Gale Steves is one of America’s leading home authorities. Creative thinker and guru, she helps consumers fashion livable homes and counsels companies to create products she knows people want and need. She has inspired millions with her ideas and solutions, first as a magazine editor, and most recently as the force behind Open House Productions, a consulting company formed in 2001.
We asked Gale to describe the concept behind her new book, Right Sizing Your Home, and how this concept can be put to use by builders, remodelers, and Realtors. The following are her comments:
Right-sizing is about thoughtful space management; about helping people live better. Whether they live in a big mansion or some pared down version, most of your customers are not living fully in their homes. They have a wonderful idea of what their house should be, but most wind up living in the kitchen – or even in their own bedroom – because they’re the most comfortable rooms of the house.
I want to walk people through their homes without changing the name of where they do what, just have them see that there are spaces they can use for anything they really want to and give them permission to do the things they’re probably still already doing.
Today, people are faced with the idea of pulling back or reinventing their house because they can’t sell it, or maybe grandma or their adult kids have come back to live with them. So, there is a lot of change taking place within the house. My idea is to encourage people to think about their home plans before they build or before they remodel to see how they’re really going to live in them not only today, but maybe ten years down the road.
Most of us tend to build for this moment, never thinking we might get older or there might be changes in our lives. But the whole idea is for us to rethink our home so we use the space efficiently and well.
The word right-sizing it sounds like I’m talking about downsizing. I’m really not. I remember back late in the 80’s when I first began noticing that outsized homes were appearing all over the United States with rooms that were either too big or too small or too tall to be useful. About that time, I also noticed that many older homes, mostly not so big, also had rooms with labels that no longer reflected the way we live. The truth is I think many of us are squeezing our lives into spaces that don’t work. So we add on or we buy bigger. But there are still parts of the house that are ignored.
For example, if you have a living room, how frequently do you use it? It was a site for my Christmas tree and my mother’s furniture. My dining room I used two or three times a year. Now, I have right-sized and my dining room is really my office. It can be converted back into a dining room with a few small changes and a lot of cleaning up, but basically, I’m using it everyday for a better purpose than pleading for the clan to come visit during the holidays.
Whether you’re a builder talking to consumers or a designer, or even a Realtor, forget about the old traditional living room, dining room, kitchen and what used to be the den. Those words should go out the door because we live in our kitchens and we eat all over the house. We relax all over the house. We don’t live in our living room. I’m trying to get you to rethink not only how you live, but where you live.
We built big in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The houses kept getting bigger and bigger, but it didn’t mean that we were any more comfortable. I think that when you talk about space management, that’s really assessing the space in your home and making it work and work well for you, the whole family, your friends and maybe even the dog and cat as well!
Spaces should be managed more by function. Where do you eat? Where do you work? Many of us are home working, so where do we find the space to work? Do you give up that extra bedroom; do you take over part of your own bedroom (which is a mistake); or do you take over part of the family room and fight ‘clutter versus productivity?’
It’s a process. I want to encourage people to really rethink their homes and reinvent them and plan their spaces. Use professionals. Don’t do something on the back of a napkin and say ‘˜this is what I’m going to do.’ I’m a great believer in starting out with professional organizers to get rid of your clutter and secondly, to use design professionals to help you plan the space and professional builders and remodelers to make that space come alive.
Before you put a stamp on a room, call it living room or dining room, think about putting ‘˜or’ after that and give people the option to use it as they wish. I have a friend who said she took out her dining room table and put a pool table and her kids all love it and they use that room far more than they ever used their dining, and they eat in the kitchen. Everyone is happy
Today’s family needs a little flexibility. So when you’re planning that spec home think about how various demographics would use it. As you’re going through the house on selling it, you say, ‘Well, this is the dining room or it could be someone’s home office or it could be!’ Offer them possibilities and I think that will help seal the sale very quickly.
Plan for Flexibility; Thank ‘Dual Purpose’
For example, whenever most builders show a dining room in a model, it has a big dining room fixture or chandelier in the center. If someone was going to use it as an office, they might like an overhead fixture or a fan, as opposed to being locked into the dining room concept. I find more and more people saying that they don’t want to go that direction. Instead, they really want more space in the back, in the kitchen area where they can all eat together.
Maybe there is a reason for having a slightly larger room that could be either a family room or a shared office; a room that has space for file cabinets and storage. So, if someone is working at home, they have the option to have a great room that’s not just an afterthought but thought of as a dual-purpose room. You could go through many rooms in the house and think about dual purpose. Just as the computer and the television are merging and those technologies are all going to be one, we may not need private offices, but we’ll always need storage.
One of the concepts in my book is thinking about creating ‘˜Costco closets.’ I have a friend who is a Costco addict. She goes and she buys enough toilet paper and paper towels in bulk. She took created a series of cabinets under the stairs for all those extra supplies. That’s a wining idea because there is no woman in the world who doesn’t need extra storage.
I want people to rethink the space in their homes – reinvent; rediscover. One of the exercises I give people is to walk through your house as though you’ve never been there before. There are spaces that you may have walked by most of your life and never thought about again. A high ceiling in a hallway could be lowered and could become out-of-season storage.
So it’s rethinking your life and how you live it. Most of us adapt our lives to the house, and what I’m encouraging people to do is to adapt the house to their lives and also make it flexible enough so that if grandma comes to visit or you have young children at home, it’s still a safe and very comfortable house as well.
This concept of Right-Sizing works equally well for new homes and remodels. I like the kind of architect or builder who says, ‘˜I hear what you’re saying and I’m going to give you a house that reflects your lifestyle.’ That’s really what America is looking for; that’s a winning combination. Builders are looking for new ideas. I’m not proposing that they build bigger or build smaller, but just build better so that the house actually reflects the demographics they are trying to reach.
I was working with a builder in Texas who was reaching out to the Hispanic community. I suggested he consider having at least a second master bedroom suite because many times, grandma or some relative comes and they stay for awhile. So this is one of the understandings of how people live and what they need. If you put in a little mini-kitchen or a little storage kitchen, that would allow these people to have a little bit of privacy and a little bit of independence. Understanding your end customer and how they live is probably as important as creating a beautiful home.
We have an opportunity now for builders and salespeople to rethink how they’re selling homes. If I can get you to espouse the idea right-sizing it will makes it seem like you’re personalizing a house just for your customer. It also shows that you have a lot more flexibility. You may be using the same floor plan but you’ve changed the name so it reflects how these people want to live. Take it a step further by developing a questionnaire or survey to help you, then go back on the computer and change the labels of the spaces – so this will be Robert’s room or George’s home office or Shirley’s craft area.
All these things are just simply personalization of the regular house, but what do you have to give up; what do you have to trade to make this all happen? Little or nothing! And that’s really what Right-Sizing is about, is to get people to start thinking and responding to this concept.
Contact Gale Steve through her blog, http://www.eyeondesignonline.com/
Purchase Gale Steve’s new book, Right-Sizing Your Home here.
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