Quoted in KC STAR!

BY CYNTHIA BILLHARTZ GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

It sounded improbable when Eddy Krygiel first told me about it: How he and his wife, Angiela Meyer, had gutted a West Side home and put two bedrooms and two and half baths in it.

Surely, I thought, they’re crammed into the space. Nope. Nothing in it feels cramped.

Krygiel, an architect, designed a home that feels more spacious — and stylish — than a lot of so-called McMansions.

The same goes for Sarah Magill’s nearby home, which was designed by KEM Studio. It is 1,200 square feet, which is actually bigger than she wanted.

The home of Krygiel and Meyer was the first in Kansas City to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified; Magill’s home received a 2013 award from the Kansas City AIA Design Excellence competition and the home was one of four finalists for Interior Design Magazine’s Best of Year for 2013.

The two homes share a number of features: All-white walls, high ceilings and lots of windows that create a sense of airiness; pocket doors that cut down on swing space; and few, if any, interior walls and hallways.

Such designs are a reversal of a long-running trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, newly built homes grew from an average of 1,660 square feet in 1973 to more than 2,500 square feet today.

But in recent years, experts in real estate and home construction began reporting that more clients are giving priority to high-end finishes, smart design and green materials rather than gobs of space.

Rebecca Riden, an architect in Prairie Village, has worked with several clients to design small homes or maximize space in existing ones. She recently reworked a small two-bedroom home, she says, by adding a breakfast nook with built-in bench seating, two porches and lots of built-in storage.

Riden is a fan of Sarah Susanka, an architect who wrote “The Not So Big House” series of books, which have sold more than 1.2 million copies since 1998 and espouse a philosophy of building better, not bigger.

Riden says there are a lot of benefits to living in and building small homes. It’s more eco-friendly and reduces clutter.

“You have to force yourself to have a place for everything and storage becomes critical so it forces people to think about what they bring in,” she says. “Maintenance overall also decreases and goes back to being green. It frees up time. Less cleaning, less maintenance.”

So let’s take a look at the lessons these West Side homeowners have to offer in terms of efficiency, green design and a simple life.

A foreclosure reborn

Krygiel and Meyer bought their two-story home, which was in foreclosure, five years ago for $1,000.

He recalls inquiring about the property and the real estate agent asking, “What the hell do you want that for?”

The roof had a gaping hole, all the pipes had burst and the fireplace was so decrepit that it collapsed and fell through the floor. The home also seemed small for a family of four.

But Krygiel could see its potential.

“I knew there was an answer in here somewhere, but there were moments of panic when I wondered if I was going to make it work,” he said. The rehab took six months.

The first thing he did was eliminate walls on the first floor to make one open, loft-like space that comprises a kitchen, dining room, living room, half bathroom and office for two.

It felt spacious one recent afternoon as a soft breeze blew through several of the home’s 19 windows.

Artwork and furnishings, most of it modern and clean-lined, provide pops of color to the white shell.

Open shelving above the kitchen counters holds colorful dishes, glassware and Le Creuset cookware. Eliminating upper cabinets gives an illusion of more space.

“We intentionally buy stuff that we’re OK leaving out,” Krygiel said.

“Stuff that’s functional and beautiful. It’s happy stuff,” Meyer said.

The kitchen island contains a cubbyhole that hides litter boxes for three cats.

A table in a nook between the dining room and kitchen provides office space. A closet behind it houses a laundry center and other necessities.

Krygiel had two HVAC units installed to eliminate the need for air ducts that would have eaten up valuable square footage. Plus, he said, the two units counted toward LEED certification because they can turn a unit down when they’re not using the space it serves.

The second floor contains the two bedrooms (the girls’ room has bunk beds), two full bathrooms and a cozy green reading nook where one of their daughters does homework.

“We have nice bedrooms, but they are not big or elaborate,” Krygiel says. “The idea is to push everyone downstairs where we can spend more time together.”

Room for a treadmill

Magill was in her kitchen, which is in the middle of her home, one afternoon. Sunlight poured in through floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Would you like a tour? It’ll be very short,” she said, chuckling.

The all-white kitchen consists of upper shelving, Ikea cabinets and white appliances along one wall. A desk occupies an alcove next to them. An island topped with white quartz can seat six comfortably.

The ceiling soars above and a loft, with one of the home’s two full bathrooms, juts out slightly over the cabinets and adjacent desk.

“KEM talked a lot about using light and volume to make a small space seem bigger,” Magill said.

The home was built from scratch on a narrow lot chocked with limestone. Neither it nor Krygiel’s home has a basement. According to Brad Satterwhite, an architect at KEM Studio, Magill was open to just about any idea that maximized space.

“She said, ‘Let me lay my life out for you and then you design for it.’ Her desires were fairly simple, but she realized you have to be creative to get them.”

Those desires included a digital TV and movie projector and large retractable screen, a space that flows well for entertaining and a way to store her fold-up treadmill.

Magill got everything she asked for. A closet behind the living room sofa holds the treadmill. She rolls it out to run while watching TV on the large retractable screen that pulls down over the living room windows.

And every inch of the place, including the loft, is used when Magill hosts movie nights and concerts.

Her bedroom is at the rear of the house, separated only by drapes.

“Eventually I will have a Murphy bed that folds up and this can be used as an entertainment space when I’m not sleeping,” Magill said. “I like having everything open. It makes it really easy.”

Satterwhite and Krygiel noted how we spend so little waking time in our bedrooms that it’s not worth allocating a lot of space to them.

“Visually, with it being open, you see all the way through to the back of the house, so it feels like more than 1,200 square feet,” Satterwhite said.

The length of a short narrow hallway off the kitchen is lined on one side with closets. It ends at a floor-to-ceiling window. Turn right and you’re in a small full bathroom that has a closet with a stacked washer and dryer.

Magill says she throws her laundry directly into the washer, eliminating the need for a hamper.

She has moved six times during the past seven years. She’s purged a lot of her belongings to lighten her load.

“It’s minimalist living. I grew into it,” she says. “Now, with this small space, it keeps me honest because I just don’t have room. If I get something new, something old has to go.”

Common features in well-designed small homes

 

• White or light-colored walls

 

• Furnishings with clean lines that introduce pops of color to the space

 

• Lots of large windows to allow natural light

 

• Pocket doors that don’t require swing space

 

• As few walls as possible

 

• Short hallways or none at all

 

• Small bedrooms and bathrooms

 

• Built-in seating and storage

 

• Multipurpose rooms

 

• Modern, clean-lined furnishings and artwork

 

• Beautiful yet functional stuff that doesn’t need to be put in a closet

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