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Monthly Archives: March 2013

The skinny on a West Coast Urban Longhouse

Pam Chilton is a residential building designer and owner of Zimba Design. Recently, a home design of hers won a B.C. Wood Design Award for innovative use of wood in the construction of a home in North Vancouver.

But I don’t think that was the most interesting part of the this handsome little house.  The “Urban Longhouse” is only 15 feet wide — and those are the exterior dimensions!

UrbanLonghouseExt

 

The use of wood plus up-to-the-minute construction techniques allowed them to make the home stylish and comfortable, and it is great to see how they managed to match the ambience of the neighbourhood — embracing both modern and traditional designs.

The trick was building the home on a lot that was just 25 feet wide.

Inside the use of natural materials was continued — as were the clean lines.

UrbanLonghouseInt

 

Read Pam Chilton’s article in BC Living to get the whole story.

Once again, the strict parameters of the design lead to creativity and innovation.  Well done, and congratulations not just to Zimba Design, but to the lucky home owners who can enjoy this house!

Teeny homes with charm

While modern homes may be getting smaller, they still have a ways to go before they are as small as the homes our great-grandparents lived in. If they came from the old country, they were likely living in cottages or row houses.  I remember seeing the little row house where my great-grandparents lived, as gardeners and servants to the neighbouring estate.  Three up and three down — and they raised six kids!

And many were even smaller.

Even when they moved to North America, our families lived in little houses (at least in the cities).

NOLAThanks to Gizmodo for that picture of houses in New Orleans.

And of more pictures of adorable little homes.

By building our home smaller, we’re not just embracing the future, we are saluting the past!

 

Shrinking house plans

Did you know houses were actually shrinking?  Not the houses themselves, of course, but the plans for new homes are getting smaller.

Here’s an explanation in graphic form from Houseplans.co.

small-house-plans-infographic
Visit their site for the whole story.

440 square feet in Brooklyn

By now you may have noted my interest in other people’s small spaces — and more importantly, what they’ve done with them.

Brooklyn2

This story on Apartment Therapy is about a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York, that still manages to feel (in the words of the article) “comfortable and roomy”.

That bold shot of colour emphasizes the other white walls.  If they’d tried to put it elsewhere it would have made the “choppiness” of the other walls very obvious.  But now, everything flows. And keeping the curtain that blocks off the bedroom area of this studio the same colour as the walls adds to that flow.

In this shot, you see that the main room only has two smallish windows, 

Brooklyn3

But it still feels light and airy.

Read the article and see all the rooms in this home.  It’s a good lesson in living with less.

Create your own micro-apartment right in our own home town

Micro-apartments are finally coming into their own.

Of course, the idea is not just to move into a tiny space–we’ve all done that at one time or another.  Futon sleeping in a studio apartment–been there! Along with the milk-bottle-case bookshelves and the wine-bottle candle holders.  But we’re grown-ups now and we want some style.  Small style.

But let’s just say that you want to live in a very expensive part of town (this is Vancouver–every part is expensive). Or you spend a lot of time out and about and you just can’t see why you need to pay top dollar for space that sits empty for most of the day. Then get the smallest apartment in the nicest neighbourhood and create your very own micro-apartment.

The idea is to get the very most out of the least amount of space.  And according to Life Edited, it’s doable.

In their guide to 8 tips for making your own micro apartment,tip 1 is

Pick a good address. We think small spaces work best when you use your city or town as your living room.

This is a no-brainer.  But it doesn’t necessarily mean moving to the pricier areas like Kitsilano, Kerrisdale, Gastown or Yaletown. Cambie Street has lots of great shops and restaurants.   And Commercial Drive has always been a pretty happening place. A few years ago, Main Street was not a particularly great area — but now it’s very hot.

Pick a good size:

about 250-400 sq ft for singles; 300-600 for couples; 500 + for families

And shape:

 In general, square and rectangular spaces are ideal.

