The Math of Your Home Size. Part 1: Make the Best of the Space You Have.

Our homes are museums of math. In every corner, there is a fascinating math puzzle awaiting you. Math can help you measure the real square footage of the space you rent or own; shock you with a revelation that your floors are not level; or advise on how to make your living room more livable. You can play with math to negotiate a larger closet, a taller toilet, or a homework table in your kitchen. For those dreaming of expanding their riches, math is a great adviser on whether to finish your attic, garage or basement and if it would actually increase the official square footage. Math can greenlight a large addition or pronounce a sad verdict on your expansion dreams.

In the following two columns, let's explore how math can help you better utilize the space you already have, and if desired, also guide your expansion plans.

Part 1: Make the Best of the Space You Have

Ikea Image from Flickr

Whether you occupy 500 square feet or 5,000 square feet, you are likely wishing you had more space for storage, work or entertaining. The best home advice for those running out of space: instead of figuring out what you can add to make things work, think of what you can re-arrange to make things work better. By merely shuffling your furniture and decorations around your house, you can create the refreshed and practical environment that you are looking for.

Think statistics: is your living room empty 25 out of 30 days a month, while you work out of a stuffed tiny home office? Of course you have hopes to populate this living room with book reading or chess playing kids on a daily basis, even if past experience shows they are more likely to be found in the family room watching TV or doing homework in the kitchen. Don't wait for your life style to fit your home, make your home fit your needs today!

To get a clear picture of these needs you may want to create an occupancy chart of your home. List all of your rooms and family members, and then add up the hours that each person spends in each room every day. Analyze the results with your family. Use this 95% idle living room to create a glamorous CEO office for yourself, make dreams come true with a pool or sewing table, or expand the busy dining/homework area.

Once you start thinking about how to use your space more efficiently and fairly, it is guaranteed to get addictive. Let's do some basic geometry. If your shoe size is 10 and up, the total square footage covered by a pair of your shoes is at least two times the square footage covered by the shoes of your 1st grader. Feel free to use this argument to snap up at least twice the space in the family shoe closet.

Not everyone is created equal. If your height is above average, you may have noticed that you need to bend 90 degrees over most bathroom sinks. It is, however, a nice stretching exercise, after sitting on that dwarf-ish toilet seat (14” height is the most common). But how can you check that your hands are clean when you bend so low over the sink you are in danger of summersaulting into your mirror image? On the East Coast, such low toilet seats and vanity varieties are surprisingly very popular, either due to a low average height of the original settlers, or because we put our kids' needs way ahead of our own. Consider treating yourself to height-appropriate bathroom furniture during the next round of renovations.

Have you always assumed that your floors are straight until your kids showed their toy cars sliding in one direction? Have you ever hung a picture using a level and then discovered that it is tilted with respect to the walls? This may be a hint that your floors are not level and/or your walls are not perfectly vertical. Not to worry: align the picture with the closest wall, forgoing level and gravity. Similarly, use pads to realign your furniture. And feel free to blame such floor tilts for the natural accumulation of body fat midway up front or at your bottom – its your body's attempt to balance your center of gravity.

Are you looking for creative ideas to materialize more storage space? Zoom in on your usability chart. Look for some idle corners or niches. Our ingenuity sparks when facing a real challenge. Do you happen to have both, shower and bathtub, in your bathroom? An unused bathtub and everything above it could be turned into a nice size closet of around 5' x 2.5' x 7' that could hold your linens, towels and travel luggage filled with winter sweaters.

Image from Flickr

Be generous with mirrors as they make rooms appear brighter by reflecting the light instead of absorbing it as walls do. They can fool our perception of space, making any room look larger. But remember the laws of reflection – if you can see something, this something can see you – mirrors can limit your privacy. To increase space not only perceptually but also physically – you'll have to learn the intricate steps of expansion math dance with your architect, town building inspector and your contractor. But this is another story - for next week.

To read more about mirror reflections click here.


  1. Tom says: Great article about spaces in the home, especially about usage and Time. Having moved a whole lot, and now having moved (downsized) our parents several times, I am a big fan of graph paper, or at least a pretty good scale drawing of the various rooms, and then the furniture also. Much easier to move around little bits of paper representing the tables and couches, than to move the furniture itself. Measure twice (or three times), move once.

  2. Hmmm...
    Everyone in my family has a closet of approximately the same size. Built-in room closets. Now, thinking about it, I realize that I do deserve more space than my still small children.


  3. My husband re-arranges our living room almost every month, and I am not complaining. Looks great every time. Mirrors make a room look larger. You can position the mirrors to reflect an interesting view from a window.

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