Architecture & Design and Real Estate

Big design ideas fill smaller homes

Flexible features are part of residential ‘rightsizing’ trend.

June 10, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Architects are making better use of space with simple elements, such as seating areas in kitchens for informal meals. Courtesy Visbeen Architects Inc.

The increase in downtown living might be an indication, but an area architect said downsizing is up-trending in standalone homes as well.

Wayne Visbeen, principal of Grand Rapids-based Visbeen Architects Inc., said his top two trends in home design are storage solutions and downsizing — or as he calls it, “rightsizing” — which go hand-in-hand. Visbeen has designed more than 1,000 residences across the country, including many extravagant homes for the rich and famous.

Big houses have been all the rage for a few decades, but that could be changing.

Visbeen said more clients are asking for smaller homes, whether because they are trendy or because of high construction, labor and real estate costs.

“Our design process lends itself to rightsizing,” he said. “We can have that conversation of (whether) you really need that space.”

One of the most common rooms he found himself talking people out of: dining rooms.

He said many families don’t use the dining room enough to justify it. For example, he said if six people eat in a dining room together six times a year, the homeowner could save money by eliminating the dining room and paying for 36 dinners per year at such high-end eateries as Ruth’s Chris Steak House or The Chop House.

Instead of a dining room, he suggests adding extra space for a nicer dining area in the kitchen. Kitchens are also being shrunk by adding “extensive butler pantries” with counter space for a mixer, coffee pot and toaster.

Visbeen also finds himself designing more combined spaces, such as a seating area off of a bedroom that can be separated and opened up toward a living room. The combining of rooms can be done with pocket doors, swinging doors and moveable walls, a trend on the rise in urban living that also can apply to standalone homes.

“One room, two purposes,” Visbeen said. “You get the luxury of a bedroom sitting room but can also enlarge your living space during the day.”

Another area he’s designing more frequently is a place to enjoy the outdoors. This can include a porch with drop-down screens that can open up into a living room with a door-wall. The outdoor trend also coincides with Visbeen’s use of fireplaces.

Downsizing should involve using new spaces, such as extending a staircase a few feet to include a sitting area, desk or library, Visbeen said. Other thoughtfully designed spaces that might not take up a lot of room include laundry rooms and “home control centers” — small desk areas for tasks such as doing the bills.

“People are celebrating the places where they spend time doing work by making them nicer places,” Visbeen said. “It’s all so they can enjoy the work.”

Driving many of the trends Visbeen sees are baby boomers who either want to spend the remainder of their lives in their current home or build one they can do so in. He’s designed homes with a shaft for a future elevator that in the meantime serves as a big linen cabinet, pantry and game closet stacked on three floors.

“You have baby boomers wondering what it’s like to live in a home as they age,” Visbeen said. “Most will never put an elevator in, but the potential for a future elevator is great for peace of mind and resale value.”

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