Then furnish it — thoughtfully.  As in tip 4:

Get a Murphy Bed. It’s the single easiest way of creating space without sacrificing function. A queen size bed is about 35 sq ft.–i.e. 10% of a 350 sq ft space; a 10% used exclusively while unconscious.

They advise that while opting for a really gorgeous unit like the Swing Bed is a great solution.

SwingBedIt’s also 10 grand.  American dollars. But relax, they also point out that you can build your own for around $275.

Lots of great ideas at the site.

And remember the folks who always encouraged us to live in small spaces, IKEA

Inspired to create your own little space yet?  Remember — you can live large in a small space. Right in your own home town.

Why is it so hard to find a place to rent in Vancouver?

So our condo has sold.  Yeah!  Also Argh!  Now I have to find another place to live for about six months while our adorable laneway home is being built.

The rental situation around Vancouver is pretty dire.  We will be OK for three very good reasons:  we have over two months until we have to move to find a place; we don’t have to find the apartment-of-our-dreams, just someplace temporary (and who can’t put up with a cramped/stuffy/ugly place for six months?); and this is the time of year when University students give up their apartments and move home for the summer, freeing up some prime spots.

Plus we are going to bug all our friends to help us find a place.

But we are hindered by the fact that there just aren’t enough rental options in our town.  And it turns out that some of those condos that could be rented are sitting empty.

A few years ago, some friends of ours downsized out of their house and bought a beeyutiful condo high in a building right on Coal Harbour here in Vancouver.  The view was spectacular, walls of floor-to-ceiling windows looking east up Indian Arm.  But they sold after they’d been there a couple of years and moved to a neighbourhood on Vancouver Island.  Because the condo building was practically empty.  Sure, there was no one using the pool when you wanted to do your morning laps.  And you never had to wait for an elevator.  But it was creepy to know that you were the only occupied apartment on the entire floor.

So it looks like people want to own property downtown — they just don’t want to live there.  Which is silly because it’s a lovely spot.

CoalHarbour

In this story on her blog, Frances Bula explains the problem.

Now you might think, well, what’s the problem?  These people are paying taxes, what difference does it make whether or not they live there more than a couple of weeks a year?

For one, it makes a difference to the businesses around the empty buildings.

In Coal Harbour, where up to one in four condos is empty in the tower-dominated waterfront neighbourhood between Stanley Park and the downtown convention centre, the scattered shops in the area often struggle to stay in business. By contrast, the West End, which has a low rate of empty residential units, is bounded by three streets – Davie, Denman, and Robson – that are packed with busy small shops and restaurants.

Those little shops are what keeps a neighbourhood vibrant. And if those home-owners were here, they’d be spending money and helping the local economy grow.  Which they are not.

Also

Housing analyst Tsur Somerville, director of UBC’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said the data he has seen also indicate that Vancouver built more housing in the 2006-2011 period than the number of new households that were added to the city’s ranks.

That means investors. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as those units are occupied, said Mr. Somerville, also on the panel.

“The problem is vacant units since that’s demand for real estate without housing people.”

Since the subprime-mortgage-led housing collapse in the US, it’s become obvious that housing as investment can be a volatile commodity — just like any other investment — ruled by supply and demand.  Do we really want to encourage a situation where thousands of units suddenly come on the market because Vancouver no longer seems like a great place to stay? Or because the economic situation in the investors’ home country, thousands of miles from here, determines whether or not those properties go on the market?

The housing market around here is weird enough without any more problems.

And in the meantime — does anybody know about a place to rent?

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Mid-century modern inspiration

Man oh madman, I love mid-century modern decor.  Uncluttered, sleek, lots of natural light and wood.

I don’t have to tell you that’s what I want in our new place.

