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Not So Big House

2007-04-24 19:31:13.225739+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

With a couple of big projects in full swing, and the next few years looking pretty scary in terms of amount of work to accomplish, Charlene and I have been doing a little long-term planning, starting to think about what we'd like to do after that. And we've been thinking about houses and homes. I have a longer ramble about how customization removes value, about how we have to choose between comfortable, useful and valuable, but I'm reading through the first book in The Not So Big House series and think it's worth a gander. With so much real estate being pushed as "investment" and "resale value", it's willing to acknowledge that a home is an expense, and that 'though builders and real estate agents have been talking people into "upgrades" that make their homes uncomfortable in the name of future returns, sometimes we have to come back to livability.

[ related topics: Books Economics Real Estate ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-24 22:37:12.939751+00 by: meuon

Looks like some good reading in tune with some of my thoughts. Thanks.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-25 03:31:33.375203+00 by: topspin

Definitely a book for me also, as I vacillate between "moving up" to a bigger house in a "more fitting" neighborhood and reshaping my life to fit this little house and neighbors I like (including the 4yo I emergency babysat for 4hrs tonight.)

Parallel, in my mind, to this discussion is another book I found via crasch which seems to outline conscious choices for work vs lifestyle.

When the bough broke for me in '93, some of the branches that eased my fall were sane folks who emphasized that having a successful career, even in a conservative profession in a conservative town, doesn't have to mean the trail everyone else was on. I began building hiking trails, literally and figuratively, and found the path I needed to be on was something I could plan, create, modify, and... most importantly... stay sane while walking.

#Comment Re: Housing made: 2007-04-25 13:20:10.673821+00 by: m

I think it is a mistake to look at a home as a financial investment. Saying that, we did very well when selling our home of thirteen years to retire to a different area.

My to be wife had purchased a too small house before we met. Over we time remodeled the house from top to bottom, and put on a second story. The new top floor was a 24x36 bedroom with 11' ceilings. While everyone who saw it loved the room, but it was not within every families functional needs. However, the layout of the room, closets and stairs were planned with the idea of allowing simple division into 2, 3 or four rooms. The couple that eventually bought the house intended to do just that -- cut the upstairs into three bedrooms.

The most significant gains were not financial, though the house value increased almost four fold. A move from a bedroom that was 10'8" square into one that was 24x36 really brought about a change in our lives. Because there was a 9x13' closet, the only bedroom furniture was the pier wall bed. The room was just so airy, and full of light that we put in a dining table, and entertained up there. Outside of my office and the kitchen, the downstairs became little used. The formal dining room was only for dinners with people we didn't know well enough to take upstairs into our bedroom.

We redid the kitchen, even to making our own cabinets. Since I do the cooking, and I worked as a chemist for the first part of my career, the kitchen was certainly not of any classic type of design. Though it was extremely efficient for my needs.

These changes often wowed guests and eventually prospective purchasers. But they made the house more difficult to sell. Some buyers would not consider spending an extra 1/2% of the purchase price to cut the upstairs into a couple of rooms. They often perceived that as too expensive, or too much trouble. Others disliked the kitchen. Some saw the large outside rock gardens as too difficult to maintain. But even so, we were able to sell the house in the time span we had allotted.

But, these changes were what gave us so much pleasure in the house itself. The house had gone from small and dark, to large and light. Not just a place that we really liked to be in, we preferred to be there than anywhere else. The financial gain, though considerable, was nothing in comparison to improvements it made in our life.

Would I do it this way again? Yes. We bought a house that was designed by the previous owner. It will be a difficult house to sell because the design is not standard. Not only is the first floor completely open, but the bedrooms are too. Open to the first floor through balconies, and to each other by openings that are shuttered only by wooden blinds. The owner/designer had a family, and we often wonder how the parents had sex or even a private discussion in their bedroom. As a retired couple, that is only an issue when we have guests But this is a house that we love to live in. It brings the outside in with a 12' high and 20' long glass wall.

To curtail my ramblings, just let me say that it is nice to make money on a house, but it is great to have a house that you love to live in. Make your changes to a house that fit your needs and desires. Keep an eye on future flexibility, not only for purchasers but for your own potential needs. But most of all, make yourselves happy.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-25 13:41:49.666625+00 by: Dan Lyke

We've talked a bunch about what we like, and we think that open floor plans are definitely part of what we want. The "living room" should be the place that we spend most of our time, and really that ought to be open to the kitchen and reconfigurable for the various different things we do: reconfigurable from a place to hang out to having airflow that aids in dust collection for when we're sanding projects.

