Smart Growth Isn’t Just for Urban Planners: Bring It inside Your Home!


All across the nation, urban and suburban planners are touting ways to control sprawl and make smarter use of limited space. Right here in Dane County, for example, in the city of Fitchburg, a new development called Uptown is employing all sorts of smart-growth tactics that allow growth without sprawl. Maybe it’s time to bring the trend inside. What would it be like if you tried smart growth within your home?

Maximize your home’s square footage by thinking like an urban planner.

The idea of maximizing a home’s existing square footage is, of course, not a novel idea. But homeowners tend to trot out the same solution every time: Finish the basement. What’s less often done—and could be called “smart growth” for interior spaces—is rethinking the way already finished space is used. This is an especially useful shift in thinking for homeowners don’t want or can’t afford an addition or full basement remodel.

Don’t think outside the box. Rethink the box itself.

The idea is to look at your growing life—whether measured by material possessions or the pitter-pat of little feet—in much the same way an urban planner would think about community growth. Actually, make that the way an urban planner would think about smart growth. Let’s back up. Do you know what the small-house movement is? Have you noticed all the news stories lately about micro-residences? Left and right, people are converting small garages into itty-bitty homes. They’re turning little 450-square-foot apartments into luxury living spaces. You can even buy a teeny-tiny home online and have it delivered to your door. And it’s all being done with pretty impressive style:

The 100-square-foot home of Jay Shafer, who also sells teeny-tiny homes online. (Photos: Todd Lappin) Whatever the reason for the incredible shrinking home—usually it’s environmental consciousness or a desire for a simpler life—the trend offers some great insight for people who want to apply smart growth to interior planning. It’s shown that very cool things can happen when a person tries to pack essential functionality into less square footage.

You don’t have to live in a micro-home.

We’re not suggesting you convert your shed into a home and call it a day, not unless you want to get really extreme. Instead, think about traditional layouts, traditional uses, and traditional design are really what work for you. Consider, for example:

  • Do you really need a separate room for your washer and dryer? Would an existing closet suffice—just big enough to house a frontloading washer and dryer with a clothes-folding counter mounted above them? If so, you could have your laundry room converted into something else you prefer, such as a mud room or a small office.
  • Do you have soffits above your kitchen cabinets that are purely ornamental, not concealing ductwork, plumbing, or electrical lines? If you have them removed, you could get taller cabinets with more storage or have freedom to move taller appliances (like double-ovens and refrigerators) to different places. There is no longer a height restriction on them!
  • Could you free up floor space by using more vertical wall space instead of certain large furniture items? Wall-mount a TV instead of using a media console, add floating shelves for books and photos instead of keeping them on a traditional bookshelf, add a loft bed in place of a traditional bed, or install pendant lights in place of a floor lamp, and you’ll have more wiggle room on the floor.

Bottom line: The answer to a growing life is not always a growing house. Take a smart-growth approach to it if you can’t finish another room or build an addition. We have lots of ideas to help you rethink your current livable space. Yes, we do fantastic additions and basement remodels, but we also do smart-growth interior remodeling!