Part 2 – 745 sqft and 845 sqft Condominiums, Pennsylvania

  • BradW


    Your suggested changes, while nice, do nothing for the front entry. The bathroom door now opens directly onto the dining room and still interferes with the laundry. The new front closet is small, remains directly in view of both the living/dining space and likely forces changes to electrical, plumbing and cabinetry work in the bathroom. In addition, removal of the existing bedroom wall will impact the floor, the ceiling and, probably, electrical work will be needed. The kitchen requires additional cabinets/millwork and a counter. The bedroom requires a new closet (perhaps the existing closet doors could be reused) and a new wall with, potentially, custom millwork including pocket doors for privacy. I think the scope of this renovation while not intended to be major turns out to be more than the average person will expect. So I always smile a little bit when an architect or real estate agent says something like “Don’t worry the changes are relatively minor..”.

    Yesterday, Louis and Doug gave this unit a renovation and once again it seems impossible to make any meaningful change within a reasonable budget. They did manage to show the potential of the unit with an improved interior design.

    The fact is these units have been poorly designed at the outset and, unfortunately, there is relatively little one can affordably do about it except have the good sense not to buy them in the first place.

  • Doug Roberts

    John — Relocating the bedroom to the space in front of the window in the south east corner would definitely improve the bedroom, but would put it a long way from the bathroom and would have a significant adverse impact on both the kitchen, which would be cut off from any view or natural light, and the living area, which would become virtually impossible to furnish without blocking access to the bedroom or terrace. I started to think that maybe you could close off one of the access points to the bedroom, or flip the bed around and put the flat screen TV on a pivoting section in the millwork divider so that it could be turned to face either the bedroom or the living room. Then it occurred to me that laying out a 1-bedroom 1-bathroom unit in 845 square feet should not be this difficult. I grew up in a 1950′s bungalow that managed to fit 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, an eat-in kitchen, a large living room, long hallways and a stairway leading to the basement into 865 square feet, only 20 square feet more than this unit. Accordingly, I think that we are working too hard to make either of these poorly designed units livable and agree with Brad’s concluding comment that the best approach would be not to buy either unit (and to make a point of telling the sales agent WHY). Hopefully, over time, developers will learn that poor design = lost sales = less profit.

  • Terri

    John, I agree with Brad’s comments above regarding the costs involved in your renovation. Your changes don’t seem minor to me either.

    Doug points out the problem of limited light to the kitchen, which I think is important. Do we really need to wake up right next to a window? Wouldn’t it be better to be able to sit near that window sometime during the day, or many times throughout?

    These badly designed units would have to be vastly less expensive than others in the market to make purchasing either of them viable, since no matter what, substantial changes must be incorporated to make them liveable.

  • BradW


    One very significant difference between your 865 sqft bungalow and this 845 sqft condo is access to light. The condo only has one wall with windows whereas the bungalow has three, and possibly four , walls with windows. This makes a big difference in floor planning.

    One thought I had for the 845 sqft unit was to locate a murphy bed in the main living area while converting the existing bedroom space into a dressing room using flat pak closet systems. Imagination and a focus on furnishing and decor are requirements for great low cost solutions. Great furnishings and art can be used again and again.

  • John Y.

    I actually have to disagree with Brad and Terri on this one — I think these are potentially worthwhile renovations for a unite that is well-located. If it’s far from work/transit, I’d keep looking, but if we’re operating under the assumption that this is a good location for the buyer’s life, I think the place has enough potential that it’s worth buying — especially since I’ll bet the odd layout would keep the price somewhat depressed.

    Brad *is* correct that this could quite easily turn into a costly renovation, I don’t think it has to be that way. Take the long view: all that really *needs* to be done before moving in is relocating the closet and putting up either a screen or a (possibly basic) wall between the new bedroom and the living area. The kitchen island, shelves, even entry closet (via a freestanding wardrobe) can be handled with inexpensive IKEA units in the meantime, while the homeowner renovates on a schedule that better fits their life and wallet. After all, isn’t one of the ideas behind slow home that we live in one house for years, even decades? We don’t have to change everything overnight, and living in a place for a while can give you a good idea of what you want to do in the long run.

    As to specific furnishings, I think I’d avoid putting a television in the bedroom: bedroom hygiene suggests that it be kept for sleeping and sex; other activities in there run the risk of throwing off your sleep/wake cycles. On the other side of that wall, I’d put a loveseat or small couch, with a flatscreen TV mounted opposite.

    One last point, regarding light: I *do* think light in the bedroom is important; light is an important cue for our bodies that it’s time to wake up, and I think morning light streaming into the bedroom would be fantastic. As to light for the kitchen, the kitchen is the only room in my house where I turn lights on even during the day, because I want a more-uniform amount of light while I’m working in there. I don’t feel like a windowless kitchen would be a great hardship for me, as long as there is some kind of exhaust fan/hood available.

    (John, I was pleasantly surprised when I loaded the site up this morning and saw that your web developers have the video working on iPhones — this means I can watch in the morning on my train commute and be ready to contribute off and on; I’ve been absent for a few months because of work demands, but I definitely missed the site.)

  • Doug Roberts

    Brad — I agree that only having 1 window wall is a big constraint, but we are not talking rocket science here. A rectangular 1-bedroom 1-window wall condo unit should generally have one of two basic configurations:
    1) working back from the window wall, living/dining/kitchen on one side and bedroom/bathroom/laundry on the other side; or
    2) again working back from the window wall, living/bedroom/bathroom on one side and dining/kitchen/laundry on the other side.
    If the unit is wide enough to use either of these configurations but the developer wishes to use some other configuration to make the unit “different”, then considerable care must be taken to ensure that “different” is still livable.
    If the unit is not wide enough to put either living/bedroom or living/dining side-by-side along the window wall, then the developer is trying to cram too many units into too little space and you should look elsewhere.

  • Jeanie


    I like the radical repositioning of the bedroom!
    If the bed is to be kept in the original spot, a giant cube with full size storage underneath might allow a better entryway, and more privacy for the bed, which can be tucked behind a raised bookshelf.

  • BradW

    Doug – Agreed it is not rocket science but it seems fewer affordable units are wide enough for your suggested configurations since, at least in the Toronto market, bedrooms are no longer required to have windows.

    Developers will sometimes use setbacks in the building facade to introduce more corners and hence more natural light depending on the site and market. Of course, your lovely view is always subject to change when another condo is built next door.

  • John Brown

    A very interesting discussion. Rarely does a segment generate so much debate.

    In terms of costs,from my experience the changes that I am proposing would not be significant. The biggest cost would be the changes in the bathroom to accommodate the front hall closet.

    I appreciate the concerns and agree with the criticism of my proposed changes – particularly the entry and the bathroom door opening into the dining room. Unlike the design projects we have done in the past, however, I tried to use this exercise to explore the idea of “what could be done to make this unit less bad or perhaps even acceptable for a modest amount of money”. This is in the spirit of John Y’s comment about making a problematic unit that is in a desirable location more livable.

    At the end of the day, it is vitally important to have a frank discussion with either yourself or a potential purchase, about whether it is better to keep searching for another option or not. My sense is that despite the different renovations being suggestions, I would probably recommend that the buyers keep looking.

  • John Brown

    I agree with Brad’s comment about the constraints of the typical developer condo. The problem is not just the fact that there are windows on only one wall. To maximize the number of units, the proportions often become too long and narrow. This makes a bad situation worse.

    At the same time I think you make a really good point about size. The typical post war bungalow is a great example of how 845 sq.ft. can be used very effectively. The typical developer condo (like the ones here) are example of how the same floor area can be inefficient and ineffective. All sizes are not created equal. The fact that most people consider floor area to be the most significant metric in a real estate choice is clearly a problem.

  • John Brown

    Do you mean a lofted bed that is raised 5′-7′ above the ground? If there is enough ceiling height that could be quite effective.

  • Jeanie

    Yes, that was the idea. Thanks!

  • jim baer


    can we have a discussion about required light and vent in bedrooms?

  • jim baer

    and how about the idea that these units are NOT REALLY one bedrooms.

  • John Brown

    The two issues you raise are actually linked.

    In most jurisdiction a legally classified bedroom must have a minimum sized window. This is for egress in houses, and access to natural light and ventilation in both apartments and houses. I understand that some cities are changing their rules for this in high rise developments.

    But there is another way that developers can get around this issue and build units that are too narrow and dark. Loft style open units typical skirt the requirement by defining one big room that has the bed plus kitchen, living and dining. Techinically there is a window in the room that contains the bed.

    I would imagine that this is why there are no enclosed bedrooms with doors in these two units. Done well, the loft style unit can be great. Done badly the results can be grim.

    In an open loft style plan I personally think that beds should be located close to a window but this is not a requirement. Others, Terri, would give preference to the kitchen or other living space.

  • Louis Pereira



    I agree 100% with your comments and was about to write a very similar post to support the attached layout which, in my view incorporates many of your points. I was looking at it from an almost identical perspective in terms of layout and use of modular cabinet and wardrobe systems.

    With the least amount of changes to the existing 845 s.f. unit, and incorporating some of John’s layout ideas and Brad’s suggestion for flexible or moveable furnishings, i think this plan starts to look respectable as a 1 Bedroom with Home Office. And to reiterate JohnY’s points, perhaps this is in a great location (Slow) or a converted structure (Slow) or affordable housing (Slow) in a walkable neighbourhood close to retail, restaurants etc.

  • Jeanie

    To summarize, the biggest problems with this unit seem to be:
    - a poor entry with no closet
    - lack of privacy in the bedroom
    - a lack of natural light to the bedroom if walled off
    - possible code violations if bedroom is walled off
    - blockage of natural light to the kitchen if bed is relocated to window
    - awkward or tight living space if bed is relocated to window
    - lack of storage space overall

    I think that the lofty cube addresses these issues.
    - the entry is enlarged and a generous closet is nearby
    - the sleeping area gains privacy, yet is not blocked from ambient natural light or ventilation, and will not violate codes
    - plenty of room is left for living space, allowing flexibility in furnishing
    - overall storage is increased with the use of the room sized entry/bedroom closet

    With only a small structural change, this might be a cost-effective solution.
    I still wouldn’t want to buy either apartment, though!

  • John Brown

    A very nice consolidation of everyone’s ideas into one scheme.

  • Jeanie

    -and avoids any costly structural changes.

  • Terri

    I agree with John’s comment (just above). I like Louis’s revision of John’s plan, especially not having a dining table in the entry area and closer to the windows. And bonus: it’s not too expensive to do.

  • Grace

    I could not imagine living in these units until you all imaginatively reconfigured them.

  • Louis Pereira

    I was going to add that there is the possibility to provide a pivoting screen or door at the threshold between the Home Office and the Kitchen/Dining area. This would add more privacy and would allow (as a business) to keep the main entry door open to the public hallway.

    If this building is anything like the condo i used to live in, keeping the main entry door open from the hallway could promote cross-ventilation. It may not be naturally ventilated but it would ensure a comfortable indoor climate.

  • BradW


    It can be done! Nice reworking of the apartment using movable elements with no structural change. I especially like the entry/office space – I would not have thought of that. The bed might be a little short at 6′ but that is really beside the point. Thanks…

  • Mid Mo

    Unit 2 is the most workable. But I disagree with some modifications. There still is a lack of good closet space that I would expect from a place this size. Another is the choice to move that bed to the window.

    If we do move the bedroom I would add some closet space toward the front in that alcove.

    Many thoughts on the bedroom. The bedroom is too far from the bathroom. I see the natural focal point of the empty space as one of the view. I would max. that for public spaces. I view the light as a commodity – one to be used in the space where most of our awake time is spent. If we design the bedroom for one function (though John you added a TV which I would never do personally due to its effect on sleep) then not much time is spent awake there. Placing the bed in front takes much of good light and the view and even less would make it toward the back than now. Also there is less light into the kitchen and dining area. I feel it turned from open plan with lots of space to entertain and play with furniture with and change to a bowling alley that is constrained.

