Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Our House Is Going To Look Like

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The developer's picture of what our home is supposed to be like (basically- this is a nearly identical building to ours). Ours will look like the apartment with the right-side fence- the first two floors. Only the indented part will not have a porch above it, it'll be open to the air.
I wanted to apologize for really slacking off on the posting rate this summer. Of course the heat played a huge part in it- this was the hottest summer in local recorded history, and so, even with our air conditioning running full time in the bedroom, it was still hard to do anything in the rest of the house (and no, even the bedroom wasn't cool), so being able to concentrate on writing good posts... was just kind of out of the picture.
But on top of that, when I actually did get around to doing stuff, it was house related things.
When we signed on our house in June, I had no clue just how much we'd be having to run around in circles, again and again, from meeting to meeting, from one city to the next, just to get some paperwork done that needs to be done. Just for the mortgage alone, our bank gave us a list of 17 documents to procure, each from different places, many documents needing multiple trips to the same place to finally get them...
So basically, we've been swamped.
And on top of that, we have had to make some very important decisions, about how exactly our house will be, and where we'll be allocating the money we have available for the house including all renovations.
I mentioned in my previous post how we're taking a two floor house and turning it into two 3 bedroom apartments, so we spent hours and hours coming up with first one floor plan, and then another, and another, then another, each time thinking it was the final plan, until we'd realize that we'd made some mistakes and it would be better to do it otherwise.
We have a set budget, and while, at first, it seemed quite big, once we calculated all the extra costs involved in this, we didn't have quite so much wiggle room, so we had to make decisions about what would be most cost effective, both in the short run, and in the long run. What would have a really low rate of return, and what would cost less now but greatly improve our quality of life the most.
So many hard decisions.

To be honest, as hard as it was to decide all these things, I actually had so much fun designing these, really making me think that maybe I'd have enjoyed being an architect. I think, actually, that architecture would be a good field for my artistic and mathematically inclined 8 year old, Lee, if he still maintains the same interests when he gets older.

Here's what we eventually decided to do with the apartment.

This is the original plan for the apartment. 2 floors, with a really big kitchen, living room and dining room, as well as a guest room with an en suite bathroom, and another bedroom or office, plus one half bath on the first floor, then on the second floor, two full bathrooms, and 4 large bedrooms, including one master bedroom with an en suite full bath, and a laundry room.

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Our mission was to make this one apartment, intended for one family, into two apartments with three bedrooms each, with each being as space efficient as possible, but also as versatile as possible. We said that as much as we've been able to manage with a 1.5 bedroom, 484 square foot apartment for our family of 6 now and for the past 5 years (but yes, it has been getting tight), and as much as we'd probably really be thrilled with an apartment nearly twice that size (925 square feet) and with three bedrooms, there may come a time that we'll feel that that still isn't big enough, and we'll want to expand. So we specifically designed the upstairs apartment in a way that, should we want to take one of the bedrooms for ourselves (or even 2, for that matter), and then rent out a 2 bedroom (or one bedroom) apartment (assuming we don't need the income as much to help pay our mortgage), all we'd need to do is knock down a wall adjacent to the stairs (on either side, if need be) and add a door there, and we'd have a larger apartment.
This way, we'd be able to have our home grow with us, without needing to move out should we need something bigger.
And then, of course, if one day we get richer, or pay off the entire thing, and want a very large house, then we can just take the entire upstairs for ourselves.

