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Category Archives: Small House

Why I love my bathroom

I want to write a love letter to my WC.  I’ve been away from home this summer, using different bathrooms and I came to realize all the things I truly love about my bathroom. I realized how perfectly it fit our needs, and how easy it is to keep clean and bright. And if you are planning to remodel or build a new powder room maybe you can use some of the solutions we found for our severe lack of space.

We all want the bathroom of our dreams. Some of us dream big;
BathLuxurySome of us have more modest dreams:

Bathmodest

But as you can imagine, for our laneway home we had to make some sacrifices.  Because our bathroom is eensy, weensy, teensy.  Seriously, check out the plans.

PlansLower

The bathroom is less than 8 feet wide.  So it took some planning to get everything we wanted into the room. But we did!

One of the features that we appreciate so much is the radiant floor heating.  We moved into our place in winter, and we couldn’t believe the difference it makes to your comfort.

In our planning with the designer we ditched the tub.  We prefer a shower so it would be a waste of precious, precious space to put in a tub.  Then we decided to keep everything square and linear.  We wanted subway tiles to line the shower, nothing fancy that dates so quickly, just the classics.  Honeycomb tiles on the floor of the shower to help make it less slippery.

BathTiil

Nice and clean looking.  Plus the clear glass doors make it look as if the shower is part of the whole room, there’s no visual separation.  And we have a handy niche to hold our shower needs.

BathNicheBetter

There are those honeycomb tiles again.  Having that little shelf seems like such a no-brainer, but DH’s shower in our old condo didn’t have one.  It makes a huge difference.  You’ll also note that we empty our shampoo, conditioner, and body wash into little bottles (from the dollar store) which keeps the space looking less cluttered.

The shower itself delivers what we really want — comfort.  We have a rain-shower head — one of the first things to go on our list of features we wanted. We also have a shower wand for when we want to pretend it’s a microphone. C’mon who doesn’t do that when they’re singing in the shower?

BathRain

The controls let us set the most comfortable temperature, and turn it on immediately without fussing and fidgeting.

BathControl

Square shape again — see?  It keeps the look uncluttered.

The toilet also has features we want — clean lines right down to the floor, and the seat closes with a gentle movement (the first days of my holiday were spent apologizing for noisily dropping the toilet seat cover, I was so used to it dropping softly onto the seat at home).   Yes, it’s a little thing, as is the feature that the whole seat lifts off the toilet for super-easy cleaning — but it’s just one of the things I love about our bathroom.

While we were on the Heritage Foundation’s laneway house tour two years ago, we saw the IKEA Godmorgen system.  We loved it at first sight — clean lines, storage space, and it floats above the floor to give the illusion of more space.  We also solved the problem of having no room for sconces beside the bathroom mirror with a great mirror with the lights built right in.

Bathsink

Again, square towel and toilet roll holders.  Square faucet and tap.  There’s also something in our bathroom that I never thought I needed — a clock.  The light/fan switch has a little digital clock to control the fan for ventilation purposes, and it’s so handy!  Up in the middle of the night — check out how long you can sleep before the alarm goes off.  Getting ready for work?  You can schedule your makeup/hair time and NEVER BE LATE AGAIN!

In this shot you can see the little square tiles on the floor — they are quite slip proof when wet, another safety feature as we age in place in this space.

Storage is always at a premium in any bathroom — so our designer, Laurel, found a great way to increase ours.  There’s an inset in the wall the bathroom shares with the washer/dryer closet.  And into it, Laurel placed two IKEA Lillangen cabinets with mirror doors.

BathCabinet

As well as giving us lots of storage space, the cabinets give us a full length mirror.  There’s practically no other space for a big mirror, so this is really appreciated.  Plus it reflects the light and brightens the whole room.

We bought all white towels for the new bath — gave away all our multi-coloured towels to keep things beautifully clean and white.  Plus if one gets stained it’s easily replaced — white always goes with white.

There’s also something Laurel suggested that we had never heard of — lockable valve boxes set into the wall for storage.

Bathboxes

We can lock our prescription drugs away for when the little ones are around.  They’re also handy for holding our jewellery when we’re not wearing it.

