You are hereNewspapers 1990-1999 / Adding Space

Adding Space


Alvin Wasserman had a problem in mathematics. He had three children, one of them a new baby, divided into two bedrooms. For his Rosyln Heights home, that was one body too many.

“For the first few months, we had a bassinet in my bedroom and the two other children each kept their own room,” he recalled. But as the baby grew, things became increasingly more cramped. “There isn’t a human being on earth who takes up more space than a baby,” he said with a sigh. “Their toys are bigger than the child itself. I told my wife, ‘Either the baby moves or I do.’ ”

The Wassermans’ solution was to put a bunk bed in one of the rooms and have the two older children double up. But for many homeowners, the problems are not so easily solved. Families grow, clutter accumulates, and space becomes scarce.

It doesn’t have to be. Experts say it is possible to add space without adding on. “A lot of older homes are very poorly planned,” said Martin Passante, the principal of MAP Architects in Hauppauge. “If you have an architect or interior designer look at your house, you can usually do a lot.”

Such work can range from major interior construction and renovation – knocking down and repositioning walls – to simple furniture redesign.The first step is to consider how your space is currently apportioned.

“Families have to decide whether it’s a good idea to keep a formal dining room or if they use it for something else because they always eat in the kitchen,” said Joel Ergas, a designer at Forbes-Ergas Design in Manhattan. “Often people have a dining room because it’s there. Maybe it makes more sense to turn that room into a home office.”

“It’s a matter of redistributing space according to how people live,” agreed Doris Milgrom, a designer in Great Neck. Sometimes that means radical redesign.

“I sometimes suggest they replan the interior of their home,” Passante said. “I’ve seen places where the stairs are stuck right in your face as as you walk in the door, where the kitchens are in front of the house when they would be better in the back. There are all sorts of badly planned things.”

In such cases, interior reconstruction may be the most efficient solution. In Passante’s own home, for instance, the architect took down the non-load-bearing walls and enlarged many of the rooms in the house. He transformed three small bedrooms into two large ones, and by so doing added enough space to the bathroom to include a large jacuzzi. Since he did much of the planning and contracting himself, the entire reconstruction cost under $10,000. He estimates similar jobs done by outside contractors could cost as little as $15,000.

According to interior designer Nicholas A. Calder of Manhasset, redesign and construction is usually less expensive than it looks. “It costs almost nothing to knock down a sheet rock wall and put up a sheet rock wall,” he said. “It is in the areas of plumbing and electricity where you run into cost. Carpentry and paint is the cheapest thing you can do in interior design.”

Hiring a designer or an architect is a good idea, he added, because “we’ll take a footprint of the home and with that make a diagram of how we can renovate. You’d be surprised at the amount of wasted space we uncover that way.”

You may even find space outside the house that you can convert. A little-used sun porch, for instance, could be enclosed with thermopane windows and turned into an extra room. “I’ve done that for people in homes and even for people who live in apartments,” Milgrom said. “It is an ideal way to give extra living space.”

Ergas said that when he examines homes in which there is supposedly “no space” he finds major construction is often not the issue. It is a question of “the wrong furniture. The place is filled with bulky pieces that had been brought from somewhere else and are too large.” He will often suggest smaller furniture or even custom built-ins.

Built-ins are inexpensive and can be very effective in eliminating inefficient furniture. Erik Kent, principal of Manhasset Interiors, suggested installing reading lamps and clocks to the bedroom headboard, which can “eliminate the need for small bedside dressers because you don’t need a place for the lamp and clock.” He also recommended removing lamps and some end tables by installing “high hat” lighting, lights recessed in the ceiling, which he called “more attractive than track lighting.”

Kent utilized both high-hats and built-ins at a kitchen he recently redesigned for a farm ranch home in Millbank.The space was tight, so he used high-hats to minimize tables and built in most of the cabinetry. But he also bought one piece of furniture, a hutch, that fit in perfectly.

“We needed even more storage space, but they wanted no more built-ins because it was starting to get expensive,” he recalled.“They didn’t want to custom-build this thing but they wanted something that fit into the character of the farm ranch. What’s nice about the piece I found is that it has the feeling and panache of a farmhouse, but fits into the new kitchen’s look. That’s why hiring a designer can be a good idea. He knows where to look to find such things.”

Other ways to increase space can include adding or expanding closets. “You can never have enough storage,” said Calder, who noted that many homeowners opt for furniture over closets, which he called a mistake. “People seem to love wall units. I’ve gone to 25 jobs where there are armoires, but do they have closets for their coats? No. Armoires are decorative but are not as useful as built-ins.”

One good place to add a closet is under a staircase, since the area is usually underutilized. Lawrence Laguna, an architect in Oceanside, suggested deepening a closet by taking unused space from an adjoining room. “Then you can add shelving in the back and places to hang things you don’t often use.”

In finding additional space within your existing closets, you should look for “places where you have height in the closet and aren’t using it,” Ergas said. “Some closets extend a number of feet above the door and you can’t reach that high.” One solution is to punch in a second compartment door so you can gain access to the upper reaches. Other times, two small closets sit side by side. Those can be combined into one large closet.

Extending kitchen cabinets to the ceiling is another way to increase space. Ergas recommended adding vertical storage drawers, which take up less space and can hold more produce than cabinets with doors. “They are like files for high-density filing,” he said. “If they are two-sided, you can put groceries on both sides. That way, you are making full use of existing cabinet space.” Another possibility: carousel units for corner cabinets.

Then there are bathrooms. In slightly oversized ones, Laguna said owners could building a shallow cabinet from the floor to the ceiling. “That can be a useful shelf space for towels,” he said. Ergas suggested adding storage units that straddle the toilet tank.

In doing such work, it is important not to make existing space seem smaller than it is. When Kent renovated a colonial home in Oyster Bay Cove, he used sconces and a crystal chandelier rather than high hat lighting to create “the feeling of a majestic formal dining room,” he said. “High hats are more contemporary and the owner wanted a classic look.What we did made the ceiling look bigger because it gives you elevation. The sconces and chandelier also give the room warmth and character which you are trying to create without closing the room in.”

In any space situation, experts say the solution often lies in the problem. “You have to do a little self-analysis,” Ergas said. “Once you understand what you are dealing with, it’s easier to find the answer. If you can’t get into the closet because the whole floor is covered with shoes, the trick is to find a way to get the shoes off the floor.”