Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding Kids’ Bedrooms

Part 6 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Until I was nine years old, we lived in a small cape cod that was originally two bedrooms with an attic. My parents converted the second bedroom on the first floor to a dining room, and converted the attic into two bedrooms. This meant that the stairs led directly to my little brother’s room, and I had to walk through his room to get to my bedroom. Also, I shared a bedroom all through college.

Thus began my bias of thinking: do all kids need their own rooms, especially considering that the grown-ups share a bedroom? I know, I know, it’s easy for me to say this now, I am not a teenage girl or someone who all they wanted growing up was a room of their own. But when considering the cost of buying a new home or adding on just for sleeping space, the parent’s budget may just have to override a kid’s desire for their own room…or should I say, their own drywall box. There are many ways to ensure that kids have privacy, even if they have to share sleeping space.

 Bunk bed with storage under the Ginger Twin Full bunk bed from

One solution is to turn with largest bedroom into the sleeping space, a different way to think of the bedroom. If you have 3 bedrooms and 4 young kids, you can fit two bunk beds into one bedroom. The other bedroom can house wardrobes for extra storage and clothing, desk for computers and can serve as the play area. As the kids get older, the rooms can then be divided by age. Curtains and sliding doors can be added to bunk beds to allow for privacy. Loft beds can house a mini room underneath, with a chair and bookshelf, also made private by curtains or sliding doors (and headphones).

 A loft bed like the Ikea Tromso provides space for a desk, chair, bookshelf and or dresser below. The space can be made private by adding a heavy curtain or closing out the bottom with painted plywood and sliding doors. 
Kids still need their private space. Consider creating some outdoor sanctuaries if your house is feeling cramped. A tree house is of course a classic example for younger kids. Cluster a few chairs under a canopy or in a gazebo, away from but facing the house, to give kids a place to read, talk on the phone or work on a lap top. Texture the yard with gardens, rockeries, or an outdoor water feature to provide noise buffers and privacy. Add an outdoor fireplace and instantly create another space that can be used most of the year.
 An outdoor fireplace can define an outdoor room or space and give you another room without adding square footage to your house. Coleman 5071-700 Ambient Firelight Propane Fireplace and Table.
Rooms can also be divided with sliding doors, available from Raydoor or the Sliding Door Company. This route is pricier, but still less expensive than adding a room or relocating.

What else do you need in a bedroom? An example of a bed-sized bedroom from Raydoor.
Create a bedroom or media area in the corner of a too-large living area, like this example from the Sliding Door Company

With a little creativity, you can avoid a relocation or a remodel for those few years when you need extra bedrooms, particularly when all the kids are living at home. This season of life may only be a small percentage of the time you spend in your home, and then you are left with empty bedrooms that are likely to end up being musty, rarely used guest rooms that you are paying to heat, cool, and furnish. Making a smaller house with less bedrooms work has financial rewards now and in the future.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Formal Dining Room Library Conversion

Part 5 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”

Make use of a formal dining room: do you have two dining areas, one of which is rarely used? Have the formal dining room do double duty as a library. This can help get visual clutter out of other rooms while adding to a room that may need a breath of life.

DINING-LIBRARY-FP-PARLORExample of a dining room/library/parlor/circulation space, originally intended to be the living room. The living room is now set up in the  smaller, cozier, no traffic original formal dining room.

The Royal Bookcase from Dania is formal yet provides ample storage for books and photos. Place antique books and classics in the glass cabinets. Place books that are tattered in the closed cabinets or a storage bin placed on the bottom shelf. 
Hide old or unattractive books in a storage bin fit for a formal room. Knos CD box by Ikea can be used for small paperback books.
A glass front cabinet keeps the room formal and makes any book or DVD look more attractive. Home Decorator’s Collection Oxford Shelf on Amazon.
Calix Chair
A snappy yet formal chair like the these Calix chairs from Dania provides a place for reading in your new Dining Room/Library. It can also be placed at the head of the table for dining.
A storage ottoman like this one from Moshya Home Furnishings on Amazon can replace chairs on one or both sides of the dining room table and provides lots of hidden storage.

