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Should we stay or should we go?

When families outgrow their living space, some opt to carve out more room while others pack up and move

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When space became tight for Linsey Laidlaw and Brian Morris and their three children (above), they stayed put instead of moving out and got to work making their space more efficient.

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When space became tight for Linsey Laidlaw and Brian Morris and their three children, they stayed put instead of moving out and got to work making their space more efficient (above).

New York City

THERE comes a time in the life of a family when someone, or maybe everyone, in the household looks around and thinks: "We could use more space." Perhaps one or more of the children is angling for a room of his or her own. Maybe you can no longer pretend that the dining table makes a suitable home office. Or there is just nowhere left to put all that stuff you have amassed.

So begins a conversation that may wax on for years: Do you fix the limited space you have, carving square feet out of thin air? Or do you pack up and move to a larger home, a decision that could mean giving up a treasured neighbourhood, a beloved school or an enviable commute?

Either decision could be pricey. Closing costs on a new apartment or house can easily reach five figures, and a larger home usually comes with a bigger mortgage and higher maintenance costs. Expand your existing property, and you can expect to spend, on average, somewhere between US$42,287 and US$110,000 for a high-end project, according to national figures calculated by HomeAdvisor, a digital marketplace for homeowners. (Average amounts in the New York area are much higher.) Moving to a larger home in a new neighbourhood may mean taking a chance on an area you do not know. "To do a trade-up without a windfall of money, you need to take a leap of faith," said Danielle Lurie, a sales agent with real estate brokerage Compass.

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Commit to the home you have, and other trade-offs await. You may invest in a lengthy - and expensive - renovation, or have to learn to get more creative with the space that you already have. And you may expend all that effort only to find that the space still does not work. Just think of all the fretting families on the HGTV franchise Love It or List It, who rip apart their existing quarters while simultaneously looking for something better.

On June 4, Get Out of My Room, a reality show where siblings desperate for personal space redecorate one another's rooms, will debut on Universal Kids.

"The problems are clutter, time and energy," said Marta Ravin, an executive producer for Departure Films, which produces Get Out of My Room. "Life can get so overwhelming for busy families. You don't have the time to tackle a big project like cleaning out a spare room or reorganising a space."

Creative thinking

Every family's circumstances are different, and financial constraints usually determine the options. The solutions almost always require some creative thinking.

Nine years ago, when Linsey Laidlaw and Brian Morris moved into the parlor-floor apartment of a brownstone on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, the tiny second bedroom made for a great nursery for their one-year-old daughter, Ivy. With high ceilings and an open floor plan, the apartment felt spacious. But then they had two more children, and that little nursery got very crowded.

"As our family has grown and our space has not, we had to get creative," said Ms Laidlaw, 35, a graphic designer and art director who somehow manages to work from home. "It's like a Tetris game; everything has to be just so."

The three children, Ivy, now 10, Oliver, seven, and four-year-old Rosie, share that tiny bedroom, which has a curtain in lieu of a door. About five years ago, Mr Morris, 37, a lawyer who used to work in construction, customised a loft bed for the two older ones, adding shelving and storage. At one point, a crib also fit beneath the loft. Until earlier this month, when Mr Morris finally built a bed for her where the crib once stood, Rosie slept on a mattress next to the bunks, in an area that she called her nook.

Conversations about moving happen often, but always lead back to their tiny quarters. Their landlords have hinted that they would like the family to vacate the apartment so that it could be renovated, but have been flexible.

They have considered the suburbs, but Mr Morris would no longer be able to bike to work in the financial district, and the children would have to change schools. And at US$3,200 a month, the rent is manageable, and the neighbourhood is home.

"We flirt with the idea, but we ultimately like the rhythm of living in Brooklyn," Ms Laidlaw said. "We like the closeness of the community."

About 18 months ago, Deanna and Stephen Dorey began to wonder how much longer their sons would be willing to share a room in the family's three-bedroom house in East Hanover, New Jersey. Their daughter, Alissa, now 16, had her own bedroom, with a daybed and pink walls. But their sons, Stephen Jr, now 14, and Vincent, now eight, shared a small bedroom. They assumed that by the time Stephen Jr started high school in 2018, he would want his own space.

