Small Spaces Offer Big Payoffs
By Felicia Feaster, For the AJC
Metro Atlantans are beginning to make more out of less, whether they are already living in a small dwelling, downsizing or just moving to a charming new neighborhood where homes with modest square footage are the norm.
According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the average size of a new single-family home fell from 2,268 square feet in 2006 to 2,100 square feet in 2009. And experts say that square footage downward trend will most likely continue.
The definition of just what “small” means varies. According to contractors and architects in the metro Atlanta area, anything below 2,000-2,500 square feet is considered small by local standards.
The merits of a reduced footprint include lower utility bills, coziness, faster cleaning and the ease of retrofitting a modest home with green features. There are practical reasons for doing smaller-scale renovations, too, said Atlanta architect Michael Gamble.
“People are mortified by the appraisals they’re getting back,” said Gamble. “We’ve seen values stagnate or slip slightly. From the lending side, it’s harder to borrow money for big, gonzo additions.”
There are philosophical advantages to cutting back in the square footage department, too. A smaller house is a more intimate house, said William Fadul, co-owner of Mosaic Group Architects and Remodelers in Dunwoody.
“It’s not about scale in the sense of being large and tall and hard to heat and hard to furnish — but more intimate and more family-oriented, where people actually engage each other,” Fadul said.
Fadul said the small-trend is a distinct change from 26 years ago when he started in the home renovation business. “The dialogue then was how much bigger can we make it?”
Remodelers such as Fadul with expertise in renovating on a smaller scale have an increased sensitivity to how tweaking key details in an existing home’s footprint can enlarge space. To make a smaller space feel larger, Fadul recommended opening up rooms by removing walls; using continuous finishes such as wood floors throughout the home rather than changing flooring from room to room; and using great lighting to give the visual impression of expanded space.
For Atlantans such as Jamie and Stefanie Badoud, who own a 700-square-foot Craftsman bungalow, small has meant favoring “quality over quantity,” said Jamie.
Jamie, who is the executive director of the arts residency program the Hambidge Center, and his wife, Stefanie, in financial services at CARE, were drawn to their gentrifying Kirkwood neighborhood because of its affordable home prices. They bought their two-bedroom and one-bath home in 2000 for $145,000.
Eager to add space and also make better use of their existing home’s footprint, the Badouds hired husband-and-wife architects Michael and Lee Ann Gamble of the G + G Architects firm. The architects added an American Institute of Architects award-winning 700-square-foot modern addition to the back of the Badoud home. The addition features an open floor plan with a loft accessible by ladder above and an all-purpose gathering space below.
“You want to create an environment that you’re inspired by,” Jamie Badoud said of their light-filled, open-to-the-elements addition. To that end, the space embraces the couple’s love of connecting outside and inside and evokes the sorts of homes they saw on their world travels to the Far East and London, where homes and yards are smaller but meticulously well-tended.
Both the Badouds and the Gambles advised those in the market for a smaller home to think not just about the home itself, but also about its position in the landscape. A small house can seem more claustrophobic when it is placed badly on the lot or inadequately landscaped.
Badoud said one of the favorite features of his home is its long, narrow wooded lot and the fact that it sits back from the street, which lends the home a sense of privacy on their half-acre lot. “In our backyard, you don’t think you’re in Kirkwood, you think you’re out in a forest,” said Badoud.
When it comes to remodeling or adding on to small homes, the Gambles emphasized that keeping proportions in balance is critical.
“A lot of people add on at a scale that is not complementary to the existing house scale,” said Lee Ann Gamble.
“Virginia-Highland is full of very poorly executed additions to houses, and it comes from a period where people didn’t respect the existing vocabulary of the bungalow,” said Michael Gamble, who advised that homeowners use an architect or a contractor who has experience working with small spaces.
Also crucial are maintaining the roofline and using quality materials that correspond with the existing home.
“In small spaces, everything has to do more than one thing,” said Michael Gamble. He used the example “of a hallway that could become a library; line one side of the hallway with books. Windows are also great opportunities. A window can become a reading nook and double as storage.”
Keeping clutter at bay is also important. The Gambles converted entire walls in the living room, bedroom and second bedroom of the Badouds’ original home into closets to hide away clutter and streamline their space. As the Badoud family has grown to include a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old, the Gambles’ attention to making every inch of space count has proved invaluable.
It all comes down to an important part of any architect or contractor working with a smaller space: sweating the smallest details. “You have to think harder,” said Fadul. “It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle.”
When you have a smaller floor plan
Ili Nilsson, co-owner of Decatur design/build firm TerraCotta Properties, has seen a huge trend for clients doing quality renovations of smaller spaces rather than buying larger homes. Nilsson offered these tips for working with a scaled-back floor plan:
Get to know the local zoning codes. Historic designation, setbacks and maximum building regulations are key factors that can affect your ability to add or renovate space.
Make it trend-proof. Keep it simple, classic and not fussy.
Consider how you will furnish the space to maximize function and allow for good flow from room to room. Furniture layouts and architectural changes go hand in hand.
Make the details count. Small homes shine brightest when you choose quality details. Put your budget toward items such as solid hardware, beautiful lighting and great appliances.
Keep the general color palette light and simple, but don’t make every room the same color. Slight variations provide interest.
Create multifunctional rooms. For example, a mudroom also can be a laundry room and a home office, but plan these spaces carefully so they don’t feel crowded or untidy.