By Paul Miller
Interior Designer, IDS Professional Member
Read Time: 5 Minutes
As a seasoned designer with diverse clients, I am often either helping a family decide how much to add to a home they are outgrowing or I am figuring out how to put unused rooms to work in a house that is a little too big for its owner.
Generally my opinion is that less house is better than too much house, but my skills and vision afford me the opportunity to create impactful designs no matter the scale of the project. For the homeowner who is trying to decide the size of their next home investment, there are a number of ways to evaluate what will be the perfect fit.
Read about The Large Luxury Home, available here.
First, this is not the blog for the person who wants a tiny house. As a designer, I know there is legitimate value to having plenty of room to stretch out; space to leave your laptop open without losing a food prep area; the comfort of sitting up in bed without hitting your head on the ceiling. This blog is about the compact, but luxurious home.
The Benefits of a Small Luxury Home
Smaller luxury homes have the advantage of being more sustainably climate controlled. They use less raw materials and compel more thoughtful lifestyle choices. The modest custom home provides an opportunity to upgrade to the quality construction one should expect from a fine home: thicker walls, stouter moldings, high quality doors and windows, bespoke cabinetry, and lasting and beautiful surface materials. Very often quality is sacrificed for scale in homes today; I think that fails to provide clients with the sense of comfort that a thoughtfully and lovingly crafted home offers.
If you are custom building and working with an architect, they should be able to provide for your needs within a modest floor plan, but know that, depending on their contract, architects as well as builders have a vested interest in your home being larger than you may need. If you’re confident that you want a modest luxury home, make sure you find experts who are themselves advocates for smaller homes.
Additionally, as more homeowners find that exterior spaces give them as much joy as interior rooms, the benefit of a compact house footprint is that it opens up more lot space for porch space, hardscape terraces, and food and flower gardens.
A family of four can live comfortably in less than two thousand square feet, as shown in the mockup below of a single floor house plan I put together to illustrate this point. In just 1,925 square feet, there is ample room for three sizable bedrooms, two and a half baths, an office nook, kitchen, dining, and living rooms- all without sacrificing luxuries like wide hallways and generous storage. I even made space for a wet bar and media builtin.
While the mockup I created for this blog is clearly a rough draft, it does prove a few proportions that you can keep in mind when designing your home.
A comfortable kitchen with a compact and chef-friendly working triangle and room for up to four to sit at the island is doable within 210 square feet. Adding a generous, thoughtfully laid out pantry and some additional counter space can still fit within 300 square feet.
Our dining room in this model could be larger, but at 172 square feet, it seats six comfortably and could accommodate eight. If this square footage were rounded up to 200, the room would seat up to ten in a pinch.
The generous living room we designed seats 6-8 people and comes in, with wet bar and media space, at 320 square feet. Keep in mind that door placement, and how this impacts traffic flow, can make or break a room of any size. In this model, I kept the primary traffic to one end of the room, allowing for a useful and well-organized seating area.
Our master suite, which offers two large closets as well as a well-appointed bathroom, is achievable within 415 square feet. If the same footprint were manipulated to transform the side by side closets into walk-ins, the overall square footage would only jump to 460 square feet.
The two bedrooms that share a bath are ideal for children or adults, with a pair of closets and a builtin desk area at the side windows. Each bedroom is 182 square feet.
The study cubby at the rear of the dining room is admittedly small - a discovered opportunity more than a top priority - but there is a lot to be said for thinking creatively about the home office space. Even our little 30 square foot nook offers a six foot wide desk surface, upper and lower storage, a window for light and vista, and, perhaps most importantly, a door to close away distractions.
A surprising amount of space is taken in a home by hallways, but I am an advocate for wide hallways when starting from the ground up. Four foot is a good minimum width, while hallways at five or six foot feel gracious and practical. Conversely, a too-wide hallway can be a wasteful use of space and give a home the chill of a museum.
The Basement Question
Another thing to ponder when planning your modest dream home is how many floors you want to live on. The single floor home is comfortable and offers universal access, but many clients like the tree-house feeling of climbing the stairs to bed at night, not to mention the beauty of a flight of stairs as an architectural feature. Multiple stories also allow for maximum use of lot space.
Many builders will point out that basements can double the square footage without doubling the cost of the house. This can be very tempting advice, but if you decide to add a basement, audit the overall floor plan to see if the found lower level space offers an opportunity to shrink the footprint of the house. In the long run, it is not a value to add to the cost of your home if it means having countless unused rooms that require maintenance and climate control. Going into the initial planning knowing whether or not you plan to have a basement will help you to keep the scale of your luxury home as modest as you envisioned.