Best Tips for Small Apt

Discussion in 'Community Board' started by PatsGirl, Jul 26, 2013.

  1. PatsGirl

    PatsGirl <font color=teal>Kids will write the darndest thin

    Apr 22, 2005
    Hi Everyone:)

    We are contemplating building a garage with an in-law apartment in the next year or so. Town bylaws limit the living space to 600 square feet (among many other regulations, my town is a difficult place to build or remodel in).

    I've spent hours and hours looking over plans on line and think I've come up with something I could live with in that small space. It will definately require the laundry room to be in the garage part but then that means we need interior stairs to the finished apartment. My initial design doesn't include any type of dining room but instead consists of a 7' bar with two chairs. I originally tried to do something with an island (with and without sinks) but I think this works better. We also want the bedroom to be large enough for a king bedroom set that we own already so 15'x12' with a very large closet. Another thing we'd like to include is a desk area and in the bathroom, a large shower (no tub) with bench/seat.

    So, for those of you who live in very small spaces and for those who just have a keen ability to visualize these things....what do you think are the major planning points? Would love all ideas and comments:)
  2. Luv Bunnies

    Luv Bunnies DIS Veteran

    Sep 3, 2006
    Our first home was a 603 sq. ft. condo. The bedroom was a normal size, as were the bathroom and kitchen (normal for a small apt, that is). The living room was on the small side. There was room for a small dining table and 4 chairs in the back of the living room, next to the kitchen. We lived there for 3 years and only sold it because we wanted to start having kids. The space was tight, but it was livable for two of us. There was a stacked washer/dryer in a closet. The bedroom closet covered one entire wall which was nice. I learned to make my own space, like getting a coffee table that had storage space inside.
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  4. Imzadi

    Imzadi ♥ Saved by an angel in a trench coat!

    Oct 29, 2004
    You have to think VERTICALLY. That means using all WALL space - floor to ceiling. No wall space should be left bare. And make sure as many pieces of furniture possible do two things.

    Like that bar better be able to be used as storage underneath. Or, put it on wheels, so it can be moved elsewhere that you need a table/desk or counter space for a bit. Like, can it be a table to do work on, when not being eaten off of? Better yet, can you add drop down leaves, so more people can eat off of it, or be used to work on?

    Go look at the Ikea website. They build almost all of their furniture to do double duty and fit in small spaces. They also have great wall unit designs. (But, the furniture, itself, is not of the best quality and it's cheap particle board. If you have carpenter who can make your own stuff out of real wood, do it. :thumbsup2 )

    Also Google "Ikea Hackers / Hacks. " Those sites/blogs show how inventive people have been, changing the basics of an Ikea item to fit their space or to do what they need it to do instead. Those sites, (there are a few of them) will give great ideas of how to USE your space better. Like using a floor to ceiling Billy bookcase as a room divider, while still holding storage items. Some bookcases and armoires have a fold down shelf that can be used for a desk, then stuff stored away when the desk is not being used.

    Also check out Pinterest for the Ikea Hack pictures.
  5. thedonduck

    thedonduck DIS Veteran

    Jan 16, 2011
    I was going to suggest walking through an Ikea. They have some amazing layouts for small spaces. (I am bit saying to do a full Ikea home if you don't want, but use it as an idea board.
  6. PatsGirl

    PatsGirl <font color=teal>Kids will write the darndest thin

    Apr 22, 2005
    Thank you for the help. I've never been to an Ikea so I'll start there. We're not downsizing too much, I started with a 1200 square foot house and remodeled in 2003 adding another 400 square feet (full bath/laundry) and turned the loft bedroom into an office, adding a master bedroom over the cathedral living room. So, pretty much going back to the original less one bedroom, the laundry room and a much smaller kitchen.

    One thought was to have a gambrel roof so that the two major areas would be "cathedral" or whatever it is called with that type of roof ~ both the bedroom and the kitchen/living space. Does anyone have experience with that? I had a cathedral ceiling in my original 16x16 living room and loved the exposed beams etc (think early 80s lol).
  7. Bob NC

    Bob NC DIS Veteran<br><font color="red">I am a trained pr

    Mar 3, 2000
    Look, everyone knows it's a small apartment.

    I think you get the biggest bang for your buck in a small space by having a large bathroom and kitchen area.

    Since we all know space is limited, we don't need a ton of unnecessary space around the bed.

    We want space in the areas we spend a lot of our waking time. Lots of people spend a lot of time in the kitchen, eating, sitting around the table, etc.

    You spend time every morning in the bath, showering, makeup, etc, if you're crowded then it's not a fun thing.

    I'd rather have a kitchen table than a giant bedroom that I'm asleep in when I'm using it.

    If I have a guest we're likely not going to be sitting in the bedroom.

    Just my .02
  8. tvguy

    tvguy Question anything the facts don't support.

    Dec 15, 2003
    Bob's post brings up a good point. What are your priorities? Or your in-laws priorities, if they are actually going to live there? I say that because I feel differently than Bob. A large bathroom and large kitchen are not what I would want, I would want a large living room and a small kitchen and small bathroom. So start there.

