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Right-Sized Small Homes That Live Larger Than Their Footprint

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House Review

Right-Sized Small Homes That Live Larger Than Their Footprint

Sized right for first-time buyers and downsizers alike, these homes make the most of a compact footprint

By Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, House Review Lead Designer June 28, 2017
One of GMD Design Group's small-home designs: The Elizabeth
One of GMD Design Group's small-home designs: The Elizabeth. Scroll down for details
This article first appeared in the July 2017 issue of Pro Builder.

Statistics indicate that the average size of a new home continues to increase. If that’s the case, why the rising interest in smaller houses? Part of the reason is purely economic. First-time buyers saddled with student loan debt and retiring Baby Boomers struggling to pay rising property taxes due to skyrocketing home values are seeking affordable places to live. Yet for still other buyers, downsizing is nothing more than a desire to simplify as they tap the brakes on their fast-paced lives. Keep in mind that these buyers aren't content with merely less square footage: They’re looking for smaller homes that utilize exceptional design to create truly functional and flexible spaces. The following pages feature our design team’s concepts for small homes that live large.

The Walnut Springs

Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD

Main House

Width: 52 feet 8 inches 
Depth: 34 feet
Living area: 1,606 sf 
Width: 28 feet
Depth: 20 feet
Living area above garage: 360 sf

Homes that are smaller in square footage are a challenge not only to design but to keep within a reasonable budget. The simple footprint and low roof pitches of this Craftsman-style home help control costs. Logical traffic flow and a generous number of windows (note that all bedrooms have at least two) allow the home to live larger than its 1,606 square feet. The living area above the garage is fairly economical to build because it’s essentially converted attic space. With a kitchenette and bath, this can become an income-producing efficiency apartment for the first-time buyer of a caretaker’s quarters for an aging homeowner. It may even be the ideal office for a young entrepreneur or a semiretired Baby Boomer.

A. An open floor plan and logical traffic flow allow the living areas to be furnished and to function like a larger home
B. The secluded master bedroom features a vaulted ceiling with clerestory windows above the bed
C. A spacious master bath includes a 36-by-48-inch shower, double lavatories, and a walk-in closet
D. Optional living area above the garage has a kitchenette with a sink, microwave, and small refrigerator
E. A private entrance, plus a parking space and backyard, allow the space above the garage to become an income-producing rental

The Elizabeth

GMD Design Group
Scott Gardner, AIA
Donnie McGrath

Width: 24 feet 
Depth: 66 feet
Living area: 1,679 sf

This feature-packed home has an open feel, thanks to a flow of interconnected spaces on the first floor. The space-efficient second floor features an oversize laundry room, a generous owners’ bath, and a closet. Two different elevations are shown: the one on the left has a large front porch and a charming stone chimney; the one on the right has a generous array of windows to let in light.

A. Large and inviting front porch welcomes guests
B. Generously sized dining room (with fireplace on some elevations) can flex to a bedroom or office
C. Walk-in pantry—a feature typically found in larger homes
D. Kitchen, breakfast, and family rooms are open and interconnected
E. Stairway to the second floor is accessed from the home's main living areas
F. Rear covered porch provides an inviting outdoor living space 
G. Oversize laundry room—another feature typically reserved for larger homes
H. Secondary bedrooms are appropriately sized. One has a walk-in closet

The Gradient

KGA Studio Architects
John Guilliams

Width: 39 feet
Depth: 70 feet, including garage
Living area: 1,721 sf

The challenge for a ranch home of this size is to make it feel as big and as wide as possible. The buyer of this 50-plus–focused move-down model will own a home in which every square foot is optimized. Skewed walls accentuate spaces, create longer sight lines, and provide a contemporary vibe. The centrally located kitchen helps the major living spaces form an L shape that’s functional and stunning. It isn’t uncommon to hear couples in the model arguing about the square footage of this home because it lives that much larger than it actually is. 

A. Skewed walls and an angled island give the sense that the space widens at the rear of the home
B. Central location of the large, well-appointed kitchen creates long sight lines and provides a 25-foot-wide living space
C. Bedroom 2 can flex into a shared suite with access to the master bath and walk-in closet. The shared-suite concept accommodates a significant other who has a sleeping disorder or keeps different hours. While sleeping apart, members of a couple can still share the master bath and closet
D. Convenient direct connection to the laundry from the master closet
E. Master suite vestibule is ideal for couples who wake at different times, maintaining privacy for the master while preventing bathroom light from waking a sleeping partner
F. Extra garage space makes way for bins without blocking parking


Todd Hallett, AIA, CAPS
TK Design & Associates

Main House
Width: 28 feet
Depth: 46 feet
Living area: 812 sf first floor; 359 second floor
Porches: 99 sf
Width: 10 feet 8 inches Depth: 19 feet
Living area: 203 sf

Living large in a small space is the mantra of today’s homebuyer, but it’s not always possible on a small lot. Abundant light and openness contribute to enlarging the feel of this 1,200-square-foot plan. High windows above the kitchen cabinets admit extra light while maintaining privacy from the neighbors. Additional square footage on the second floor is a bonus that’s first apparent when approaching the house from the street. This upstairs area becomes its own living space for a teenager, visiting family member, or guest.

A. Outdoor living extends available living space for part of the year
B. Spacious dining area is great for family gatherings or for intimate dining, with room to add cabinets to create a pocket office
C. High windows let light into the center of the kitchen, increasing the open feel
D. An open floor plan with sight lines to the back of the house expands the feel of the space
E. An attached garage is hard to find in a home this compact
F. Loft space provides indep­en­dent space for guests or family members


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