Living downtown came with trade offs and reducing our square footage and giving up garage storage were by far the biggest. Even so, we still wanted to entertain, accommodate guests, have individual places to escape to and dedicated spaces for hobbies and interests. With stubborn conviction and lots of experimenting we found we can have it all in 900 sq. feet. What else would a mansion have other than more areas to clean and bigger bills?
I’m going to gloss over the importance of having fewer things and decluttering. There’s no question this is the number one thing you need to. I spent three years obsessing over simplifying, taking layer after layer of stuff out of our house, then spent a year of extreme simplicity in Nicaragua, before moving into our current space. It’s a bigger topic than I’m ready for. Let me just say, all your “just in case, maybe someday, but I really like it, but it’s expensive, but it was a gift, but, but, but…” put it aside and ask yourself instead “Can I find a way to live without this?” If the answer is yes or maybe, put it in a dedicated place of purgatory, away from your daily life, and soon you’ll know the true answer about what to do.
So, now that you have decluttered and simplified here are…..
6 ways to make your small family home feel huge!
#1: Sleep in the small bedroom
Chances are your 2 bedroom home has one bedroom larger than the other. Convention says this larger room is for the “masters” and the smaller room for the kids, guests or an office. Most people set up the house this way, and most people also think they need more space. We were no exception until we gave up convention and moved into the smaller room.
Why “normal” failed:
- The master bedroom became the place for extra stuff. How many people put tvs, desks, computers, or exercise machines in their bedroom? Is it to sleep better? No. It’s just where the extra space is.
- When guests came, the kids brought their beds into our room (see #4) and we inflated a queen air mattress for the guests. Between the train table and toy shelves, there was no room to even walk around the bed. The new routine caused unnecessary bedtime drama with the kids and I can’t imagine the guests slept well feeling crowded and uncomfortable (though they never would say this).
- In our space inertia worked against us. The larger bedroom, at the end of a hall, brought the kids flowing in. They loved to run back and forth from the living room to our bedroom.
Why we love our new smaller bedroom:
- We have a peaceful, dedicated sleeping space. The room fits only our bed – no temptations to use it for anything else.
- Our privacy has increased. Inertia doesn’t pull a hard right mid-hallway – the kids run in and out of their own room now.
- The smaller closet is just big enough for our clothes. We don’t have to share it with the remaining clutter of our lives.
- Guests have a hotel like experience when they visit. We give them our small room – a space with a bed, two nightstands, lamps, and space to spread out their suitcases. (Our apartment easily sleeps 8-9 people. We either sleep on the air mattress in the kid’s room or on the sofabed in the living room.)
Why we love the new kid’s room:
- The larger space is a toy room they actually use.
- It has a tv and acts as a 2nd living room. When we have guests, the adults get the main living room to themselves, because the kids have a great space of their own.
- The kids keep their routine regardless of guests and bedtime remains smooth.
- The master closet is now the much needed “garage”. Kids have a much higher threshold for clutter. We’ve heard no complaints that their dressing room has tools, camping gear or golf clubs in it.
#2: Right size the dining table
As a Realtor I discovered people are more likely to find a new house that fits their dining table than to find a new dining table. It reminds me of Oprah’s episode on bras. 80% of her audience, when properly fitted, were given a new bra size. The women felt transformed when, for the first time in their lives, they realized it wasn’t their bodies that were “wrong”-it was their bras! Do you think your table and chairs are right, but your house is “wrong”? You can transform your house in the same way by getting a properly fitting dining room set.
Next time you sit at a restaurant booth, notice how much space you use and how comfortable you are. Chances are your family will have a great time in a 4’ by 6’ space. Instead of taking advice from home furniture stores (or HGTV) take advice from restaurant supply stores. For example: here, here, or here. Use their tricks in your home. Bench or booth seating are magic space savers and people maximizers. Pedestal style supports maximize seating for non-expanding tables. For expanding tables with traditional legs, rounded corners will make a huge difference in how the table feels to be around. Soft corners are more people friendly, easier to navigate around, and that wee bit of extra negative space will make your dining room feel larger.
In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s they built tables and chairs to fit in homes built in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s – eras where 800 square feet was considered plenty of space for a family. These are the tables you want to maximize function in your small space – search Craigslist.com or Ebay.com for: retro, vintage, mid-century modern, formica or chrome tables. Scandinavians understand small space living well too. Ikea comes to mind of course, but anything with Danish in the description is a good bet for smaller spaces.
Consider “plating up” meals, just like a restaurant, to save space on the table. This also saves clean up time as you have fewer serving dishes. We learned this habit living in Nicaragua and continue it today. For larger groups we create a buffet on the kitchen counter and let people dish up before sitting down. Lastly, scrap decorative centerpieces, they get in the way, crowd the table and collect dust. Clean empty surfaces have magical soothing powers.
If your space is smaller than our ample mansion with dedicated dining space, triple duty your table using it as a desk, a homework station, a place for games or art projects. The key is to have something nearby to easily throw everything into when it’s time to eat. Avoid traditional dining room buffets or china cabinets, they are either too big or are made to display things. You want to hide this stuff, not show it off. Think along the lines of bedroom dresser drawers or a small armoire instead.
#3 Use triple duty furniture (or more!)
A well placed Swivel Chair will add seating to several rooms. Ours is placed to have conversations in the:
- Living room
- Dining room
- or Kitchen.
We also use swivel chairs (on wheels) at our desks:
- They face in while working.