This is what we did for the final design of the apartment. (All numbers are in centimeters, just to be clear.)
It doesn't have everything that there'll be in the end, since this is the blueprint for the builders, who are giving us the place only as a one family house, and after we get the keys, we'll be hiring someone to do the last few things to change it up to make it into a 2 family house- notably adding a front door (at the bottom left of the second floor- there already are stairs going up there), adding a drywall wall at the top of the stairs, and installing a kitchen upstairs.
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The changes we made for the apartment is that we took the kitchen that comes with the apartment, and kept it exactly that same size and layout (since the kitchen that comes with the apartment was at no extra cost, but if we'd want any changes, we'd have to pay for the entire kitchen), just flipped it, and moved it from the kitchen into the living room/dining room, so instead of separate rooms for that, all the kitchen/living room/dining room will be in one room, just like we have now, only twice the size.
This gave us the space of the kitchen to turn into another bedroom, so we have a three bedroom apartment. Compared to the size of the apartment, our kitchen will be very large, taking up room that could be living room/dining room, but we decided that the focal point in our place absolutely is the kitchen, that's where I do most of my living, since I love cooking and making from scratch so much, so extra kitchen space is worth every bit of square footage. And there still will be room for 2 couches or more, plus a big dining room table, even with that big kitchen. So all's good.

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What the kitchen that comes with the apartment is supposed to look like
This largest bedroom will be for my kids, all of them, for now. We plan on having overlapping bunk beds/loft beds, 4 beds in one corner (similar to this) to be most space efficient- and it'll be using our homemade loft beds that we already have, built to add two extra beds to it. You'll notice on the blueprint, there is an indented area into the bedroom, since we decided that because the kitchen/living room/dining room will have a lot in it, we didn't want wall space taken up by our big bookcases, so we had our architect make an indent into the kids' bedroom just the depth of our bookcases, so that we have more room for our dining room table and couches in the living room, and the kids won't miss the 10 inches or so of depth that we took off the bedroom.

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What the living room/dining room that comes with the apartment is supposed to look like. Now imagine this with the kitchen, above, along the unseen wall and the left hand wall.
The other two bedrooms downstairs are staying the same size, and the one with the en suite bathroom will be for us. It'll be small, but that's ok. The other bedroom will be an office/guest room to start with, and then when we need to move the kids into separate bedrooms, it'll be available as another kids' room.

We also really changed the bathrooms. With a lot of brain work (and so many back and forths, you wouldn't imagine), we figured out how we could get the most bang for our buck, and the most user friendly layout for bathrooms for our family of 6 (plus guests).
Our en suite bathroom will have a shower in it.
Then there will be a room with a bathtub and sink, and then another room with a toilet and sink (sink not shown in the blueprint, since we will be adding that afterwards). We figured that keeping the bathtub and toilet in separate rooms, we'll be able to have more availability, that someone can take a shower while another person is using the toilet (something we can certainly see the benefit of, living in a place currently with only one bathroom, with the bathtub and toilet in the same room), without them needing to walk through the master bedroom to use our bathroom.
The area directly across from the bathroom and under the stairs, where there was supposed to be a sink, will now be our laundry area.
The other notable thing in our apartment is that we've decided to turn our stairwell into usable storage space. From the kids' bedroom, we will be having a door to the area under the stairs. The taller area will be where we will keep our grocery stockpile (currently in our hallway, and cluttering up the place) and hopefully a spare freezer, and the lower part will be used to store things like out of season clothing, hand me downs, etc... (also currently cluttering up our bedroom due to lack of storage space). I've figured out plans on how to also utilize the actual stairway themselves as storage space, how to put in shelving units on the stairs to maximize storage space.

Upstairs we made almost more changes than we did downstairs. In order to make a decently sized living room/dining room/kitchen, we got rid of the laundry room, and made the master bedroom smaller (it really was huge beforehand, relative to the size of the apartment- 180 square feet), and changed the bathrooms so that the master bathroom would include a shower, and then the regular bathroom would include a bathtub and room for a washer and dryer. (For a while we thought the washer and dryer would have to go in the lower right hand corner of the living room/dining room, and we were thinking that that would really detract from the value of the apartment for renters, and were considering building a cabinet around them to hide them, but still worried about it- and then our engineer earned his pay by suggesting the current configuration with the laundry facilities inside the bathroom, really improving the place.)
We also were told at first that there would be a pillar stuck near the bottom right corner of the living room/dining room/kitchen, which would be a real pain to deal with, and make the room less versatile and user friendly. But we were told that for $650 we could get rid of that pillar, and though that isn't so cheap, we felt it was worth every cent, since it meant we'd be able to find renters more easily or be able to charge more, because it would simply make it a better apartment.

