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04 July 2008

Talk to Me of Small Spaces I might buy a house. Can I live in a dollhouse? [More:]This is a very small house - 855 square feet - with a yard that's approximately the same size. I can totally afford it - the price is right. It's a 1922 bungalow - well, worker cottage - immaculate and adorable and I love the neighborhood but can I actually squeeze myself, my 6'2" teenage son, two 50 pound dogs, a mountain of household goods and an inveterate love for gardening and parties into a house that small? The ceilings are only 6'8". Talk to me. Tell me I can - or can't - do this. Tell me about living in small spaces. I did this before - I lived with my five year old daughter in a 300 square foot studio apartment in the East Village for two years - but it's been a long time now that I've been living in roughly 1200 square feet with lots and lots of yard and garden.

But damn, I want to buy a house and there is not much nothing else out there in my price range. And I do really, really like it. I like the funky kitchen - 1950s red counters! With chrome rounded edges! In perfect condition! - and the funky layout: the kitchen is in the center and the other three rooms and the bathroom radiate off it. I like that I could afford to actually heat it in the winter. Did I mention that I love the neighborhood and it's walking distance to all my friends' houses? Did I mention that it's really, really small? Hope me, bunnies!
Shit man, it sounds like you love that house. Sell away lots of stuff that you won't fit in there, scale down. I adore bungalows but you need small furniture (think everything teak from the fifties!) and smart storage sorted in all closets. Any images of it online?
posted by dabitch 04 July | 12:23
I love living in a small place. Keeps me from accumulating too much junk. Moving to a small place would be very cleansing, I think- a reason to get rid of any old baggage in the form of material possessions. I have low ceilings, too (7 feet at the highest, the shower and parts of the bathroom are only 6'), and that kind of stinks, but you get used to it. Your 6'2" son might feel squeezed, but perhaps that will be a good motivation for him to move out when he graduates :-D
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 04 July | 12:26
Yes! It's all about the layout. It sounds great.

I lived in a 700 square foot apartment with my husband. It was totally livable. Even roomy.

I subscribe to House Beautiful. This month the showed this tiny California bungalow and it was beautiful and stylish. It wasn't sparsely furnished either. There was a lot of stuff packed in there and it looked great. You could put a few lounge chairs in your yard. Make an outdoor room.

Less room is less stuff to clean. Small can be very good. Like you said, there will be affordable heating bills, less stuff to clean. There is less storage so you will be forced to live simplistically. It's a good thing.
posted by LoriFLA 04 July | 12:31
No images of it online, alas, because the seller just pulled it off the market. This sounds bad BUT supposedly she still wants to sell it; she'd just decided that it had been on the market too long and nobody was biting. So the pull is good; it means nobody else is looking at it this weekend.
posted by mygothlaundry 04 July | 12:31
Me and my girlfriend live in a 29 square meter (that's slightly over 300 square feet) studio apartment. We share it with a cat. I think we've managed to fit 15-16 people in our "living room". To me, your cottage seems like a palace (it's bigger than anything I've ever lived in).
posted by Daniel Charms 04 July | 12:51
Well, by Japan's standards, 800+ square feet's large. It's hard to tell without seeing it, but it sounds sweet. I love unusual features, too. And your son would still have his own room. Plus, once you built up some equity, you could always trade up, if you wanted to.

I've pretty much given up on buying anything for now. NYC, as you know, is just impossibly expensive. I watch House Hunters (Jon calls it my "realestate porn") and inevitably I end up saying, "That'd cost two or three times that here." Though I did see one episode set in the Riverdale section of the Bronx recently, which is a nice area, and the couple found a big one bedroom right by the subway in a prewar building for $180,000! Made me scratch my chin. We pay more in rent than they'll pay in a mortgage.

Still, when you add in property taxes, interest, and insurance, we might still be better off just renting and saving the money. Probably break even. (Not that we have the 20% down payment most condo and coops here require anyway. Someday... over the rainbow.) But at least when there's a leak under the toilet we're not the ones who have to fix it. Renting has its advantages.

Good luck in your decision!
posted by Pips 04 July | 12:51
Go for it. Pare down your stuff. Nobody needs a lot of room to actually live in — it's just because people have so much stuff that houses are getting bigger and bigger. And then they don't use that stuff at all, or very often.