- They face out to join the main crowd in the living or dining room.
- When we need extra dining chairs they roll on over.
A Click Clack Couch:
Our click-clack floats in the living room. The placement allows for 5 different uses.
- A couch.
- A bed.
- A foot rest – when we are sitting in our swivel chairs.
- A credenza – when I need to spread out at my desk and make lots of piles. I fold down the back and have a place to put it all.
- Bench seating – when we have a crowded house or if the kids want to be at the desk. Folding down one side, creates extra seating without looking like a bed.
A Card Table:
This was going to be a temporary solution, but it’s working so well we’ve kept it. Our wooden, folding 30” by 30” table does the following:
- It’s my desk. I’m at it more often so I get the side next to the supply cabinet.
- It’s my husband’s desk on the other side. It fits both computers and even has extra space for clutter piles. (A clutter area I have yet to master. I’ve had a much bigger desk in the past, so I know unequivocally more space for piles is NOT the answer.)
- The click clack folds down and gives the kids a place to sit with us or look at a streaming video.
- It’s portable and foldable so we can use it, well, like a card table.
Whatever These Things Are:
Someone should give them a special name. They have small space superpowers. They have a solid metal base and about 4 inches of pretty solid foam over something hard. We use them at least 7 different ways on a regular basis.
- Entry benches. 2 are by the front door when not in use other places.
- Foot rest or side table in the living room.
- Extra seating at the dining table.
- Side table/credenza in the dining room for spill over projects or homework.
- Step stool for the kids to help in the kitchen or for me to reach high shelves.
- Guest suitcase holder in the bedroom.
- Fort building blocks and barricades. Our kids love to make forts. These with some blankets or cardboard boxes and the kids are entertained for hours.
These are often recommended for small homes, which is why I got them. I barely used them for years. Sometimes when guests came we’d pull them out, but when I finally asked myself, “Could I live without them?” the answer was yes. I moved them out of the corner and into purgatory. That’s when the kids discovered them.
- They are now the kid’s main work and play station. Puzzles and legos are built here, art is created, and the dining table remains free and clear.
- They are solid enough to sit on which increases their functionality.
- When we entertain they are spread around the living room for drinks and snack plates.
I’ll keep this G-rated and tell you I couldn’t think of 3 ways to use a mattress and that’s why it has it’s own category. The other reason, though, is because the bed is to space and stuff the way a mortgage is to a budget and money. It’s that huge thing if you can find a way to trim down will have the biggest overall impact. A Murphy bed or a fancy Resource furniture item will solve square footage problems, but if you ever move, you’ll find it will still take up the same amount of space in a Uhaul or storage unit.
The way to ban the square footage AND ban the bulk is to: go camping, go Japanese or go Central American.
Outdoor lovers have long known how to sleep comfortably without the bulk. Why not use their tricks indoors for guests, kids, or yourself? The Mayans slept on hammocks for a millenia. Some claim it’s the most comfortable way to sleep – if you do it right. I’ve had wonderful naps in them and wish I could try sleeping in them full time. We could wash the entire “bed” with our regular laundry and we wouldn’t need the dozens of accessories beds come with like box springs, mattress pads, fitted sheets, headboards, etc. But how to hang one in a cement encased rental apartment? So, we haven’t gotten rid of the “space mortgage” for ourselves, but we have a mansion right? A big bed fits!
The kids, however, sleep Japanese. They like to play as much as we like to sleep so why not give them more of what is important to them? They each have a shikibuton and sleep on the floor. The beds fold and stack to create maximum play space during the day. I love the idea of these tri-fold polyfoam ones – they would be great for: building forts, climbing, couches, ottomans, (plus they are the size of a regular twin mattress so if we changed our minds someday…) – but we went the 100% cotton route to avoid the chemical soup of poly products. They are still plenty portable, rollable, foldable and comfortable.
#5 Headphones for everyone
A must when living in close quarters. Did you see the picture at the top? The tv isn’t near as distracting when it’s totally silent. Dad watches tv, kids color and mom works on the computer all in the same room thanks to headphones. In this new world with a screen for every face, headphones will save your sanity, bring peaceful sleep and concentration OR deliver action, music and excitement all at the same time to everyone. Use them in the car for long road trips too. You’ll be a happier you and your family a happier family. Win-win-win.
Though he is not a fan of uplights per se… Lee F. Mindel of the AD100 architecture firm Shelton, Mindel & Associates does see their value. “Where the shell is neutral,” he says, “an uplight shining through a palm tree or fiddle-leaf ficus can animate a space generally in need of more bold architectural statements.” So if you live in a boxy space sans ennobling moldings or other three-dimensional grace notes, an uplight trained into a big plant could be your salvation.
So, if you have a mansion, don’t use uplights. If you don’t have one, use them to make it feel like one.
See the plant by the tv with the glow behind it? I totally did that before reading the article. 🙂 (It’s actually a feng shui cure, but that’s for another post.) In the small bedroom pictured above, you’ll see the glow of an uplight too. The cans sit on the floor in corners, behind nightstands, couches, or tvs so they keep visual clutter to a minimum. You don’t need to dust them and table surfaces remain clear. These are what we have, $8 a piece, uses a regular bulb and plugs into a wall outlet. Easy peasy.
More to come… kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, entryways and closets.
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P.S. If you don’t believe a small family home could feel like a mansion, check out this video. A family of four just moved into a 208 square foot home on purpose, in cold MN, and they are making it work!
P.P.S. If you have tips, please add them to the comments section!