Subtraction trumped addition at a 1939 Houston Heights cottage. By rethinking the interior’s room configuration and repositioning a few existing walls, the home was better able to accommodate a family with two growing children (and pets) without building up or out.
They share 1,400 square feet of living space.
That includes a 400-square-foot master suite added in the ‘80s, back when having the sink area open to the room was all the rage.
“We’re not a tiny home. We’re a small home,” homeowner Jennie Biggs says, putting some spin on the vintage property’s wee proportions. She think her minimalist tendencies help keep space-hogging family life detritus under control. With the downsize trend playing out in home design today, she says, “We’re already there. We may be a little on the extreme side. Still, we have no regrets.”
Longer-term Heights area residents might remember the Biggs property being featured on an HG-TV show that helps owners determine the financial wisdom of whether or not to add on. Their Realtor, however, asked “Why?” and pointed out to them that they weren’t using the space they already had.
“We wondered why we hadn’t considered that option,” the homeowner recalls.
As a property not located in a Heights historic district, the home could have bulked up. But not upping the footprint has meant still having a back yard, she says. And not building a second floor has meant keeping the classic cottage elevation that’s common to the neighborhood – and having all bedrooms on the same level.
Also, staying small and cozy has meant knowing what their children are up to, she quips: “We hear what’s going on.”
Having stuck with one-story living – despite larger homes sprouting nearby — also means there’ll be less to manage when their busy nest empties, she says. Their teenagers are in the chute for college departures in 2018 and 2020. “A one-story home after the kids leave will be enough space for us.”
“I’m glad we made a good economic decision by working with what we already had,” she says.
Here’s how the owners made their semi-modified cottage’s floor plan more efficient, saving construction costs (but not hassle, she notes). “A redo isn’t cheap either,” particularly when it means adding hardwood flooring and a lot of custom carpentry. Plus fresh paint.
The original floorplan — and its awkward ‘80s addition so poorly positioned it prevented a swank back patio — had a lot of underutilized space. By moving a kitchen wall and the adjacent utility closet, the updated kitchen added a large table for eat-in convenience. A pantry occupies space between the studs, so it’s 6 inches deep. The dining room stayed put as a second living room used for games and gatherings.
Meanwhile, the oversized master suite gave up some space for a second closet and a desk area in the hallway leading to it. Gone, too, is the exposed vanity flanked by water closet and shower functions. It’s a swish master bathroom now that’s “large enough to hang out in,” she says.
The initial work scope didn’t remove the half-walls between the living and dining rooms; they might be coming down eventually to make one large space. “For now, we’re holding tight,” she says.
MAKING DO WITH A REDO
Although he didn’t work on the Biggs project, Stephen McNiel of Creative Property Restoration, former president of the Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association, has renovated several properties in Leader new neighborhoods. He says several factors might influence whether a homeowner decides to add space or just rework what’s already under the roofline.
Cost: Not having to pour a foundation, add framing or roof, and pull a survey and more expensive permits can bring savings when compared to building an addition, he says. Using a $200 per square foot estimate for new construction, work within an existing structure might run $125 to $150 per square foot, he says, depending on the extent of the scope. A kitchen is more expensive to retool than, say, a couple bedrooms.
“All renovation spending is subjective,” he notes. And that includes paint. Did you specify the $25 or $75 version?
Capture: Consider repurposing space already in the footprint, such as porches, utility and mechanical areas, and closets. In the latter case, how a door swings or its size can cut into usable space.
View: Indoor outdoor living space is a rising trend in home design and might help a smaller interior feel larger, he says. Any money saved by working with existing space might be well spent adding an outdoor kitchen, landscaping or patio venue.
Lifestyle/Life stage: Consider the age of the home – and that of the homeowners, meaning whether the family is growing or gone. Is the home for now or forever?
“It’s a house-by-house decision,” McNiel says, and comes down to what you’re willing to sacrifice.
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