    Then, I'd look at a murphy bed, or a hideabed to maximize open space.
    A small refrigerator, and a stove with 2 burners.

    600 isn't all that small, bigger than a 2 car garage (400 square feet) many apartments are that size. We even had a builder here market 400 square foot condos.
  9. Southernmiss

    Southernmiss I am hazed everyday

    Aug 27, 2011
    Do your in laws have any mobility issues?

    I personally do not like counter height tables or sitting at a counter for long periods of time and I am not that old!
  10. lisaviolet

    lisaviolet Happy DVC Owner

    Jul 9, 2002
    I've owned three condos - first 604 sq feet, second 440 sq feet and this one 420??. Downtown space.


    Points that make a big difference to me in structure:

    * windows - floor to ceiling if possible or wanted - totally expands the space - natural light is a plus here

    *outdoor space - terrace possibilities? I downsized to get more outdoor space and that makes a huge difference. That would add to your 600 sq. food max. They wouldn't consider that, would they? Here they don't. If you do this using plexi-glass as the barrier on the end of it makes a world of difference.

    * high ceilings - if you want the cathedral, okay. But just making it at least 9 feet makes a HUGE difference. HUGE! Can not underestimate that. I would go high and not spend the money with cathedral but that's just me.

    * I have a wall kitchen right now - as in no island at all - straight across and I LOVE IT. Thought I wouldn't - but even if it's messy with things it looks totally neat.

    *use high end choices for backsplash and hardware everywhere and once again go for clean looks etc - makes a difference. Put your money there.

    * I prefer small bedroom, larger living space - wall kitchen and average size bathroom (use high end here if you can - makes a difference). Double sinks would be nice (never had them - just thinking in-laws)

    * I have had stacked washer and dryer and LOVE it. Would get it in a house as well. The W/D has always been in a closet.

    *smoothed ceilings also expands the space.

    *garden doors are lovely for light


    *double duty for sure on many items as was mentioned. I don't have a lot that was expensive. However, I have an expensive, hand made cabinet where my TV sits that flies out on both ends and can sit around 10 people as a table AND HAS but it's small with both flaps down. And it's on wheels. And it has storage on both ends = tons of storage space. :thumbsup2 Let's give another :thumbsup2 for that purchase. :lmao:


    Don't ask - I was showing someone how I asked for a small amount of chocolate for Christmas and received about three of these giant toblerlones. But this is it small and compact and it comes out on both sides - and rolls -to seat 10.

    *shiny surfaces really help - light bouncing off expands space - Look into SHINY WHITE or SHINY ANY COLOUR surfaces for kitchen or furniture at Ikea. You would think it would get dirty/look dirty. It doesn't and it bounces light.

    * anything see through is great - as in table etc They even have see through chairs

    *keeping colour scheme tight - small amount of colours helps. I stay light and airy because I like it

    * wall beds - they even have beds that come out of ottomans now

    * you mentioned a desk area - there are some lovely very narrow desks that can go right at a window - lovely space

    *stainless steel in kitchen once again bounces light and space.

    * don't be afraid of using large pieces in a small space - especially artwork. I have two that are huge and they make the space look very clean.

    *furniture height should be best low back - space has to flow without breaks. I once had a neighbour come up to buy a couch of mine - she argued for about a half an hour with her husband that they didn't live in the exact same suite. THEY DID. :rotfl2: It's all in the lines to make it look like a larger space.

    *smart use of mirrors

    *it's best if furniture has VERY clean lines to expand the space but ignore if that's not your taste

    *when putting artwork and such and shelves - make sure there is one wall that is almost clean. When one's eyes bounces back and forth and not straight down it closes in the space.

    Well, that's just off the top of my head sitting here! :goodvibes
  11. ariel71

    ariel71 DIS Veteran

    Mar 10, 2010
    That was the first thing I thought of - not just now but in the future. Huge implications on the design and may even negate the possibility of an above-garage space being feasible. OP - what exactly is the intent of the space? When you mention things you could live with or want, it seems confusing. Will you be living there, and if so, what happens to the main house?

    As tvguy and Bob NC show, it's all in the eye of the beholder. You need to be thinking of how this space will actually be used by whomever will be living there. Example - It's extremely frustrating to have friends over for dinner when all you have is a bar for seating. That's what I have and I wish I had room for a table instead, even a small one. You don't "need" a laundry room - as Luv Bunnies mentioned, you can put a stacked washer/dryer in a decent sized wall closet. Sure, it's not like I'm thrilled to have smaller appliances, but it's perfectly adequate for one or two people. You don't want to sacrifice real living space for a laundry room or a "very large closet".

    There are many websites out there that have ideas for small living spaces. They might help you envision things a little differently. The most important thing is to really define the function. If this will be for parents, in-laws or anyone who will be getting older, you should definitely consider what will happen down the road. People can have mobility issues long before they are unable to live independently.
  12. The Mystery Machine

    The Mystery Machine Sunrise at my house. :+)

    Jan 4, 2001
    I would get rid of the King Bed and go with something more functional for the space.