We were considering for a long time adding a porch to the rental apartment, but after finding out the cost of building a porch, we realized it simply isn't in the budget. Perhaps in the future we'll add one, but I'm not even sure about that, since we'd only be able to charge just a bit more for the place with a porch, and therefore it would take a really long time to actually get our money's worth on that investment (it would take at least 12.5 years to break even on that investment, let alone start making extra money).

We haven't decided yet where we'll be getting the kitchen for the rental. We may do an Ikea kitchen, but my step brother in law is a carpenter and often is able to get people's kitchens that they are getting rid of (often in great condition) when he installs new custom built kitchens, so if we can get one of the kitchens from him, we may end up doing that. Or we may buy a second hand kitchen. We still have time to decide.

Other things not shown in the blueprints that we did to save money/make money:
The apartment comes with built in electric wall heaters in each room. We decided to nix those, since they take up valuable floor space, and in smaller apartments, that simply wasn't a good idea. We got credited for that with our contractor, and used that credit towards other changes we made. We also decided to nix TV outlets and telephone outlets in every single room, since most people aren't using land lines these days so you don't need to have one in every single room (we just kept 1 or 2 in each apartment, I don't remember), and because we don't have a TV, we had no need to have the special TV outlets. (As for our rental unit- we may have left one TV outlet for them, I'm not sure.)
Again, we got credit for these with our contractor.
Locally, the most cost effective type of heating actually is from a wall unit that is both an AC and a heater, and the added perk is they can be installed above windows/doors so they don't take up valuable wall space, so we decided to have our contractor build preparations for these into our apartments- one in the master bedroom and one in the living room/dining room for our apartment, and one in the living room/dining room for our rental unit. Having an AC unit (even one) increases the value of a rental apartment, hence investing there in something we won't be using. We considered adding preparations for them in every room, but the cost simply was too high.

We also paid extra to have our contractor install preparations for solar water heaters for our rental apartment (ours comes with one anyhow)- we figure the extra $650 for the preparations, plus $775+ for the units will pay off, again, since solar water heating is a big plus in our area and makes an apartment a lot more rentable.

We will also be adding a storage space in the hallway in the rental unit- the ceilings are high, so we will be lowering the ceiling a bit and make a storage space there, accessible from the living room/dining room/kitchen, to make the place more appealing. My friend Debby's husband, Joe, did this in their apartment, and it looks really beautiful and professional, and he did it in less than one day, so we'll be doing the same in ours.

You have no idea how hard it was to make these decisions, since they are, more or less, permanent. We thought long and hard about every last little bit, mulled it over, hashed it out, discussed it, polled friends and relatives about what they'd prefer to have in a rental apartment if they were living there), and paid extra money to make these changes now (nearly $20,000), because any changes now will be much cheaper than making changes after the place is already built. (Right now our building is just a frame, the inside isn't built yet, so there are many changes we can make now for free or very low cost, that would cost a fortune more to change after the place is already built.)

So, there you have it.

There's no turning back.

Hoping for the best.

And literally counting down the days until the place will be ready, since day by day our apartment is feeling smaller, especially since we already know so many details about how our new place would be. Mike is having the hardest time waiting. Me, personally? I feel like at least knowing when we will be able to move to a bigger place makes it more tolerable for me in the tiny place, as opposed to before thinking that we'll never really be able to afford to move to something bigger.

P.S. No telling me what we should do differently in the place- what we decided is final. Also, note that I was taking into account what other apartments in our area look like, what the needs in our community are, when designing the place, so even if it may not seem like the ideal layout for your area, after consulting many local people, it is the ideal layout for our area.

Have you ever designed an apartment before? What changes did you make? How hard was it for you to decide how to have it?


