By Laura Schlereth
With budgets tighter than ever these days, more and more people are purchasing smaller homes. But that doesn’t mean they expect less out of their living space.
"The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is falling away," says Jake Fry, owner of Smallworks, a Vancouver-based laneway homebuilder. "Especially in an area where the land value is increasing, people are looking to see how they can use their space more effectively."
Even with less space at their disposal, builders must find ways to make their homes stand out from the crowd and be useful to homeowners for longer periods of time.
Quality finishing: What homeowners can’t have in space, they hope to make up for in quality, says Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA). Because they have less space to furnish, they like to spend more money on quality decorative pieces. "We’re seeing more hard-surface countertops, hardwood floors, crown molding and higher baseboards," Simpson says. People are also spending more time on paint choices because there are so many options available in color, texture and environmentally friendly choices, he says. Although companies are upping the budget for finishing, in the end, this spending can help companies gain an advantage over the competition, Simpson says.
Using the nooks and crannies: Smaller homes mean builders are looking for every opportunity to create more space. "A nook that would have been drywalled over becomes an opportunity for a shoe rack, umbrella stand or spice rack," Fry says. If nooks and crannies don’t exist, Fry says many homeowners opt for built-ins that are flush with the wall so they don’t take up any additional space. "There’s more built into the house," he says. "The whole space is designed as functional with everything working as a system."
Open spaces: The industry is seeing a trend toward higher ceilings and rooms that are open to the rest of the house. People no longer feel the need for formal living or dining areas, says Neil Chrystal, president of Polygon Homes, a leading B.C. builder. They’re much more comfortable, for example, having their kitchen open up to a single dining room that opens up to a less formal family room instead of a traditional living room. This openness, together with the more common use of laminate or wood flooring, helps create the feeling of a larger space—bigger windows can also help create this feeling. "By opening up more to the outside, the space looks even bigger," Simpson says. And because windows have become more energy efficient and airtight, larger windows are being used more often.
Outdoor living areas: With smaller indoor spaces, people are spending more time outside than ever. "It’s expanding the living space," Simpson says. This means builders should consider installing high-quality fencing, decks and pergolas to create more intimate sitting areas. Or, for a more high-end feel, they can try outdoor kitchens with cabinets, refrigerators and grills, or an outdoor theater with a television and sound system.
Finished basements: Long gone are the days when basements were used only for storage. "In the old days, a basement was known as a cellar, and no one went there unless there was a furnace problem," Simpson says. "But now they’re nicely finished and serving as a family room or an extra bedroom."
Multipurpose rooms: John Friswell, president and owner of CCI Renovations in North Vancouver and second vice president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, says one room now can serve many purposes. For example, a "flex space," as he calls it, can act as both a home office and a kids play area.
Energy-efficient heating and lighting: Energy efficiency is on everyone’s mind—especially homeowners who plan to be in a space long term. "Understanding payback in areas of heating and lighting is important," Friswell says. "It’s not necessarily a cheaper option [at first], but in a short period, the savings will be in their pocket." However, if it’s only a starter home, Chrystal says homeowners must weigh the higher cost of the initial investment against the monthly savings. Usually, investing in energy efficiency isn’t a top priority for homeowners who may be thinking of living in the home for a short period of time. Still, Chrystal says basic energy savers, such as EnergyGuide appliances and low-flow fixtures, are becoming standard in today’s homes.
When designing a space, big or small, it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open with today’s highly informed customers because they have more informed opinions than ever. "People have much more access and research capabilities with the Internet and are researching what they want," Simpson says.
And what they want are spacious smaller spaces, built on affordable design ideas.