Useless and Beloved Living Spaces

by Sandy L on May 9, 2012

I can’t help but comment on my house hunt yet again.  It’s been frustrating on many levels, but today I wanted to touch upon the crazy and useless spaces in today’s McMansions.  Because I want to find a place with in-law apartment potential, I’ve been looking at homes in the 2500-4000 ft2 range.  Today both of our homes put together are only 3200ft (1700 ft for ours which we use every square inch of, and 1500 ft is Babci’s house which she probably uses 1/2 of), but many of the places with in-law quarters are freakin huge.  Not only are they ginormous, but there is on average about 1000 sq feet in these homes that is utterly useless for my family’s needs.   Yet, in many of these gigantic homes, they are also lacking practical features that I’d love to have in lieu of some of these spaces.

Here are my top 5 least favorite features in big houses in no particular order.  Although they often look cool, I don’t like them because these spaces grate on my frugal side.

The Great Room

When I look at a great room, I think about all that extra head space that I have to heat and cool.  It’s also a pain in the butt to paint,  dust cobwebs off the ceiling or change a light bulb in.  I’d much rather have that head space on the second floor for something useful like a bedroom or an office.

The Bonus Room

This room is so useless that they can’t even think of a name to tell you what it’s function is.  “Hey look, here is this bonus area in an inconvenient part of the house that I have no idea what to do with.”  It’s usually above a garage or in an attic space, so it has the extra bonus of being stuffy in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. I am always leery of posting for jobs who’s job title is vague like “transformation leader.” This is what the bonus room reminds me of. If you don’t know what it is from it’s description, that can’t be a good sign.

Umpteen Bathrooms

My realtor was trying to convince me to look at one house that had 10 bathrooms. (It used to be a B+B, and no I didn’t look at it).  We don’t even have 10 rear ends between the 5 of us.  I’m thinking 3 bathrooms would be ideal but it’s amazing how many homes have 4 and 5 and right next to each other too.  It’s complete lunacy.  I don’t want to clean 5 toilets.  Also, additional bathrooms are used in your tax assessment so they are also responsible for a higher tax rate for your home.   I’m also not one of those people who think a master bath with a double sink is a “must have” item. Generally speaking, I don’t want to be in the bathroom at the same time as my spouse, so I don’t see why we each need our own sink. We had room to add a double sink in our current home and I opted for more storage space instead. It may not have been the best move from a resale standpoint but I still don’t understand everyone’s obsession with the double sink.

Sitting Rooms

I looked at several homes that had these sitting rooms that really had no purpose but as a place to put a few chairs in and sit.  They had no room for a TV or regular furniture because of the layout of the doors/windows.  So, it was yet another place to heat with no real function. One place I looked at had 3 living rooms. Okay, I could see making one into a play room or something, but 3? That’s still an extra one with no functional purpose.

Big Stupid Staircases

Giant grand staircases are usually tied to big stupid foyers that take up a ton of square footage that serve no function except looking pretty and  maybe a place to put a small side table into.

Runners Up

Also honorable mentions go to the following dumb spaces: The breakfast nook.  Too small to put a normal table in, but too large of a space to leave empty. Similarly, The formal dining room.   A closed off room that you store your expensive wedding china in and use 4 times/year max.  At the chemistry lab I used to work at in England, the chemists nicknamed me “Sandra  the Destroyer” because I broke so much glassware.  As a result, when I got married, expensive china was never on my wish list. Also, I only have one table. It’s both our kitchen table and our dining room table.  In our current home, I removed our breakfast nook area and put cabinets in their place.  I do have a “dining room” but it’s open to the kitchen and living room, so it’s just where our regular dinner table is. We really don’t need 2 different tables to eat at.  If we have a lot of guests, our table expands by 2 extra feet and it’s fine.

Our Open Floor Plan and Old Furniture

Rooms I would love with more square footage

Here are the rooms I wish were standard but most homes do not have them.

The library – It may just be my love of English Literature and the 7 bookcases that I have crammed with books, but the thought of a mahogany paneled office with a tufted leather chair to read in just sounds so nice. Incidentally, the owner of the first house we put our offer on was an antique book dealer, so there were bookcases galore.

A Mudroom – In the winter especially, when you come in from sledding or skiing and you have nowhere to put your sopping wet clothes, a mudroom would be handy.  One home I looked at had an awesome one reminiscent of old school house closets.  The walls were bead-board with the hooks screwed right into the wall.  It took me straight back to second grade.

