets (I like to imagine exceeds) the expectations of the future owner in a thoughtful manner. This translates to uncovering what a client really means when they mention a desire. “Space” may actually mean the need for proper storage instead of larger rooms or understanding how the family plans to grow. Rooms can also be designed around specific furniture or using smart space planning to attempt to future-proof these space. Working with an architect allows for the home layout to work closely with the exterior using these spaces as an extension of the living quarters. Conversations about utilities and maintenance can direct orientation, layout, insulation, window/door placement and even finishes.

Hyper-efficient or small homes work to fill the growing need of urban infill. These smaller structures can fit on smaller lots, offer cheaper alternatives to home ownership, react to national trends in shrinking/postponed families, increase neighborhood density and respond to lifestyle choices for those who treat their city/neighborhood as their living room. As an added bonus, these homes can be cheaper overall than larger homes, although at a typical higher cost per square foot. Some of the most obvious tricks to efficient homes is the use of flexible space as well as using built in storage to minimize the need for furniture.

A slightly recent conversation with a potential client regarding efficient living led to the attached study. A 400 sf home is designed for a single adult using the living area with a Murphy bed as the primary live/sleep areas. An open kitchen allows for the main portions of the house to function in a single larger room. Storage and restrooms have more lofted storage/mechanical area to the rear of the home.plans-option01b

As the client meets someone and starts to build a family, an addition to the house, which was designed in concert with the primary structure, can be constructed. This calls for the need of some future planning for mechanical, plumbing and electrical layout, but if dealt with during the preliminary design phase, it will me much easier and less expensive to implement than retrofitting a structure that isn’t prepared. Granted, the study plans shown here are very preliminary and use traditional residential thinking but these were just starting sketches from which to tweak based upon client conversation but the idea of planning ahead for future expansion is still relevant and I believe the most important. These home additions allow the neighborhood to grow, naturally, with the needs of the property owner and may result in more varied housing stocks within a communityplans-option01b2

There are a wide variety of options available for building new homes, especially in an urban environment. Meeting with a good architect can help you decide what you want, what you need and how to achieve those goals within your budget.

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