Living Large in a Smaller Home

By Kate Riley March 21, 2012

I discover new blogs in all sorts of ways and recently a reader left a very kind comment so I hopped over to visit her blog.  I was delighted to discover Jen of Migonis Home who together with her husband AJ and young son Drew, is renovating a Cape Cod style cottage in Massachusetts. 

I loved her whole approach to the transformation of their home, and the fact they’re renovating it slowly while along the way making due with what they have.  Jen and AJ are making changes to their new abode to make the home suit their lifestyle.  I invited Jen to share her story and offer a few tips for living large in small space. 

Please welcome Jen!

Jen and Drew 1Hi! I’m Jen Migonis from Migonis Home and I am thrilled to be joining you here today!  My husband and I bought a 75 year old Cape Cod in the seaside town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts two years ago and boy, did it need a lot of work! There was about four layers of wallpaper on every wall and zero insulation under that (not a big deal if you live in California but if you live in Massachusetts and you can see your breath in your bedroom in the winter then it’s a different story).

Our house is tiny, so when we found out we had a baby on the way four months after we moved in we realized we need to make this house work hard for us.  Our house is far from perfect, and we are working on a project in almost every room, so bear with our “in progress” photos. 

When Kate asked me to be her guest I knew almost immediately what I wanted to talk about: living large in a small space. Today I’m going to focus on four ways to maximize your space in a small home.

mignonis home
Let it Flow.  House flow is essential for entertaining so when we renovated we knocked down the wall between the kitchen and dining room; if you are looking at the photo the location of the wall was on the left side of the hutch. Fellow Cape dwellers have mentioned to us how large our downstairs appears because it’s so open.

jen kitchen 2

Now, we have a circular flow to our entire downstairs and if you are standing at either the front or the back door you can now see the opposite corners of our house. My son loved this when he was in his walker and sprinting around non-stop.

jen kitchen dining


Let There Be Light.   We’ve learned that when you live in a small space it is essential to let in as much light as possible… the more you can see the outside, the larger and cheerier it makes the house feel.

Take our tiny entryway as an example, we opened up the wall where you see the stairway and inserted a large supporting beam. My goal is to replace our front door with something similar to the glass screen door you see in the photo to keep aiding in the “let more light in” goal.

jen dining room


Look Up. Since additions are pricey we have decided for the time being to work with our home’s footprint.  We haven’t let the small amount of square footage stop us from making our space look larger.  About a month after being in our home I got a call from AJ while I was on a business trip and he informed me he was doing some demolition.  Only he wouldn’t tell me what.  How’s that for making your wife calm when she’s 2000 miles away?  Once I got home I only had to look up when climbing the stairs to see the huge improvement he’d made.

Our stairway was sort of reminiscent of those in the Catacombs, it was uber skinny and you had to duck your head (if you were AJ, or anyone else taller than my 5’4 self) to make your way up the stairs. That space was simply drywalled and unused. Everything you see painted white above the molding, was formerly wasted space; now it’s just waiting for some fabulous framed photographs, a new railing and some additional paint.

jen upstairs hallway


My demo loving hubby AJ did the same for the master bedroom. He expanded right into our attic space because it was too tiny to use it for anything besides small storage. Our master now feels much more spacious with the addition of at least four additional feet in a vaulted ceiling.

jen master bedroom

Obviously it’s not perfect yet, picture the beams framed in thick white wood.… things just take longer when you are trying to do it yourself, but I’m sure you know all about that!

jen bedroom 2


Unexpected Storage.  Our guest bathroom is ridiculously small. Until we get some spare cash for a complete gut job (our toilet is gradually falling through the floor, and I mean this very literally) we are making do. Do you notice the mirror and the painting? Behind each of those is a large hole in the drywall. We have made a makeshift medicine cabinet between the studs. It saved us space while utilizing what we had within the wall.

jen guest bathroom
You know what else works well when storage is non-existent in a bathroom? Use a picnic basket to hide all your toiletries. The one we have beneath the sink is filled with my hair dryer, straightener and AJ’s deodorant.

