A few of the not-so-big principles

A single room can serve several functions, such as a bedroom and office

Architecture

January 10, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff

Building a not-so-big house requires rethinking the way you use space, according to architect Sarah Susanka.

The core of the not-so-big house is a public space that includes the kitchen, living and dining functions. Private spaces are acoustically or visually separate from the public area.

Here are some of the design considerations:

* Rethinking the room. Instead of having separate rooms for various activities, such as dining, homework and home computer use, watching television, and reading, think about having special places for each activity within one space. Alcoves may provide enough space and privacy, while still maintaining the closeness of family. A nook off an entryway, stairwell or bedroom could provide private space for studying or reading.

Remember that money saved on square footage can be used for architectural details that can make such small spaces cozy and attractive.

* The public kitchen. "The kitchen is the heart of the house, and the not-so-big house should have a big heart," Susanka says. The kitchen should be connected visually and physically to all the living areas; when that happens, there's no need for a separate family room or living room.

* Double-duty dining. When spaces are defined by activity, rather than by room category, most spaces can serve more than one function. A carefully designed dining area can work for both informal family meals and for more formal occasions. Tables that expand with leaves, raised counter tops to hide cooking clutter, lighting and even sliding screens are useful elements.

* The away room. "Because houses are filled with televisions, appliances, computers, and stereo equipment, they are filled with noise," Susanka writes. "In a more open floor plan, there needs to be a place that provides acoustical privacy." Susanka calls this place "the away room."

It can be either a slightly formal space where adults can converse, or an informal place where family members can watch television or listen to music. Whatever its function, it and its furnishings can be on a smaller, cozier scale than the rest of the house.

* Office space. More and more people are working at home, at least part of the time, and want some sort of office space. Susanka suggests carving a space from a bedroom, having a guest room do double duty as an office, or placing the office in a lower level, perhaps with its own entrance (as Susanka did in her own home).

* Fewer bathrooms. Modern houses, Susanka notes, may have more than one bathroom per person -- because bathrooms are considered desirable elements in a resale. But that's way more bathrooms than the ordinary family needs, considering how little time is actually spent in them. They are, in addition, the most expensive spaces in the house in cost per square foot.

Susanka suggests shared bathrooms for children, or for a child's room and a guest room (check local building codes; some locales have restrictions on shared baths, such as requiring an exit into a hallway or other public space). Or a guest room could share a bath/powder room.

* Sun rooms and screened porches can provide both useful entertaining space and restful "away" spaces for family. The extra light and fresh air they provide also help a not-so-big house seem bigger than it is.

* Finally, Susanka suggests that not-so-big houses have special places for family members to escape -- a retreat in the attic, or a loft space, or even a corner of the master bedroom that's conducive to quiet thought.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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