House size is a tricky thing. Some folks want a feeling of space that's expressed in volume—soaring foyers, three-car garages, and cavernous master suites come to mind. Others, to quote Goldilocks, want spaces that are “just right,” with rooms that work for their particular lifestyle.
Last month, BUILDER took a look at how the industry was responding to smaller lot sizes with innovative floor plans and site configurations (see “Tight Squeeze,” November, page 144). This month, the focus is on interior architecture, with examples of the kinds of details that make the most of limitations.
When it comes to tight spaces, some builders and designers have turned their attention to built-in components that take advantage of stair landings, attics, and mud-rooms. Others have seized upon window and stair placement as areas where precious space can be maximized. And clearly, everyone in the industry knows that the kitchen is one room that really has to make sense, no matter its size. The best builders and designers look at the house as a whole, keeping in mind the desires—and the needs—of today's busy families.
INCLUDE THOUGHTFUL DETAILS It's fairly common to hear attics, hallways, and stair landings described as “dead” spaces, but architect ROSS Chapin is having none of that. The Langley, Wash., designer, best known for his collaboration with The Cottage Co. in Seattle, bristles at the notion that any space in a house should be considered “dead.”
“I'm looking for the entire house to be vibrant, that every space not only has a function, but also takes part in the continuity of the whole,” says Chapin. “We take a lot of care in designing a smaller house that's a lot more thoughtful. While we're building homes that cost more per square foot, we're getting a far higher value per square foot. That's the key point.”
Take the homes he designed for Umatilla Hill, a pocket-lot neighborhood built by Kimball & Landis, in Port Washington, Wash. An eating area and kitchen in one plan, for example, are separated by an island that's been beefed up with cabinetry and niches on the dining room side. It's topped by a bar-height counter that hides whatever mess might be happening in the kitchen. The two rooms are defined, but not with a confining wall. At Danielson Grove, a 16-unit project he designed for The Cottage Co. in Kirkland, Wash., Chapin designed a plan that has the window-lit stair landing doing double duty; the window is surrounded with cubby-like open shelving. And window seats show up wherever the architect can find an appropriate spot. “Awindow seat can become a very special daybed on occasion,” says Chapin. “For a grandchild to come to a house and stay in a place like that means a lot. It's a memory maker.”
Two areas that designer Bill McGuinness finds popular with prospective buyers are home offices and mudrooms. McGuinness, a partner at Sun Homes, a residential design/build and development company in Pauling, N.Y., has found that “when people wanted a four-bedroom home, the fourth bedroom was almost always used as an office,” he says. “So we started including a custom-designed office instead. It's a small room, 7 by 10, but we put in a window and built-ins, which makes it a great workstation.” He locates the room near the living area, behind a single French door, so that families can feel connected.
Access is important with mudrooms, too. At The Willows at Crestwood, a Sun Homes project in Tuckahoe, N.Y., the ground-floor mudroom has doors that connect it to the garage, the backyard, the front of the house, and the kitchen. Unlike some mudrooms, it's more than just a cramped pass-through. McGuinness included plenty of cubbies (for kids' backpacks and gear), built-ins (to hide the Tide and other necessities), and a front-loading washer and dryer that's topped with a counter (for folding). One buyer even asked that one of the built-ins hide the litter box, which their cat can access from behind, through a cleverly designed cat door. Still, there are two things that McGuinness wishes he'd added to his already high-functioning mudroom. “I should have put a drain in the middle of the tile floor so that people could hose down their dogs,” he says. “And it would be great to have a powder room in there.”
MAKE THE KITCHEN COUNT If there's one room where making the most of tight spaces makes the most sense—and brings in the most dollars—it's the kitchen. Designers, especially those involved with production homes, know what buyers want when it comes to kitchens (see “Kitchens 101,” right).
First off, get the kitchen out in the open. The walled-off galley kitchen is a thing of the past, even in the smallest home. And pay attention to light and storage, says Mary Jo Peterson, a certified kitchen and bath designer in Brookfield, Conn. “People have a strong preference for the kitchen to have a connection with the outdoors, which can be difficult with homes on narrow lots, [which] tend to be deep from front to back,” says Peterson. “Even with the kitchen in the middle of the plan, though, there needs to be a sense of the outdoors.” The traditional window-above-the-sink arrangement doesn't always work with these tight plans. As an alternative, Peterson suggests clerestory windows above the cabinets as a way to bring in natural light.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Columbus, OH.