Over at Small House Bliss, Frank and Mili have a great story on the historic Hailey Residence in the Hollywood Hills.  Go to their blog for the full story (BTW, are you following their blog? because it is a never-ending cornucopia of great small-house ideas). But here is a shot that is truly inspiring:

richard-neutra-hailey-residence-dining-to-den-via-smallhouseblissLook at the light, the style — the space they’ve put into a small area, without sacrificing that clean aesthetic

I dream of sipping my pre-prandial martini in a room with that much style packed into a tiny space.

 

Vancouver Architects like Laneways

Whenever I tell anyone we are going to build a laneway home, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive.  It seems that everyone can see the advantage to living smaller, to living closer to family (“but not too close!”) and to the increased density in neighbourhoods.

This story in the Globe and Mail outlines why laneway homes are becoming so popular in our city, and not just with the home-owners and the builders.

G&Mstory

Vancouver architects are supporting the idea, too.

Typical is this comment from architect Shelley Craig

“Anything that increases density and allows for more equitable distribution of units on a lot,” she says, “will be welcome.”

The new laws will create more interesting, socially and environmentally sustainable neighbourhoods, she contends, and will “instantly double or triple the number of families and/or dwelling units in large swathes of single-family zoned neighbourhoods in the city.”

They will keep neighbourhoods “young and affordable,” she maintains, with increased floor area allowing for larger units and “different family situations to be accommodated.”

And in East Vancouver,

Tej Singh of Simplex Home Design sees it as a more sustainable solution to intergenerational living.

The architectural technologist whose company builds single-family homes in Vancouver and India, as well as some laneway housing here, notes that traditionally South Asian families prefer larger footprint, multistorey dwellings where different generations can live together.

But since the new proposal was announced, he says, several clients with pre-existing plans for single-family homes called to switch from parking garages to laneway homes.

In addition to being a smaller footprint and creating a more pleasing streetscape, laneway housing, he notes, offers privacy. “Families can live together – just not necessarily under one roof.”

I mentioned before that our plans have been greeted with enthusiasm by the reviewers at City Hall, who welcome the fresh ideas. Shelley Craig has a good idea to encourage more innovative design

“The city should consider staging a design competition for the most innovative green design of a laneway home,” she muses.

Doing what scares you

The good news is that we have accepted an offer on our place.  The fingers will not be uncrossed until Sunday, if/when the subjects are removed, but the situation looks good.

And bad.  It’s a real emotional roller coaster.  I’m glad we can move on with our plans, but I’m sad that we are leaving the place we love so much.  I’m excited about our plans, but I’m apprehensive about all the things I have to get done.  Plus I’m scared.

So why am I so unnerved?

Because I don’t do change very well.  I stay in the same job (11 years in my previous job).  I live in one place (14 years in a housing co-op before I moved here 13 years ago).  I even wear the same clothes year after year.

Momentum, even forward momentum, is a little scary for me.  And that’s one of the reasons why I have to do this.

This change is not just going to be a new address — not even a new size and shape of home.  It’s going to be living with less stuff (my comfortable layer of stuff), saving more money, little changes that lead to big changes like more travel and yes, adventure. One tiny step at a time I am moving my life in a whole new direction.

So I want to know — how do other people handle change?  In this article at Wise Bread, one of the most important things to remember is

Remember That It’s Okay To Be Scared

Trying new things is exhilarating for some, scary for others. Whether you are truly thrilled or massively intimidated, don’t let (irrational) fear stop you.

It’s also good to remember something I learned a long time ago and had somehow forgotten: In life, as in riding roller-coasters, it’s good to know you are safe, but if you’re not a little scared it’s just not as much fun.

600 square feet — 2 bedrooms — two boys

Judy Ross lives in Manhattan with two young sons.  And her place looks great.  Just 600 square feet she has managed to fit in so much storage that her home looks tidy and spacious even while filling the place with lovely artwork and objets.

Judy-R-HT07_rect640

How did she do it?  She ran her apartment like a ship.

Check out her story on Apartment Therapy and be inspired to create your very own small space. PS.  It’s a rental apartment.

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