What is a micro-space?
A micro-space (also know as a “nook”) is an area within a room that does one specific job. A few examples: a reading chair in the corner of a larger living room, an eat in area in the kitchen, a closet repurposed as an office or crafting space.
It’s also your SECRET (Design) WEAPON to make your house do more with less … or even more with more.
Instead of thinking of the total number of rooms in your house … and then wishing for an addition, try thinking about your house like a series of overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Two spaces can occupy the exact same square footage of your house, but they can do different duty at different times of the day or year.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why think about “Spaces” in your home?
Why am I talking to you about spaces, micro or not? Your house is made up of rooms, isn’t it?
Well, sure it is.
But if you only consider the rooms in your house, you are seriously limiting your planning potential.
Think about all the various different activities you’d love to have housed inside your home.
Then you count the rooms you have.
You likely have way more things you want to do in a day in your house than rooms in your house. But don’t panic. One room can do more than one thing!
Here’s how it works when my team and I start on a masterplan project for one of our clients. We don’t think in terms of the number of rooms we’re going to work on. We don’t think about the rooms they have and how we’re going to change each room into a better room.
Instead, we break the house down into a series of macro and micro spaces.
A space is about what you do. A room is about walls.
So which is more important to you … the walls of your house or how you live between them!
Now, sometimes a space does equal a room.
A bathroom is a good example of this. Basically, the “space” in which you do the things that you do in a bathroom is enclosed by the four walls of a bathroom.
But even then there are exceptions. People choose to separate out the toilet compartment from the rest of the bathing spaces. Sometimes people in mid-century homes have a powder room that is a pass through to a more family multi use bathing space. Jack and Jill bathrooms are more than one room, but one space.
But in general, bathrooms are bathing spaces.
That’s not so true for other parts of the house.
Some spaces in your home are bigger than rooms.
The idea of a room just doesn’t do your house justice.
And it doesn’t allow – or encourage – us to think outside of the existing walls and layout.
If we were to limit ourselves to “how can we remodel the kitchen,” “how can we model the living room,” we would end up thinking about the existing balance of spaces exactly as they are. There would be no freedom to borrow areas from one part of the house into another or flip spaces altogether.
Our masterplan designs look at how the social spaces flow together. How the private adult space in a house contains itself. How the basement hang out space flows out into the backyard space.
Bigger spaces in your home are made of micro-spaces
Each room or area in your house can contain multiple micro-spaces designed around different activities.
Here’s an example you might already have in your home: an office that doubles as a guest room.
And this usually works pretty well. Typically when we have long term guests staying, we’re likely to be taking some time off of work. So you can effectively flip the room from one purpose to another.
But you can also create a cozy reading nook in your bedroom. You can carve out workout space in a garage.
Or make your kitchen, your dining room, and your living room flow together in a way that gives all that space to the kitchen during holiday baking time. But more to dining when you’re having friends over for a meal. Then transition it to all hangout area when you’re hosting a big family gathering.
Make each micro-space feel more prominent when it’s in use with a few simple shifts. Flicking the lights on in one area and dim them in another. Or use simple changes to the furniture to shift the use.
Helping your home do double or triple or quadruple duty can save you the expense of addition when you plan it the right way.
Design a good micro-space
So here are the simple and finite rules of a great microspace. You’ll need:
Somewhere to sit
A space is somewhere we want to linger – even a micro space. So it needs a chair, a sofa, a day bed, a bench or some other comfy place to sit and stay for a while.
Somewhere to set things down
you’re going to be doing something in this micro-space. Even if it’s just your phone, you want to place to put it down while you grab a glass of water or a cup of tea. But you might put down a book paperwork laptop, make sure you’ve got some flat surface that’s not your chair where you can sit down what you’re working on.
To define space with light
(And this is not just the overhead light in the room!)
In this house we never never, ever, ever use the big light.
So make this your micro-space motto: bring a floor lamp, suspend a pendant from the ceiling ,or clip a lamp to a nearby shelf.