It’s so indicative of the comfort and ease we find in our home that our bathroom (is it still a bathroom without a bath) is so perfect for us.  Hope you can find a couple of good ideas to incorporate in yours!

Small summer homes

We’ve found we are getting out and about much more this summer — and I know why.  It’s because we’re living in such a small house.  We used to spend most of our Saturdays cleaning up our two-bedroom, two-bathroom carpeted home.  Then would come a weekly shop. But now our cleaning routine is over in less than an hour, and since our fridge can’t hold a week’s worth of groceries we’ve replaced the big shopping trips with smaller, more frequent ones. So now we have a lot more time on our weekends and we’re spending it outside; at the summer festivals around town, free concerts, events in local parks, farmers’ markets. That’s a lot different than my childhood weekends, when the whole family headed up to beautiful Christina Lake and the cabin our Dad built on the water. Christina I often think of those days and wish I could have another cottage on a lake or tucked into the woods, just a small one of course! Thanks to Tiny House Talk for giving me some ideas. If we wanted to try it on a temporary basis, we could rent one of these Tiny Houses available for vacations. Like this adorable gingerbread house in a grove. small-cottage-in-washington-600x400   It’s right in our neighbourhood.  If we wanted to go a little farther we could stay in this fairy-tale cottage in Austria. small-Austrian-cottage   But if we wanted to build our own vacation home, why not put up a pre-fab dome house? lexa-dome-tiny-home-600x416   It’s got lots of charm, and a doable floor plan. lexa_26_ft_dia_540_sq_ft_1_floor_2 I can just see it sitting beside a pond, or nestled into a copse of trees.  The dome roof would be great for the heavy snows we get in the local mountains. As sweet as this pre-fab is, and as convenient, we might want to go completely Hobbit! In New Zealand, someone has built a home out of earth. Earth-dome They have big plans for making it larger.  For more information, see this:

Portland, Oregon says yes to laneway houses

Vancouver is certainly not the only city facing problems of scarce, expensive housing.  Nor is it the only city responding to those problems by building laneway or infill houses.

PortlandADU

In Portland, Oregon, these homes are called ADUs — Accessory Dwelling Units.  Unlike the laneway homes we know and love in Vancouver, they also include basement suites in this category.  And unlike the process here in Vancouver for laneway homes when you build an ADU in Portland they waive the permit fees.

That’s right — the city waives the permit fees for new infill buildings.

According to this story in the Tribune, in Portland that can save you between $8,000 and $11,000. That development permit waiver started as a pilot project in 2010, and was continued in 2013.  In Vancouver a similar program would mean savings of around $20,000 per laneway house.

There seems to be little pushback in Portland from people living in the neighbourhoods — of course you can purchase a perfectly lovely home in that city for about $300K.  And people recognize that the smaller buildings are much greener than large buildings using fewer resources to build and maintain. The state has its own Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and their spokesperson said,

“Smaller homes have significant environmental benefits compared to other green building strategies. Building small is a very green thing to do,” says Palmeri.

As this story in the Tribune put it

Regardless of their size, ADUs are generally more environmentally friendly than a new home built in a traditional subdivision. They require no new land, less building materials and energy usage. They help Portland and the metro area meet population growth needs without developing farm land. Putting those residents in existing neighborhoods reduces sprawl and vehicle miles traveled, easing road congestion.

A recent survey by the DEQ found

the mean cost for an ADU is nearly $78,000, with about a quarter costing more than $120,000.

“That’s a lot of money for a lot of people,” says Palmeri.

In our neighbourhood numbers like that would have us drooling.  It would take a lot of number-crunching and cost-counting to bring in a laneway house for $120,000.

I would welcome a survey such as the DEQ conducted right here.  It would be interesting to find out how laneways are being used. In Portland, Ashland, and Eugene the survey found

 81 percent of ADUs in all three cities are used as primary residences, only 18 percent of occupants are family members and 53 percent of occupants were strangers when they moved in. And the majority of owners in all three cities — slightly more than 50 percent — built them for the additional rental income.

Lean, green, income generating machines.  It’s great to see how laneway houses can improve cities — and lives.