In an effort to continue the trend to use the unexpected areas we decided to reclaim some other lost space. We have four areas under the eves in our bedrooms where the builder just put up drywall.  In our master bedroom we ripped off the existing drywall to expose two closet sized spaces (where you see the door in the photo was previously just drywall).

jen linen closet

After putting in new insulation, drywall and closet doors we have plenty of room for the linen closet that was missing in our house and an additional closet for AJ’s clothes.

I’ll close with this quote from Leonardo Da Vinci that I just love, and need to remember when I wish for a house that is double in size!  “Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind…” And isn’t that so true?  It forces us to think about how we can simplify our lives and belongings and makes us more creative with the space we have!

Feel free to pop in over at Migonis Home and see how we are living large in our small space, I’d love to hear from you!  Kate, thank you for this fun opportunity to share some tips with your readers.

Thank you Jen for your insight today! You can see more images of Jen’s home tour here.  What are your tips for living large in a small space?  Have you thought of clever or unexpected way to store things in your home?

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Would you like to share the tale of your renovation too?  I’m happy to consider it for a future post!  No need to have a blog, just a bunch of before and after pictures and a story of your sweat equity!  Send your pictures and description with the subject RENOVATION SUBMISSION to my email here.

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And speaking of guest posts, I’m over at Satori Design for Living today, take a peek at my alfresco entertaining par-tay patio I designed – the one I would love to install in my own yard if money grew on trees.  Thanks for having me Shauna! satori design blog banner

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The Spring Craft Link Party posts tomorrow at 6 a.m. PST – bring your spring crafty goodness, I have a fun project to share too.

Here’s the handy button.

spring fling party button kate

See you then!




  1. WOW!!!!! i am blown away and LOVE her style! and i love capes- we just bought one in the fall! of course mine is not actually on cape cod. ;) thank you so much, kate, for the introduction. i am not following her and look forward to more!

  2. This home is so inspiring! We’re starting a kitchen remodel by knocking out a wall in the next few weeks, and seeing their gorgeous kitchen is making me really excited to open the space up. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Awesome work on that Cape! Our first home was a Cape and I loved it. I wish I had done more with it. You are doing such a nice job with this Manchester home. I am in Marblehead – just down the road! We have a 1900 Victorian now which is narrow and tall and I struggle with living large in a small home. Good luck with the rest of your plans and that fabulously cute baby you have there!

  4. What a great post! I love the decor in the home, especially how it is true to the character of the house. And I love that Jen kept it real in the pictures and in her story – not all of us live in a magazine spread everyday so it’s nice to see “in progress” pictures still be featured and look beautiful!

  5. Like the other ladies here I adore Cape Cods! My Husband and I are just about to close on a house, not a Cape Cod though…a twenties Tudor Revival…limited closet space, it will be interesting to get in there and see if there is anything we can do to remedy that like Jen was able to in her home…since our walls are plaster! Any suggestions?

    This post is making me antsy to get into our new place and capitalize on our small space!

  6. I just love your house. If you hadn’t mentioned the works in progress, I’d thought all photos were only “afters” ! (apparent drywall ? Where ? Aaaaah). The colors are amazing, elegant, and compliment the house so well it’s a dream.

    Plus, on a personal note, I’m again inspired to paint half of my stairs (everything but the step itself). I’ve seen Kate do it here and thought it was fabulous. This post is a reminder… when we get to the renovation of the stairs, which might take a few years.

  7. What a lovely home you have Jen! I truly believe that the smaller the home, the more cozier it will feel. I have had both large and smaller homes, and I find my self having had loved the smaller ones more. All the changes you are making look great, and what better than to do it yourself, that way you make sure you really know what you want. Thanks for letting Jen post on your blog Kate!

  8. I love cape cod style homes. This one has a lot goig for it and you can see the potential is there. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Great ideas! My hubby and I have been renting for the last 2 1/2 years, and we have a knack for choosing places without closets! Our last apartment was a great old upstairs of a building with no linen closet in the bathroom. I stacked up some old suitcases, used the bottom two for storage and opened the top and tucked towels and washcloths in it :) It was fun, and it worked like a charm.
    I have a pic. here:

  10. I can’t thank you enough for this post! We are moving to a small house in a couple of weeks — it looks a lot like this house. And now I have at least three great ideas to employ — things I never would have thought of if not for this post.