Get rid of clothes you don't wear, books you will never read again, dishes and other kitchenware you never use, memorabilia you never look at. Be ruthless. Go by the general rule of thumb that if you haven't used something in a year, get rid of it. I remember my mother saying the best day to clean out the closets is a day you're in a really vile mood.;-)

The ceiling height will probably bother your son, but he won't presumably be living there forever. It'll be a good house to age in because there are no stairs for you to climb and less cleaning for you to do — I wish I could say that of my place!

Once you get the place, invest in the time it takes to create appropriate storage space. Everything needs to have a place of its own where it belongs.
posted by Orange Swan 04 July | 12:54
mgl, you could totally do 800ish sf., and your potential house sounds like a joy. if you can swing it financially, I say do it. I'm in the same situation myself, non-profit, able to afford a house but only right now, it seems, if it's in a bad part of town. I'm hovering over the market to see if anything small and lovely and cheap enough comes up in my neighborhood...
posted by Stewriffic 04 July | 12:55
You can totally do it; we're two people, one dog, living in a space about that size (definitely not more)... and we don't have the yard. Easy to cool, easy to heat, easy to clean if you keep your stuff pared down. I haven't lived in anything larger than that size (and many smaller) in... hm... well, let's just say a long, long, long time. If the layout is good, and the neighborhood is good, it's a winner. When your son moves out, you can make his room into a studio with guest bed, but until then it might be a bit of a challenge to paint. You might want to think about sharing a bit of studio space or something, or working on small things.

You just have to get into a mindset for a small space, and really get your stuff down to the beloved basics. You will feel claustrophobic if you try to fit too much in there - but you will (probably) be amazed at how much you can very happily do without.
posted by taz 04 July | 12:55
Also, can you get in on your local community garden? I'm so excited about the one we have here in Durham. I built two 40 sf raised beds last year at my house, and they're keeping me in fresh veggies...
posted by Stewriffic 04 July | 12:58
I have about 600 sq ft shoehorned into a living room, two bedrooms, tiny kitchen and bathroom and a hallway, and it's just big enough. But I've become ruthless over the years about not keeping stuff I don't want or need.
posted by essexjan 04 July | 13:02
You can totally do this, and you sound like you love it, so there you go! It sounds adorable.
posted by redvixen 04 July | 13:03
I lived in a house smaller than that with several other people and two giant pitbulls for a while and yeah, you really need to shed as much furniture as you can and then head to thrift stores or Craigslist and stock up on smaller pieces. But living with your son & two big dogs is totally doable. Plus loving the house itself will make up for feeling a little cramped.
posted by cmonkey 04 July | 13:07
3 of us have lived in 1100 sq ft.

with a dog and 4 cats. .small yard.

you can do it. . .
posted by danf 04 July | 13:43
Oh you get used to it very quickly, mgl (our flat's 694sf). And it's so much easier to keep clean.

I'd love a garden, though.
posted by goo 04 July | 13:54
Do it, MGL! Like Lori said, it's all about the layout. So many newer houses have big square footage, but very little livable space. And you can do all kinds of groovy stuff with a small yard. It will pose a creative challenge...and you're awesome at that kind of thing.

Your son should be fine. Our bedroom ceiling is probably only a couple of inches taller than my husband and it doesn't seem to bother him much. You just can't put in ceiling fans.

posted by jrossi4r 04 July | 13:55
I love little houses. And your son, being a teenager, should (theoretically) be out on his own in a few years, right? You're also right about heating it in the winter... energy prices are only gonna keep going up.

Also, it sounds like an awesome place. You should go for it!
posted by BoringPostcards 04 July | 14:17
What does your son think? It sounds great except for the low ceilings. I don't think I could deal with them, but I'm a bit claustrophobic.
posted by lukemeister 04 July | 14:24
PS - I agree with the sentiment to downsize. We bought a big house in Colorado because it was cheaper than a tiny house in California, and now we have a house full of junk.
posted by lukemeister 04 July | 14:26
Go for it MGL, seriously. Downsizing is a liberating thing. Small is good. Less to heat/cool, furnish and clean. And it *is* a good antidote to packratting things you'll rarely use, if ever.
posted by chewatadistance 04 July | 15:11
Another vote for going for it! It sounds charming and perfect! You'll have to shave your stuff down to what you absolutely love, but there's nothing wrong with that. And if you don't already read Apartment Therapy, it'll be your new best friend.

I love our house, but I'm so jealous of anyone living in a place with character. I still miss the house we missed out on. It would have been perfect! *sob*
posted by deborah 04 July | 15:36
Can I live in a dollhouse?