Mixin’ in the kitchen

Apartment Therapy is a great source for info on small spaces.  Let’s face it — most apartments are small.  That means getting clever with organization and use of space.

With my mind on kitchens, I was looking through some tiny apartments in Apartment Therapy to see what people have done with these spaces.

Apartment kitchens are usually pretty dull for two reasons — a) they are tiny, and b) they are full of things that are expensive to install and replace — appliances, cupboards, floors.  So most apartment kitchens start off fairly…..pedestrian.

Go nuts.

Go nuts.

Those white/almond cupboards with the wood trim?  Fairly ubiquitous.  This owner has kept the accessories white to add to the feeling of cohesion and spaciousness.  It’s tidy and pleasant, and the upper cupboards go right to the ceiling rather than have that dust-collecting shelf at the top.

But there are obviously strict limitations.  In this suite, they’ve put the kitchen in the space under the sleeping loft, which means it’s basically the foyer as well.

ATKitchen1

The owner has colour-coordinated the accessories, which is nice, but it’s clearly meant to be as unobtrusive as possible.

This tenant has managed to infuse some colour and pattern into the basic white of their kitchen with beautiful handles:

ATKitchen3

But some people infuse their spaces with their personalities by going all out with eccentric chachkis:


ATKitchen4

 

I sense a religious theme:

ATKitchen4.2

I think that’s a better use of space than putting your extra casseroles up there.

A studio suite in a basement has a lot to overcome.  Renter Laura Lee has brightened her windowless kitchen with well, stuff:

ATKitchen6

Sometimes plain is a good thing.  These renters have played off the white of their kitchen by keeping to silver and black — continuing the sleek modernism of the rest of their loft.

ATKitchen5.2

Even the rag rug keeps it clean and simple in the kitchen:

ATKitchen5

 

When we were planning our laneway, we wanted a nice kitchen.  You have to compromise, but the kitchen was not the place we wanted to do that.  Instead we sacrificed a “living room” for a more spacious cooking and eating area.

Want to see it?

Kitchen1

Photo courtesy of Novell Design Build.

That huge counter with the waterfalled edge?  We wanted that.  It gives us a comfortable place to sit and eat, plus lots of room for cooking and baking (and sewing and writing blog posts on the laptop.)

You can see how light and bright it is.

Kitchen2

Photo courtesy of Novell Design Build.

And there really is tons of storage.  A pull-out spice shelf, appliance garage, plus deep drawers for our dishes and pots.

This is what it means to have a custom kitchen built just for us.  I’m sure you will look at that kitchen and think “I would have done things differently.”  Well you can!  We wanted this, and we got it, thanks to good work from our designer, our builder, and our custom cabinet maker.

We change up the accessories to add more personality to the space.  And we keep it very, very tidy.

The kitchen is the heart of the home, and we wanted one that would inspire us every day.

Someone’s in the kitchen I know-oh-oh-oh

When I am not strumming on my old banjo (which is totally not something I do) I like to cook.  And I like to eat.  So a well-designed and -equipped kitchen was tops on the list of what DH and I wanted in the laneway home. Some laneways have tiny galley kitchens, but we wanted one with all the bells and whistles.

And we got it!

The appliances are small but they are efficient and the design has made us more efficient.

It was while I was unloading our adorable little drawer dishwasher by Fisher and Paykel that I realized it wasn’t just its size and efficiency I loved — it was also its location.

Isn't it cute?

Isn’t it cute?

When it came to the under-counter storage I knew I wanted drawers for storing my dishes and cooking utensils rather than cupboards.  Drawers give you access to the complete space, pulled out into the light.  No more rooting around in dark corners — everything is right there.  And when I am unloading the dishwasher, having the dish storage just beside it makes putting everything away a dream. Or at least less of a nightmare.

It also helps that the dishwasher is placed just under the counter, so there’s less bending and stooping.

It takes a few minutes to unload the dishwasher and then it’s ready to hold the next meal’s worth of plates, etc. There are never any dishes sitting on the counter waiting to be cleaned or put away.  And it’s changed our lives!