A Walk-in Pantry – You need much much less cabinet space if you have a nice little pantry to store all your big appliances and food in. I would love a pantry and don’t know why they fell out of favor in recent decades.  Also, in most cases sheet rock, shelves and a door are a lot cheaper than buying the equivalent amount of cabinet space.  The footprint in our current kitchen didn’t allow it, but I love pantries.

A Cute House-like Garden Shed – My mother in law and I love doing tour of homes. One time when I was living in the Carolinas we did a little tour of homes in Charleston, SC.  They had the cutest little garden sheds built to look like miniature versions of the main home.  The yards were small but every inch was beautifully maintained and the sheds were adorable.

An Extra Bedroom – Right now, when guests come over, we sleep with the kids and give them our bed.  Once upon a time we had a proper guest room, but these days, we don’t have the space unless they stay at Babci’s house..which only my high school friends will do.

A 2 Big Car Garage – Our current home has a tiny  1 car garage from the 50’s. It barely fits our small SUV and we usually let the kids keep their bikes and stuff in the garage in the summer and park in the driveway instead.  In the winter we’ll park a car inside, but I’d love to have a space I could use year round for our cars.

A Big Walk in Closet – Even with my spartan wardrobe, I do use 3 of the closets in our home. I have one for all our winter coats, 1 for suits, and one for everything else.

A Secret Escape Route – Okay, this is totally not practical, but my old boss’s house in England had one. It used to be a schoolhouse and during World War 2, the previous owner had built a secret escape hatch in the back of one of his upstairs closets. It’s super cool in a Scooby Doo kind of way.

So there you go. Here’s a little into my likes and dislikes. I’m sure this list would look much different if I were a single person or an empty nester, but for now, that’s my current list.   What about you? What do you wish you had, absolutely adore, or don’t use today? 









{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicoleandmaggie May 9, 2012 at 7:43 AM

Um… our house has most of those… except the staircase. Um, yes, we have a McMansion. We were young. Housing was cheap.
We never use the Great Room, except occasionally it will turn into a play room and keep the ginormous and multitudinous gifts that the in-laws send for DC.
I’m sitting in our bonus room right now… soon it will be a nursery. Ours is actually just off the bedroom.
We only have 3 bathrooms, but two of them have double sinks. I’ve gotten over feeling guilty every time I use the master bath– it’s about the same size as our first apartment, literally. (100 sq ft.)
We do not have a sitting room.
Our 4th apartment in Boston had a breakfast nook and we loved it– that was our first place with pets so we made it into a play area for the cats. I also put basil plants in there. Our current place has a second dining area kind of like that but we just leave it empty as a large hallway.
We use our formal dining room all the time because we don’t use the informal dining. I do hate the carpeting though.
Sadly, our office getting changed to a nursery is forcing the library to become an office and the bookcases to go to our bedroom.
Our extended entrance could become a mudroom if we had some pottery barn accessories there, but we don’t use it that way.
The walk-in pantry is AWESOME. Though all the previous owners kept in it was alcohol. They threw a lot of parties.
Our garden shed is super useful, though it attracts lizards.
The extra guest bedroom suite is nice and on the other side of the house which is even nicer.
I wish our 2 car garage also had a 2 car driveway instead of a one car driveway, or that our HOA allowed people to park on the street overnight.
Walk-in closets are awesome (though again, I feel decadent using mine).
We do not have a secret escape route to my knowledge, though I suppose you could go up one attic entrance and out the other.

The most awesome part of the house is the screened in patio. We love it.


Sandy May 9, 2012 at 7:54 AM

I have to agree with you “not wanted list”. I have three bathrooms and decided we didn’t need a 4th in the basement media room. If you can’t get your butt up the stairs to use the facilities then don’t watch a movie. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone to walk up for food from the kitchen. I too dislike the huge sweeping staircases/great rooms/bonus rooms. My family room is my living room. My living room is now my dining room (big enough to fit the table/buffet and hutch) and my dining room–this tiny room off the kitchen is an office–which might become a library if my hubby who works from home ever retires!

My musts are a walk-in closet–we renovated it with cabinets from Ikea so I could dress while hubby is still sleeping, a master bath with shower only–there is a bath in the other main bath. Double sinks are as you say, not on my list. My kitchen is my sanctuary–it is small but functional and we renovated to my specifications. Open concept is the way for me in my kitchen/family room so I can enjoy parties. I would have loved a larger pantry but my front closet now stores those appliances used once a year.