Adding function to a rarely used room will in turn add another room to your house without the hassle of a construction project.

Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding kids’ bedrooms.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Rethinking the Living/Dining Room

Part 4 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”


The living room is often hard to rearrange, since the furniture is big and may have some built-in elements, like the fireplace or an entertainment center.  Often living and family rooms are larger than we need them to be, if they are mostly used for television viewing.

Here are some tips for rearranging the furniture:

  • Pull it off the wall: it seems that both living rooms and televisions have been getting bigger. But unless you do aerobic workout videos, there’s no reason for the wide chasm between your TV and couch. Create an intimate sitting area and TV viewing area by pulling the couches and chairs away from the wall and arranging them around the coffee table. Use a rug to define the space.
  • Try some angles: make the new arrangement fresh by turning furniture 45 degrees from the wall. In a living area without a television or fireplace as a focal point, angle the couches and chairs to open up to the window.
  • Move the couch or seating cluster closer to the television, and use the extra space to add a table behind the couch. The table can be used for games, puzzles, homework, laptops, crafts, etc. And, without the wide chasm between the TV and couch, the TV doesn’t need to be so large.
  • On that note, if you have both a family room and a formal dining room, consider switching them. The larger room can serve as the formal dining area, library and parlor/formal living/TV-free area. The smaller room then serves as the smaller family room/TV viewing area.
  • Utilize an underused space:  Place a bookshelf behind the couch. Not only will you make use of an underutilized space, when you are sitting on the couch you are facing away from the visual clutter.

Dine by the fire: Formal dining in what was meant to be a living room.

A large bookcase like the Expedit from Ikea is perfect for placing behind the couch. Books and DVDs are accessible but out of sight when sitting in the living room. Don’t want to let those blocked bottom shelves go to waste? Use them to store rarely used items, like holiday decorations or alternate throw pillows and blankets for changing up colors. 

If your house or condo was built in the last 10 years, chances are you have an open floor plan, with the kitchen open to the living room. This is great for many reasons: people working in the kitchen are not separated from those hanging out in the living room, the kitchen has replaced the living room as the center of the house, and the kitchen gets plenty of light. Practically, however, this is not always ideal, as there is no way to shut off kitchen noise (like when the dishwasher is running at night when you are trying to watch a movie). A piece of furniture like the Expedit shelf, shown above, can be placed back to back with an Expedit TV Storage Unit, can serve as a room divider to divide the TV area from the eating area, and should provide enough storage for every book, magazine, and DVD in the house.
Add a game room without adding square footage. Really, how often would you use an extra game room or billiards room? Make use of the larger dining room you now have (if you switch the living and dining areas as suggested above) or that large open space if you have one of those open kitchen/dining/living areas. Instead of chairs on one side, use a storage bench to store cards, games and puzzles.
The Fusion Pool Table by Aramith is a clean, modern dining room table that doubles as a pool table.
 A storage bench in the place of a few kitchen/dining chairs provides seating and storage for games. Modus Furniture on Amazon.
We all know that large home theater rooms in spec home McMansions are so 2004. Who wants to pay for 300 square feet with no windows and only one purpose? Create a home theater in the place you are most comfortable, your living room. Invest in some blackout curtains or Roman shades for the windows (which also come in very handy for keeping the house cool in the summer). Keep extra pillows and blankets in storage ottoman like the one shown above, and set up the front row of the theater in front of the ottoman.
Make sure your living room is working for the way you really live. If not, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and rearrange that large furniture in way that will work for you.
Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Adding a library to the formal dining room.

Home Indoor Air Quality

H2O-Healthy Homes Optimization aims to be one day be the Energy Star of indoor air quality. Cynthia Sullivan-Brown [CEO/Executive Director of A Renewable Earth Nisus] is currently developing the system and spoke about it at the Built Green Conference a few weeks ago.

