bigger isn't always better

For so long we've been obsessed with a desire to have the biggest and the best, but what if we could have the best without it being the biggest? It's time to shift your mindset from wants to needs if you want the most livable family home. It's a theory I applied to my own house when it was designed.

When we started designing, we had a list of what we wanted and needed. It was too long and so we cut it back where we could – starting with the "wants". 

When I grew up, I lived in a suburban house of approximately 110 square metres with my parents and two brothers. My childhood home included three bedrooms, a kitchen/meals area, a bathroom, laundry and lounge/dining, a house and land package purchased for its affordability.

Yes, it was small, and there were issues with the design, The halls, for instance, were excessive and used up much needed living space while the kitchen/meals area felt isolated from the other living areas, and the only access to the rear yard was through the laundry which caused issues when using the rear yard area.

It housed three young boys, each within four years of each other. Compact, yes; poorly designed, yes – but it was a lot of fun and I wanted the feeling of family and fun replicated in my own home.

Like many homeowners, I had to consider the size of the mortgage, land availability and the need to live in a specific area. With the cost of land limiting our site options, building in a backyard became the only viable option. A plot was found, purchased and the design work began.

After chopping the wants off of our list, what we were left with were three bedrooms, a kitchen and a meals/living area, as well as two bathrooms and a single-car garage that is now being converted into my office.

All of this had been squeezed into a modest 110 square metres. Effectively, the same size as my childhood home and it works remarkably well.

I avoided wasting space, other than a small entry foyer that leads past the office door and into the main kitchen and living area, as well as a small hall area (1.0 metres by 1.5 metres).

The entire living area, approximately nine metres in length, flows within itself and onto the rear yard area. A raised ceiling above the kitchen allowed for added airflow in summer with a series of north-facing highlight windows creating a unique stack effect, which aids in venting hot air from the home during summer. 

Even cutting out all the wants and focusing our attention on making the home livable, there were still three significant hurdles.

Light and ventilation

Due to the location of the second bedroom, bringing light and ventilation into the room was tricky. The kitchen was to one side, while the boundary wall of the home was to the other. The solution was to lift the ceiling in line with the raised kitchen roof and include highlight windows to the north.

Extension capacity

The second design issue was the need to be able to extend with minimal fuss in the future as needed. The solution was to pre-engineer the slab and framing over the lounge area to take an upper floor should there be a need in the future to add space. 

Master bedroom access

The final issue was how to access the master bedroom, which sits behind the rear kitchen wall, without reducing the living area or second bedroom in size. The solution was to place a cabinetry door between the outside rear yard wall and the fridge alcove. When viewed from the living area it looks as if it is a pantry door. It has been affectionately named "The Doorway To Narnia" or "The Panic Room".

Not only is the home better as a result of these decisions, but wasted space has been reduced and we have the capacity to expand in the future. Bigger isn't always better – it pays dividends to consider your needs first.