Our Small House Experience

FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS, WE’VE BEEN LIVING IN A SMALL (BUT NOT TINY) HOUSE.

It’s a duplex and measures about 800 sq. ft, not including the garage.

This has led to many hours of evaluation and re-evaluation: about our possessions, about what our family of 4 truly needs to be happy, our future goals and what factors have contributed to our being able to live this way.

A few things about us/our thoughts:

  • We’re not terribly organized. This is NOT a contemporary DWELL magazine-worthy space and we still have more stuff laying around than we want.
  • This house isn’t perfect, but it HAS exceeded our expectations in many ways.
  • While we have lived in houses that push the 2500 sq. ft. mark, this small house is more comfortable, more cozy, more HOME for us.
  • We find that we are actually more calm here, even with the closer quarters. We don’t have to yell to get someone’s attention across the house, yet there are spaces where we can escape if we are feeling too much togetherness.
  • This IS a live-work space with the adults in the home almost all the time, add the littlest one for lunch and every afternoon, and the oldest kid here the rest of the time. We spend a lot of time in the house, together.
  • This house fits perfectly with our thrifty, minimalist goals: Less stuff, less expense, less time working, more time together, more time traveling.

Here are the plans for our 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house in Córdoba, Argentina (click on the image to view it larger):

There are some lifestyle factors that we feel make it easier to live in a small home, many of which are influenced heavily by living in Argentina.

WE HAVE FEWER THINGS, WHICH MAKES IT EASIER:

  • No microwave (although one could be installed above the range).
  • No dishwasher. I know, I hate washing dishes too, but it’s easier to keep up when we have fewer dishes.
  • Few pots/pans (I currently have 4 but we use 3. One more thing to give away!)
  • No counter coffee pot. We use an Aeropress. It is absolutely worth the time and becomes a great morning routine. It was perfect for our road trip last year and we bring it everywhere we travel, along with a travel mug and thermos for hot water.
  • No clothes dryer. The washing machine is in kitchen. We have a drying rack that can sit at the end of the kitchen or outside on the patio.
  • No furnace. We have two gas wall heaters to warm the chilly winter mornings. Nothing more is needed.
  • Outside storage is available for bikes, brooms, etc. Even extra boxes are sitting in the carport with no fear of freezing temps. Note to self: Get the boxes cleared out!
  • Local, fresh food. No bulk storage needed for refrigerated and/or pantry items. We shop the local, neighborhood stores every few days to get the essentials, with a trip to a larger grocery store every few weeks.
  • Few pieces of furniture. We don’t have a living room. It’s a play room. We don’t watch TV in the traditional sense and we sit together at the kitchen table, so no living room set up is needed. The girls share a full-size bed, so two beds are not needed. This also saves on extra bedding. We COULD use a shelving unit to get some of the toys off of the floor, but then again, maybe the girls own too many toys. ;)
  • Few lights. Small space + lots of natural light = not many lightbulbs needed. We have installed half LED and half CFL for the lights we do use.

WE LOVE THESE DETAILS OF OUR HOUSE:

  • Walk-out outdoor spaces and the back patio has a “galleria” with a mesh cover to filter the light
  • Built-in outdoor grill. A parrilla is standard in Argentine houses. (And large garden/yard available for entertaining).
  • We’re across the street from a large park.
  • Great natural light in all rooms (the only exception is the powder room). Both upstairs bathrooms and the center hall have clerestory windows.
  • Substantial masonry construction. This is a very solid house.
  • On-demand water heater hidden inside a kitchen cabinet. Never-ending hot water is amazing. Who needs a 50 gallon tank in a small home? A “giant” albatross.
  • Two gas wall-heaters provide more than enough heat for the entire house.
  • All tile floors in the main living areas, bathrooms, stairs, garage and back patio. Easy maintenance and they get toasty warm by the heaters.
  • Operable shutters on all main floor and bedroom windows. The bedrooms can become pleasantly cave-like, night or day.
  • Vaulted ceiling heights in bedrooms provide for extra tall closet storage and create a much more spacious feel in the small bedrooms.

WHAT I WOULD CHANGE:

As an interior designer, I look at every space with a critical eye, and our own space is no different. Besides changing most of the finishes to reflect our more contemporary aesthetic (hey, I can dream), there are a few plan changes that I would recommend:

  • Widen the house by 2–4' to accommodate easier entrance into house if a car is in the garage (you enter through a gate into the garage, then enter the house) and better head height in the stairwell.
  • In colder climates, the house would need additional heating supply, possibly a utility room and mudroom and/or entry storage for cold-weather gear.
  • The garage could easily be made into another room, or elongated to add a mudroom and utility room against the stairwell wall, which could also add space to the terrace off of the 3rd bedroom. But… then it wouldn’t be such a small house anymore, would it?? (However, do we really need a car? We lived here four years without and feel we could do it again.)
  • If the house is built free-standing (not a duplex with walls on either side, as it is currently), additional windows could be added on the side walls, as well as bump-outs for stairwell and/or dining room.
  • Remove the utility sink from the kitchen because hey, counter space is at a premium and add a prep/utility sink to the side of the parrilla area for the grand asados we would surely have on the back patio.
  • Merge the two upstairs bathrooms into one larger bathroom. Both are on the small end of comfortable and I wouldn’t recommend more square footage, unless you absolutely needed a larger kitchen as well (which is directly below).
  • At the very minimum, take out the bidets in the upstairs bathrooms. For us, it is not a cultural norm and they take up a huge amount of real estate in those tiny bathrooms.
  • Change the wood-burning fireplace in main level to gas insert or more efficient heating stove for an auxiliary heat source.

WE FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE COULD LIVE (AND WORK) AS A FAMILY OF 4 IN A HOUSE THAT IS 1000 SF OR SMALLER NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE.

I really love that after years of designing for size and luxury, I’m now designing for efficiency and extreme usability. “Mindful, minimal and efficient” is our personal goal and this little house fits right in.

Originally published at www.healthyfamilyabroad.com.

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