    If we could due major changes to the plan – I would have flipped the bath to the North wall alcove space. At least more light could potentially make it to the back of the unit.

  • Cat

    Regarding natural light, I agree with JohnY: “light is an important cue for our bodies that it’s time to wake up, and I think morning light streaming into the bedroom would be fantastic.” I definitely want light in my bedroom, but it really does not have to be a full wall of glass. Even light through a transom might be sufficient. I want to be able to see outside in the rooms I’ll be spending my waking hours in.

    Some of this, I guess, has to do with how much time you spend in the bedroom. Do you only sleep there? Or do you watch TV, read, study, work there? I tend to be only a sleep, nap, read to put me sleep person, very little of which takes place during daylight hours.

  • Paul C


    Maybe more is less or maybe the developer should have consulted a Slow Homer during concept development. (I am never quite sure if my scale is bang on but here goes) This plan attempts to address the narrowness of the individual spaces and does away with the separate home office. As Spock would say the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. (Yeah I don’t know why I said that…must be Friday.) In other words, trade off the home office/study to get better spaces everywhere else? The dining table and island would need to be somewhat transparent to permit as much light to filter back into the living as possible.

    Looking forward to picking up an autographed first addition when you start you book tour :-)

  • Paul C

    D’oh! I meant maybe LESS is more.

  • Tom

    Paul C … I love it! A bit like living shipboard, every inch is used

  • Terri

    Paul C,
    Very interesting how you’ve reconfigured the space. Extending the bath into the dark back space on the north wall and also using the companion back space on the south for utility space, yet maintaining some light for the bedroom is nice. I especially like your concept to put the bedroom at the back, freeing the window area for living, but maybe I wouldn’t waste that window area with a dining table, unless it’s doing double-duty as a desk space.

    Working near a window is primary for me, as I spend so much of my waking time at a desk (light and ventilation lessen the burden). So, as much as I felt that Louis improved on John’s plan, I still would rather have the office space at the front. Just to add to the bedroom debate once more… I agree with Cat regarding waking to the light–low levels do the job. I’d love to have even that these days! (While it’s still dark at 7AM here in the north, we’re forced to awaken to darkness.)

  • Mid Mo


    Here is one of the plans I came up with if we could do a major redesign. I kept the front entry the same placement (in case that had to be) BUT I flipped the swing.

    Note see through fireplace and a frosted glass wall in bedroom. The space in front could be office (as I show here). Next to the bath is the laundry and entry closet space.

  • Paul C

    Thank you. I think a lot can be learned from other forms of “architecture” that deal with small spaces. Ship building is an excellent example…aircrafts
    Double duty is exactly what this unit is about and that approach can be a very effective way of making the most of smaller square footage. With the wireless technology these days and the compatibility of electronics I could see someone using the flat screen in the living as a pc. I would love a 52″ monitor. The extensive millwork wall could serve multiple functions.

    Fast housing design, imhumbleo, tends to focus more on the marketing/wish list or the presumed “must have for resale purpose rooms” as opposed to good design. For example, how many two storey single detached homes of smaller square footage have three bedrooms where two, from a design and space planning perspective, could be so much better. Yet three bedrooms is a must have. To me, that approach, is quintessential fast housing. Quantity over quality, sensation over substance, hype over homes. I think it insults the homeowner frankly and that’s my soapbox for the month.

    P.S. Thankfully we are over the hump, the days are getting longer.

    Mid Mo,
    The two sided fireplace is a nice feature. Alternatively you may want to consider flipping the bedroom and having the fireplace serve the living with some transoms for bedroom light.

  • Mid Mo

    Hi Paul, thanks for taking a look. I love that island and the fridge alcove is nice in yours.

    Funny you mentioned moving the fireplace to the great room side. I originally planned it that way. But moved it for a few reasons 1. I thought the great room would have a fight of focal points (I am imagining this place with a great view and that would be the focal). 2. That office is so dark being in the back I thought a little more light would help. 3. I was concerned about the long hall view I created to get the bedroom in the middle. So I wanted to catch the eye when you open the door. So the swing was reversed and fireplace placed.