You want a directional task light that you can point at your work or reading surface and also use that light to create the space itself.
To define space with a lower “ceiling”
Create the space to find the space with overhead protection of some kind. You want to lower the “feeling” of ceiling. That might be with a pendant light hanging down. Or use floor lamp at arcs over. Simply use a potted plant hanging from the ceiling. Do something to create that space in three dimensions not just on the floor.
But also do define that space on the floor.
Define the space with a change in the floor
It’s great to have a small area rug, that’s approximately the size of your micro-space. If it is going to overlap with other things, it might just be defined with the furniture grouping. But bonus points for a particular change in the feeling underfoot as well as the rest of the space.
Want more help!?!
In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:
- How you might be able to SAVE THE EXPENSE of an addition, just by switching from rooms to spaces when you plan.
- How to use micro-spaces to break up a larger space.
- How nooks can make small spaces feel bigger.
- The essential ingredients for a nook you can nestle into.
Listen Now On
Resources to make the most of any micro-space
- Grab my FREE “How to Create Nooks” workbook!
- Check out Episode 305 for a little nooks nostalgia and some (still relevant) tips on helping your house multi-task.
- Nestle your nook perfectly into your vibe..catch the replay of my style guide clinic to learn how to build a style guide to improve every corner of your remode!
- Learn how to get ready to remodel in 2023 by watching my FREE Masterclass, “How to Plan an MCM Remodel to Fit Your Life(…and Budget)”, ON DEMAND.
And you can always…
- Join us in the Facebook Community for Mid Mod Remodel
- Find me on Instagram:@midmodmidwest
- Find the podcast on Instagram: @midmodremodelpodcast
Read the Full Episode Transcript
Does your home feel too small for all the parts of your life you want to pack into it? You wish it were bigger? Or does your home feel strangely to open plan in some areas to use the connected spaces effectively, you wish it fit you better. In either case, I’m going to help you help your home do more with less or more with more using a micro-space design approach. What’s a micro-space? I’m so glad you asked.
Hey there, welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes and helping you imagine it’s your home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1205.
Okay, back to that question, what is a micro-space? When my team and I start on a masterplan project for one of our clients, we don’t think in terms of the number of rooms we’re going to work on, we don’t think about the rooms they have and how we’re going to change each room into a better room, we break the house as it stands down into a series of micro-spaces. Now, sometimes a space does equal a room, a bathroom is a good example of this.
Basically, the space in which you do the things that you do in a bathroom is generally encompassed by the four walls of a bathroom. Maybe an exception would be sometimes people choose to separate out the toilet compartment from the rest of the bathing spaces. Sometimes people in mid-century homes have a powder room that is a pass through to a more family multi use bathing space. Jack and Jill bathrooms are more than one room. That’s all one space. But in general, bathrooms are bathing spaces.
That’s not so true for other parts of the house. And other times the idea of a room just doesn’t do the house justice. And it doesn’t allow us to think outside of the existing walls and layout. If we were to limit ourselves to how can we remodel the kitchen, how can we model the living room, we would end up thinking about the existing balanced spaces exactly as they are and we would feel no freedom to borrow areas from one part of the house into another or flip spaces altogether.
Like we recently did a master plan project where we ended up switching the locations of the kitchen which had been tucked away behind a set of stairs and a very cut off location. Classic mid-centuries treat the kitchen as servants’ space into the area that had been a former bedroom which was right adjacent to the living room and sitting in dining space.
Now that we’ve rearranged these two elements, these areas can flow together and take more or less precedence at different times of day or for holidays versus regular weekday mornings. There’s more flexibility as how we think about the rooms. But when we switch these bases, we need to think about the space as it adjusts to other larger parts of the house often will divide the house when we’re presenting it to our clients into the social spaces of the house, the private spaces of the house sometimes will take those on a floor by floor basis.
