Monday, May 2, 2016


One of the most common requests I get from clients is to push out an exterior wall  “just a foot or two” to make a small room bigger. But that’s a very expensive and inefficient use of remodeling dollars: the less area you add on, the higher its unit cost. So that “foot or two”  is astronomically expensive in terms of the space gained.

The simplest and cheapest way to expand a room:
Light walls and more light.
Often, you can make a room seem much larger using less expensive alterations.  Here are a few things to try to before you commit to moving walls:

•  First and cheapest:  fresh paint.  Dingy, yellowed paint makes a room seem much smaller. A nice bright coat of off-white can do wonders by reflecting reflecting a  lot more light and thus visually expanding the space.  

•  For the same reasons, get rid of busy wallpaper and bogus paneling.  Patterns of any kind make surfaces appear closer to the eye, making the room shrink visually.  

Busy patterns converge
on the eye. Lose them
to gain visual space.
•  Heavy drapes may look sumptuous, but they also keep a lot of light out of a small room. Find lighter window coverings, or if appropriate, use none at all. The more light you let in, the bigger the room looks.

•  If you have a non-asbestos sprayed acoustic ceiling, consider having it removed. Acoustic textures don’t reflect light well and also gather dust and smoke, making the ceiling appear low and oppressive. A plain white ceiling will look higher and reflect more light into the room. 

If these nonstructural tricks don’t help, here are a few relatively inexpensive remodeling approaches:

Heavy drapes are not the thing for tight spaces.
If privacy is not an issue, get rid of
window coverings altogether.
•  If the room has a blank wall facing east, south, or west, consider adding one or more windows (however, think twice before adding windows on the north side—they won’t let in much sun and may make the room colder).  Again, bringing in more light—and better yet, a nice view—will expand the room visually.  

The new windows needn’t be smack in the middle of the wall; they could be narrow vertical strips in corners, or a high horizontal band near the ceiling.  Just make sure they won’t interfere with furniture placement; you should have at least one uninterrupted expanse of wall for bookcases and the like.

•  Add skylights.  Although they can get complicated depending on the roof’s pitch and construction, skylights are a good way to make a room look bigger.  If possible, give them a nice, flaring light well to distribute the light and to make the ceiling look higher.  

A bow or bay window (a bow is shown)
visually expands the room without
actually having to move walls.
Take note, however:  In many cases, skylights let in summer sun but often exclude the low winter sun when it’s most needed.  This not only means less light in winter, but also higher heat losses. Try to determine where and when the sun will shine through the skylight, and weigh the benefits before proceeding.

•  Finally, consider a bay or bow window.  A bay (which has three faces) or a bow (which has any number of facets arranged in an arc) can add a lot of character to a room, as well as a lot of light. And by projecting outside of the wall plane, they literally make the volume of the room bigger.  Bows and bays are available as kits from the major window manufacturers.  See your local window distributor. 

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