Living Small Sucks!

Are you suffering from the Big Living Small House Syndrome?

Is this you or someone you know?

Imagine you live in a charming 1950’s cracker box of a house that’s in a great location, but too small for your family.Things are piling up everywhere. Summer stuff can’t get out of the way of winter stuff—there’s clutter everywhere. Arrrgh! Cookware goes from use, to wash to use without ever seeing a cabinet because they wouldn’t fit anyway. You look into it but find your property is too small for another bird feeder let alone a 10-ft. bump-out.So you look to move only to discover the closest move up opportunities are a 4-hour work commute away!

You are in good company, even if you don’t live in a cracker box. Stuck and fresh out of ideas, many Twin City homeowners are looking for practical guidance to solve the “Big Living-Small House Syndrome”. Wouldn’t you know it; we’ve got plenty to share….


Not so much think outside the box as think outside the home you know


“The first thing you want to do,” says Murphy Bros. design/build consultant Theresa Mann, “ is to literally think outside your house. By that I mean stop thinking in terms of what’s already there and start identifying what you find attractive and engaging in other spaces, regardless of their size.”

Mann is talking about the unnatural, but essential act of disconnecting from your current view of your home, especially in terms of the layout of walls and hallways. “Too often homeowners can’t see how much room can be created by simply removing a wall, or extending a wall to make better use of wasted space,” explains Mann.

“You’ve got to understand how homes and lifestyles in that era are connected to understand why they were built that way. From there you can see what’s possible to overcome these inadequacies in today’s lifestyle,” explains Mann.“For instance, in those days people stored their stuff in their furniture, their hutches and wardrobes.So, you didn’t need all the cabinetry we have today to store our digital potato peelers and food processors.Kitchens were simple, utilitarian, and small compared to today,” says



Mann’s latest project is a 1950’s north metro kitchen/bath project surrounded by blocks of similarly constructed homes with small kitchens and even smaller main floor bathrooms.

“I could walk into just about every home on that block and identify the same dead hallway space that we decided to wall off in order to expand the internal footprint of the client’s bathroom,” explains Mann, “Which people viewed in much the same utilitarian way they did their kitchens.”

Homeowners naturally struggle to see the possibilities of rearranging the interior layout. “That kind of x-ray vision is more of superman thing than a homeowner thing,” says Mann.“As design/build consultants, we practice looking at spaces with an eye towards the aesthetics, possibilities and the technical challenges that might constrain those potentials. Is there a vent pipe in that wall or electrical that might get in the way? There’s dozens of things in, behind, underneath, connected to space that could dramatically impact what the budget can afford.”




Since smaller homes are most likely from past design eras, homeowners have to come to terms with what they want to keep and what goes modern. Mann suggests recent developments in surface materials, especially in flooring, make it far easier to pay homage to past eras, but that tends to be a more expensive route.She says it’s best to decide early how much you want to replicate or save and how much can transition or be consolidated to contemporary style.


Website heat map showing heavier traffic in red.



It’s a website term referring to the digital study of user interaction with a web page content.What gets clicked on frequently is hot, shows red, what doesn’t is blue.Remodeling designers basically do the same thing with a homeowner’s behavior in their home.


“In this particular remodel,” explains Mann, “Our clients were constantly on what I’d call an Easter egg hunt in their kitchen for cooking spices.Where’s the basil, this drawer or that one? How about that one? Nope.Duly noted.Add new design Pull out spice rack next to stove—check.” recalls Mann. “In some cases whole layout is simply inefficient. The sink is too far from the fridge or the microwave is taking up needed work surface real estate. Getting things more and more efficient creates or I should say frees up a ton of new space that couldn’t be seen before,” explains Mann, “Where should the microwave go wasn’t even a question in 1954. Heck we didn’t have color TV until the early 50’s!”


3-D rendering of current project


“In this particular remodel,” explains Mann, “Our clients were constantly on what I’d call an Easter egg hunt in their kitchen for cooking spices.Where’s the basil, this drawer or that one? How about that one? Nope.Duly noted.Add new design Pull out spice rack next to stove—check.” recalls Mann. “In some cases whole layout is simply inefficient. The sink is too far from the fridge or the microwave is taking up needed work surface real estate. Getting things more and more efficient creates or I should say frees up a ton of new space that couldn’t be seen before,” explains Mann, “Where should the microwave go wasn’t even a question in 1954.Heck we didn’t have color TV until the early 50’s!”


When your coffee maker lives on the kitchen floor, you know it's time to "rethink your space."


One unforeseen outcome of a small house remodel is the junk that seems to appear out of nowhere. “Before the remodel,” says Mann, “Homeowners typically store, or rather pile is a better term, the stuff in their day to day life in corners and on top of open surfaces. It’s one sign that we look for in evaluating space usage


After remodel—new everything, from surfaces to work flow.


The thing is, once we recreate a more efficient space that junk could easily find it’s way into those new storage spaces. Which is fine if you want to keep storing junk. But I urge my clients to think about what’s really worth having around and what really is just junk and shouldn’t have a reservation in the new space,” explains Mann.



Before & After remodel— that's an old freezer and fireplace, which was inoperative. The freezer went to the basement and the fireplace went to the dumpster AND NOT back in the basement to keep the freezer company.


“It’s a big de-cluttering opportunity that will further enhance the future storage capacity of the remodel. I mean, seriously, why go through the expense and inconvenience of a remodel only to find your new storage capacity is already full?”


An example of what planned organization looks like. Kind of soothing isn't it?


It might make your head hurt a little, but thinking about what might be next on your list of home improvements is always the smart move that more often than not pays off in dollars and sense—both the common kind and the monetary kind.

In this particular project Mann asked the homeowner what other projects might be in the offing. They identified a new 2nd floor bathroom as next on the list.So what does that have to do with a kitchen and main floor bath remodel?Think water and electrical capacity.

“Since they added a dishwasher to the current remodel and expect to add new shower use to the upstairs remodel, I suggested they think of upgrading to an aging 50 gallon water heater to a 75 or 100 gallon unit. Doing so would also suggest an additional sub panel to carry the expected future load,” explains Mann.

So, in conclusion, if you live in a 50’s cracker box consider these approaches before you get too far down the remodeling road—get unstuck, see through walls, pick an era, heat map your day, plan for junk, and get future smart. And of course, call us to help.


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