Sometimes we’re even connecting the social spaces upstairs with the social spaces in the basement or how they flow into an outside patio deck or porch. But we were talking about micro-spaces, a micro-space is an area within a larger space are within a room that does one specific job. A few easy to think of examples might be a reading chair in the corner of a larger living room area that serves a small separate solo person in meditation or for their coffee.
You can think about dividing up a larger living area into several seating places one that faces a hearth and is more for evening gathering and one that faces a window is where you spend your morning time. When you host a party in that room, both of those spaces might flow together and become one larger space for everyone to interact with together.
Another example is carving out an eat in area within a kitchen or even a sitting area within a kitchen that might be just a built in bench or an armchair in a corner that gives someone who is definitively still cooking or about to cook again, a place to take a load off for a moment while they wait for the tea water to boil or the soup to simmer. Now if you’re wondering how you can capitalize on the micro-space ideal to improve on your home, moving not a single wall I might add, I’m one step ahead of you.
The free resource of this week is my Nook workbook. That’s basically another word for micro-space. It will walk you through the key elements of any nook or micro-space that you can fit into any corner of your home or yard in a weekend with no drywall dust whatsoever. Grab it at midmod-midwest.com/nook.
Now I originally made this up for you a few years ago during the early days of shutdown. So there’s a second podcast episode that goes with it and it offers advice that you probably don’t need any more about how to make the host most of your home while you work there, play there and homeschool there. We’re all experts in that now. Still, there is a lot of helpful advice on that episode about the micro-space or no concept that is episode 305.
You can also find the nook workbook and the other episode and handy blog post on this topic plus a transcript of this episode on my website at midmod-midwest.com/1205.
All right. It’s an amazing tool to think about a micro-space whether you’re trying to make a bigger more open plan house. I do work on these for some people, and they feel like their houses do open too cool, too hard to put multiple activities into it can make a big open Plants space feel more comfortable cozy and human scale. Or it also does a lot of work for you.
If you’re trying to make the most of a very small house, you can break down a big space, maybe this is a little more obvious. You don’t necessarily need to put up new walls or even dividers to make one larger space do double duty. So this is where you’ve got some beautiful architecture, you don’t want to divide it up with walls, but you want to make space for separate activities.
You can do this with placing furniture, you can do this by creating space made with where the light is emphasized at night. You can do this by hanging lights that even in the daytime elevate or lower the ceiling in certain places, you can put in comfortable carpet in a certain area, change the texture or height of the ceiling and even use some general space dividers. But how can you make a small space feel bigger with a micro-space?
Well think about your house like a series of overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Two spaces can occupy the exact same square footage of your house, but they can do different duty at different times of the day or year.
So when you think about all the various different activities you’d love to have housed inside your home, then you count the rooms, you might have way more things you want to do in a day in your house than rooms in your house. But one room can do double duty, we’re very familiar with the idea of a home office that doubles as a guest room.
And this works pretty well because typically when we have long term guests staying, we’re likely to be taking some time off of work. So you can actually flip the room from one purpose to another. But similarly, you can create a cozy reading nook in your bedroom, you can carve out workout space in a garage, you can make your kitchen your dining room and your living room flow together in a way that gives more space to the kitchen during holiday baking time. And more to dining when you’re having friends over or more to living when you’re hosting a big family gathering.
You can do this by making each micro-space feel more prominent or more important by flicking the lights on and off or making simple changes to the furniture or other elements of the room not by totally reconfiguring your house as if it’s some sort of Rubik’s Cube. Helping your home do double or triple or quadruple duty can save you the expense of addition when you plan it the right way.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of alcoves and micro-spaces in my designs, because when I’m planning a remodel for one of my master plan clients, like I say, I’m rarely thinking about rooms, I’m thinking about spaces. And I’m much more likely to think about that group of rooms and interconnected spaces than I am even to think about one individual room.