I'm not sure how to do it with a California King (assuming we keep our current mattress), but I'm almost thinking a murphy bed in the bedroom, just so that there's that much more floor space. If there's "too open", then make alcoves as a function of building boatloads of built-in storage, and not just "lots of shelves", but places to put, say, the weight bench that currently spends summers out on the deck and winters pushed to the side because we claim we're going to use it, but it never manages to find a place where there's really enough space to lift when it's inside.

The kitchen should be near the main entrance (which may or may not be "the front door") so that the pantry and refrigerator are close to where we carry the groceries in (the prevalence of veggies in our diet means we go through a lot of groceries), but not so that there's traffic through it. And since every party ends up in the kitchen, it should be separated from the living room by an island or a counter.

I'm not sure how to integrate the woodworking, but we like being able to woodwork in the living room, so perhaps a monster embedded ceiling fan feeding in to a bunch of fiberglass filters, to supplement the furnace filtration (and the existing dust collection).

We need to spend more time in houses that are strange to us to see how they feel, but if there does need to be some differentiation between rooms, then it should be with arches or other curved ceiling elements. I'm not a fan of more nooks and crannies to dust, but I do like things which get off the square and make the space less of a feeling of living in a grid.

m, Given the amount of pressure from the conventional wisdom to break up rooms and create small spaces, it's really good to hear that you had success with large areas, because we think that's what we want. A query on that, though: How did you isolate the entrance to the bathroom? It seems like the places I've been in where there's been a bathroom door straight off the living room feel somewhat uncomfortable, like it needs to have a little alcove that puts it in a separate space.

#Comment Re: A good question about bathroom doors made: 2007-04-25 18:12:52.130259+00 by: m

I am surprised to hear that the conventional wisdom is to break up rooms. Here on the east coast, most people are still breaking down walls to create larger spaces wherever possible. Division into smaller spaces is only being done to meet purely functional requirements -- the need to create a separate office, an extra bedroom, or an elderly parent suite.

The older house was originally a vacation bungalow on the Southern Shore of Long Island, NY. There was a hallway off the dining room leading to a bathroom flanked by two bedrooms, and the bathroom was directly visible from the dining room. I considered moving the dining room or moving one of the walls separating the dining room so that a bedroom door would be exposed instead of the bathroom door. But, then we did the upstairs and it was no longer an issue for us. The downstairs bathroom was never in sight anymore. The purchasers of the house told us they were going to swap the kitchen for the dining room. As I stated above, this was one of the ideas that I had considered.

You also mention the need for dust control in a shop. I am not sure that simple furnace type filtration is enough if this is a serious hobby. Though, it might be if you focus on Festools. Dust is a serious problem from both an aesthetic and a health view point. Dust is difficult to control, particularly the smaller, more dangerous particles, which can be almost colloidal in nature. I currently use an air cleaning unit and a small dust collection unit, but really depend on a powered respirator (Triton). I am considering a Bill Pentz dust cyclone with 1 micron filters, but have a space issue until the new garage is completed and I have a place for some storage to make room for the unit. You already know about Pentz, as you have referred to him before. I have three doors between the living portion of the house and the area that I use for my heavy dust makers. This room also has two glass doors at one end which I can use for ventilation when the weather is not too cold. I also try to bring some work outside, but some of my worst dust offenders are not portable.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-25 18:52:31.368738+00 by: Dan Lyke

The things I can't ever see using inside a living area are tools like a bandsaw and a planer or jointer. We do notice having to dust more when we do woodworking inside, usually stray from the circular saw and the router, but I think a good box fan strategically positioned could take care of most of that, as a good light shows it all going in a pretty predictable direction.

The sander I can actually use to pick up dust.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-26 18:11:46.733882+00 by: Nancy

"And since every party ends up in the kitchen, it should be separated from the living room by an island or a counter."

Dan, I'm curious about your reasoning behind the above statement.

