Small home living: not `downsizing’ but `right-sizing’

With the current trend toward de-cluttering and downsizing, there are plenty of books about how to winnow down possessions to the few that are truly necessary and loved. This book shows how you can live well once that’s done.

In “Downsize: Living Large in a Small House” (2019, The Taunton Press), author Sheri Koones focuses on practical ways to live well at home once you’ve streamlined your belongings and are living more compactly.

“It scares people to think of moving into a smaller space, but every single person I interviewed who has made the transition says they are so happy they did,” Koones says. “Time and again, people used the word ‘liberated’ to describe their move to a smaller space, with homes requiring far less time and money to maintain.”

Koones, who recently relocated from a sprawling 6,800-square-foot house in Greenwich, Connecticut, to a 1,400-square-foot home closer to town, has experienced the transition herself.

“It’s not just empty nesters anymore,” she adds. “Younger people too are in couples where they’re both working, they’re having children later, they want to be active and they don’t want to be doing maintenance on the weekends. They don’t want to be tied down to mowing lawns and doing all the other chores that come with living in a big house.”

Living more sustainably and saving on energy costs is also part of the attraction of downsizing, Koones says.

So is aging in place. There are people of all ages looking for features like a master bedroom on the main floor, or barrier-free showers.

“Yes, older people with disabilities need them, but even younger people break a leg skiing, or have situations where they want a barrier-free shower,” she says.

The book features photos and illustrations of 33 well-designed small homes in urban and rural settings in the U.S. and Canada. It examines the features that make each home a success, with advice aimed at those building, renovating or even just organizing their homes.

Some of the features that Koones says can make a small home feel more spacious:

- raised ceilings, well-positioned windows and light wall colors.

- multifunctional furniture, like tiny kitchen tables that can expand to accommodate dinner guests.

- flexible rooms that can serve as office, bedroom and hobby room, for example. One house featured in the book has a garage with light fixtures and doors that open in front and back so that it doubles as an entertaining space.

- creative storage ideas, like chairs that can hang on wall pegs, hooks for bicycles, and making the best use of alcoves or space under stairs.

- fewer hallways, which allows for more livable space.

Koones details specific types of roofs (like standing-seam metal roofs), flooring (concrete) and heating systems that are more energy-efficient and low-maintenance.

“The key is to have a home that is efficiently designed, both in terms of energy use and in terms of space,” she says.

“I refer to it as ‘downsizing,’ but a better word for it might be ‘right-sizing.’ For most of history, houses were more modestly proportioned, and we lived quite comfortably in those smaller homes. Over time houses got too big. Now the trend is heading toward smaller again.”