Hee. I routinely refer to our apartment as "the dollhouse." It's tiny --- and inconveniently laid out, too. And we love it. We did pare down our possessions some, though to be honest, I'm still something of a packrat.

For us, the answer has been to Go Vertical! by having storage (bookcases atop bookcases, 4x4 cubbies) along every wall, under every table and chair (baskets and boxes), and hang things where possible (potrack, pegracks). A friend recently remarked on how perfectly we arranged the living room and bar/study, which tickled me immensely; the furniture and bookcases line every single bit of wall, leaving the barest minimum left for walking around.

If it were me, only the ceilings would give me pause. I hate a ceiling I can touch. But then, The Fella and I are tall: 6'4" and 5'10" respectively, so that's a factor.

Is there a room where you expect to tackle a lot of projects? That's where you really need space. For me, for example: I don't mind having the living room be so tiny, but I miss having a kitchen larger than a walk-in closet. When we're finally househunting someday, I'll remember that. Is there enough space for your favorite activites, whatever they may be?

It sounds like you love it, which says a lot!
posted by Elsa 04 July | 15:54
Square footage sounds fine; I agree with everyone who says it is all about layout and if there are details you love and a liveable layout, it sounds great. I bought both my places based on lovable details and have never regretted it, despite the drawbacks of each one (some of which are immediately noticeable to guests).

I would worry about the low(?) ceiling. I honestly don't know if this is a low ceiling (I've lived in vintage places with 9-12 foot ceilings most of the past decade), but unless there's lots of windows and light, I would worry that it would feel cavelike. Clearly, you've been in it and you know whether or not that's true.
posted by crush-onastick 04 July | 16:01
A bungalow? Come on! Absolutely! They have a great layout and are so livable. Given that it's pre-50s construction, it should be a tank of a house. Yeah, your son's big, but how long will he be living at home?

Both of my two favorite apartments have been about 800SF. With land around and a porch (or maybe you'll get a screenhouse) that's ample. It does keep you from accumulating too much crap and makes periodic purges necessarily. Much easier to keep clean.

Sometimes, a small house is a total blessing for parties. People have to meet and mingle right away; they can't help it; and they can't separate off into groups and look unapproachable. Parties turn into one big, chaotic, multimodal conversation. My last apartment had a reputation as a great place for parties- and basically, we're talking about 20-30 people clustered in one large room. Oddly, it works.

In fact, the upstairs of the last 800SF place was an identical apartment, where a coworker lived with her two teenage daughters. That worked too. As long as everyone has private space and a door to close, small places are fine.

It sounds good, mgl, and way better than renting. AND you like it. No reason not to pursue it - things like this don't come along all that commonly.
posted by Miko 04 July | 22:41
And because we haven't said a whole lot about this aspect: there's a lot that I would (and do) give up for location. For us it's always location first, then the other vitals, and when I've departed from that, I've regretted it. Top of my list are location and light, then kitchen and outdoor space (balconies, usually, where we've lived), then layout, then living room size, then extra, sweet details or amenities.

But I've lived in places that had no bathtubs (just a shower stall), matchbox kitchens, tiny living rooms, and now, for the first time, not a large balcony or patio, but a small terrace - and been very, very happy in most of them, because I was in awe of the location. We've lived in the French Quarter, in Aristotle Square in Thessaloniki (that's a big deal), and now, in Athens, probably the only quiet, serene, charming neighborhood (bar one) that's actually right in the center of the city, and easy walking distance to the Acropolis, etc. We've always had to give up some things to live in the great locations at prices we could afford, but I've never regretted it, as long as we get the must-haves (for us, light, and, say, one or two larger rooms as opposed to a tiny space being cut into many teenyweeny rooms.)

You just need to be sure for yourself that the ceiling height isn't one of those things that will impact you to the degree that it makes the rest not worth it... which is probably a bit difficult to do without living in such a space for a bit. Have you ever lived in a place with low ceilings?
posted by taz 05 July | 03:20
Here's some inspiration - this apartment is 77 square meters (800 square feet), 2 bedrooms, one bath and from the 1940s. getting the right type of 'smallish' couches really makes the place seem larger than it is. All the furniture is smaller (check the thin desk in the bedroom) so it feels like there's ample space for everything, socializing, sleeping, working - very airy isn't it? I'm not the biggest fan of black and white, I think small spaces = cozy and color does everything to make cozy more so.

