Project Planning…

Since we are planning the renovation of our main floor rooms, I pulled out my notes from years of reading and researching the whole “living small” thing. A lot of my notes and ideas are taken from architect/author Sarah Susanka books.


Here are my favorite principles from the Not So Big books:

  1. Choose quality over quantity – less square footage – better quality materials and fixtures – more beauty with unique and inspired details.
  2. Nine foot ceilings make spaces feel good/roomy.
  3. Flexible spaces allow for changing lifestyle demands.
  4. Open living spaces offer shared views and daylight – and allow living spaces to expand as needed.
  5. Adequate storage space relieves the burden on main living areas, enabling those spaces to remain open and free of clutter.
  6. Access to outdoor living areas increases the perception of space and improves comfort.
  7. The combination of warm, natural materials and modern fixtures/details creates an inviting mix of styles that appeals to both modern and traditional sensibilities.
  8. Natural light is the best – optimize it whenever possible.
  9. A consistent/uniform design element carried throughout the entire house will create nice flow and pull together all the spaces. In our house, we have chosen the woodwork (baseboards and window/door/opening trim) as our uniform design element – it is the same in every room.
  10. Utilize creative people who take pride in their work – buy stuff from these craftspeople and artisans.

I try to implement these ideas with all my projects – as applicable to the project – and no matter how small the project.

These principles seem pretty common sense. The principles also seem easy to implement. However, past experience has taught me that it isn’t as easy to implement as one would think. It feels like the planners and builders all want go cheap and easy – because, I think, they think we all want cheap and easy. I think that is a bummer.

Higher ceiling heights, more windows, larger windows, pocket doors, and unpainted woodwork and cabinetry all translate to higher labor and supply costs. As a result, planners and builders tend to want to minimize windows, put in regular swing doors even when there isn’t enough space, and slap up painted trim/baseboard/cabinetry.

I have been to a number of houses owned by planners and builders. They don’t preach what they practice. Most have great windows, pocket doors everywhere, beautiful unpainted woodwork and cabinetry – AND a bunch of other nice stuff like quartz countertops, walls without knockdown texture, recessed lighting in every room, exposed brick walls, accordion patio doors, etc. Let’s all take a lesson from this!

Ok. Time to step off my soapbox.

On to the actual planning for our project…

As you might recall from almost a year ago, we got started on the planning of our main level renovation. Then, Tad and I had a few conflicting thoughts on the project. I honestly thought we would have actually been done with the project by now.  Ha Ha!

Finally, we hired an architect because we thought we had made all the major decisions and we just needed some construction drawings – so we could get a permit – and get started. We don’t have any construction drawings yet. This isn’t the architect’s fault. This is our fault. The architect presented some alternate ideas. Some of these ideas have been great. Some of them not so great. Despite not implementing all his ideas, I have mostly appreciated the process. I think it will make the outcome of our project much better.

We thought we had debated all the new bathroom layouts and decided on the final one. Lo and behold, the architect offered some other options for our redo that we didn’t completely consider with the initial debate. After some discussion, we ended up liking some of his ideas. 

This is the layout we had previously settled on…Scan 14

Now we have decided this is a better use of the space after considering the architect’s suggestions.


This layout moves the vanity from a niche to the outside wall next to the tub/ shower area. This allows a more comfortably sized vanity – from 27″ wide to 38″ wide. That is pretty significant when you are talking about maximizing storage.

This new layout also spurred a discussion about the bedroom closet space (and how it wasn’t all that useful with the previous layout). This new layout eliminates the initial vanity bump back into the bedroom closet space so we can create a bedroom built in with drawers in addition to hanging space.

Main floor revision


Closet storage goes from 40″ to 63″. Again, the additional 23″ is pretty significant since I was wanting to maximize storage. About half of that will be hanging space and the other half will be a built in with drawer space. This will be beneficial since the room is small and eliminating the need for a dresser will be important in allowing for decent circulation around the room.

The drawing below is the elevation of the guest bedroom closet wall. I am pretty excited about the way it is going to look. The door on the left is the pocket door into the bathroom. The center is obviously the built in with drawers and a spot for the television (because you know we can’t have a room without a television in this house). Behind the door on the right is the hanging clothes part of the closet. We talked about a barn door for the closet – because I love barn doors.  Instead, I was talked into going with a regular sliding closet door. I like how organized and well thought out this looks. And – I already have a barn door in the house – I don’t really need another one if it doesn’t make sense…


The bathroom storage was moved from a separate shallow wall cabinet to below the vanity in the form of drawers. The drawing below shows 3 drawers – I think 2 deeper drawers will be more useful.  So, we will go with 2 deep drawers. The storage space will be about the same amount as previously planned – just more useful – I think – I hope.

The architect tried to talk us into a corner shower and no tub. Tad and I both agree that a tub shower combo seems more comfortable and visually appealing in this space. We also felt like we wanted a tub somewhere in the house – just in case – even though we aren’t tub people.

You might notice that the drawing below shows a 10″ soffit above the vanity and shower. Initially, the architect had an even larger soffit. He says that this saves money on tile and is kind of a standard design detail. Interesting thought, but Tad and I weren’t convinced. We will spend a little extra money on tile in exchange for higher ceilings and the feel of a larger space. We will have 9 foot ceilings in the bathroom – and no soffit.


During one of our meetings with the architect we were trying to brainstorm what to do in our living room to add some type of architectural detail. We talked about beams. We talked about a vaulted ceiling. We talked about different ceiling treatments. We talked about crown moulding. We talked about a lot stuff. Eventually, Tad came up with the idea to mimic the post and beam detail of our existing kitchen opening…



along the long living room that has the entryway and bedroom openings. Instead of two small doorway openings,


we will have a long beam with simple trim detail that will highlight the high ceilings – and hopefully, create the illusion of greater space in the entryway and tiny vestibule/hallway to the bedrooms. I think I am more excited about this than any other thing associated with the project – even if it was Tad’s idea :)


In summary…

  • We thought we had thought of everything. Come to find out, there were additional fresh ideas out there that we hadn’t considered.  The money spent on the architect has been well worth it. The additional ideas and suggestions have been greatly appreciated.
  • The principles from the Not So Big books are tried and true. These principles have guided us through a number of successful projects. I am pretty sure the principles won’t lead us astray this time either.
  • More to come as we actually get into the project – like the pocket door vs. swing door debate. I think pocket doors get a bad rap. In fact, I used to be a non-believer. I am now pro pocket door.