A kitchen very rarely ends up completely standing alone. Even if it’s the choice of the owner to have it be relatively closed off, you’re going to move from the kitchen into an eating space, you’re probably going to come in and out to the kitchen from an outside space. And how do those spaces flow together even just through a doorway? Certainly in a more open plan design. How do the spaces basically become one larger space depending on the time of day or season?
So when we think about this, I always go back to Christopher Alexander and I talked about this in the previous next episode, Christopher Alexander published a book in 1977 called a pattern language. He actually wrote it in contribution with two other architects, authors, Sarah Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein.
And he put into this book, so many different ideas of how humans live in spaces, patterns that may feel the look of it might feel a little dated, the examples he’s choosing are particularly in the vernacular architecture style. So that’s not as connected to midcentury style.
But the concepts are very deeply rooted in human anthropology, how people feel about being inside of spaces, and I’ve quoted this before, but as he says, in the book, people like edge spaces, they prefer to feel sheltered and separate, even while having a view or access to a larger community area.
And that’s true of a pleasant Cafe table in a shady niche that looks out onto a larger Plaza. And it’s true of a comfortable sitting spot by a window that looks out on your living room. So when I think about this, I think about the example of theater seats. If you think about going to see a play or concert sitting in the general seating on the main floor, that’s for the hoi polloi.
The best places to be are in the orchestra circle with your nose right up close to the action up in a balcony overhanging the crowds. You have a bird’s eye view of the situation or the best a private box. You actually, I wonder do you actually have the best view from a box? I’m not sure I’ve never sat in one. I’m not that special.
But what you have is the best spot. It’s cozy and public. You’re on display but it’s easy to have a quiet conversation or step directly outside of the bathrooms or the bar. So where’s the box seat spot in your house? And if you don’t have any yet, let’s make you some.
Think about creating micro-space or nooks inside the rooms are multi room areas of your house as the flip side of the wonderful quality of mid-century homes to flow together and to connect inside and out. On a beautiful sunny day or on a misty mysterious morning.
We love the idea of lounging in a comfortable armchair by a window. And that feeling like you’re almost in your yard, but you’re still cozy and protected with whatever temperature control you want. That same chair, though, in the evening, after the sun goes down can feel pretty exposed to the wide expanse of hard, dark glass. And instead of waving to your neighbors, you’re now perhaps being absorbed by them. That last thought is less nice.
So we want to think about how to create a place where you feel protected and contained in all the different times of the day. And making that happen at night might be as simple as just closing the curtains a lovely ritual to have in your life. Do you have curtains you’d like to close, but I want to come back to that concept of being right next to the glass.
Because another way to create connection between spaces in your house that can then be separated another time of day or in another use is glass. And the follow up steps are that glass is a curtain. This is going back to a concept I’ve talked about in the concept in the past of Sarah Susanka who wrote the not so big house.
Now her approach as an architect is to teach people how to make their homes not bigger, but better. And she did this through a series of books that not so big books, which I highly recommend you read. One of the tools in her design arsenal is the idea of an away room.
This is a space that exists on the main floor or living area of the house adjacent to a more open plan area. But it’s closed off so that one family member who wants to take a meeting or lay down or read quietly can step away from a raucous game night activity, or one family member who wants to go play noisy video games can do that while the rest of the family has quiet chats in the main area.
One of the ways to separate that away room without making it feel completely cut off is a glass divider, maybe an interior patio door or French door with windows in them. But then you want to follow up on that with a curtain element so that in the event you need real privacy in this space, you can get both sound and visual separation. I’m gonna go through a couple of other areas in your house where you might think about carving out or adding in a micro-space.
And these are spaces we end we look for opportunities to implement in all of our masterplan projects. So the first is a sitting space within the kitchen. This is to take the eat in lounge one step further and make a small sitting area within the kitchen an armchair with a place to sit down a book, a cookbook or hand project can be a place for the cook to rest between tasks or for someone to come and keep the cook company.
