HomeWork: How can I make my small “box” home feel larger?

Between tearing down unnecessary walls, rearranging your space, or adding an addition, there are endless options to add more breathing room to your space.

Q: I live in a small home—less than 900 square feet—built post-World War II. The design, also known as a “War Box,” has no entryway, three small bedrooms, one bathroom, and little storage. What can I do to make my space feel larger and more functional?

A: It’s easy to dismiss a “War Box” home as a tear-down, but at the time they were built, these structures were built to last, making them ideal candidates for a remodel. With thoughtful renovations, you can make your home feel modern and functional.
Many times, issues with small spaces, such as oddly placed interior walls or too many rooms packed in a small footprint can be easily solved by building an addition or rearranging your existing layout.

Let’s start with the entryway; in many cases, simply rearranging furniture will really open a space up. Try moving the couch closer to the front door and hanging hooks to create a “hallway.” Another creative way to give the look of separation is to build a half wall with nooks on the hall side for jackets, purses, phones, mail, and anything else you need easy access to as you come and go.

To tackle the three small bedrooms with tiny closets problem, try making two bedrooms with larger closets by reimagining the layout as if none of the interior walls are necessary. Any wall can be replaced with a beam. Sometimes it may show below the ceiling, but many times it doesn’t have to.

The bathroom is another issue. Expanding the bath could allow a second door directly from one of the bedrooms. This will give the room more of a master suite feel if there are only two people living in the home.

Kitchens built in the 1940s tend to be small, cramped, and have little counter space. Consider opening the space up to the living or dining room by removing a wall. This can make a dramatic difference in the home.

War Box homes tend to be good candidates for an addition that extends into the backyard. This will allow you to reconfigure your floorplan to create a larger bedroom, perhaps a master suite, or an expanded kitchen with a beautiful island opening onto a larger dining space and family room area.

If the home has a basement or an attic, it may not have very high ceilings, but anything close to 7’ can be of great use. Finishing a basement alone can almost double the amount of square feet in your home. This opens up endless possibilities—kid’s bedrooms, playrooms, and entertainment rooms are all great options for your newfound square footage.

Whatever you decide to do, the War Box is a venerable part of the community and deserves to be saved for the next generation. With a little love and some creativity, you can make this space feel like new.

Gary Potter is the owner of Potter Construction and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’ nearly 3,000 members, write to [email protected].