(Welcome to Meredith, one of the finalists for our Green Architect blogger search. She's writing from Seattle. Comment away!
About three years ago, my husband and I became homeowners. We bought the smallest house on the block, a one bedroom, one bathroom, 720-square-foot former workers' cottage. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in location and great neighbors. Of course, we immediately started thinking about the big changes we would make: a second story addition, digging out the crawl space and lifting the house to make the basement habitable, an addition out the back or even starting from scratch...
We did make some updates: critical repairs and upgrades (tankless hot water heater, high-efficiency furnace, repairing the chimney) and some cosmetic repairs. We even found a great contractor to renovate our bathroom, the room in the house in most need of attention.
More recently, with the economic downturn, we have begun to evaluate realistically our future in this house. We would be lucky to sell it now for what we paid three years ago, so moving isn't the most viable option. With both of us working in the construction industry, we would rather be safe than sorry and not dip into our savings by doing an addition and stay put for a few more years.
This has led us to think about the space we already have and how we use them. Staying within our existing footprint is not only the most economical option, but also the most sustainable option, minimizing site disturbance and all the waste that comes from construction. With a few minor changes, we could add a second bedroom and office, a proper entry and mudroom and a dining area in our kitchen.
This is also another reason architects and designers recommend that you live in a space at least a year before thinking about renovations. The experience of living in a space is invaluable, but architects and designers can also provide a fresh look at the spaces and their functions. Think about the space you have and the possible alternatives:
Formal dining room: If you don't use this space, consider converting to a bedroom, office or den, keeping in mind the adjacent spaces.
1-1/2 Story = loft: Attic access may be limited, but can function as a guestroom (for those that are able to go up & down a ladder), playroom or hobby space.
Porch: Enclosing a front porch creates a mudroom/entry with storage for coats, bags and shoes and provides a transition between inside and out.
Hallways: Most are wider than required and often overlooked in terms of storage. Installing shallow bookshelves could create a library or display gallery.
Closets: If you have too much storage, convert to a home office, build out with casework for an entertainment center or bar, or install a wall bed for guests.
Shed or Garage: If you have electricity and can insulate, these accessory buildings can provide a great workspace or even a guestroom!
Photos courtesy of Meredith Kelly