Creative ways to deal with small house bluesSharing space requires compromise. Remember how your college roommate sometimes got on your nerves? Then, you could simply go for a walk, head to the library to study, or put on your earphones and turn up the volume. At home with your beloved, the solutions are not as simple. In order to preserve and protect that loving relationship when your home’s seams seem about to burst, it’s necessary to work at finding inventive solutions.

A Too Small House Accentuates Differences

Today’s homes are trending smaller, and the popularity of open floor plans can mean more togetherness than is comfortable. The era of rambling ranches with unused dining rooms, formal living rooms and designated guest bedrooms is over. Newer homes may be green, efficient and easy to live in, but they often lack the attics, nooks, pantries and storage closets that your grandparents’ homes commonly had. If you live in an older home, chances are some rooms are smaller than you would like — the master bathroom, for instance. And there is never enough storage!

Space problems stem from many situations: Misjudging the usable space of a “cute” starter home, accumulating “stuff” as the years pass, a growing family or changing needs. Some couples choose consciously to downsize for whatever reason. Hobbies, homework and working at home are notable for “eating up” available space, as is the space that is devoted to actual eating. A dining table that must serve as desk, game station and family catch-all is a problem.

What’s a Couple to Do?

If you are plagued by shrinking space and fraying nerves, you have options. Professional architects and designers will look at your space from a fresh perspective, and their stock-in-trade is creative space-making. Designing a kitchen island with a bar counter, adding a planning desk in a corner, or mounting a television on the wall may be easy solutions.

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of rethinking to visualize new function. Knock out a single wall; carve a half-bath out of a former closet; take part of a wide hallway for a home office. Each can work wonders and increase a small home’s livability.

Look up, literally, to see additional possibilities. Without changing the roof line, you might be able to increase the volume of a living room. Floor to ceiling bookshelves are practical as well as pretty; Large windows not only bring light into a home, but also create an illusion of more space. Create an “outdoor room” to expand living space by adding a ramada; or install a patio fireplace, wall or fountain.

Think in terms of personal space:

  • Half walls and compartmentalized fixtures improve function in small bathrooms. Include individual storage if possible.
  • Install closet systems or stacked hanging rods and cubbies in small closets.
  • Use open shelving and baskets to provide catch-all space for each family member: In the laundry room, in a garage, by the back door, in bedrooms.
  • Take a lesson from yachts and sailboats: Designate places for everything, and return items to where they belong after every use.
  • Celebrate your differences: A morning person and a night owl can share sleeping space effectively. Provide a comfy chair in another room for late-night reading or early-morning coffee drinking.
  • Share what you can share, but embrace your own interests. Hobbies are healthy and emotionally satisfying. Make room for them.

Remember that a home, just like a marriage, is a work in progress. Emotional space is as important as physical space, and it’s not necessary to think only in terms of moving, major remodeling or expensive additions. As you work on finding ways to live together in a smaller space, it might evolve to feel “just right.”

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