Enjoy your house hunting. I see size as such a big thing today. My house is about 2000 sq ft and now that the kids are gone, the perfect size. Unless I cannot walk up stairs, we are staying for many more years. I know you will find the perfect house for both you and Babci. It’s out there. Make your realtor work! And forget those 10 toilets.


Jacq May 9, 2012 at 8:06 AM

About 40% of the top floor and 80% of the bottom is useless to me – rooms I never step foot in other than to clean for dog hair (amazing how that stuff floats). So I’d be content with a house of about 1000 s.f. total.
I would love a walk-in closet and one big big bathroom (cheater style) on the top floor instead of the 2 smaller ones.


Kara May 9, 2012 at 9:14 AM

Double sinks – when I was married, my husband and I had to leave for work at the same time every day. That meant constant bickering over who was going to get up first and shower so that the other one could cop 10 more mins of bed, and then the struggle over the sink – he had to brush his teeth and shave, I had to dry my hair and put on makeup, etc. etc. I would have KILLED for a double sink. Had nothing to do with wanting to be in the bathroom at the same time as much as needing to both get ready in or around the same time.

Parlor/Sitting Room – I had to laugh when you said you thought a parlor was useless, but you want a library. Up until the townhouse I’m in now, we’ve always had a parlor/sitting room. What did we use it as? A library. In my family (and my XH family) the guys liked to watch TV, often sports. The women mostly prefer to read. So the guys could watch whatever they wanted as loud as they wanted in the living room and we used the sitting room to read in (relative) quiet.

Having moved to a much smaller townhouse, I am learning to appreciate some of the spaces that I used to think … well .. useless. I would like to have a breakfast nook, I love having a walk in closet, and the powder room under the stairs is really nice for when company comes over. Even tho there’s only one butt for 3 bathrooms living here. 🙂


Money Beagle May 9, 2012 at 9:55 AM

We have a dining room and living room on one side of the house, both with furniture that gets used occasionally. I would love to get rid of the dining room and extend the kitchen into that area, and re-work the living room to become a living room/sitting room/library. That would require a whole boatload of cash. We still love our house though even though we do have space that isn’t used all the time.


Daisy May 9, 2012 at 10:18 AM

I love bonus rooms! I’ve always thought I’d be able to find a use for them. And extra bathrooms are never a bad thing in my opinion! The other ones are such a waste – like sitting rooms, haha!


Linda May 9, 2012 at 3:27 PM

I love what you wrote about bonus rooms! It made me laugh! 🙂 I vividly recall visiting a friend who had built a house in a development that was a transformed corn field and she mentioned her bonus room. Say what? What the heck is that? So she showed me this narrow space over her garage with one sloped wall; it could only be accessed through another bedroom, too, but it had a window. She was going to make it into a guest room, but of course it had no heating/cooling, either. *rolling eyes*

I find many of these same features ridiculous, too. I think what it comes down to is displaying status. These rooms aren’t supposed to be about functionality, they’re supposed to be making a statement like “Look at how important and rich I am to all this space I don’t even need or use!” Then these layouts get shown on TV as what we’re all supposed to want, so buyers start demanding them, and builders start copying the floor plans in new developments all over the country. And so on, and so on, and so on…[remember that commercial?] For a short period of time, we have access to HGTV in my house. I’ve been really surprised at what I see on the show House Hunters. There are so many young buyers looking for huge houses with high end features for their “starter home.” Every time we watch that show, the BF and I end up scoffing and looking at each other in amazement several times.

Double sinks alone aren’t helpful; double sinks in a large bathroom that is divided into separate spaces for bathing/showering, eliminating, and grooming, work wonderfully for people who have overlapping schedules. Of course another bathroom can help here, too.

My 1950s house has a full bathroom on every level (basement, first floor, and second floor) and I do use every one of them since my bathrooms are small. That’s how they made them back then; there is no room for double sinks and it’s tight having two people in the bathroom at the same time. It’s handy to have another toilet/sink when the main floor bathroom is in use, but I try not to shower at the same time. Thank goodness in my two-person household, prep time in the bathroom rarely overlaps.

When I remodeled the kitchen a couple years ago I added a peninsula that can be used for both food prep and eating. It only fits a maximum of three people, but that’s OK. If I have more than that, we use the dining room to eat. Notice I didn’t call it a “formal” dining room; there is only one dining room in the house and I use it whenever I have guests over. If it’s just me and the BF eating, we tend to eat on the couch off tray tables. (Such a bad habit, I know!)