It’s a lovely feature of a social kitchen. And when you’ve got the space to pull it off, I always recommend it. The more obvious one is just an eat in space in the kitchen which might be stools or bench at an island or a pleasant bench with a padded back where you can lounge and put your feet up. There are a lot of multifunctional and compact ways to fit in a built in bench especially if you’ve mounted off the wall rather than have it sit.
Having actual built in booth seating or even freestanding furniture that forms a wall adjacent bench can be both an additive to the clear floor area and a comfortable place to do your homework or spread out a cooking project or roll out cookie dough at other times of the day or season. And it’s a wonderful place as I said earlier to lounge with a cup of coffee, a change from your remote work desk setup and fun home workstation.
This is a really great way to multifunctional eyes, cooking a kitchen space. You can also think about how to create a makerspace at your front door because many mid-century homes don’t come with a vestibule or even necessarily with a coat closet. So you want to think about without cutting off a big chunk of your living room as an entry. How can you create the micro-space that when people are coming and going services and entry and the rest of the time when no one’s opening and closing that door seems pretty visually quiet.
You can do this with built in storage. You can do this with furniture that does double duty that can be additional seating for people hanging out in your living room but also a place where you sit to put your boots on and off while you come out the door. Hello Midwestern winters. More storage in any living space never goes amiss. When you’re thinking about that living room area, the living spaces of the house whether they be dining chatting, double duty House office or your traditional living room or a den. You want to divine that space with a couple of key elements to break up the micro-space from the whole larger room.
And you can do this with a couple of key tools lighting, probably the most overlooked detail of a living or dining space. Choose fixtures that light the space softly in several locations. This is where you want to create islands of light that can be turned on and off at different moments throughout the day or year.
Anywhere you have a table or a chair is a great opportunity to showcase a sculptural pendant style lighting or a floor lamp. Avoid the sort of common early 2000s. Let’s make sure we’ve got canned lights and every part of the ceiling space or if you do have those. This is a place where you want to have additional lights because it’s always more pleasant particularly in a cozy evening to have a single source of task lighting or a few area lights rather than flooding the room with bright white light.
You can do the same thing on the floor level with rugs. Don’t underestimate the power that a rug can have to break up a large space. By using a variety of smaller area rugs you can compartmentalize and define different moments of rest throughout your bigger areas. So use them below a grouping of furniture to identify the function of that space as dining reading nook or formal living for gathering.
You can also use color to define your space. If you’ve got dark paneling in a room, choose a light colored rug if you have a bright white room, you might want to choose a more color pop or darker statement rug to define an anchor space.
Here are a couple of obvious micro-spaces to add into your general living area social area of the house a couple of microcytic spaces, take the place making one step further and make one or several smaller seating areas within a living room a place where one person can pull up a book or where two people can curl up and have a cozy conversation or turn into the room and join the larger conversation entertainment or activity when they want to.
This is a great way by the way to use a one off piece of vintage furniture and turn that into a show space. Even if it’s not the place you sit most often. Even if you spend less than one hour a week sitting in that reading chair, having it there to sit will remind you that you wanted to go pick up that book you haven’t been reading, maybe you’ll end up sitting in a reading chair, you wouldn’t normally have missed that space. But knowing it’s there will make you want to go use it.
You can also tuck a mobile craft space into your larger sitting area. We often think of crafts as needing their own room, a guest bedroom tucked into a basement and that can be true if you want to spread out. But often you want to do your crafting in a social way with your family unless you use your craft to get away from the family in which case more power to you. But it’s great to put in some of the tools, supplies and storage handily, but in an out of sight out of mind manner at the edge of a larger social space.
Now this is all particularly obvious when you apply it to outdoor rooms. When you want to create a room out of an outdoor space around your house, you’re going to be creating a micro-space almost from scratch or out of a corner of two exterior walls on your house or a shady oak tree or it’s up to you where you place that space and what the building blocks are. But you can very easily create a cozy anchored room outside your home with a few simple principles.