Because here’s the funny part — in our old home we hardly ever used the dishwasher.  DH hates to have dirty dishes sitting all day waiting for the machine to be filled up so it can be run (he can hear the germs multiplying) so he washed them up after every meal (note:  I did not wash them, he did.) But then we had dishes sitting in the rack on our counter all day. The smaller size of our new dishwasher means we do smaller loads more frequently — perfect for the life we lead.

In her blog Nesting Place the Nester talks about her battle with the dishwasher —

For some reason unloading the dishwasher is a dreaded chore in our house.

It’s a pain to dread something that needs to be done daily.

When I dread something that needs to be done daily, it’s a red flag. It’s an opportunity to evaluate if I’m helping or hurting the situation just by something simple that I can change. 

So she reorganized her kitchen so the dish storage was next to the dishwasher and voila!  The chore that everyone was dreading a lot became just another small thing to be done.

Dishwasher unloading takes about 90 seconds and even the 16-year-old thanked me for planning out the kitchen to make unloading the dishwasher super fast and non-dread-inducing.

Do read the whole post at her blog. And when designing a space — whether it’s your kitchen or your bath or your foyer — remember to design around how you want it to work, not just how you want it to look.

 

 

How does our garden grow?

Yesterday I went with DD to the store and bought my first pair of gardening gloves.  Plus a bag of potting soil.  Then, while she carefully delineated and planted her first sowing of vegetables in a narrow strip by the sidewalk, I planted eight little pots with herbs.

The promise of herbs to come

The promise of herbs to come

Yup, I gardened.

One thing that you should definitely know if you are planning to build a laneway house (and I hope you are!) is that landscaping is a very important part of the process. I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating, you have to have a plan.

In the regulations it says quite clearly

11.3.3 Except as provided for elsewhere in this section, the setback area shall be fully graded and
landscaped with trees, shrubs and lawn to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning.

11.3.4 The following may be permitted within the landscaped setback area by the Director of
Planning:
(a) statuary, fountains and other objects of art;
(b) open ornamental fences if necessary for the protection and preservation of landscaping or
permitted objects of art;
(c) walks or driveways which in the opinion of the Director of Planning may be required to
provide direct access to any building or use on the site.

That’s bureaucrat for “you need some plants here, people”.

In the application for your building permit you must include

Landscape plan should include the following:
□ Plant/ Tree list (common & botanical name,
size, quantity)
□ Plant list symbols keyed to the plan
□ Indicate soft and hard landscaping

And not just any plants, either.  They want you to plant with five factors in mind:

1) low-maintenance,
2) drought-tolerance &
hardiness,
3) scale (all plants under 3ft
high not including vines &
climbers),
4) availability, and
5) variety & interest

And in the Guide the City of Vancouver provides they even list some plants that take these factors into consideration.

With the help of our landscaper Amro and his team, we have fulfilled the promise of our original plan.  We have a plum tree

Which will look like this when it's all grown up

Which will look like this when it’s all grown up

And on the laneway, we have our tall grasses, our lavender, creeping thyme and our beauty berry plants

Beauty

Also not at this luxurious stage as yet — but will be!

When you are planning your laneside plantings, you are not allowed to put in anything that will obscure the front.  We originally  wanted to put in some tall bamboo in a little hedge, but it was pointed out that would provide the perfect hiding place for someone who wanted to break into our place or who wanted to give us a little surprise when we came to the front door.

As well, because the occupants of the laneway, us, are family, we do not have to have a specially dedicated area of yard just for us — but if we ever want to rent the place out we will need to have a clearly defined area of yard just for the laneway tenants.

It’s also very important to remember that your landscaping should be substantially in place before final inspection is completed.  So unless there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it’s expected that your plants will all be planted and your land will be scaped.

When planning your walkways, sidewalks have to provide a hard surface from the street in front of the main house right to the lane and the laneway door — no meandering gravel walks — for emergency services to get to the laneway if they are needed.

When you are planning your laneway build keep all this in mind.  Just as with the design of the home itself the landscaping design has strict rules to follow, but you’ll end up with a space you really love.