A great idea, but since this particular system is not yet available, why not do your own indoor air quality audit? There is most likely some low hanging fruit in cleaning up your indoor air quality. For more serious issues, you’ll want to call in a professional, like an Industrial Hygienist,  to assess the concentration of pollutants. Even small factors can contribute to dangerous indoor air quality (IAQ) can make you sick.

Look out for:

  • Visible mold growth
  • Popcorn ceilings (possible asbestos)
  • Lead paint
  • Rotting structure or insulation
  • Whole house fans that may have been disconnected. Regular ventilation is very important in today’s tighter houses, especially ones that are tight enough to gain a green building certification. Non-toxic interior materials should go hand in hand with tight homes.
  • The plastic or new car smell, which can come with manufactured wood products (and can be terrible in manufactured homes and trailers) and vinyl flooring, for example.

Whenever you get any new materials installed, or if you move into a new house, be sure to keep the windows open and ventilate for a few weeks. I may be a little paranoid, but I recommend this for the purchase of new furniture, electronics, and mattresses also. New textiles may have been stored in formaldehyde and should be washed before wearing or using.

Stop sources of indoor pollution:

  • Keep it dry. Add a ventilation fan if you don’t have one. Shutting off rooms in the winter may seem like a great way to save energy, but in damp climates this can encourage mold growth–not because of the temperature, but because indoor heat is usually dry. If you find your indoor heat is too dry, add a humidifier (or just place a vase of water by the register) but be sure this is not making your home too humid.
  • Run exhaust fans when cooking and after showering. Use fans or open a window when using nail polish remover or other harsh chemicals.
  • Stop using chemicals to clean. (Here is a great guide to getting started from Mommy Greenest) Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean most things. To avoid the need for harsh chemicals in the kitchen, carefully handle raw meet on a plastic cutting board that can go in the dishwasher, and immediately clean all fruits and veggies–even if you don’t eat the peel, the knife still touches it–right when you get home from the store.
  • Take off shoes when entering the house–this is especially important if you have small children who are all over the floor. Think of all of the pollutants that come into contact with your shoes–and other super yucky things.
  • Avoid using candles or air fresheners, unless you are certain they contain no VOCs.
  • Add a chlorine filter to your shower head.
  • Watch for intake air that may be carrying cigarette smoke, wood smoke, or other pollutants from outside.
  • Dry-cleaning is a necessary evil for some. Before putting newly dry-cleaned clothes in your closet, take off the plastic and let them air out in the bathroom with the ventilation fan running.
  • If your garage is attached to your house, never open the man door to the inside while a car is running.
  • Carpet can hold on to some pretty nasty allergens and critters. Annoyed by how dirty hard wood floors can look? Well, all that dirt is in your carpet too, it’s just hidden. If someone in your family has problems with allergies, chemical sensitivities, or respiratory issues, replace carpet with hard surfaces, and vacuum area rugs often.
  • I love my dog, and as hard as it is to say no to his admirably persistent attempts to get into our bed, he is rarely allowed in the bedroom. For me, it’s worth it for all the joy that pets bring, but dusting and vacuuming need to be much more frequent when you have furry babies.

Regular maintenance:

Further reading:

IAQ guidelines for homes from the EPA

EPA Indoor airPLUS Program


Adaptable//Sustainable: Formal Area Conversion

Part 3 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”
OK, so some of the ideas below require a little remodeling. Or it can just be treated as a room switch. This series has been about rethinking how we use our spaces and how they can used in nontraditional ways, in ways that work for the way you really live.
Why not make your breakfast nook the one dining area? Do you really need two eating tables? Not only are you paying for the extra furniture, but a mortgage on that space too. If your mortgage is $2000 per month on a 2,000 sq foot house, and your dining room is 168 SF, you are paying over $2,000 per year for a room you may only use for major holidays and birthdays.
One idea is to have the nice table in the breakfast nook. For everyday dining, use a table cloth (and table protector if you have young kiddos). Then, when you want to create a special dining experience, take off the table cloth, light some candles and turn down the lights. You won’t even notice that you’re in the breakfast nook that you use every day! If you have a breakfast bar or an area to place stools, this can serve as your casual dining area.

