This Tuesday has me thinking about home renovation, thanks to my recent trip to my parents' home for Thanksgiving weekend. Ever since my younger sister moved out of the house several years ago, my mom and dad have been debating whether they should move to a new home or renovate the one they've got. Despite the fact that they never seem to fully settle the debate, they continue doing home renovations and improvements that make moving out less likely. And it makes a lot of sense. Their house is great—it's in excellent condition, it's a good size and it's in a great neighborhood. But since there are no kids left in the house, they're left with more rooms than they regularly need, but less space than they'd like in the rooms they use often. This brought to mind the excellent article by my friend Wanda Urbanska in the current issue. In Space Case, we talk about how to reconfigure your home to suit your needs at any time of life. Forget resale value! Forget the old-fashioned requirements of a dining room, study, guest room and office. Designing a home for the typical suburban family with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths is a thing of the past! In a poor real estate market, your home is far more valuable to you as a haven that nurtures your life and its goals than as a commodity you're ready to flip at the drop of a hat. So embrace your life and your home (and have some fun) by suiting your home to your lifestyle.
Here are a few of my favorite tips for customizing your home to your life:
1) Embrace your hobby. Are you an avid gardener, a craft-enthusiast, a knitter, seamstress, baker or candlestick-maker? Dedicate a space in your house to your hobbies. If you have a rarely used guest room, turn it into a dedicated craft room by putting in a desk, shelves or bins for organization, and proper lighting. Hang an inspiration board to motivate you.
2) Knock it out. One housing trend that doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon is a preference for an open floor plan. Any time you can open up your home, it helps make it feel larger (long views trick the eye into perceiving a larger space) and brighter, because sunshine can travel unimpeded throughout the house. Taking out whole walls, parts of walls or even making cut-through spaces from room to room will make your home feel brighter and more modern, and it will also pay off in the real estate market should you decide to sell down the road.
3) Seek out wasted space. Sometimes we become blind to wasted spaces in our homes because we're used to things as they are. If you live in a tight space, consider ways you can tuck new functions into existing spaces. A corner of the living room can become an office area if you separate it with a pretty privacy screen. A mud room or entryway can house a garden-supply nook if you buy a table with a few drawers and install some shelves on the wall.
4) Divide and conquer. Another smart idea for empty-nesters in a poor real-estate market? Create a rental unit within your current home. I have a friend who is in her 50s. The kids have moved out and she's single, yet her gorgeous house is nearly paid off and in a fantastic neighborhood. Because she bought the place a few decades ago, she would be spending nearly double her mortgage to rent a decent apartment, yet she feels like a pinball bouncing around in the too-large space. If you have a few spare rooms with access to a bathroom, reconfiguring your house to accommodate a small rental unit (by adding a new exterior entrance and a kitchenette) may not be that difficult. Plus, it will provide extra income as well as a built-in housesitter if you travel.
5) Small wonders. Of course, you don't have to do a major reconfiguration to make yourself happier with your home. Simply rearranging your furniture, reupholstering a few pieces, clearing clutter or swapping rooms can give you the feeling of a new space. A fresh coat of paint is another quick way to transform the look of a room. (Make sure to use zero-VOC paints to preserve your indoor air quality.)