My wife and I live in 650 square feet with two kids and we love it. We’ve written about our small home before, a tiny condo in North Cambridge, Massachusetts. We live in a neighborhood full of small houses and condos — the average home or condo around here is about 1,000 square feet. But we live in a small space even by those standards, and we do it with two kids (but no pets, thank goodness).
You might think we’d want more space, and, well, we do. If you gave me a 1,000 square foot home right next to the condo we currently own, I’d kiss you. But we live in one of the cheapest condos in our neighborhood, and we cannot afford to step up to a bigger (but still small!) house. Moving to another neighborhood is out of the question — we love our neighborhood. In fact, we love the block we live on so much it would be hard to move even three or four blocks away. Plus, we’re stubborn. Our tiny home a source of great pride. So we’re staying.
But staying means that we have to make our place work better for us. After living in our condo for a couple of years, we knew what needed changing. We had an ugly divider in between the kitchen and living room that made the space seem smaller. We had an unheated and inaccessible enclosed front porch that was being wasted. We have ugly carpet and tile all over the house. Both bedrooms in our house need to be more functional for daytime use. Eventually, we’ll need an additional bedroom to accommodate our different-gender children when they get older. And it would be great if our bathroom could magically expand to fit more than one person at a time. (Actually, we can get all four of us in the bathroom at once by putting one on the toilet, two in the tub, and one using the sink!)
Last year, we went to a workshop by tiny-house guru Jay Shafer and began to form a vision of our home as a beautiful, efficient, compact space that we could live in until retirement. After the high of dreaming, we got some recommendations for a contractor that could help us make some changes in reality, and contacted Paul Morse of Morse Constructions. We met with Paul to talk about our overall vision for our place, and we were very pleased that he seemed to understand our small-space sensibilities and that he had good ideas about how we might move forward. Paul recommended starting with renovations of our front porch, as that was our least used space. Our front porch is a 4 foot by 15 foot room (so it’s 60 square feet, about 10% of our total living space). Before our renovations, this was an unheated and poorly insulated space, and the only access to it was through our bedroom. During the summer months the space was boiling hot and during the winter it was freezing cold. The porch was essentially just a storage locker for junk that didn’t fit into our living space. But the porch did provide a major source of light into our house — there are three windows on the front porch that get great light, and we used to have a window from our living room that looked onto the front porch to get some of that light.
So we took the plunge and decided to renovate. It was a pricey renovation. We closed off the access to the porch from our room, built a new glass pocket door from our living room, and then essentially gutted the room, building it back up with appropriate heat, insulation, and new windows. Paul Morse and his team planned well and did a thorough and accurate quote for us of project cost, so we didn’t have any money surprises.
That was back in the winter. Now the front porch (which we call the “sunroom” for the obvious reason) is a beautiful part of our living space. We had high shelves installed throughout the room for storage, and installed adjustable Elfa shelving for one wall. We also put in a kitchen cabinet on one short wall for more enclosed storage (this is where most of the toys in the house are stored). We think at this point we are close to the amount that we had stored on the porch before, only now we also have a whole new room. Dorea also had a custom sewing cabinet built on one end of the room, and that has already paid off in a number of crafting projects like doll diapers, custom covers for furniture, and more. It’s wonderful to have a project in process without creating a giant impassable mess in our bedroom.
Having an additional room in our house is amazing. The kids spend a lot of time playing out there, and if they are bickering, we can have one playing in the sunroom while the other plays in their bedroom. We’ve even had guests stay in the sunroom, which is almost exactly the width of a twin mattress. It feels really great to know we can say, “Sure, come stay with us!” without burdening a guest with the 5:30 am wake-up call that comes with sleeping in our living room (R is an early riser).
We also have much more light coming into the house, and the house stays both cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. We can keep it cooler in the summer despite the sun streaming the windows because we can open a window and put in a box fan anytime the temperature outside starts to cool off (we typically run the box fan in the morning to get the indoor temperature down). We had been planning on getting light blocking shades, but so far that hasn’t seemed necessary. In the winter, the additional heating pipes and thermal gain from the windows keep the house warmer than it was before.
Part of the reason that the extra 60 square feet from the sunroom feels so amazing is that it is 60 square feet of high-use living space. In a very small home, you have to use all of your living space as much as possible, but we still use some more that others. The highest-use space is our kitchen/living room, and now that space has been added to with the sunroom, but that same space can easily be separated if we close the pocket door (typically it stays open). The next most utilized room is the kids’ bedroom, and we’re working on ways to use this space more, especially for the kids to play more independently. Our bedroom is currently underused, and we would like to loft our bed and make a more useful office space to increase it’s functionality for our non-sleeping lives. Inspired by our success with the porch, we’ve done some additional low-cost improvements to our living room and kitchen, and we’ll be back to give you an update on those as well.