A Small Home Can Be a Livable Home

By Sheila Gains, 2008
Colorado State University Extension
Family and Consumer Education
Arapahoe County

Home means different things to different people. For many folks, affordable housing means a more compact home, a mobile home or a multi-family unit, such as a townhouse or a condominium.

Some folks -- even if they can afford a larger place -- prefer a compact home because it allows for a feeling of warmth and closeness, and it can mean less work in cleaning and maintenance.

If space is well-designed and if the home is well-organized and tastefully furnished and decorated, a smaller dwelling can be as comfortable and livable as a larger home.

When living in a space of less than 1,200 square feet, organization is the key. A Colorado State University bulletin describes the challenges for families living in a small dwelling and it offers tips about how to recognize a well-designed home that still offers privacy, livability and ease of function. In addition, it cautions that living in close quarters requires family members to respect each other's need for personalized space, no matter how small.

The art of storage is important -- following the axiom: a place for everything and everything in its place. In a small home, especially, disorganization can ruin family harmony. If work centers are planned, items can be put away when an activity is finished.

Overcrowded or over decorated areas shrink space, so simplify the decor. Plain surfaces and smooth lines give a more continuous look, although some texture and pattern is needed for interest.

Tips for recognizing good design

Whether looking for a smaller house to buy or deciding to build, here are some tips for recognizing good design:

  • Is there available outside space to allow the home interior to expand visually through large windows or patio doors? Does it have potential for an addition later on?
  • Is there efficient use of space in the floor plan without extras, such as overly-wide hallways, too-deep closets or odd-shaped rooms?
  • Do living areas allow for multi-purpose use?
  • Do traffic patterns flow around living areas rather than cut through them?
  • Would the soffit space above the kitchen cabinets allow for extra storage space?
  • Does the floor plan incorporate laundry equipment in the bath or the kitchen? Is plumbing centralized by having bath, laundry and kitchen close together.
  • Is the dining area part of the kitchen or the living room? Could a separate dining room double as a study, guest room or hobby area? Is the living and family room combined?
  • Could bedrooms be multi-purpose for child's play, desk area or sewing space?
  • Built-in storage in walls or closets eliminates the need for dressers or other storage units.
  • It's easier to get by with one bathroom, if it is compartmentalized to accommodate more than one individual at a time.

Remodeling ideas for an older house

When considering resale, some remodeling investments are more rewarding than others. Kitchen and bath remodeling are considered practical investments. Just good quality maintenance and repairs promise a big return upon selling. Be sure to check with a builder or architect before deciding about changes that might involve structural integrity.

  • Incorporate energy conservation measures to save fuel costs.
  • Increase light levels with added or enlarged windows or by adding artificial light. Concentrate on windows with a southern exposure.
  • Cathedral ceilings or skylights lend a feeling of space.
  • Consider a higher window in a bathroom to open up wall space and to enhance privacy. Bathroom alterations may include more streamlined fixture styles with light tones.
  • Open up a room into an adjacent area. Larger or wider wall openings open up space and create large multi-purpose rooms.
  • Create vertical space by removing ceilings to expose rafters and the roof line. Insulate the ceiling surface.
  • Build in appliances in the kitchen.

Decorating tips

  • Use neutral colors with accents of color and textures in accessories, plants and collections. Use the same light colors for several adjacent rooms and for walls, doors, molding and trim.
  • Paint dark paneling a lighter color. Dark colors close in a room.
  • Glossy hard surfaces reflect light and expand space.
  • Mirrored walls expand space.
  • Blend simple window treatments with the wall background. Blend floor covering with the wall so there isn't a sharp contrast where they meet.
  • Use a minimum of patterns that blend, not contrast. Too large a pattern can visually close in a room.

Furnishing a small space

In model homes, furniture often is scaled down to make rooms appear larger.

  • Use scaled-down furniture in proportion to the size of the room. This could include a love seat rather than a sofa. Choose a simple design.
  • Multi-functional pieces are practical, such as a sofa bed, wall storage units with fold-out desk or table, end tables with storage, drop-leaf table, bunk or trundle beds.
  • Use airy furniture designs: materials such as chrome, glass or cane; exposed arms and legs. Avoid bulky cushions and fabric that hangs to the floor.
  • Use beds with no head or footboards.
  • Use small fabric patterns and smooth textures for upholstery.
  • Arrange furniture into activity areas. For example, the living room may contain a TV corner, a reading corner and a hobby area.
  • Try to eliminate clutter; it fills up space.
  • Instead of displaying them all at once, rotate favorite accessories. Use them to incorporate color and interest.

For more information about this topic, contact your local Colorado State University Extension office.

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Updated Wednesday, January 08, 2014