Where to start?
First I want to tell you all about the book that really turned me on to small houses: _Creating the Not So Big House_ by Sarah Susanka. The book looks at smaller homes from an architectural point of view and explains the reasons why your house feels so warm and cozy compared to the big drafty houses they keep building these days... by reading it you might get some ideas for how to improve the beauty and efficiency of your space, but I warn you, a lot of it will probably give you the urge to do some remodeling projects.
I read this book before DH and I married and bought our home, so when I was looking for a house, I was looking for something Not So Big. (The added bonus is the ability to pay the mortgage on one income!) My house is 1600 sq feet w/4 bedrooms, 2.5 small baths, has a 1 car garage and a half finished basement. It is less than half the size of the typical McMansions in our area.
After living in the house for 2 years and figuring out all the things we liked and didn't like about it, we remodeled the entire main level (which consists of living room, dining room, kitchen, foyer/bath/pantry.) We added the pantry, also a phone/mail center, and I took the opportunity to 1) open the space so that I can keep an eye on the playing kidlets while cooking/etc. and 2) precisely configure the kitchen so as to increase the storage as much as possible. I also added three windows on the south side, and I swear, it looks like a totally different house with all the additional light, much bigger despite the fact we didn't add ANY extra square footage.
In order to make this big remodel worth it, we are committed to living in the house for at least 20 years. As a result, we are looking to invest in very long term upgrades and furniture. In addition, every piece of furniture has to earn it's keep. Everything has storage space, even the bench in the foyer has storage under the seat and hooks for guests' coats/bags. The coffee table has drawers and is big enough to double as a train table (the only toy DS has played with in months). We added cabinets around the fireplace (right now they hold toys), and put a closet system in the pantry (elfa when it was on sale--again making a long-term investment) which I LOVE because every once in a while we reconfigure it a little better and fit more stuff in there. Even the bathroom vanity has the drawer underneath the cabinet where the kickboard is. I can get so much stuff in that drawer! Making these big changes has a more significant price tag, but it is worth it to me to pay $99 for a new vanity to get the extra storage that I will use for the next 2 decades.
CRAFTS: We kept the old kitchen cabinets and countertops, and we put them in the laundry room/unfinished part of basement. They aren't installed, but make a perfectly useful counter/storage area. I can store a bunch of craft stuff there (for me, it's mostly photos and scrapbook stuff), and the idea is to eventually finish the room as the laundry/craft room.
STUFF MANAGEMENT: The main use for the countertops right now is that they are the drop off place for any New Stuff coming into the house. I gradually work on finding a specific place for each item, and I am RUTHLESS about not keeping stuff that we don't want or need. One of my projects right now is getting a variety of china/dishes together that I don't have room for/don't want so that I can sell them all at once to Replacements.com where someone else who wants them can have the oppportunity to buy them! I consider purging to be a constant project. I give things away to people who want/need them, sell stuff at consignment sales, donate to goodwill, and we did hold a yard sale, although I am hoping that we won't get that much stuff built up again.
ENTERTAINING: We have hosted successful events up to about... 18 people or so including kids. (We have big families). This has become much more pleasant since opening up the main level. My mom has a set of bamboo trays that we regularly borrow so that people can eat a meal without sitting at a table. We pull out all the chairs as well as folding chairs and maybe the folding table.
The long-term plan is to purchase a extending dining room table that fits through the opening b/tw the living and dining room; hopefully we can seat 12-14 people depending on whether we use benches or chairs. Also, we put a bar counter on the wall between dining room and kitchen w/barstools for additional seating, buffet serving, and for keeping the cook company while not being in the way
This works for us b/c the get-togethers are of the type where people are mainly sitting around talking and eating. In warmer months we also utilize the outside for larger get-togethers.
DECORATING: Well, we have started to hang things on the walls, and its been about a year since we remodeled. Again, I look thru the stuff we have to see what would be an approximate fit. I don't worry about things being exactly perfect (except measurements, those are pretty much in stone). But just group things together and see what works pretty well. Otherwise we don't decorate other than easy houseplants seeing as DS is 2.5 and likes to play football in the living room. A couple green things here and there really adds to a room even if the leaves are a little brown here and there (I'm not sure what color my thumbs are but they sure ain't green)
I feel so good about our house because I love the recycling aspect of improving the space. (I have a ton of additional remodeling plans, poor DH hears about them all the time!) I got the sense when we bought the house that no one had really ever thought of it as a Home, and I have really enjoyed making it into one, even giving birth to DD in my own bathroom, what better karma could a house wish for?
OFF TOPIC(?): I am trying to carry the recycling theme forward as much as possible. When I get the urge to buy something, I try to think, "What do I have already in the house that could be used for this purpose?" Then buy the minimum new items required to complete the task. Just a few weeks ago I put together 6 little baby gifts for pregnant friends: I reused cute baby gift bags (of which I have dozens) and gave each mom a few newborn disposable dipes I had leftover, a couple big underpads leftover from my homebirth kit (you never know when one might come in handy!) a little newborn hat, a few pregnancy tea teabag packets, a bunch of herbs for a perineal compress, and a backissue copy of Mothering Magazine.
It got rid of a bunch of stuff I had lying around that was no longer useful to me as we are finished having babies, and I hope it was useful to them...
I have pictures of my remodel, and could probably put together some 'before' pictures but I am a bit Internet-illiterate and don't know how to share them with you all. Any suggestions?
Thanks for reading, sorry for such a long post! It felt so great to write!