So recently I was reading a post over at Savvy Financial Latina where she mentioned that they’d started house shopping, but had found that the 1,300sqft homes they started looking at seemed way too small, so they had increased the size-range of homes that they were looking for.
But, as I gave in my unsolicited advice to Savvy Financial Latina (and really, this post is just an expansion of what I what I really wanted to share), not all small houses are created equal.
Design matters. Big time.
Design influences that way that a house FEELS, which when it comes down to it matters a whole lot more than what the measuring tape shows.
This really hit home when we were shopping for our first house.
A Funny Conversation
Four years ago, I called my mom up and gave her the good news. (No, not that Mr. PoP and I had eloped… that conversation was a week later.) But that we had picked out a house to buy.
Me: It’s a great house. A nice 3/2 with a pool and a garage. It’s 1,100 square feet, so I think it’s even a bit bigger than your house! (Side Note – I lived in my parents’ current house between the ages of 4 and 18 so felt pretty comfortable with the comparison points.)
Mom: You’ve got it wrong, dear. Our house is way bigger than that. It’s 1,600 sqft.
Me: No. That can’t be right! Your house is a 3/2 (I know, I had to share a room with [my sister]!), and this one even feels bigger than your house when you’re in it! I even get a huge walk-in closet in the master bedroom in all that. How does a walk-in closet not fit in your house if you have 1,600 square feet?
Mom: Hmmm, send me a diagram to show me your layout.
So I did. And here it is. It’s not 100% to scale, but it’s pretty accurate.
The blue shaded part is what makes up the 1,100 square foot measurement. But when you include the garage (~350 sqft) and the covered patio (~500 sqft) and the enclosed pool area (~800 sqft), it brings the total footprint of the home to ~2,750 square feet.
Just the covered patio area of our home increases what we consider our “livable area” by 45%. No wonder I swore up and down our house was bigger than the house I had grown up in.
There’s No Fat In The Design
When my mom looked at the little diagram I sent her, she had even more to say about it.
Mom: Wow. There’s just no fat in it!
Me: Huh? Fat?
Mom: Wasted space. You have two tiny hallways and that’s it. Think about the incredibly long hallway in our house. And the huge vestibule and entry way that’s never used. That’s all fat. I’ve always hated it.
Mom was right. Our two tiny hallways take up about 60 sqft. (Roomba cleans them in no time flat!)
But my parents’ house is a different story. Between the long and wide hallway and the vestibule, they lose 275 sqft of space. They lose another 250 or so because of the funny shape of the living room and how they’ve arranged furniture in it all these years. Cut out all that, and their square footage is about the same as ours!
But it’s more than that, and when I showed my mom some actual pictures of the place she noted other design elements in our house that made it feel like the Taj Mahal despite being comparatively teeny tiny.
Design Elements That Make Our “Tiny” Place Feel “Huge”
- No Fat – Very little wasted space in the layout.
- Vaulted Ceilings In Main Room – Ours aren’t insanely high, but do go up about 12 feet at the peak, compared to the flat 7 and 8 foot ceilings that are around my parents’ house.
- Skylights – Natural light makes most spaces feel bigger.
- Big Windows and Sliding Glass Doors – The windows in the front bedrooms are nearly floor to ceiling, and the doors leading out to our patio (both in the living room and the master bedroom) are huge sliding glass doors that when fully open are about 6 feet wide.
- 500 sqft Covered Patio – This is like getting 45% more living area free since we have a climate where we can use the space virtually year round!
- No Bars or Fences – The small windows on my parents’ house look out through burglar bars onto a backyard that’s enclosed by a 6 foot tall cinderblock wall. Compare that with the wide open view onto our little lake where we can watch all manner of flora and fauna. Easy to see how ours might feel bigger compared to the slightly imprisoned view I grew up with.
But Realtor.com doesn’t really let you search on any of these criteria. (Well, except for the waterview. They did add that.)
Not Every Tiny House Feels Huge, But…
Having looked through more than our fair share of foreclosures and absolute dumps during some of our more interesting adventures in real estate, I know that our house is unusual in how it feels compared to actual measurements. But what if we had looked at a few houses that were like my parents’ place and decided that there was no way 1,600 square feet was big enough?
It we had set a minimum square footage of even 1,500 square feet in our search for our first home, this little gem would have never even come up in our search.
So please. If you’re searching for a new house – please ignore the minimum square footage option on your search. It might mean you have to look at a few (dozen) more homes before finding your perfect one, but I’m willing to bet there’s a nice little diamond in the rough like this one in there, too!
And really, don’t we all have to kiss a few frogs before we find our prince?
How big is your house? Does it have any design elements that make it feel bigger? Or smaller?