Have you resolved to go on a diet and shed pounds in the new year? Why not also put your home on a diet in 2012?
It makes sense, said Sharon Kreighbaum, author of the new book "Is Your House Overweight? Recipes for Low-Fat Rooms" and owner of Staged Makeovers in Hudson, Ohio. When a house is overweight, it feels uncomfortable and sluggish and weighs on occupants, said the interior designer and home stager.
"It creates stress, due to not being able to find things," Kreighbaum said. "You buy another (item) and wind up with a lot of duplicates. You feel defeated in not being able to make a decision as to where to put things. Being uncomfortable with too much becomes overwhelming."
Builders and architects seem to have gotten the message that homes need to shed fat. They're building houses that start out and stay leaner, said Jennifer Ames, a broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Gold Coast in Chicago.
For example, North Carolina architect Sarah Susanka, famed for her Not So Big House philosophy, recently unveiled a showcase home reflecting that approach at SchoolStreet Homes in Libertyville. The house forgoes unused formal rooms for spaces tailored to casual lifestyles that focus on functionality and flexibility. Characteristic features include built-ins, window seats, alcoves and nooks.
Addressing the bloat starts with sacrificing quantity but not quality. Many homes have downsized or eliminated less-used spaces like living rooms and dining rooms, Ames noted.
"I'm also seeing empty nesters getting more pragmatic about how often their children will visit," she said. "Providing bedrooms for the once-a-year visit just doesn't make sense."
A small utility room off the garage or back door can do wonders for reining in clutter when a family enters and leaves the home, said Kim Cosentino, owner of De-Clutter Box, a Westmont home-organizing company.
Organization solutions for this area include benches, floor-to-ceiling storage space, built-in shelves for sports equipment and backpacks, coat hooks and spots for recharging cellphones.
Newer home designs recognize people congregate in the kitchen, the heart of the home. An adjoining hearth room with a fireplace and comfortable seating can eliminate the need for living rooms and family rooms, Kreighbaum said.
A built-in eating area in the kitchen gives a homeowner more usable space than a formal dining room.
For storage needs, drawers are replacing shelves in the lower cupboards, allowing everything stored within cupboards to be pulled out when needed, Cosentino said.
Some of the best ideas in creating leaner kitchens are the simplest.
"Fewer cabinets, but larger and wider cabinets, can afford you more flexibility and more storage opportunities," said Sarah Reep, product specialist with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Masco Cabinetry.
"I'd rather have one 30-inch-wide than two 16-inch-wide cabinets. And that saves you money, because one cabinet is more affordable than two."
Similarly, a 36-inch-wide drawer will accommodate a much wider range of items than standard 12-, 15- or 18-inch-wide drawers, Reep said.
Dens common in older homes are being supplanted with media/computer rooms, said Cheryl Daugvila, kitchen designer and owner of Cheryl D & Co. in La Grange. The firm helps builders such as Westmont's Recon Construction build more efficient homes.
Computers, printers, computer games and everyday books inhabit these rooms, which feature drawer-like pullouts that hide computer wiring and printers within cabinets for a tidy appearance.
Builders once included bathroom closets, but "we're taking them out and designing bathrooms around bathroom-oriented tasks," Daugvila said. "We've incorporated specialty pull-outs for items like hair blowers and flatirons that are always plugged in, and nest in heat-resistant bins or cups in cabinets."
Bedroom design is taking advantage of 9- and 10-foot-high ceilings to feature pull-down clothes rods within closets.
"The whole thing is hinged and totally doubles your hanging space," Daugvila said. "(It's ideal) for things that are more seasonal or more secondary. We build these pull-downs into closets."
Tucked away until needed, Murphy beds and hidden ironing boards maximize space in smaller homes.
"(Hidden ironing boards) look nice, are hidden behind a door, are self-contained with all your starch, iron and sleeve board, and they're designed to sit right within that 16-inch space between wall studs," Daugvila said.
One of the best-selling models at Meritus Homes' Creekside at Inverness Ridge is the smallest. The absence of unneeded rooms and features in the three-bedroom, two-bath Marquis ranch plan appeals to buyers, said Brian Brunhofer, president of the Deerfield-based builder.
"The floor plan has a very large, open great room that eliminates need for a living room," he said. "It lives very well, is very open, but has the needed features of homes people look for today."
Once you have a home with "low-fat rooms," it's a matter of resolving to keep them from getting bloated, Kreighbaum said. Store items only in rooms where they're used, keep nothing but a coffee maker on kitchen counters and use clear plastic organizing bins with labels for storage, she said.
The benefits of a slimmed-down house can be remarkable. Kreighbaum had a client with a kitchen so cluttered it couldn't be used for food preparation. The family ate out or ordered in. Once the kitchen shed fat, the family started cooking at home.
Said Kreighbaum, "The entire family lost weight."