  11. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me! After months of discussing our options and debating the financials, my husband and I decided to move forward on a major kitchen renovation to update our one-story, 3 bedroom, ranch style home in California. We have two kids and two fairly small bedrooms so that means no guest room for now, but we have a huge corner lot with a great backyard and we live 8 houses away from school. We turned over the idea of buying something bigger for a long time but both felt that for right now it’s more important that we stay in this house and make it work better for us. The kitchen renovation starts next week and I can’t wait. This post was major encouragement that bigger is not always better and that a small home can feel bigger if you make it functional and use what you have!

  12. All of you are so wonderful and encouraging! Thank you! :)
    Kate R: our walls are plaster as well and it was so much easier to just replace them with drywall instead of trying to scrape the four layers of wallpaper off.

  13. This post was so refreshing! I live on a farm where everything seems to be ‘in progress’. With a little work (ok, a lot) I can keep improving. Small spaces are like puzzles. It feels so great to find a solution and figure them out!

  14. Fun to see a Mass. girl featured! My friends bought a Cape a few years ago and did a big reno before moving in, which included ripping down walls and layers of hideous paper. It’s fun to see how they could claim even more space by using these tips!

  15. ya know, when I see a post about anyone’s ‘small house, or small bedroom, or small kitchen’ or small anything living space, I always get soo excited! because I LIVE IN A TEENY, TINY HOUSE.. so I like to see how others make do in small spaces…. well I see the post, and read, she , and hubby, and now a new baby on the way.. ok the house MUST BE tiny…. open the page and see this. … your house maybe small to those who live in 9 bedroom 5 bath houses, but I would consider your home average or even medium size, not teeny tiny, or small.
    You have decorated it nicely.. and I do like your style.

  16. Great intro Kate. I like that AJ was ready to knock walls down and make the stairs larger. I’m 6’2″ and I hate hitting me head. I’ve also stayed in many homes in Europe and found that small spaces can be large with the right tweeking. Great to meet Migonis’ and see their lovely and growing home! I like Jen’s style too – welcoming and relaxing.

  17. What a great job! As a former Massachusettite I have complete sympathy for trying to remodel a century old home. Nothing ever goes according to plan. I am so amazed at the changes she has made. It is one of the best looking capes I have ever seen.. it is going to be GORGEOUS when it is done.

    I have similar lack of storage issues in my powder room and use the picnic basket trick. Out of sight, out of mind!

    I love it!

  18. What a beautiful home! You’re doing such a wonderful job with it! I live in a townhouse with a whopping 1,100 square feet and I love to see what others do with their small homes. I really like the quote you put up too. I’m going to hang it in my tiny bathroom to remind me that there are good things about small spaces too!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  19. This is one post I needed to hear and Da Vinci’s quote. Living in a very small house and was looking for inspirations on how to make it look bigger. Now that wall is coming down definitely :)

  20. Well, obviously I agree with living large in small spaces!

    You have one of my favorite looks with the white and wood combination. Lovely home.

    Question: You said your guest room is really small but in the picture (at least to me) it looks quite roomy. How big is it?

    dee :)

  21. I LOVE what you’ve done with your house! That downstairs is AMAZING!!!! I think your master beams might look good wrapped in dark wood (like your downstairs floors) instead of white!

  22. What a beautiful home! Thanks for sharing, i haven’t seen her blog before so I’ll head on over & check it out!

  23. What a gorgeous job Jen and her husband are doing with their home! It’s really beautiful. The home has a lot of character and they’ve really brought in so much natural light. All the white used throughout keeps it light, fresh and crisp looking. I’ll pop over to their blog. I’d love to see more!

  24. What an adorable home!! I’m also a big fan of knocking walls out to make things more open… and I love all the white! Living in a small space is certainly challenging, but it simplifies life! We’re currently a family of 5 living in my in laws 430sq ft guest apartment so I know all about small space!

