I thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd Alter's recent post at Treehugger, featuring favorite one-story houses he scanned from a 1965 copy of a publication about small houses produced by the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in Canada (which Alter equates with Freddie Mac in the U.S.). The houses he selected range from 889 to 1590 square feet, with most around 1200 square feet. Though stock plans, the CMHC descriptions recommend how best to position the designs relative to solar orientation or even a sloping site. Many of the houses feature three bedrooms, but rarely with an en suite bathroom off the master. In several, dining areas are crazy small, and kitchens are almost universally separated from living spaces. Nonetheless, most of these plans could be fairly easily updated to successfully accommodate small-house living today.
The house in the screenshot above designed by architect J. de Keresztes is my favorite of Alter's favorites. Alter describes it as "the wackiest", in part because the carport at the front door seems more like a hotel drop-off and the front windows are unconventionally screened. And, yes, the sunken sitting area off the living area is so very Mad Men. But click through to see the plan associated with this design. The patio/courtyard straight across from the entry, with the living area on one side and the bedroom wing on the other, is inspired. Talk about creating a sense of spaciousness by borrowing daylight and view (a small-house strategy described in my book The New Small House from The Taunton Press)! The patio/courtyard also brings the indoors out and outdoors in, makes a big statement, and pays attention to the third dimension (three more strategies from my book).
To adapt this plan for how folks live now, I would eliminate the built screening at the (south) end of the patio/courtyard, if siting allows, replacing it perhaps with landscaping and/or a contemporary arbor with an opening to the yard/garden beyond. I would also change the front carport to a front porch and create a detached garage, perhaps accessed by a covered walkway or pergola. I'd convert the full bathroom in the plan to an en-suite bathroom for the master bedroom and add a second full bathroom in between the master bedroom and the second bedroom, which would mean elongating that eastern wing to the south. I'd reconfigure the entry hall to include a half bath adjacent to the en-suite master bathroom, and convert the space labeled "dining" into a pantry area so the overhead cabinets, bordering the opening to the living area, could be removed. Further, a dining area to the south of the kitchen could be readily accommodated in the large living area, and the floor of the sunken sitting area could be raised to align with the rest of the living area floor.
With some tweaks, this could be a wonderful small-house for today. Take a look at the other houses in Alter's post to imagine how you might update those. It's a fun exercise and might prove informative (especially when paired with The New Small House) if you're contemplating a small-house of your own. (To download a PDF of the complete CMHC publication, click here.)
by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast