Home, lean home: Designers, builders resolve to lose extra house flab
Have you resolved to go on a diet and shed pounds in the new year? Why not also put your home on a diet in 2012?

It makes sense, said Sharon Kreighbaum, author of the new book "Is Your House Overweight? Recipes for Low-Fat Rooms" and owner of Staged Makeovers in Hudson, Ohio. When a house is overweight, it feels uncomfortable and sluggish and weighs on occupants, said the interior designer and home stager.

"It creates stress, due to not being able to find things," Kreighbaum said. "You buy another (item) and wind up with a lot of duplicates. You feel defeated in not being able to make a decision as to where to put things. Being uncomfortable with too much becomes overwhelming."

Builders and architects seem to have gotten the message that homes need to shed fat. They're building houses that start out and stay leaner, said Jennifer Ames, a broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Gold Coast in Chicago.

For example, North Carolina architect Sarah Susanka, famed for her Not So Big House philosophy, recently unveiled a showcase home reflecting that approach at SchoolStreet Homes in Libertyville. The house forgoes unused formal rooms for spaces tailored to casual lifestyles that focus on functionality and flexibility. Characteristic features include built-ins, window seats, alcoves and nooks.

Addressing the bloat starts with sacrificing quantity but not quality. Many homes have downsized or eliminated less-used spaces like living rooms and dining rooms, Ames noted.

"I'm also seeing empty nesters getting more pragmatic about how often their children will visit," she said. "Providing bedrooms for the once-a-year visit just doesn't make sense."

A small utility room off the garage or back door can do wonders for reining in clutter when a family enters and leaves the home, said Kim Cosentino, owner of De-Clutter Box, a Westmont home-organizing company.

Organization solutions for this area include benches, floor-to-ceiling storage space, built-in shelves for sports equipment and backpacks, coat hooks and spots for recharging cellphones.

Kitchen solutions

Newer home designs recognize people congregate in the kitchen, the heart of the home. An adjoining hearth room with a fireplace and comfortable seating can eliminate the need for living rooms and family rooms, Kreighbaum said.

A built-in eating area in the kitchen gives a homeowner more usable space than a formal dining room.

For storage needs, drawers are replacing shelves in the lower cupboards, allowing everything stored within cupboards to be pulled out when needed, Cosentino said.

Some of the best ideas in creating leaner kitchens are the simplest.

"Fewer cabinets, but larger and wider cabinets, can afford you more flexibility and more storage opportunities," said Sarah Reep, product specialist with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Masco Cabinetry.

"I'd rather have one 30-inch-wide than two 16-inch-wide cabinets. And that saves you money, because one cabinet is more affordable than two."

Similarly, a 36-inch-wide drawer will accommodate a much wider range of items than standard 12-, 15- or 18-inch-wide drawers, Reep said.

Media rooms

Dens common in older homes are being supplanted with media/computer rooms, said Cheryl Daugvila, kitchen designer and owner of Cheryl D & Co. in La Grange. The firm helps builders such as Westmont's Recon Construction build more efficient homes.