The formal dining room is usually the perfect size for an extra bedroom or a guest room. Instead of moving to accommodate another child or because of the lack of a guest room, you can use the rarely used formal dining room. If you don’t want to get too much into the details, you can add some sliding doors, like those available from Raydoor or the Sliding Door Company, or DIY barn door sliders (where a track can be installed over the existing opening, so there is minimum disturbance). Then, when the kids are gone, the room can be converted back to a dining room or into a hobby room or office.

A sliding barn door is a great way to partition off a room (with an opening too big for a traditional door) without creating remodeling dust. Photo credit.

Now to the possible remodeling part. The formal dining area is flexible because of its location at the front of the house, which opens up many possibilities for casual cohousing or house sharing. The formal area of a home can be turned into a separate room for an adult child or elderly parent. If the laundry room or a powder room are adjacent to the dining room, this opens up the opportunity to add a full bathroom. A separate entrance can be added to the front for renting out the room to a student. There is an opportunity for privacy in that the formal areas are usually separate from the other bedrooms.

Use sliding doors to close off a home office or home office + foyer from the rest of the house. That way, the foyer can serve as an entrance for the office and the home. Photo: The Sliding Door Company.


The location at the front of the house also makes it ideal for a home office. It can be closed off from the rest of the house. A separate entry can be added, or if the dining room is off of the foyer, sliding doors can be added to close off the foyer for when clients or business associates visit. If you have employees, the can make them more comfortable in that they will have some separation from your house. In many homes, the most common entry is the one adjacent to the garage or driveway, so the front door is not often used. Extra income can be added (not to mention company during the day) if the home office is turned into a community office for other work-from-homers in the neighborhood.

Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Rethinking the living/dining room.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Breakfast Nook to Office Conversion

Part 2 in the series “Adaptable//Sustainable: DIY Home Adaptation//Remaking Your Space to Work for You.”
Gut check: how often to you really use your formal dining room? Compare this to how much that square footage is costing you each month in your mortgage. And, do you really need two tables and two sets of chairs? Why is it that one of the most beautiful rooms with the nicest furniture is hardly used? We have an open kitchen with a combined living/dining area, and since this is our only dining area, it is on the more formal side. If you have a formal dining area, why not use it every day? Your breakfast room may already be used as the default office. Below are tips on how to use your formal dining room for everyday meals, and convert your existing breakfast nook to the home office.
Formal Dining Room: Keep it special yet functional (these apply especially with young children)
  • Have 5-7 sets of place mats and switch them out each night when you clear the table. Throw them in the wash each week with the sheets or rags or wash them with the dishes, depending on the type. Having the table always set will keep the table from getting cluttered and will keep the room looking special.
  • Or, for everyday meals, use a table cloth.
  • If there’s a rug under the table, make sure it’s durable and easy to clean.
  • Always keep a center piece on the table. If you have a garden, keep a vase stocked with fresh cut flowers. If you are like me and don’t have a green thumb (or a garden), have a few fake options that you switch out. Or, cluster candles on a formal tray.

Now that your dining room is ready for everyday meals, it’s time to convert the breakfast nook to a more functional space. If you have a breakfast bar built into your counter space, you can use this for meals also. Now is the time to invest in some comfy bar stools. If you don’t have a built-in bar, you can buy a free-standing one to replace your kitchen table.

Becky Bar Table
The Becky Bar table from Dania can be used in place of built-in bar area.

The breakfast nook office is a new take on the traditional hearth room off of the kitchen. After school, the kids can gather to do homework while a parent works in the kitchen. The computer can be easily accessed for recipes or for watching TV or movies while cooking. The kitchen is the heart of most homes, and combined with the adjacent nook-turned-office it becomes the control center. This also keeps a bedroom from having to be used as an office.