    I would probably make it a studio apartment.
  13. TinkerBelled

    TinkerBelled DIS Veteran

    Jun 20, 2011
    Couldn't agree more about the windows and the tall ceilings. The only thing to be careful of is to make sure that the rooms aren't very much taller than they are wide--it can seem a little compartment-like, otherwise.

    I agree that the bedroom should be smaller and the living room bigger. Queen size bed tops. With windows, this can seem a little like a treehouse bedroom, which is nice, but most people spend the majority of their bedroom time asleep and don't need a king. I also agree that a wall kitchen can work very well. You can galley it, or you can do it open-plan with the bar on the other side and storage underneath.

    Clean lines and very few frills. For small spaces, your materials stand out: if you can push your budget, wood, high-end tile, etc. is worth it.

    Freshome has some really nice layouts, although a lot of them are quite Euro. I'm particularly taken with this one, though without the pink:

    [The full list is here:]
  14. minkydog

    minkydog DIS Cast Member

    Dec 8, 2004
    I think this question should go right to the top of your list. I don't know how old your in-laws are or what their health is like. But I can tell you, I'm 56 and already having issues with my knees, and eventually will need knee replacements. At the moment, I can still do stairs but I don't like them--my knees hurt going up AND going down. I can see the day coming when I'm going to have to move to a one-level, step-less home. The thought of negotiating a long flight of stairs twice a day would be daunting, to say the least.
  15. Jaya

    Jaya DIS Veteran

    Apr 24, 2012
    If this is for your in-laws, you might want to look at making the stairs wide enough to accommodate a lift-chair installation somewhere along the line. Stairs with a bend make this more difficult and expensive. Also, make the shower a handicapped-accessible shower. It's a lot cheaper to do that in the first place than to have to rip out the original one and have a roll-in shower installed. Make sure the toilet is situated so that grab bars could be installed or to ensure there is enough room for a raised toilet seat surround. Counter seating only would be difficult for a wheelchair-bound diner. A table would be better.
  16. ksjayhawks

    ksjayhawks DIS Veteran

    Feb 14, 2004
    You have been given many great ideas--taller ceilings, thinking vertically, double usage for items, etc. I would use a stackable w/d combo. Also agree with having the steps wide enough for a lift system later on if needed and with putting more space in the living area. Sitting at a bar to eat every meal would get old after awhile. A small table and chairs wouldn't take up much room and could be used for other things beside eating.

    google 600 square foot house or apartment and you will find many websites with plans.
  17. PatsGirl

    PatsGirl <font color=teal>Kids will write the darndest thin

    Apr 22, 2005
    FWIW, this is for us to use as a seasonal home once we retire. No in-laws will be living in it (I hope lol). We are thinking about renting our primary home and living full time in the apartment while DD is in college, so basically taking two years to complete the process and then live there full time for four years and then hopefully just six months/year during the warmer months. As for mobility for us and stair use in the future, the design is to build the garage into a slopeside so only 4-5 steps into the apartment.

    I like the idea of bright/white use, higher ceilings and floor-ceiling windows ~ would french doors be included? We can't switch to a stackable, my husband is an auto tech and is pretty big so right now he has his own extra large/duty washer and dryer in our basement and I use the stackables in the master bath:thumbsup2 He wouldn't be able to fit two work outfits in there lol. Same goes with the king bed, but I would prefer a queen so I think maybe I'll start with that small change and he can adapt:laughing:

    When I originally started planning/thinking, I wrote down our living "habits"; ie., how often do we use that dining table vs sitting at the bar or in front of the television? Turns out not very often at all and probably even less once DD is off to school. How much space do we really use in the living room? Really not much, we have two loveseats that face each other with a coffee table between them and a big screen television to the side. Other than that, its all eye candy and not really functional.

    Keep the ideas coming, I love them. And I love the link to that apartment:thumbsup2
  18. Darcy03231

    Darcy03231 DIS Veteran

    Nov 1, 2006
    HGTV (I think) used to have a show about living in small spaces. Maybe you could find some of the episodes on-line and watch them for ideas.

    Last night on "you live in what?" there was a woman who lived in a caboose. I believe it was less than 400 sq and she used every inch. It was really interesting to see how she fit everything in there.
  19. sunshinehighway

    sunshinehighway Registered

    Mar 11, 2010
    What about keeping the main living open? There are quite a few converted factories into loft type apartments in my area and with everything being open, there seems to be more versatility in what one can do with the space. You could use furniture and things like room dividers to make the space work for you and change as your needs change.
  20. StitchesGr8Fan

    StitchesGr8Fan DIS Veteran

    Jul 17, 2009
    Don't forget to plan for a space for your DD to stay when she is home from college if that is your plan.
  21. PatsGirl

    PatsGirl <font color=teal>Kids will write the darndest thin

    Apr 22, 2005
    We are going to finish one half of the garage space into a large bonus room with full bath and Murphy bed. When she is home summers and the holidays, it will be her space, when she is not it will be my husband's music studio. That's another reason it is necessary to have interior stairs from the garage to the apt.:)

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