Her main message is that instead of going for a huge house, people might be happier in a well-designed, slightly smaller one, with the extra money going into details that delight. She lamented how much money gets wasted on rarely used formal dining rooms, exercise rooms, formal living rooms, guest bedrooms and other square footage inflators. I noted that this might be true, but that presumably many of the folks hiring a star architect penning best-selling books didn’t have to worry about such things. Susanka agreed, but said that even her clients with unlimited budgets “like their houses better when there is an everyday use for every space.” Indeed, the goal is to “use every square foot every day.”
These words were ringing in my ears as my husband and I then proceeded to purchase our house. Moving from a city apartment to the suburbs, we had no idea how much space was right, and our new house did have some of those rooms that Susanka mentioned as problematic. We did some renovations at the time, and over the last nine years have done some bigger projects. We were expecting our third baby at the time; we’ve gone on to have two more. With the most recent one’s arrival, I’ve been thinking about our house and our use of space as we’ve pondered whether we can stay in this home or need to move or renovate or what. I’ve realized that with our family of seven, and with our lives, we have pretty much hit Susanka’s ideal. We use (almost!) every room every day.
That usual unused space — the home office — gets used 40 hours a week in my case. We put built-in bookcases into what would be the formal living room, and it has become the library. This is where people go to read while others are watching TV in the family room. The piano is there, so it gets used for daily music practice. We have extended family gatherings over meals in the dining room, but in between those times it has become the official homework table (the kids don’t have desks in their rooms), as well as the game and puzzle room. Some kid may also retreat in there with a device while others are in the family room. With five kids, the need for space to retreat — while still being near everyone else — comes up a lot!
The guest bedroom is my husband’s office. My husband and I have also realized that, deeply as we love each other, we don’t always sleep well in the same bed, and so it winds up as sleeping space too with reasonable frequency. The basement is in daily use as a playroom. It also has both a treadmill (which we use) and a gaming computer plus X-Box and whoa…do those ever get used! (Not always just by the children).
This leaves one small side room in the basement that does not get used. Theoretically with a lot of work it could be a bedroom but…not really. At the moment it’s storage.
Anyway, as I’ve been looking at house listings I’ve realized that ours does work pretty well for us. If we stay here the kids will be sharing bedrooms, but I could probably figure out some bedroom designs that will allow for privacy while maximizing shared space. That, at least, would be a lot cheaper than moving or renovating…
Do you use every room, every day? Are there spaces that you have converted to be more useful? I realize this is definitely a suburban issue. When we lived in a NYC apartment we most definitely used every inch every day. Indeed, many of us using the exact same inches is one of the reasons we wound up moving….
*Also known as the book of mine you are least likely to have read….