Does everyone in the family have a laptop? Create a cozy space by grouping a love seat and some comfy chairs around a storage ottoman that double as a table. The laptops go in the ottoman when they are not in use.

A storage ottoman provides storage space for laptops while doubling as a coffee table. Coaster storage ottoman on Amazon

Be sure to protect yourself and your family by using a lap desk for your laptop. Creative Essentials LLC lapdesk on Amazon. 
KIVIK Loveseat IKEA KIVIK is a generous seating series with a soft, deep seat and comfortable support for your back.
A durable love seat for the modern hearth room like the Kivik from Ikea.
Twin-size Bedford Black DayBed
As part of the seating cluster, or as the main soft seating area, place a day bed in front of the window to substitute for a built-in window seat. This can be used while working on a laptop, taking advantage of a nearby book shelf, or for relaxing while chatting with the cook. Bedford Day Bed.

A two-sided desk like the Expedit from Ikea provides multiple homework spaces and storage space.
Chances are your existing breakfast nook doesn’t have a closet, but you need an out of sight place to store those binders, software CD’s and office supplies. This Pax Wardrobe from Ikea is perfect for keeping the clutter hidden. Or, use a desk that can be closed up. Hint: you don’t have to weighed down by of those manuals. Most manuals are available online. 
HEMNES Secretary IKEA Built-in cable management for collecting cables and cords out of sight but close at hand.
Don’t want to look at your office all of the time? Keep the desk hidden also. Hemnes Secretary from Ikea. You can also find nice antique secretaries on Craigslist or at consignment stores.
By converting your breakfast nook into an office, you are saving valuable square footage by getting rid the the redundant double dining space. Also, a bedroom is often not the ideal place for an office, since often an entire bedroom is not needed, and you want to keep an eye on kids computer use. Since all ages are now spending more time on the computer, why not at least spend that time in the same room, and why shouldn’t that room be adjacent to the room where everyone wants to be and always ends up: the kitchen. If  needed, you can use my favorite cheap substitute for square footage: headphones or ear plugs.
Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Formal Area Conversion
This post originally appeared in my “Redesign Without the Remodel” series on D+A Studio’s blog in 2010.

Adaptable//Sustainable: Remaking Your Space to Work for You

Friday is now “Adaptable//Sustainable” day on the AKH blog. The next few months, I’ll be posting a blog series, Remaking Your Space to Work for You. The problem solving aspects of a custom remodel or addition can also be applied to looking at ways your space can work better for the way you really live. It’s great if you can do a remodel, but let’s face it, most people just have to work with what they have. Even if you’re stuck with a standard one-size-fits-all floor plan, there are some moves that can really improve how you use your space.

Most single family homes are built for the nuclear family, which is now less than 20% of all households. New strategies and housing types are great, but I am interested in solutions for the vast amount of people inhabiting speculative existing housing stock.

The Adaptable//Sustainable concept is green, since you are using an existing building. If you’re itching to move into a larger house, think of the money you are saving each month by staying in your smaller space, especially in a strong housing market like Seattle is currently experiencing. Staying put may serve as a catalyst for decluttering or simplifying your life (for more on the simplicity movement, I highly recommend the blogs/books/ebooks from Rowdy Kittens and Be More with Less). It allows us to stay with the same neighbors, schools, connections.

During the presentation of D+A Studio’s entry in the AIA Seattle 2009 What Makes it Green Awards, the judges were most interested in this graphic, illustrating the built-in flexibility of the San Juan Channel House.

San Juan Channel Adaptable House

The layout of the house and garage apartment allow for future wealth creation and sustainable living arrangements for the family, through rental of different areas of the house, cohousing with another family or allowing adult children a place to live while they find their way financially or take care of aging parents. There are also options for creating a home office, for the owner or for rent to others. So far, the garage apartment in this house has proved its flexibility by acting as a temporary apartment for friends in transition, space for a temporary live-in nanny and a home office.

In tough economic times, or just in looking towards a more sustainable future, we may need to use our space in different ways, whether that be working from home, adding a rental unit, or sharing what was once a single family home. New homes should be designed with this in mind, but more realistically, existing homes can be retrofitted to adjust to our future needs.

