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In a crowded home, the key to finding space you didn’t know you had

  • April 21, 2023

“I have enough space in the house,” said no one ever. But jokes aside, it would be hard to find people, especially families, who feel that the place where they live meets their needs perfectly. Over time the house always seems to get smaller, with the constant accumulation of furniture and other posessions, and the welcome addition of children and pets.

Over the course of their lives, people experience changes: Children are born and the family expands; those children later spread their wings and abandon their rooms; people switch to working from home and need a quiet niche; entertaining guests becomes difficult because of a crowded kitchen and a small dining area, and so on.

All these reasons seem like good ones to move. You start to wander around your present neighborhood and other ones close by, you look at apartments and houses through real estate agents and check mortgage options, but the prices are constantly going up and the dream grows more distant by the day.

The financial aspect is a main consideration in the decision of whether to move or to renovate. “In addition to the reasonable assumption that the apartment we want to purchase will be more expensive than the one in which we live, you have to take additional costs into account, such as purchase tax, capital gains tax, fees for a lawyer and an agent – all these can total about half a million shekels ($136,000) for a private home and 200,000 shekels for an apartment,” explains architect Shira Muskal of Halel Architecture.

“The cost of living and the uncertainty experienced by individuals and families in Israel cause people to think twice about whether to take on the project of selling an apartment and buying a new one,” says Eran Siv, chairman of the Association for Renovations Contractors in Israel. According to the association’s estimates, in the past year there was an increase by more than 15 percent in requests from customers “who want to renovate their home more extensively than they did in the past, and to adapt it to the family situation,” says Siv. “That’s an alternative to finding a new apartment and all the costs involved in that. We expect that this year we’ll also see an increase in the trend, as interest rates and taxes continue to rise.”

The automatic thought that the only solution to crowded conditions is to move can be misleading. In many cases, the solution lies in design changes to the property you own, which doesn’t require uprooting the family from the neighborhood.

How do you do that properly? Here are stories of families who were sure that the solution lay elsewhere, but thanks to precise planning and creative thinking, they were able to remain in their homes.

A separate unit for older children

Cosmetic change isn’t enough

The project: A garden apartment in Haifa, about 130 square meters (1,400 square feet) plus a 70-square-meter garden.

Who lives there: A couple and their four children – two sons in their late teens and two young daughters.

Redesign: Interior designer Ela Morgan

Why they wanted to move, and why they decided to stay: With their fourth child on the way, the parents felt that the apartment was too small for the needs of their family. They began thinking about how to fix the problem through home styling, but even from the get-go they realized that a cosmetic change wouldn’t be enough, and started looking for another apartment.

One of their requirements was a separate unit for each of the two older boys. After looking at several properties, they realized that the apartment they owned was more suitable than those on the market, since it already had a separate unit for the boys – something they didn’t find in the different properties they saw. “They realized that buying a new apartment and adapting it to their specific needs would also involve a major expenditure,” says Morgan. They decided to renovate instead.

What they did: To open up the apartment and make it roomier, the designer flipped the locations of the living room and the kitchen. Because it’s a garden apartment, she created a patio that extends outward from the kitchen, which serves as a small play area for the little girls while allowing the parents to keep an eye on them from the apartment’s central area. The designer restructured the garden so it can be used as another space for the family, with the addition of an outdoor kitchen to make entertaining easier.

A tip for enlarging a space without breaking walls: “Planning an exposed, industrial-style air conditioning duct that extends from the home entrance through the entire space will create a sense of continuity and space. Combined with proper lighting and airy textiles, for example sheer curtains, you can illuminate the space, bring the outdoors inside and create an illusion of size and spaciousness.”

A new kitchen fit for entertaining

A large island with seating

The project: A private home in the Sharon region, about 250 square meters, with a 100-square-meter garden.

Who lives there: A couple and their three children, aged 6 to 15.

Redesign: Interior designer Shlomit Zeldman

Why they wanted to move, and why they decided to stay: The family has lived in their home for many years. When they first moved in, they did a massive renovation, but over the years it turned out that the kitchen and bathroom were too small, and the living room was not well planned, and they didn’t enjoy spending time or entertaining in it.

They started looking for another house in the same area, but didn’t find anything they liked. In the end they decided to stay. Their first step was to request permits to enlarge the house, especially the kitchen. The process took about seven months, and then the renovation work began.

