Gimme Shelter… Small and Smart

By Steven V. Philips –

My friend Wayne, who’s been installing draperies since the Rutherford B. Hayes was President, recently dragged me into an obscenely large house. Maybe 5,500 square feet of porcine splendor, plopped behind gates that protected really, really expensive dirt. A couple had moved into this joke two years prior but yet, they were not unpacked. Moving boxes were still stacked all over the second floor. Hmmm. Guess they really needed that 5,500 feet.

Imagine wood. This whole castle had dark cherry hardwood floors. Not fauxwood. Real. Solid. George Washington would have recognized it from his misspent youth. Well Drapery Wayne had moved some cartons to get to the windows. Guess what? The boxes had perched there for so long that the floor had bleached lighter around them. Random dark squares on lighter background. Total refinishing required for unused space. Shoot me….

So in two years the Cherry Couple hadn’t gotten to the second floor. Wretched excess or what? ARE we crazy to still want more square feet after the last three years of fiscal pain!? Gets me crazy! November is not the only month of turkeys.

To ice my grumpy cake we just spent a weekend in a 720-square-foot condo and wanted for little. This experience forced me to leave my nest and visit a local builder’s New-New-New Get’em While They’re Hot 1,600-square-foot model houses. Is there hope here?

In 2006 this would have been shocking. 1,600 square feet! Peasants, we sneer at you. This is the size of Cherry Couple’s bedroom suite and bath! Yoo-hoo! It’s 2010. The builder’s rep says the opening weekend saw 5,000 people walk, OK squeeze, through. And deposits are being placed. So far they’ve sold one a day for the last seven weeks. Is the light dawning?

Smaller, Smarter House

First of all, these houses are energy efficient to the point of pain. (Actually it pains some cro-magnon builders to do it!) Windows, walls and attic are max insulated. One house had a solar hot water heater. And why not? Pay a little more upfront and get paid back forever on lower energy costs. Old news but some of us are deaf and if that’s your builder, skip him because it’s your dough. You really think fuel’s going back to a two bucks a gallon? You silly Yugo owner.

You gain a luxury feeling, if carefully placed, for no wasted square footage. Zero. No halls to nowhere. Place ten-foot ceilings where the underlying area square footage will bear it and nine feet otherwise. A feeling of space.

Bedrooms compact at 140 square feet. But the master suite is roomy. Walkin closet(s). With a compartmentalized bath so two can tango. Roomy walk-in shower (this is a big trend). Defining detailing such as lighted tray or coffered ceiling in master bedroom. (It’s also a trend to use wallpaper in the tray). The bedroom is complete with a slider to the pool deck for that midnight nude swim, at least until your neighbor waves at you.

None of the three models had formal dining rooms. The living, dining area and kitchen are all one. However, each area is defined by the ceiling detailing above. Go up and not out!

As to the kitchen, crack your Trust Fund, Scrooge. Spend the bucks here where you spend a lot of your time. Pantry of some configuration is #1 request. Solid surface counters. Bar height for the quick-bite eating area. Center island with small sink. Recessed high efficiency lighting. Tall cabinets and cabinets finished like furniture because it’s part of the living area.

What I’m trying to say is that your BMW is the same size as my Ford but it has a few more details that make life nicer and easier. Just not bulk!

  • Ceiling talk. Try a David Copperfield illusion. Start the entry area at 8 feet and increase it in the living area to 10 feet and lower it to 9 feet in the dining and kitchen. Really. Your designer and/or builder can do this though it may cause whining and angst. My local guy figured it out. Possibly smarter than yours?
  • Vary ceiling treatments to define area below such as cove moldings, or tray or beams. Or applied surface moldings. Or just paint and not white!. Area rugs below.
  • Single floor treatment throughout the public areas to create illusion of space and de-emphasize smaller living areas. Tiles on the diagonal. Widens the narrow and shortens long spaces. Wood floor? Run it the short dimension of the room.
  • Feature a high chair rail (42″) with wallpaper over. Bead board or faux paneling (using applied stock moldings) below. Nice, low-cost luxury feeling.

ADA (American Disability Act) thinking. A no-threshold shower. Wider doors. No floor level changes. Garage for feet wider on each side at the same level as the living level. No door thresholds. Allows you to live here for a long time.

1 thought on “Gimme Shelter… Small and Smart”

  1. Great article. We just need to convert the homes built in the 40’s-60’s with each room seperate into the style you described, with everything blending together, so you can be in the kitchen and still be part of the fun.

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