It's true - every party DOES end up in the kitchen, or in our case, in the dining room which not only adjoins the kitchen but is separated by just a stair step of height and a counter - the only counter in the kitchen. And they're in the dining room instead of the kitchen only because the kitchen is galley style and few people will fit. I have struggled with getting people to use our lovely living room couch. We have a couch in the dining room and experimented with having a cafe style dining room with low eating spaces until we finally gave in and bought a traditional height table and chairs. Do people stay in the dining room because of the couch or would they be there anyway so we might as well make it more comfortable?

If everyone really does end up in the kitchen (and they do) why would it not be okay to just have it totally open to the living room? Aesthetics? It is reminiscent, to me, of cabin style living - one room living.

I love 'm's thoughts about just making yourself happy. Our crazy wall colors will not be good for resale, but I love them. I'd rather paint again later than live in a generic house now. Still, I don't think I'd be in favor of a major crazy - say structural - change that wouldn't bode well for resale. I also am a firm believer in something my dad always tells us kids - if you want to make improvements to your house, don't wait until you're going to sell it! Do it now and enjoy it yourself!

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-26 18:57:36.581045+00 by: Dan Lyke

I guess I meant that instead of "separated by a wall with doors", but...

I can't imagine accomplishing anything in a one-sided kitchen. By the time you get from the fridge to the pantry to the sink to the oven and back, if all of those things are laid out on a single side you've walked about a quarter mile. So the kitchen needs to have counters on two sides, and at that point at least one of them should be open on both sides, both so that you extend whatever the vibe of the kitchen is into the rest of the entertaining area, but also so that if someone says "how can I help?" you can have them chopping veggies on the same counter segment you're using without tripping over them when you're racing around the kitchen.

And I want a little separation because when I'm in the kitchen I tend to move fast and deliberately, and if there's not some barrier to entry I'm afraid I'd end up clocking someone with hot cast iron.

One of the things I want to be very conscious of is making sure that we don't end up with a standard dining room table and chairs because that's the default, but because that's what actually serves us. I know that our chairs won't all be the same height and shape, for instance, because we already have a shorter chair that fits Charlene's leg lengths, and that's great. Don't yet know if changing a table height would make that any better, but we're thinking about that.

Our big philosophical sticking point right now is that I'm not a big house person and I see no reason for two bathrooms, Charlene wants huge amounts of open space and two bathrooms. I don't mind open space (except that it's so bloody expensive here in California), but I'm pushing back on the bathrooms, and that's giving us some interesting design alternatives.

Like where some houses put a door between the bathroom sink and the room where the tub and the toilet are, I'm thinking that having the tub in its own room is really the right decision, because you want to let that be the retreat from the world and protect the bathroom mirror from the fog, and when someone's soaking you want the toilet usable without disturbing them.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-26 19:20:02.910883+00 by: markd

Having a spouse that likes to read in the bathroom for hours and hours, I fully endorse two-bathroom households.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-04-28 22:09:28.484077+00 by: Nancy

Our Bathtub/shower-in-its-own-room and sink/toilet-in-the-other works out well for us. But I'd still love my own bathroom if that were a realistic possibility! Having to share a bathroom with a [gasp] boy is...well....love.

And, Dan, kitchens obviously don't 'need' counters on two sides, as our kitchen functions quite well with a counter only on one side! hehheh (Do you remember it?) And we can walk from the fridge to the pantry to the sink to the oven and back to the fridge 42 times before hitting 1/4 mile. I measured. (I told ya it was a small kitchen! - the floor is 4' x 13') Though if it didn't open onto the dining room and the view out front, it would not be nearly so pleasant.

We typically stick to one person in the kitchen at a time (for obvious reasons I suppose) and when we've both been there we have had some near misses. Not with an iron skillet (ha) but with knives, pans of boiling water, etc. Fortunately Mike loves to cook almost every day and I love to cook every month or so!! hahaha I cook rarely enough that it is remarkable when I do - not the food (heh) but just the fact that I cooked.

We avoided the standard dining room table/chairs for exactly the reason you state, Dan - wanted to make sure we got what was really going to work for us. Having non-standard height tables - and chairs that weren't the right height for the funky-height tables - made eating awkward, and that's what finally drove us to a more standard solution. It's not as cozy, but it is more functional for us. I did feel like we were selling out on our plan, though, just a bit! I still sometimes wish we could have gotten the whole 'coffee shop ambiance' thing to work for us. Maybe another time.