Touring small homes

Two Saturday ago we were lucky enough to attend another offering of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway Tour.  We did the same thing last year, when we were in the very early stages of figuring out what to build on our newly acquired lot.  While last years peak into little homes was focused on design, layout and builders, this year we were all about the finishing details and the people.  It was really so nice to see so many home owners on-site this year, sharing their home with curious tour participants like us.

Last year, we braved a long line up to view Tania and Scott’s “Pint-sized house“.  I’d admired the exterior and the upstairs bedroom from what they had shared on their blog, but then there were nice little finishing details like the ledge at the back of the kitchen counter top – just big enough to put your salt, pepper and cook book stand on so that you don’t have to pick them up every time you wipe the counter.  (That may not be the why or the how, but it struck me as a smart move.)  The placement of a skylight at the corner of the stair case was also a nice surprise.  We knew we’d want a 90 or 180 degree turn in our stairs and the way the light washed in really added to the quality of the living space downstairs.  It’s no coincident that our stairwell has a similarly located skylight.

We also found another Smallworks home that was very in-line with what we were thinking at the time.  The finishing, the layout and the ample kitchen of the Arbutus really resonated with us.  This year we met other folks on the tour that also liked that house… so much so that they had nearly the same home built in their yard last spring and summer.  By swapping the location of the kitchen and living space around a great home plan became an even better one!

It’s a fact that I really like the homes Smallworks builds – there’s something about the nod to the past with the exterior architecture and the distinct lack of new home VOC smells. My favourite this year included an entry with a closet and nearby powder room and it’s exterior colouring is much like ours.

Another couple liked one of the houses they toured last year too so they signed up with that builder and now construction of a new space for their son and daughter-in-law is nearing completion.  It was really nice to see their space that isn’t fully finished yet.  We recognized the cut off bolts and foundation under the stairs.  It looks like they’re making a book shelf there too, although instead of the vertical beams (and false beam to accommodate a sewer pipe) that we’re going to have, they used a paralam beam on an angle to carry the weight of the stairs.

This year we also met Patricia and her dh who are building the tiniest house that was in the tour.  It may be small but it was easy to see that the new homeowners are delighted with what is developing before their eyes.

The last stop of our day was one we nearly missed because the exterior architecture was not of remote interest to me at all and I was exhausted from a whole day in city traffic.  I’m so glad we went though, as it was by far the best house on the inside.  The builder and land owner was a really interesting character and we had our best visit and conversation in his lane house.  His home was designed with the help of architect Helen O’Toole who has since passed away and when I find links to his project or photos I will be sure to add them.

As an owner in the midst of a build, I so appreciate that the folks from Heritage Vancouver were so strict on their no photo policy. I never even saw a camera or phone inside any of the homes! And I truly appreciated that so many owners were on site to share their stories and inspiration. It was a great way to spend an October day!


Kindred Spirits

Small… built with natural materials… designed to maximize sunlight and views… efficient use of water and energy… permeable landscape… good indoor air quality… low utility costs… a place to live through retirement…

Those are some of the priorities that have shaped the design of our home and when we talk to other folks in our demographic here in town, we find that these are the sorts of things other people want to.  The challenge is finding homes with such features or having the funds to make such a dream reality.

As much as I may lament the years where I felt stuck in Alberta, they’re a big reason we are able to shape this part of our dreams right now.

Last Sunday we were out for a neighbourhood walk as darkness was beginning to descend and we stopped to spend some extra time looking at the roof and windows on one of the most intriguing homes in our neighbourhood, trying to figure out how similar details are going to look on our home.  Strangely neither of us can remember what stage of development the house was at when we first came across it, but I think it’s three story form and unorthodox placement on the lot was pretty clearly established already.  It’s been nearly three years now and it’s been so interesting to see their garden grow and mature.

Unbeknownst to us, our looking and pointing was catching the attention of the owners who called us up to check things out.  It was an invitation we couldn’t refuse.  It turns out these gentle souls are connected to other folks in our social circle and they had very similar ideals to us when it came to designing their home.

It got even more surprising when we realized we’ve both used architects from Bowen Island, specified the same size of fridge, and opted for a main bath instead of an ensuite.  Indoor air quality is important to them too so they’ve used lots of wood trim and low VOC finishes, run an HRV and opted not to have a natural gas hook up.  I don’t believe there was a tv in sight either:)

With all the things we have in common you might expect our houses to look a lot alike but the reality is that they couldn’t be more different!  Where we’ve opted for a lot of traditional details and a low, somewhat sprawling form; their home towers 3 storeys above the ground and has all sorts of interesting angles and details.  And where mobility is something I worry will trouble me, they designed their home for their retirement with lots of stairs, presumably to help keep them fit and agile.

It’s so cool to see the different ways that we’ve interpreted such similar values.  And that not only are their other folks here wanting the same things, there are actually other people doing it too!

Slightly Snug

Slightly snug?  What’s that you ask?

We think it’s a good way to describe our future home.  Not too small, and hopefully not too big either.  A space that feels more cozy than cavernous.

While we like the idea of really living small, as in a Tumbleweed Tiny House on wheels or the larger B-53, it’s not quite practical for the way we live.  We quite like the lack of stuff that can accumulate in the 500 sf space we currently live in but we’re always battling for space to do our work and store our gear.  Most of our work is done at home and our professions seem to necessitate room for storing and spreading out significant collections of paper.  We also like to spend a lot of time outside and that means sport-specific gear.  I’m also a crafter and we do a LOT of cooking.

We’re  fortunate to live in a part of the world where people like to come and visit us and we regularly host a good sized group of friends.  In our current place we can host up to 11 other  people for food and socializing but that means no room for getting around the table.   It’s also a bit tough when friends or family do come to stay.  Fortunately the futon in the living room hasn’t kept our eager friends from coming to stay.

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