Next week: Adaptable//Sustainable: Breakfast Nook to Office Conversion

Suburban Living tips for Ex-Urbanites

We’ve talked about urban living and what to consider when looking for a multifamily unit. However, a great location and vibrant neighborhood may not trump a little breathing room for many people. There are just as many charming suburbs as there are cookie-cutter ones, and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy living in the suburbs, even if you have previously been a hard core urbanite.

The biggest disadvantage of the suburbs culturally, financially, and socially is total dependence on the car, the greatest disadvantage being the toll that it takes on ones health. Take advantage of walking and bike trails. Live in place where your kids can walk or bike to that great school. Take a stroll to the grocery or corner store, or out to dinner. Sometimes we get in our car without thinking about it when things are within reasonable to walk or bike. It is truly an enjoyable way to get around. Of course, in many large cities, public transit extends into the suburbs. Distance from a commuter line could be a major consideration when looking for a home in the suburbs. When looking at a house, make walkability one of your main considerations.

Unless you have a strict homeowner’s association, which is becoming more and more common in master planned developments, you have space for some homesteading. The new way to rebel in the suburbs is by daring to have a garden in your front yard. (See the NYT article, The Battlefront in the Front Yard) Even small back yards offer plenty of space for chickens, gardens, composting, line drying clothes, and water collection.

Sharing spaces is a great way to foster community and help curb the isolation so many can feel in car dependent places. Check out the book Superbia!: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods by Dan Chiras and Dave Wann. (See my review here) for many ideas on how to combat the dystopian movie cliche of the suburbs and create fulfilling, healthy, fun places to live.

Enjoying Summer Without AC

Welcome to Seattle, Summer! This Texas girl is very excited about your enthusiastic appearance this week.

As a matter of personal preference, I loathe air conditioning. Even with 90+ degree temperatures I still would not turn on the AC, much to the dismay my college roommates. So, fortunately, living in Seattle, we don’t have to deal with it much. Our box fan broke three years ago and I still haven’t replaced it. But sometimes (not so much the past few years, but occasionally) it gets so hot here that AC would be nice.

Here are some tips on staying cool without an AC.

  • Be flexible: Change up your routine: eat meals that don’t require the stove or oven (or grill out). Sleep in a cooler room if you can.
  • Turn out the lights: Reduce temperature from incandescent lights. If you don’t mind the light quality, replace incandescent with compact fluorescent (though I would not recommend this for a bedside or couch side table. See my blog post “Are CFL’s a Better Choice?”) Use a reading light that attaches to your book. (The GE Book Light is my favorite, great for camping and car trips too) If bugs aren’t an issue, enjoy a summer night reading under a porch light that’s on anyway and not producing heat inside.
  • Close it up: After surviving the dark winter, we want to soak up all the sunlight we can. But on very hot days, close all of the curtains, shades, mini blinds, and windows in the morning and then open them back up at night. Heavy curtains, blackout shades or sun shades are a great investment. Installing them on the outside is most effective at preventing heat gain, but not usually practical.
  • Install a ceiling fan: Here are some tips from Energy Star on choosing the right size and mounting heights. Remember that ceiling fans cool people, not rooms, so use them when you are in the room.
  • Use a box fan: Place and secure in an open window. A hung window or a slider is best for this. During the hottest times, place the fan facing outward.
  • Use mechanical ventilation: In a newer house, you will have ventilation over the stove and in the bathrooms at a minimum. Use these to suck out the hot air.
  • Create your own AC: Place a bowl of ice in front of your box fan.
  • Cool sheets: This is my own special little “life hack” from summers without AC in Chicago–put your sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before bed. Does not last long but feels great. And, I love my crisp, white, all cotton summer sheets. I swear they stay cooler, even though technically the opposite can be true depending of the quality of the material. Maybe they help me conjure up the mental image of a very cold air-conditioned hotel room.