 

13 Reasons Why Smaller Is Better

Many years ago I was walking down a residential street here in Vancouver with a much younger friend of mine.  We were both looking at the houses, stating our preferences.  I was rather surprised to learn that she wanted a big house.  Not just big, not just huge, a monster house. The kind of house that takes up most of the lot, that overwhelms the space.

MonsterHouse

Know what I mean?

She said she wasn’t planning a large family, or to live in a multi-generation situation.  She just liked big houses.

I thought she was out of her mind.  I still do.  Smaller houses are best.

There, I’ve said it.  And I am prepared to back it up.

Northern Homesteader got me started with 12 Reasons to Live in a Smaller House – other than money.  Here’s her list, with my comments.

1. A small house is cozy

In a big house you have to find your cozy spots, create them with an overstuffed chair or a window seat.  But a small house is all cozy corners and intimate spaces.

2. A small house is warmer in the winter

It takes less than 10 minutes for our house to get warm on a cold morning.  The radiant heat works beautifully, and there are no cold corners.  In fact the laneway house is so energy-efficient that we turn down the heat to 16(C) in the afternoon so it doesn’t get uncomfortably hot.

3. A small house is easier to decorate

Even if you are going for a bohemian style with every flat surface covered in pictures and knick-knacks, decorating a small house takes less time and energy.  Even painting a room takes less time.  And you’ll need fewer cushions, fewer paintings, and fewer area rugs.  So if you want to completely change the look you can do it over a weekend.

4. A small house is faster to clean

Our former condo was only 1100 square feet, but it had two full baths and miles of carpeting.  To clean it up used to take us most of Saturday.  Now we can be out of here in less than an hour, with every surface sparkling and every floor damp-mopped.

5. A small house builds relationships

It’s funny, when you have a big home, how little time you spend in the same room as another person.  You might drift through the kitchen while your husband makes dinner to grab a glass of wine before you go back to watching the news in the front room, but you don’t actually have that much face time.  But in our laneway, I can be in the “sitting room” doing the crossword while DH is making dinner, and we are sharing and chatting, and sometimes watching the news together.  Yet when we want some private time there is always a little corner where we can be alone.

6. A small house inspires ideas and creativity

In our condo we had storage space galore.  Closets stuffed with clothes we didn’t need any more, an entire storage room just for stuff, 50% of which we didn’t use.  But now we have to find storage in every nook and cranny.  The space under the stairs.  the space in the stairs. And since more of our stuff is on display we have to find ways to make it attractive.  There’s a reason I keep watching those decorating shows.

7. A small house prevents clutter

We used to have a pile of papers in the kitchen.  Also one in the front hall.  And one in each bedroom.  No more!  I keep a (lovely) basket where I put all the papers that come into the house.  Once a week I go through it and toss what we don’t need and file what we do.  Bills and bank statements I get online so there’s less paper coming in. Clutter makes a small house look very messy.  It also makes a large house look very messy, but there’s more places to hide it.

8. A small house feels securer

When DH is out I know I just have to lock the two doors and this place is a fortress.  No dark corners or iffy locks.

9. A small house helps to live simple

Maybe that’s not your goal.  Maybe you look for ways to complicate your life.  But buying less, cleaning less, fussing less is what I want.

10. A small house is freeing

I thought it was funny when I read this — because that is exactly how I feel!  Less stuff makes you feel freer.  It’s part of 9., but it’s more than that, too.

11. A small house encourages more time outdoors

Last week I was feeling a bit closed-in.  You can feel that in a large space, too, but I knew what I needed, a brisk walk to the store.  Our small fridge means we buy less, and shop more often.  So we get out every day.

12. A small house takes up less space

The blogger at Northern Homestead loves her garden space.  And she’s not going to sacrifice it to gain more housing square footage.  We like the garden space we share with the main house — their back yard is actually bigger than it was before we built the laneway here because there was a big concrete slab where the house sits.

Twelve good reasons to have a small house, but I’ve thought of a 13th.

13. Smaller ecological footprint

Building the house took fewer resources than building a large house.  That’s a good enough reason to build small.  But running it takes fewer resources, too.  Heating, cooking, running the washer and dryer all take less energy than a larger house with large appliances uses.  If we want to be responsible energy consumers that is one more reason to live in a small house.

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