Not every activity needs a room to itself; whenever you can make one space or one item serve more than one function, you’ve saved yourself room and money. A window seat can be a cozy reading nook or conversation alcove while remaining part of a larger family room; it can also be a guest bed, and the space underneath can be used for storage. Desk spaces for sorting mail, paying bills, and using the computer can be built into a cabinet or closet, allowing you to change a room’s use by simply opening a door. Look for ways to turn “wasted space” into a special place: a reading corner, a home office, built-in storage.

If you want to divide a room, you may not need to build a wall. A freestanding bookshelf or tall cabinet can do the job if acoustic separation isn’t required; just be sure to bolt it to an adjacent wall in earthquake country. Strategically placed openings can provide selective views into the adjacent space, making both spaces appear larger.

Space-saving furniture can add flexibility with little or no construction. Consider pull-out surfaces, much like the traditional pull-out cutting board in kitchens. These can be used to extend a coffee table for game-playing space, or to extend the work surface in a home office. Dining tables with leaves that pull out or fold up are another classic example. A fold-down ironing board can disappear into the wall.

Sometimes a “micro-addition” is all a room needs. You can save a lot of money and natural resources by cantilevering a small area beyond an existing exterior wall to add a window seat or closet, without adding a new foundation.

Family Room or Great Room

Family and great rooms are used in many ways as families grow and change. Over time, a family may use the space as a toddler’s playroom, a place to play games or watch movies together, the teenagers’ hangout, a corner for paying bills or doing homework, and a place to hold adult parties or community meetings. Finding creative ways to accommodate many uses may let you avoid building an addition.

You may want a different feel for different activities. Let’s say you like your family room to be a comfortable, casual space—but when you invite business colleagues over, you want it to feel a bit more formal. You can save space and even change the mood of the room on an as-needed basis by

  • hiding the TV in a cabinet;
  • tossing toys into an ottoman that doubles as storage space; or
  • making your messy bill-paying desk disappear behind a closet door.

Bedrooms

It is currently fashionable to have a master bedroom suite with a study and large walk-in closets. These features can be accommodated in less space with such creative solutions as

  • a window seat or reading nook;
  • an alcove for a computer; or
  • storage for out-of-season clothes outside the heated area.

Even small kids’ bedrooms can comfortably accommodate many uses:

  • Kids love using the three-dimensional space of a room. Bunk beds are an old standby solution for a shared bedroom. A new variation for a solo room is to build in a homework desk or closet under a raised bed.
  • For a shared bedroom, curtained sleeping alcoves give each child a private space, leaving the middle of the room for playing together. Storage cabinets above and below each bed save even more space.

Bathroom

Bathrooms can feel luxurious without taking up a lot of room. Good natural lighting and plenty of storage space will make even a small bathroom feel accommodating. If you crave a soaking tub, look for a smaller version to save space and water. There are also smaller toilets and sinks; they’re just as useful as standard-size ones, but they take up less room.

Need another bathroom and don’t know where to put it? One family slipped a small half-bath into the space under the stairway. The space is only 30 inches wide, but it works because they used a combination lavatory and toilet. The lavatory sits on top of the toilet tank, and the hand-washing water is reused for flushing.

Storage

Storage areas are essential, but they’re often lacking or used poorly. Good storage can make a home function smoothly. It can also keep you from building more house than you really need.

First, look at what you’re storing. Are you holding on to stuff that would be better off finding a new home? Are you keeping things inside the house that could just as easily be stored in the garage or a shed?

Next, consider some creative storage ideas. Kitchen storage tricks can be applied in other rooms. You can make your linen or bedroom closet as efficient as a pantry, with shelves on the doors and slide-out shelves. Look for any hollow space that could be turned into storage. Build bookshelves between studs of interior walls; use chest beds that have drawers underneath; install full-depth drawers in the space under the low end of a stairway.

Look outside the heated area of your home for low-cost storage opportunities to free up house space. Maybe there is room on your back porch to add a storage closet for durable items. You might want to build a storage shed in the yard or install floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets in the garage. If your garage has a high ceiling, you might be able to add a storage mezzanine.

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