Don't Move -- Improve: How to Rethink Space in Your Home

right-sizing your homeYour dining room has become a walkway to the kitchen, with eight chairs and a table piled high with mail and laundry. Your living room is occupied by a television and two people working on laptops, and papers spread all over the coffee table.

You look around and think you need a bigger house. Or a smaller house. Or an addition to your home, which you know will solve all your problems. But moving is not necessarily an option in this economy. And tapping the home equity line is out of the question.

The solution? Right-size your home, says Gale Steves, former editor-in-chief of Home magazine and an advocate for smart space design.

Her new book, "Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Suit Your Lifestyle," (Northwest Arm Press, $21.95) gives readers practical solutions on how to reimagine, rearrange and rethink your living space without remodeling or relocating.

Steves spoke to HousingWatch about how people are using their homes today, what rooms are most important, and how homeowners can refashion existing space to make their homes more livable.




What is changing about the way we live?

In these recessionary times, people are thinking a lot more about their lives and their homes. I do believe that we are looking for more efficient ways to live, and that includes our home. In the 1990s, if a home didn't suit us, we added on, or we bought a bigger one. Everyone needed their own bathroom, and the master bath needed to be super-sized. Showers were big enough to wash an SUV. But now, people are looking for ways to do more with what they have. Either they don't want to, or can't, sell their home. But the space isn't working for them. So they need to rethink the space they have.


It is just about rearranging a room?

It's more than that. We're talking about how to use the space you have in a way that suits you and your family. Dining rooms are often a formal room that only gets used on special occasions. So that's a room that is underutilized. A friend of mine took the table out of her dining room, put in a pool table, because it was something that her teenagers would use. When she needs a table, she throws a board and a tablecloth over it. The room works for her.

My book gives you some worksheets that help you to start thinking about how you live in your home and to find out what your needs are. Once you figure that out, you can get started.


What triggers the need to rethink living space?

I spoke to more than 300 families when writing this book, and what most motivates people is storage. They say, "I need more space." But what I found is they don't need more square footage, they need to be more efficient about their space.

There is a lot of wasted space in a home. So I tell people to look at a room, and see what it is being used for, and how it might be better used.

In one case, a person I spoke to wanted a powder room on the first floor. She had a great pantry and kitchen, but was using the space ineffectively. We ended up re-doing the pantry to make it a powder room, and rearranging the kitchen so she had much better storage.

Another thing I tell people to look at is empty space, and see how it can be used. I've seen a large hallway area turned into an area for a computer/printer setup, which can be shared by several people in the family.

Guest rooms are another case of wasted space. If you are saving that room for use maybe 2 percent of the time, and you are forced to set up an office in the living room, then something is wrong with this picture.


Is there one room that is ripe for possibilities?

The least-used room in many houses is the foyer; the front door isn't used by anyone but the FedEx guy. The front of the house is for show, and it's the back of the house, often the kitchen, where we really live. It's space than can be used for storage, with hooks, shelves and cabinets.

Another room that needs rethinking is the great room. We've tried to make that a one-size-fits-all room, and while it may be capable of multitasking -- a place to watch TV, play games, work on the computer and listen to music -- it can't do it all at once. So, I see people rethinking that big room, bringing in a casual dining table, where kids do homework. The TV is sequestered by a sectional that carves out its own space. You can take a too-big room and subdivide it with furniture and rugs to create subspaces.


If you had to choose one place to start, what room would you choose?

Start with your linen closet; it's small, and it's probably cluttered. It's a place where you can make a big different in a short period of time. Clear out the items you don't use, organize what you do, and you'll find some extra space that can be used for storage. You'll feel good, and ready to tackle another project.


Does this strategy really work with any space, any room?

If you want more space, there is always space to be found – corners you are not using, under the stairs. Look up, you might be able to create storage near the ceiling. Many of us are caretakers for things we don't need.

If you really want to move but can't do it right now, then pretend you are moving. Get rid of anything you would get rid of it you were going to move. You will feel like you have a lot more space. And if you can't do it by yourself, do it with a friend and a glass of wine. Sell what you don't need, and you'll have money to re-decorate. Sit tight, don't move, improve. Make your house work better for you.


Steves gives these tips for re-thinking the existing space in your home:

Rearrange. Before you move furniture around physically, move it around on a floor plan to see how it looks.

Reimagine. Pick an unused room, such as the living room, and create another name for it, such
as the chat room.

Re-design. Think about creating more counter space in your kitchen, with a "prep" work island
that could be mobile or fixed in place.

Rediscover. Remember your main-floor powder room or half bath may have the potential to be
converted into a full bath.

Rethink. Turn a wide hallway into a study hall, where there is room for multiple computers,
shared equipment and parental supervision.

Remove. Change your closet around so that clothing and shoes can be easily seen and
reached; move out-of-season items into another closet or storage unit.

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