You want it to feel like a space where you can comfortably be not just a pass through zone. So the concept of outdoor rooms means you need to contain the space, you need to put a boundary around three to four sides of the cube the six sided floor for walls and ceiling hypothetical space around you a sturdy floor, a side wall and an overhanging shade cloth or a nice concrete patio with two walls of a house making a corner. These all work.
You can also do this by putting up a privacy fence. Oreven by creating plantings that create an outdoor room that goes away seasonally when the foliage drops. By the way, if you wanted to know more about how to create amazing outdoor rooms, you’ll want to check out my super fun mid-century design clinic from last summer at the outdoor spaces clinic. I’ll have a link to that in the show notes.
This was such a useful workshop. I shared examples from dozens of mid-century houses where we’ve created outdoor rooms and then walk you through the step of creating and planning one for the outdoor spaces around your own home. Before I let you go, a quick run through of the simple and finite rules of a great micro-space. Again, these are all in the nooks workbook. So go ahead and grab that for yourself at midmod-midwest.com/nooks. And you can follow along while you listen.
You will need somewhere for at least one person possibly more depending on the purpose of this space to sit. A space is somewhere we want to linger even in my gross base. So it needs a chair, a sofa, a day bed, a bench or some other comfy place to sit and stay for a while.
You need somewhere to set something down, you’re going to be doing something in this micro-space. Even if it’s just your phone, you want to place to put it down while you grab a glass of water or a cup of tea. But you might put down a book paperwork laptop, make sure you’ve got some flat surface that’s not your chair where you can sit down what you’re working on.
You want to define that space with light. And this is not just the overhead light in the room where we’re seeing that audio on Instagram or on tip tap. In this house. We never never, never, never use the big light. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, sorry, basically it means don’t go with the overhead light in your room go with the cool mood and task lights that are placed around it.
So make this your micro-space motto bring a floor lamp suspend a pendant from the ceiling or clip a lamp to a nearby shelf. You want a directional task light that you can point at your work or reading surface and also use that light to create the space itself.
Going further than that you want to create the space to find the space with overhead protection of some kind. You want to lower the ceiling and that might be with a pendant light hanging down or floor lamp at arcs over or a potted plant hanging from the ceiling. Do something to create that space in three dimensions not just on the floor, but also do to find that space on the floor.
It’s great to have a small area rug, that’s approximately the size of your micro-space. If it is going to overlap with other things, it might just be defined with the furniture grouping, but it’s wonderful to have a particular change in the feeling underfoot as well as the rest of the space.
And then you’ll also want some practicalities some place to plug things in, rent an extension cord if you must, when you’re planning a remodel, make sure you’ve got the proper plugs for whatever things you’re going to need to plug in there. You know, in this world, we need to plug things in.
When my mother comes to visit or stops by when she’s running errands in town. She generally rushes into the house. Right past me and my dog after giving us a quick greeting. And sits down in my favorite reading spot in the living room. Why? Because she knows that’s where I hide the good plug. She wants to plug in her phone, and she knows where I’ve hidden the good charger.
So somewhere you can plug in your devices and then finally somewhere to tuck things out of sight. If you don’t want to unsightly piles of whatever project or reading material you’ve got going on. You want to draw a storage unit, a cubby where you can tuck away your things.
In the PDF I outline the recipe for a well set up reading corner to place in your living room. How to make an office and an underused closet, how to set up a temporary or permanent sitting space outside. And some great thoughts on child away spaces, play forts, tents made from blankets or bookshelves. Plus other ideas to help your kid maximize their own space.
I want you to think of your house is more than just a series of rooms. I want you to think of it as spaces, large general spaces, the social spaces, the private spaces, but also the micro-spaces that make up a great mid-century home. You have so much power to tune the way you live in your house by adjusting the micro-spaces of it.
Grab that workbook and let me know what micro-spaces you’ve already made in your house. Send me an Instagram DM reply to the email that reminds you about this podcast and tell us what’s your favorite micro-space in your house right now? What’s the micro-space you’re missing? I’d love to know.