A Smaller Home Can Still Be Beautiful
Homebuilders take note: Here are two good examples of small homes that look good and live well.
The allure of the McMansion is waning these days. A bigger home that costs more to buy and keep up is not necessarily considered a better home from the buyer's perspective. The numbers bear this out. For the first quarter of 2007, more residential architects reported home sizes as decreasing (26 percent) than reported them to be increasing (21 percent), according to the American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends study.
But there's no need to fear. A small home can be quite livable and attractive with forethought. Furthermore, smaller homes can be more energy efficient and comfortable.
Here are two very different designs — one rural, one urban — that demonstrate how small can be beautiful.
The Hawks Ledge cottages reference the history of the area through its design and use of indigenous materials.
Hawks Ledge: A little bit country
Hawks Ledge is located on Slickrock Mountain, among the highest elevations in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. Hawks Ledge offers two-bedroom cottages (there are four in all) intended as complementary abodes to nearby Falling Leaf Lodge, a seven-suite guest lodge for members and guests.
The cottages come in at around 1,300 square feet. Randy Banks, president and CEO of Mountain Air Development Corp., developer and builder of the Mountain Air Country Club where Hawks Ledge is located, says he expected the folks who would buy the cottages would want it as a second home and therefore would not use it as frequently nor require as much space. Owners could also rent their cottage out; while they're away, it's available for lease by resort guests who bring kids, other family members or another couple with them and need some extra space.
"Instead of the club owning it, we wanted individuals to own it so that we could have locations for families that came in that needed more than one bedroom," says Banks. "There are going to be plenty of people that are going to want a high-quality, intimate retreat with two bedrooms that can be wholly owned but at the same time available for our club member guests as part of that lodge extension."
|A high ceiling and an open room-to-room plan create the illusion of spaciousness in this Hawks Ledge cottage.|
Cozy, not cramped
Hawks Ledge uses smart design to make the most of a small space. An open floor plan combines the kitchen, living, dining, entry and mudroom into one, casual area. A 5- to 6-foot opening leads into the main level master bedroom and has pocket doors that can stay open to enlarge the main living space. "It's a simple floor plan that feels rather open, even though there are two separate and distinct bedrooms with full baths each," says Susan Touchette, project architect.
The large, covered wrap-around porch with an outdoor fireplace extends the indoor living space to the outside. And there are lots of windows — tall and short — all with great views. "We have big, 8-foot windows and doors," says Banks, "and they connect easily to the wrap-around covered deck outside. In the summer months when it's pleasant, you can open those up, and it's kind of hard to tell when you're in versus out."
An important goal was to integrate indigenous materials and use local craftspeople. A local blacksmith crafted the wrought iron railings, and the stone work was cut from and by area stone and stone masons. The color and other elements of the wood tie back to some of the historic uses of wood in some of the old tobacco barns.
"We really wanted to be able to tell the story of the history of the specific area in which we reside," says Banks.
Husband-and-wife architects Gerard Damiani and Debbie Battistone built a home/work studio for themselves as a prototype project to demonstrate how you can build affordably in an urban infill.
The facade reflects the industrial history of the site; a glass bridge creates an "invisible" connection to the bedroom wing.
They used unique materials with common construction practices in concert with each other and developed an essentially new building type for the city: a live/work space.
Damiani, founder and president of Studio d'ARC, says they never intended to make this particular project their home, though when they arrived in Pittsburgh in 1996, he began his practice by renovating a vacant upper level of a store front that became his first Live/Work Studio space.
"[With Live/Work Studio II] our interest was to show citizens of Pittsburgh how we can densify our neighborhoods by filling in vacant parcels that were once home sites," says Damiani. "The stimulus of doing this project was to use it as a model to show clients our sensibilities, how to live in this region."
"We made many of the spaces open and interconnected — the living/dining/living area, the studio to the open space below, as well as vistas up to a rooftop vestibule," Damian says. The bedroom walls don't quite touch the ceiling, which allows the spaces to feel visually connected.
It was also important to include a small basement to put their high-efficiency furnace and water heater; the laundry area; and general house and office storage, allowing the main floor living spaces to remain free of unnecessary clutter. A glass floor or bridge connects the studio space to the bedroom wing upstairs. This "invisible" barrier that provides a view to the lower level opens up the space further.
The size and placement of windows allow plenty of natural light. The large second-floor window above the street lets in sunlight from the west that penetrates deep into the interior. There is a large motorized sliding skylight approximately 4 ½ by 4 ½ square feet in the center of the roof that lights the entire home and doubles as a thermal chimney.
"The house is oriented east-west," says Damiani. "The garden side is east; the Cor-Ten or metal façade is west. It allows for the southern orientation of the daylighting to come into the house, and that light is distributed throughout the open floor. It eliminates the need for artificial lighting throughout the day. It's only needed in the evening."
There's a large window on the east elevation that connects the living spaces to the ground level garden. It gets lots of morning light; the window helps bring in daylight into the living room part of the home.
"We chose to make the architecture sympathetic to the region, though not a literal expression of it," Damiani says. "In that respect, if you look at the outside of our house and studio, you'll see it has weathering steel and mahogany siding. The idea is that the horitizontalness of the siding ties it to the neighboring houses; the vertical corrugations of the metal address the warehouses that are directly across our street. We are in a part of the city that is both industrial and residential."
The Live/Work Studio II won an AIA 2008 Housing Award.