Ideas for making small spaces live large

April 8, 2013

Seattle architect Ross Chapin has been designing and writing about small homes for 30 years. Examples of Chapin’s work can be found in various parts of the country. Some of his techniques for maximizing space will be featured in the May issue of Professional Builder, but Chapin has many more ideas than I could fit in a single article.

Here are a few good ones:

• Lose the formal dining room and create an eating alcove in the kitchen with windows on two or three sides—in effect, a booth. “It may not be for everybody, but it takes up a lot less space, and it’s lovely,” says Chapin. 
• Skylights, if placed carefully, will fill a small room with light and make it feel bigger. Just be sure not to install a huge skylight facing west. 
• Instead of an 1,800-square-foot house, consider a 1,400-square-foot main house and a 400-square-foot, backyard cottage. “The backyard cottage has much more flexibility in terms of how it’s used,” says Chapin. “It might be for guests or aging parents or boomerang kids. It might be a home office, a rental unit, or an art studio.” Also, by splitting a larger house into two components, you create an outdoor room between the structures that is effectively another living space.
• Introduce a “catch-all room” off the kitchen. This is a multipurpose space that can serve as a mail center, a pantry, a craft room, a laundry room, storage … you name it. 
• Choose furniture that fits the space as well as the body. “Give away your great-aunt’s overstuffed couch,” he advises. “A lot of houses are so large that it takes oversized furniture to make them feel cozy. That furniture does not belong in a cottage.”
Senior Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 30 years. She is senior editor of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and produces the Design Innovation e-newsletter.  Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas


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