Photos: Danze & Davis Architects

Guest architect Donovan R. Davis, AIA, is a partner with Danze & Davis Architects in Austin, Texas.

In our local market, several of our clients have had opportunities to pick up distressed properties where the previously designed plans were not selling very well. Often these developments have challenging constraints that make the architecture tricky. One of the market issues that hinders sales is that the plan places all the bedrooms on the second level because the footprint is tight.

We’ve learned through experience that sales tend to pick up when the choices include master-down plans (or even a study with a bedroom option on the ground floor) as part of the mix. Offering this variety tends to create the necessary momentum in a community.

However, there is a significant design challenge to offering a master-down plan on a very small footprint. It requires some creativity on the part of the architect to make the plan livable, while providing the necessary privacy buyers expect.

The example shown here is a double master bedroom plan with masters on both floors, designed for Mickey Stratton with Opus Homes in Austin, Texas. The allowable footprint was less than 25 feet wide and 53 feet deep.

On the first pass, I got all the necessary rooms on the first floor, but livability and privacy were problematic, necessitating a redesign. To free up more space on the main floor, I moved the utility closet to the second floor and swapped out the kitchen pantry for a cabinet adjoined by a built-in desk.

Ensuring the privacy of powder rooms is always a challenge in very small floor plans. In this case, tucking the powder room into a niche by the stairs removed it from the flow of traffic. I was also able to open up the master bath and enlarge the walk-in closet (as well as the master bedroom itself) by eliminating the tub and going with a single, larger shower.

When the goal is to make a small space feel bigger, one design element that is often overlooked is natural daylight. Placing the stairs opposite the family room and loft allows natural light to flood in from different directions. Light creates a much more pleasant feeling of openness and airiness in any environment, but it’s critical when you have tight spaces on small footprints.


Too Close for Comfort This plan achieves the goal of two master bedroomsone upstairs and one downstairsbut the first floor doesnt have much elbow room.

Photos: Danze & Davis Architects

Too Close for Comfort This plan achieves the goal of two master bedrooms—one upstairs and one downstairs—but the first floor doesn’t have much elbow room.

  • Utility closet and pantry make dining niche feel cramped.

  • Forcing a separate shower and tub into the master bath makes it feel cluttered.

  • Master bedroom could be a little bigger.

  • Powder room off kitchen lacks privacy.


Space Savers A few small but significant tweaks make this compact plan much more livable.

Photos: Courtesy Danze & Davis Architects

Space Savers A few small but significant tweaks make this compact plan much more livable.


  • Combining the utility room with a storage area upstairs frees up space on the first floor.

  • The revised kitchen trades a corner pantry and utility closet (with doors that swing out) for a more streamlined built-in desk adjoined by a pantry cabinet.

  • Relocating the powder room to a spot next to the stairs gives it more privacy.

  • One large shower feels more luxurious than a cramped tub and shower combo. And it frees up space for a larger walk-in closet.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX.