life in 1177 square feet


we’ve been in our new city for a little over a month now, starting to feel settled even though we don’t yet have all our pictures on the walls or all the boxes unpacked. i’ve made a few new friends, frankie rose is enrolled in gymnastics and i’ve found her a great babysitter for two mornings a week. i’ve made way too many trips to the coffee shop at the end of the street; found a number of great parks, beaches and a new indian take-away place; and i am starting to be able to navigate the city without the use of google maps. we’ve also started to settle into our new house and so i wanted to provide a quick update on how life in oak house compares to life in the little bungalow. or, more specifically, how life in 1177 square feet compares to life in 795 square feet.



overall, i’d say life is more comfortable in the new house and quite a bit of that comfort comes from having a little bit more space — it is really nice to have my own small closet, a little couch for stories in frankie’s bedroom and a separate office space. take the bedroom closets, for example. pierre and i used to share a 48-inch-wide closet and a three-drawer dresser (bottom picture, above). these two storage pieces held all our clothes, socks and nylons, pyjamas, underwear, our sunglasses and some other detritus. all our shoes and my purses were on shelves underneath the basement stairs. our workout clothes were kept in two bins in the basement. off-season stuff was folded and stored in a cupboard. pierre’s ties and my accessories hung on hooks on the bedroom wall. belts were kept in a basket underneath the dresser. we had no room for collecting laundry, so our laundry baskets were downstairs as well, which usually resulted in piles of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. we covered everything with a canvas dropcloth-turned-curtain, but the whole effect was cluttered and complicated (and guess how often we worked out with gym clothes in the basement and all our shoes somewhere else?). our new bedroom contains a wall of closets (top picture, above) — one for me, one for him and one in the middle, which we’re currently using for shoes. when i go to get dressed in the morning… well, everything is right in front of me, right down to the purse, shoes, perfume and jewelry. i have no off-season stuff stored anywhere else. even my bathing suit, gardening hat and paint-splattered shirts are in here. in this case, more space is certainly adding a lot of value to my life — i’m getting a lot more use out of the stuff i do have because i don’t have to go hunting for it.

but not all of our newfound functionality has to do with space. in fact, i’d say a lot of it has to do with a few little conveniences that just weren’t part of our old house and an improved layout. oak house has:

  • central vac so i can vacuum anytime i want, which is often, seeing as i was deprived for so long (our dyson was so loud it frightened frankie to tears while she was awake and i couldn’t vacuum while she was asleep for obvious reasons)
  • ground-level access to the basement so i can store the stroller downstairs, wheel it out onto the driveway and just lock the basement door behind me whenever we’re ready to head out somewhere. no more getting the stroller out the back door, getting frankie strapped in, chasing after archie because he escaped while that was happening, heading back inside to lock the back door from the inside, going out the front and locking that door, then racing around back to grab frankie from the backyard
  • good sightlines from the kitchen into the living and dining rooms. that area is  large enough that we can block off both the kitchen and office with baby gates and close the door to the bathroom and frankie still has lots of room to move around while i’m making dinner. as her favourite pastime seems to be destroying, it’s great that i can keep an eye on her, too.
  • water spouts at both the front and back of the house for watering the gardens. when we eventually get a front garden planted, it won’t be the crispy variety
  • better separation between the bedrooms and the rest of the house. we had our carpenters here last week working on trim in a few rooms and frankie slept right through five days of power tools; seeing as i couldn’t even unload the dishwasher while she napped in the old house, i’d say that’s a big ol’ tick in the pro column for the new place

none of these improvements have much to do with space, but do make the new house more enjoyable to live in.


there are, however, a number of things i miss about little bungalow. first and foremost,  i miss that our toronto house was more or less done. yes, there were a few things on our to-do list should we have stayed — almost all of our windows needed replacing, our water tank had all but stopped heating our water and we would have liked to pursue more finished space in the basement — but the mudroom addition had been rebuilt, our front and back yards were on cruise control and our roof and eavestroughs were less than a year old. i don’t think we underestimated how much time or energy the new house would need from us in order to bring it up to our standards, but we might have underestimated how trying it would be to look around and see work  everywhere after living in a house that we were pretty well satisfied with.


nowhere can that overwhelming feeling of work be had more readily than in the backyard. now, little bungalow’s yard was no oasis when we moved in. over our seven summers, we put up a fence, built a shed, laid a patio, re-sodded, created a barbecue area and planted a number of perennial beds. not all of this was completed in our first month in the house (we moved in in december, so, actually, none of it was completed in our first month in the house), but, after seven years’ effort, we’d certainly gotten used to a little weeding and a little watering being all that our yard needed to stay looking its best. our new yard needs all the work that the old yard did — times two. yep, our new lot is more than double the size of our old city lot. there’s a front yard. there’s parking for four vehicles and a boat. there are two side yards. there’s a grotto. and then there’s the backyard, the centre piece of which is a dead tree. i’m pretty sure we bought the only house in victoria — gardening capital of canada — that didn’t come with beautiful, mature landscaping. while i’m loving the size of our new house, i really wish it had come with a lot less property to maintain.


something else we’re really missing is a nice place to put archie overnight — somewhere where he has everything he needs, but where we can’t hear his meows cue up at 4:30 am. in our old house, we used to shut him in the mudroom. he had a nice sheepskin to sleep on by the heater; his food, water and litter box; a view of the backyard through the sliding glass doors and access to the whole basement should he wish to run after some balls or climb his cat tree. oak house has a basement, but it’s more like a hole in the ground than somewhere you’d put your pet overnight. in the last week or so, we seem to have reached a happier place where he doesn’t come and get us until 5:30 or 6:00 or so, but we definitely used to get a better night’s sleep in the old house. we’re exploring the idea of installing a sliding door across the alcove opening, which would sequester him effectively and provide us with an even more robust noise barrier for while frankie’s sleeping during the day or in the early evening, but we also feel a little chagrined that we even need to go that kind of effort for our cat.

strangely enough, we’re more comfortable in 1177 square feet than in 795 square feet. and i’m saying strangely without any hint of irony. when we lived in the smaller house, we utilized more square footage than we do now. we had a basement that we actually used — both for storage and as living space — and we had an 80 square foot shed in our yard. so, while the footprint of our house was just 795 square feet, we had access to more like 1700 square feet. here, we’re just using the 1177 square feet on the main floor. we don’t have a garden shed or garage and we’re not using the basement for anything besides laundry and stroller/bike storage. so, in a way, we actually downsized, but we have more square footage where it’s useful. i’m sure you all have stayed in small spaces that have felt huge and in large spaces that have felt cramped. i’m really learning how important layout and design is when determining if a space — any space, small or large — works or not. and having all the walls in the right places makes me feel a little bit better about that backyard.