I also don’t have a great room (who really needs one? really?), and while I do have lots of extra closet space on the second floor and a “walk in closet” in my bedroom, it’s not up to the standards of today’s “walk in closet,” which is really a small room just for clothes and Stuff. A separate dressing area (which I guess is what these walk in closets are trying to be) is definitely helpful if you have a different rising/dressing schedule than the person you share a bedroom with.

I agree with much of your Want list. There’s a cold cellar in my basement that I use as a walk in pantry, although it would be more handy if this was truly a pantry attached to the kitchen. A mudroom is pretty essential in our messy northern climate — especially if you have children and/or dogs — but I make do without one. The garage is big enough that I don’t need a little shed, and that secret escape route…well…that could be handy! I have five doors to the exterior on my house, so I should be able to use one of them as an escape route at any given time, though!


Marissa @ Thirtysixmonths May 13, 2012 at 5:18 PM

This could be a post on its own!


Joe @ Retire By 40 May 11, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Our old house had a great room and I loved it. I like the high ceiling, it feel spacious and we most of our time there.
I would like an escape hatch and a fireman pole in my next home. 🙂
Now we live in a small 2 bedroom condo and all the space are used up. I don’t think we need a bigger house anytime soon. I’d rather have more land if anything.


Marissa @ Thirtysixmonths May 13, 2012 at 5:18 PM

We have a great room and no one really uses it. The extra bathrooms however are a devine.


Andrew @ 101 Centavos May 13, 2012 at 6:30 PM

We turned our formal dining room into a library, and eat in the kitchen. A little awkward for when we have company in the wintertime, but we’ve gotten used to it (in spring and summer, we just entertain outside). The bonus room upstairs we turned into the boys’ room, and the two little bedrooms were turned Mrs. 101’s exercise/sewing room, and the guest bedroom/study. I think our house at 2,800 sqf is fairly well-utilized. Still, I think we could do just fine with 2000 sqf.


Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter May 14, 2012 at 1:33 AM

I agree with you on 90% of your points. Although I have to have a double sink vanity in the master bath…we brush our teeth and get ready at the same time, so sharing is just too close for me, lol.

I am getting a Mcmansion built right now that should be ready in September – 3700 square feet, but I am very happy with all of the space. I agree that big staircases and 2 story ceilings is a waste of space for us, so we ended up picking a home that has a small foyer, uses the space above the family room as a media room, and the space below the stairs is storage. And we are adding built-in bookshelves to the downstairs study to create a library. 5 bedroom, 4 bathrooms, a game room (we board game), a media room (we have movie nights), a library, a kitchen, a dining room that opens to the kitchen (will have shelving for additional pantry space since we are losing our awesome walk-in pantry), and a family room that hubby and I will be using as the main tv room downstairs most of the time when we aren’t hosting movie nights, movie marathons, or super bowl parties with our friends upstairs.

And yes, I wanted a secret passageway, but I guess we had to compromise somewhere, lol. 🙂


Molly (Mike and Molly's House) May 15, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Mike came across this movie last week called ‘We the tiny house people’:
There were moments in the movie I got a little claustrophobic but it’s such a great swing on the pendulum from the McMasions!
My preference is a small house with lots of unheated storage space. I don’t like to have more than two bathrooms because I hate cleaning them!
My list is similar to yours but I’ve never considered a secret escape route! That’s exciting-one I may want to make secretly!!


Cynthia May 20, 2012 at 12:39 AM

Love this post! Agree with you on so many things like a pantry, library, guest bedroom and walk-in closet. The guest bedroom is just so wonderful and civilized and allows guests to stay for a little longer (which I like) without driving everyone crazy. One thing you didn’t mention — many houses have an “office/library” area for him, but not for her. Women tend to do all their correspondence and business on the kitchen table. I’ve always wanted (and now have) my own space, the famous “room of one’s own”, and I love it. And I still have piles of papers all over the kitchen table LOL


Don May 25, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Every since I was a kid and to today, I’ve always wanted a “A Secret Escape Route”, especially in the kids rooms in case there is a fire or someone breaks into the house! Very cool!

On the practical side, I would love a larger library (although we actually call it a media room). My wife loves books and we have a few bookshelves, but we also have computers and even karaoke machine in the room (my daughter’s).

I think the perfect size for a house for us would be 2600 sq ft. That would include no wasted space like you identified above!


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