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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Divide and Conquer

It all started innocently enough. We had a family of five and our house was effectively a 3 bedroom home and we get heaps of visitors- as I have most of my family and friends living abroad. So a kid sleeping on the couch became tedious. We needed more space
. Our cottage of 1300 sq ft sits on a huge 14,000 sq ft lot. We could add on. We hired a popular designer who dealt with bespoke developement- meaning tailored to meet individual needs. Off we went.
Rather than being constrained with a budget, we told him "design what we need and want and we will do it when we have the funds to do so". Current zoning stipulated that if we wanted 4 bedrooms upstairs than the main floor had to increase and go out into the yard as a terrace effect- you could not have a 2 or 3 story box. This also meant that the basement had to go out into the yard considerably to accommodate the larger living area above. We briefly looked at a bridge type structure as we didnt need a big basement but the engineering of that would take most of building budget!
So, as the design was gorgeous and totally maximized the view and had everything we wanted we put it through permits. $30,000 in design , permits and engineering were paid and the plans were ready to pick up and start.
The night sweats started.
Irritability set in, and neither my husband nor I picked up the permits. No one wanted to discuss the elephant in the room.
Finally one night I said " I dont need a huge home,I dont think we can afford to build this, I dont want a massive basement, and I dont want to clean that many bathrooms!!"
My husband agreed.
We looked at the plan, there was very little yard left as the building had to go so far out on ground level. The beautiful granite wall was about 2 feet in the wrong place and would have to come down and we were staring at a 2500 sq ft basement- almost 2 times what we were living in now- of unfinished space!.
We realised we loved that granite wall, we loved the big yard and all we needed was a couple bedrooms.
So we started with the pool and built that. That way as we cleaned up the rest we had somewhere to go and relax at the end of the day. Then we looked at our existing rec room and simply divided the space up. New appliances, fancy faucetts and fresh paint, and we had a house  we could live in.

The rooms are adequate, not large. But this means the kids tend to come and do their work on the dining room table and discuss stuff with us. It also means we have to all decide what we want to watch on TV and negotiate because the 2 TV's are in public places. The hallway connecting the kids rooms is extra wide with a couch recessed in on one side and flat screen on the other-so it can be an emergency rec room if we have friends over and our son wants to play WII with police siren soundtracks. We dont have a lot of parties in the winter but we have a neighborhood full of families over in the summer. The 20 by 40 pool brings them all over! and we set up an outdoor BBQ and dining area so many stay for dinner after sunset.
In the winter we get invited to those families that came over in the summer. It works. This is how I became so convinced that we can live smaller. As a Real Estate agent I knew all about maximizing the property and thats what everyone has been programmed into thinking. As a mother I knew smaller more intimate spaces keep our kids closer and part of the family. I have seen kids that have a whole recroom to themselves with TV, computer  and  sometimes even a drink fridge - they dont surface till they are hungry. Its not the kind of family I wanted.
 I hope that soon we will allow 2 small homes to be built on some of these lots that now allow for only 1 6000 sq ft house. Maybe more people can experience this freedom.... and togetherness.


  1. hey Kim, I like it! I guess Strathcona life still reverberates in your soul.

  2. Hi Chauchita, wre you a neighbor? yes 18 yrs in Strathcona stays with you! : ) Lets hope we can do that type of housing here on North Shore