Guest architect Kevin Malone is principal of KLM Architect in Goshen, N.Y. info@KLMArchitect.com.
Guest architect Kevin Malone is principal of KLM Architect in Goshen, N.Y. info@KLMArchitect.com.
Guest builder Charles Petersheim is founder of The Catskill Farms in upstate New York. charles@thecatskillfarms.com.
Guest builder Charles Petersheim is founder of The Catskill Farms in upstate New York. charles@thecatskillfarms.com.

We design weekend homes, most no bigger than 1,400 square feet, inspired by the old farmhouses of upstate New York. There’s a lot that’s wonderful about those houses—high ceilings and lots of windows. But they can also feel cramped and dark.

Granted, weekenders don’t have the same requirements for a second home that they do for a primary one; a weekend place can be more laid-back. Still, small homes present floor plan challenges. The biggest one that we’ve encountered is the first-floor wall concealing the basement staircase, which in its traditional layout (basement door on the first floor, closed walls on both sides) interrupts the flow of the house.

Walled Off

In the traditional plan for a cottage that's about 1,000-square-feet total, the staircase walls are closed, making for rooms that feel small.
KLM Architect Walled Off In the traditional plan for a cottage that's about 1,000-square-feet total, the staircase walls are closed, making for rooms that feel small.

We found a solution—thanks to clients who asked if the basement door could be put downstairs to create openness on the first floor. Our initial response was, “You know, we’ve never thought about that.” But we put our heads together and realized that the biggest hurdle to a small house that lived large was staring us right in the face. It was the first-floor staircase walls.

We designed an open stairway, creating clear sightlines and giving basement stairway space to the first floor. Kitchen, living room, and dining room are now connected, without adding square footage. Yes, there’s more finished space to consider: a finished back wall, an exposed staircase with open rails, and cultured stone on the walls leading to the basement entry. Doing this well costs an extra $3,000 or $4,000. But the investment yields big returns: homes that live bigger than they look and are filled with light, even on a cloudy day. Most important, they’re selling well. We’ve never looked back—except with a grateful nod to our client.

Opened Up

In the revised plan, an open stair opens up sightlines through the first floor, allowing 480 square feet of first-floor space to feel bigger than before.
KLM Architect Opened Up In the revised plan, an open stair opens up sightlines through the first floor, allowing 480 square feet of first-floor space to feel bigger than before.