"I knew he was going to start torturing us," said Mrs Dorey, 45, who owns a cheerleading and karate school in East Hanover. Mr Dorey, 51, works in business development.

Mrs Dorey started visiting open houses but could not find anything that compared to the bi-level ranch that she and Mr Dorey bought 15 years ago and gut renovated, installing a new kitchen and bathrooms, adding a deck and reconfiguring the lower level into a great room, which the Doreys envisioned would be used as a second family room, as the house had a formal living room and family room on the main floor.

"Everything we did was brand new," Mrs Dorey said. "Everything we went to see didn't have that." The couple considered adding a fourth bedroom in place of the deck, but estimated that the project would have cost US$60,000 to US$80,000.

Then, in December, the boys were cast in Get Out of My Room. The producers took a hard look at the great room. With sliding glass doors leading to a sun porch, the space had ample light. But it was rarely used because it felt cut off from the main level where the family congregated.

"Nobody liked it," Mrs Dorey said. "It's not where the action is. It's disconnected." The Doreys had briefly considered converting it into a bedroom for Stephen Jr but dismissed the idea because he would be sleeping so far from the rest of the family. The producers suggested turning it into a new master bedroom instead. A parental retreat sounded like a better idea.

And so began a great reshuffling. The Doreys would take over the great room, Alissa would move into her parents' old room. Stephen Jr would move into Alissa's room, and Vincent would get the shared room to himself.

In January, before the crew returned to shoot the show, the Doreys spent US$4,000 dividing the great room with a wall, making one half a new master bedroom and the other a private sitting room. Alissa replaced the light fixture in the old master bedroom with a chandelier and added beanbags.

Transformed

Then the crew returned, and in a week, transformed the boys' rooms. The producers sat down with Stephen Jr and Vincent to help them make their wish lists. Stephen Jr wanted a space where he could entertain friends. Vincent wanted a waterslide, which, unsurprisingly, was not possible. But other ideas, like a loft bed, could happen.

The children used to do their homework at the kitchen table, but now they spend more time in their rooms. Stephen Jr's, which has a television and a mini fridge - items on his wish list - has become their hangout. And the great room, which never got much use before, is now the grown-up retreat. "It almost feels like we put the addition on, but we didn't," Mrs Dorey said.

Here's a bit of wisdom: If you are heavily pregnant with your second child, do not trade a spacious loft in the Pencil Factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for a tiny one-bedroom condo. That is what Kara Welker and Tim Fornara did. Eager to own a place but reluctant to move away from friends and their nanny share, the couple bought a tiny duplex apartment in the building next door in 2014.

It did not take long for them to realise the error of their ways. "What drove me insane was trying to keep a little baby quiet in a very small space," said Ms Welker, 45, a partner in a talent management and production company.

They tried to carve out space, opening up the area beneath a stairwell for a play area for the children, Sorcha, now five, and Franklin, now three-and-a-half. "They bonked their heads on the stairs every day," said Mr Fornara, 41, the founder of Pretty Fast, a television production company.

The couple hired an architect who, for US$6,000, drew up plans to build a small nursery at the top of the stairs at the entrance to their private roof deck. But building the addition would have cost US$40,000, and would not have fixed the unfixable: They were a growing family with a baby who struggled to sleep, living in an apartment that already felt too small.

The time had come to leave the nest, even if it meant breaking away from a neighbourhood that they adored and close friends nearby. Mr Fornara considered moving to the suburbs, but Ms Welker was not interested. "I moved to New York City to be part of New York City," said Ms Welker, who grew up in Los Angeles.

They zeroed in on Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, finding a two-family brownstone in need of work. "It was one of those deals where it had been who knows how many apartments," Mr Welker said. The couple bought it in February 2016 for US$1.05 million, and sold their condo for US$1.15 million.

As for the friends they left behind, Mr Fornara and Ms Welker have since discovered that there is life after Greenpoint. "Change is mostly good," Mr Fornara said. "It's always a little scary when you're doing it." But "we now have new great friends". NYTIMES