  25. I love the house. It’s adorable, and so are Jen and her baby. (She looks about 16 in the picture, too. That’s a compliment. I want to look 16!)

    I think she has really done so much with the space and I love the paint colors (Could we hear what they are?) I am very pro-small homes myself. If you have a good layout, a small home works as well as a larger house and is more “green” besides. (I came around to this way of thinking after living in NYC, where layout is crucial.)

  26. What a beautiful makeover. I love to see walks taken out in favor of bringing in light. Jen and her husband are so talented. I especially love the exposed beams. What a difference that makes. Thanks for sharing.-K

  27. Hey there,
    Loved the post. I live on Cape Cod in a Cape Cod style home :) and yeh they are teeny. I Love how everything was made so light and airy, that is definetly a great trick! I will be stopping over to your site for some more great tips!
    Thanks! Great Job!

  28. Kate,
    Thank you for this introduction…our son and his wife just bought a fixer and Jen’s home gives me ideas and hope for a darling home with patience and money.

  29. THANK YOUUUUUU for this post! We may be moving into a smaller home and I’m so excited about beginning a new journey of DIY’s. Shack by the beach or mansion in the hills? I’ll take a shack by the beach any day with a blog like this.

  30. Thank you, this is a great post. It is always so inspiring to see a fellow DIYer making it work for them. I love what you have done with your living areas, and the way you have made the most of storage opportunities.

    We are also living large in a small fixer we recently bought in the Bay Area in CA. We moved here from a massive beige McMansion that we were renting (which we called the Beige Palace) since arriving from Sydney a year ago, and we much prefer our lovely cozy home.

    Personally, I think big houses are over-rated, so much wasted space for the sake of space. And way too much cleaning.

    My personal tip for small rooms is paint them a luscious rich luminous color. We painted our bedroom (which is literally a bed room, we can only fit our bed in it) a dark rich blue. The room will always look pokey and small (until we take out some walls), but now it glows with personality. Don’t think you have to paint everything white to make it seem bigger. If a room is that small, it will look small no matter what color you paint it. So be brave and give it some personality.

  31. Beautiful! I love your topic, your efficient use of space, and I’m secretly pleased that you’ve shared photos of rooms that are not 100% done yet :). Thank you!

  32. Great job being creative with your small space!! Do you mind sharing where you got the striped curtains in your master bedroom? I love the pop of texture/pattern they add!

  33. See, now those are curtains done right! Love how they flow with the room. I have total kitchen envy. Really lovely home!

  34. Beautiful home! What I would do to live in a house that big! My husband and I live in a 750 square foot home (two bedroom/one bath – kinda). This house is about four times the size of ours! Maybe I should do a post about our “small space”! Ha!

  35. what a beautiful home. It may look small from the outside but the inside looks amazingly beautiful! I love the white :)

  36. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed the pics of your beautiful home. I’m betting you’ll find many more interesting and possibly hidden things as you renovate. Nice to read about a family who is working on a small house instead of moving to a larger home.

    When I watch House Hunters, I sometimes wonder why some families leave a gorgeous home in favor of a ginormous one claiming they need four bedrooms two baths for three people. We’ve found out that it’s so much easier to live in a small space; less junk; less time spent cleaning a huge place; more time with family and friends. I’ll stop by your blog soon.

  37. I love a clean look like this! Would love to know where you found your dining table – great paired with the white slip-covered chairs – elegant/rustic.

  38. what a beautiful home! can you please tell us where you got the striped curtains – they’re awesome!

  39. May I ask the sf of this home? Our first house was a tiny cape cod….well built…but super small. I couldn’t bend over the tub (in the only bathroom) without hitting my back on the sink. OUr “master” bedroom had no closet so when we put one in, we knocked 2 feet off the room which made it about 9×11. So, because your cape APPEARS to be twice the size of mine, I just wondered if you would share sf. We now live in a slightly larger home that still feels small but much more do-able.:) Thank you for sharing your ideas with us!

  40. I love the design of the house. It’s very simple yet the bedroom is already drawing me to come in and take a nap.

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