Design Ideas

Living Large

Most of us wish our homes were larger. But the obvious solution—building an addition—entails a major commitment of time and money. Moving to a larger home involves even greater costs. So what can you do?

For many people, the most cost-effective strategy is to increase living space without increasing the size of the home. Sound impossible? It’s not.

One way of doing this is to better integrate indoor and outdoor living areas. In many homes, especially those that are a decade old or more, the indoors and outdoors are completely cut off from each other. You’re either indoors doing something indoorsy or you’re outdoors doing something outdoorsy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What if, while you’re cooking dinner, you could look out a large window that allowed you to see trees, grass and flowers? What affect would that have on you? Would it feel like you had a larger kitchen? Would it make the indoors brighter and more open? Often the most dramatic impact of joining together indoor and outdoor spaces is that it changes people’s perceptions.

Architects and designers have understood this for years. If you take a 10 ft. x 15 ft. room with windows and another without and ask people who’ve just been in both rooms, “Which room was larger?” nearly everyone will say the one with windows. Of course it isn’t larger, it just feels larger. So, the simplest way to combine indoor and outdoor spaces is to add or enlarge windows. The bigger the window, the greater the sense of connection people feel with the outdoors.

A similar effect can be achieved with groups of windows. If you take an existing window and add sidelights (vertical windows flanking it on either side) or a semicircular top light, you can really open up and brighten a room.

Sliding glass patio doors not only open up a space visually, but also provide the option of physically connecting the inside with the outdoors. The more accessible you make the outdoors, the more people will move freely from one space to another, essentially expanding the living space of your home. When you find yourself heading outside to open the mail or relax with a glass of ice tea, you’ll begin to fully appreciate the benefits of integrating the spaces.

The other piece of this strategy is to create inviting outdoor venues. Decks, patios and porches provide convenient areas that can serve as living space during nice weather. Roofs and screens can make these spaces useful for an even longer part of the year.

Decks are best when you have uneven ground or when you want a surface that is even with an aboveground floor. While a deck is a sizable investment, the costs are often offset by increased resale value of the home. In any case, a deck costs far less than an addition.

A nice patio doesn’t come cheaply either, but while few people realize it, patios cost far less than grassy areas to maintain. Over the life of a well-built patio, you may find that you more than recoup your construction costs via reduced lawn maintenance expenses.

And, did you know that there are now ways to air condition outdoor spaces? It’s true. People are installing misters. Originally used at commercial sites like sidewalk cafes or amusement parks, these systems are now available in homeowner versions. The simple, water-based systems create a fine spray that instantly evaporates on a hot day.

The evaporation process uses up energy. This, in turn, translates into reduced air temperatures.

To make your outdoor area inviting, furnish it with attractive, comfortable chairs, sofas and tables. There are now stores that sell patio furniture exclusively, so you have more options.

Finally, you’ll want to take another look at your landscaping. Now that you’ll be seeing a lot more of it, you may want to upgrade it so that you create a most appealing venue for your enhanced living spaces.

To be successful, a critical element of any of these enhancements is to make sure you work with professionals so that you get lasting value for your money.

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