This one here - is a 1970's building (low ceilings), 3 rooms + kitchen 85 square meters (915 square feet) where a few carefully chosen wallpapers make each area very different.

These guys fit a piano in the bedroom - the 1960s teeny kind - store things in the kitchen couch, have hooks, white cupboards and lots of shelves on the walls (which hide the TV and stuff) and an outrageously nice view. 76,5 mē and great closet spaces. Damn, I want that one. (the bottom images are the guest apartment shared by everyone in the building - you can rent if for a little money if you have inlaws/friends coming to stay). [oh, and that kitchen couch with storage? My daughter has a mini-version, they're great for storing stuff away! Ikea do awesome modern 'old looking' ones that fit tonnes of stuff you might want to check out. They also have beds with either drawers undeneath or where a second matress comes out if there's a slumber party. Tres practical!]

There's a huge "white" trend going on here, where seemingly everyone gets white cabinets and drill them straight into the walls. I'm not the biggest fan of this, though I get the whole 'easy to vacuum underneath' them idea. I am a sucker for 1950s/60s teak furniture though, and they are often done in quite dainty sizes (like that piano) as homes were smaller then. Stuff like the bookshelf and rolling serving tray here for example (and wow, that's cheap only 50.2236 U.S. dollars!)

That kitchen sounds great. I'd use it as an oppertunity to shed stuff and if there are items you're very attached to (like heirloom furniture) maybe save that in storage somewhere for when your son suddenly gets his own apartment and needs stuff.

Just to give you an idea. It's totally doable.
posted by dabitch 05 July | 04:18
ps - Ikea also has headboards for beds with storage-space for books and never underestimate how much crap you can store *under* a bed with their clever roll-out drawers. Be a total nazi when it comes to shoe-storage in the closet as well and you're SET!
posted by dabitch 05 July | 04:37
dangit mygoth, I've now spent waaaaaaaaaaay too much time shopping for smart storage all over ikea and clones, and for wall decorations at blic. When you get the house I'm coming over and helping you decorate! Bungalow here we come!
posted by dabitch 05 July | 05:18
Our house is 1000 square feet, a 12-foot-wide row house in DC, with windows only in the front and back. We think of our yard as huge, but it's only 1300 square feet. We do a lot with that space, but, yeah, "ruthless" is a good term. There are lots of things we could afford to have, but that we simply don't have room for. Every time we buy something, we have to get rid of something else. We don't have space for all of my hobbies, but we manage pretty well. It is, indeed, constricting, but we get to live in a great neighborhood, walking distance from my job and the subway and bus lines and all sorts of shopping.
posted by mrmoonpie 05 July | 15:36
If you feel like it's right, it's right. Moving is a total go with your gut thing. Probably the most gutty thing there is, even out-gutting love, imo.

But you Will. Have. To. Downsize. Greatly. You could possibly look into renting an art studio space - for your project stuff. Heck it might even inspire you to work on the paintings and projects more. I'm talking out of my ass on that one - studio space is probably terribly expensive, but maybe you know someone who would make you one out a room to rent? If you were disciplined about making it a studio and not a self storage, it could work.

Please move. Soon. The rat shitz is freaking me out, and I'm not even there, baby doll.
posted by rainbaby 05 July | 18:13
Your current space is about the size of my apartment now. I have a bit more space, but it's poorly designed with hallways and so on that aren't doing anything, so I'd estimate my usable space to 1250 or so. The place you're looking at is a teensy bit larger than my last apartment. I moved because it was small with one person, packed feeling with two.
I think it depends, a lot, on lifestyle, though. Me, I need space. My sewing machine, fabrics, steels, grommet setters, and so on take up a cabinet and then some when I'm not using them. My roommate is in a band. For us, we prefer the space not to constantly be taking down and getting out things we use at least every other day. And if your son grows another inch or two he'll have to duck so he doesn't hit his head on doorways... and ceiling fans are out of the question with his current height. (I'd say even when he moves not to do any ceiling fixtures- your resale value could be hurt if the ceilings are marred by holes where they were, and even most lights won't give enough safe clearance for taller guys with such low ceilings.)

I don't know... I feel like I'm the lone voice of dissent, but I know there's no way I could downsize to that degree without negatively impacting my life-- getting rid of books, abandoning loved hobbies, to me these are not positive changes.
posted by kellydamnit 05 July | 22:32
From the bad to worse file. || It's really creepy when