  1. I'm curious how you will be able to take over part of the second floor (once you feel you need the space) and not have the tenet feel like you're invading their space? I'm not trying to be mean, I just can't picture it.

    1. It would be in between tenants, not with the same ones. Locally people don't generally have long term tenants- the fact that we've been in the same apartment for 5 years is not common here at all- many people move every year or two. So if we need to take over a room or two, at the end of the lease we wouldn't renew the lease, maybe add a drywall wall in front of the old door to the bedroom, and then just rent it as a 2 bedroom apartment instead of a 3 bedroom, with new tenants.

  2. Good luck. It all seems good and practical. Not sure about having 4 kids in the big bedroom. I have similar sized rooms for my kids (what is smaller in length is wider in width compared to yours), and while I can fit 4 beds (bunk beds, or one bunk and one overlapping) then adding it a decent sized wardrobe might be harder /feeling a bit cramped. Then again, if your kids, like mine, are more in the living area and not in the room (which is then only/mainly used for sleep), then you'll be fine.
    Good thinking about doing a separate bath /toilet. It's another thing we considered for the kid's floor and didn't do in the end (we weren't sure it was the best and it was either to fit in this way), but sometimes I still regret it (though we compensated in having a completely screened off bath which allows for emergencies for our youngest- the big kids just go down to the "guest" bathroom...

    1. My kids spend more time in the living room, and thankfully we will also have a yard- front and back! We said we'd do a decent sized wardrobe along the back of the wall that will have the book shelves on the other end. Not sure how cramped it will be, but it'll be at least 3 times the size of the kids' current bedroom.

  3. We bought a house and renovated it recently... Actually we are still in the process of renovating it but we are living around the renovations. Because we are doing it all ourselves I have had the luxury/curse of being able to change my mind over and over... I have much respect for you nailing things down :-)

    1. Thank you! What kind of renovations are you doing? How long will the entire renovations process take?

    2. We bought a beat up place and took it down to the slab and studs. So far we have built a new bathroom and kitchen, removed a wall, redone the floors, and gotten the bedrooms functional. The biggest project remaining is the second bathroom which has no functionality at the moment. Because we are literally doing everything ourselves, the timeline is totally in our hands... Which means that amid life stuff that last bathroom has really dragged out... And I keep changing my mind about how I want it :-P

  4. This is so exciting! I love looking at room layouts and I am happy you are sharing this with us. Can't wait for more posts about the apartment! I have one question: how will the tenants access their apt.? I didn't understand that part very well. Is it from the landing on the staircase? In any case, congratulations on the progress :)

    1. Thank you! If you look at the layout of the tenants apartment, in the bottom right corner of the diagram, in the living room/dining room/kitchen, there will be a door opening up there. There already is an external staircase there going up to the apartments above our property, so the staircase is already there- all that needs to be done for access to that floor is simply making a door there.

  5. This is pretty neat. I look forward to seeing pictures.

  6. So very happy for you. Your own home designed by you! What a treat. Enjoy the journey.

  7. This is way exciting!!!! I'm so happy for you and your family, Penny! It looks like you have a terrific floor plan and have taken into account so many things for the future.

    My husband's grandparents had storage under their stairs and I was always so envious! They had a full extra-deep closet at the tall end and then cupboard doors that opened into hallway outside the stairs on the lower end - nothing got lost in the back in the bottom that way. I thought that was brilliant! They also their clothes closets built with bi-fold doors with a single or double rod or shelves or some combination of inside. Then above, where there's usually high shelves inside the closet, they built cupboards that opened to the room so that space was used the most efficiently. They had a 600 square foot footprint for their house with only the main floor finished (the upstairs/attic was unfinished and used as storage) and they raised 6 children in that house as well. Storage was so important!

    Enjoy the planning and waiting!

  8. I personally think that there are too few bathrooms for the bedrooms upstairs in this house, but I'm glad you are looking forward to moving in!


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