What they did: Zeldman redesigned the kitchen so it would be bigger, feel roomier and include more storage space. “Before the renovation there was a very small island in the kitchen, with only a couple of seats. When we enlarged the kitchen, we put in a large island and added seating. We put a stovetop on the island and created additional work areas,” she says.

“In the house redesign, the front of the kitchen faces the garden, and in that way we were able to bring the outdoors inside and create a feeling of spaciousness in the house. We enlarged the parents’ bedroom by annexing a balcony connected to a corridor between the bedrooms before the renovation. We changed the design of the living room and created a large bookcase that integrates the air conditioning system and the television, and we changed the panoramic living room window so that it put the garden on display from inside the home.”

A tip for enlarging a space without breaking walls: “An overcrowded house will always look much smaller, so it’s important not to overdo the furniture and the accessories and to choose them carefully. A minimalistic space will look larger and more spacious.”

Keeping the adult children at home

A suite for each child

The project: A garden apartment in the Sharon region, 120 square meters, with an 80-square-meter garden.

Who lives there: A couple with two adult children.

Redesign: Architect Adi Aronov

Why they wanted to move, and why they decided to stay: The garden apartment where the family lives has been their home since the children were small. When the children completed their army service and started to talk about renting places of their own, their parents tried to find another property that would make them want to live at home for a few more years. It was important for them to create larger rooms for the children, maximizing comfort and privacy. While they were looking, they realized that a move would cost a lot while a strategic renovation would be more affordable.

What they did: Aronov says she suggested that they redivide the existing space to create a kind of private suite for each child. “I divided the apartment differently,” she explains. “I removed all the walls in the house except for the ones with the windows and supporting columns, and in redesigning the space, the apartment grew from four rooms to five. That made it possible to create spacious areas that are like residential units for the adult children: One was created by adding an entrance area to the safe room that contained a bathroom, and the second was created in an area that was originally the kitchen, and it also has a private bathroom.”

In addition, the redesign enlarged the parents’ bedroom at the expense of the dining area, and the kitchen was moved to where the living room was. The changes in the interior structure create a shared but private living space. “The children decided to stay home for a few more years, just as the parents had dreamed. One of the children still lives there,” says Aronov.

A tip for enlarging a space without breaking walls: “The right combination of colors and depths will create the illusion of space. The idea is that the entrance to the house and whatever surrounds it should be a light color, and what’s distant from it should be darker, creating an illusion of a larger area. That can be done with a dark curtain, wall or surface. Choosing large tiles also provides a feeling of size, and carpentry or floor-to-ceiling windows create a sense of height and spaciousness.”

Arranging the puzzle pieces differently

A spacious master bedroom and a comfortable family room in an apartment with “positive energy”

The project: An apartment in the Sharon region, 110 square meters

Who lives there: A couple and their three children, ranging in age from elementary to high school

Redesign: Architect Shira Muskal of Halel Architecture

Why they wanted to move, and why they decided to stay: The couple dreamed of a larger bedroom for themselves and a comfortable family room, and believed that it was impossible to create that in the existing apartment. They looked for another apartment within a very limited radius in order to stay in their familiar neighborhood. “After we advised them about an apartment that they almost bought, they realized the high costs involved in buying a different home, and realized that it wasn’t such a simple thing,” explains Muskal. “When we saw their apartment, the first thing we noticed was the positive energy – and we thought that it was worth considering a renovation. We showed them how it was possible to arrange the puzzle pieces differently and stay in the same apartment.”

What they did: “The master bedroom was brought downstairs, to what was previously one of the children’s bedrooms. We broke the corridor in the communal space and used part of it to enlarge the parents’ bedroom by three meters. From the common bathroom we were able to create another bathroom for the parents’ suite. We moved the children’s bedrooms to the top floor. The house has a tile roof that creates a low enclosed space, which was not in use. We turned this space into a comfortable family room. The renovation took three months and the family got a completely new apartment.”

A tip for enlarging a space without breaking walls: “A floor-to-ceiling mirror can be put on the wall to reflect something worth reflecting. That enlarges the space through an optical illusion. The garden can also be reflected with a mirror, and that brings light and greenery into the house.”

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