Small Homes that Live Big

Filed in Business Management, Design, IBS by on April 7, 2016 4 Comments

Stumped on what to do about buyers who are looking for a home that comes with a tiny price but a McMansion look and feel? Enter stage right: the jewel box home.

Ranging between 650-2,500 square feet, these are a win for buyers who want something custom but affordable, but they’re also an ideal product for builders looking to diversify and sell a higher-end product across multiple demographics.

So what is a jewel box home?

It’s just a smaller-than-average single-family home — not a starter home or a tiny house — built with high-quality materials, exquisite detailing and custom finishes with an emphasis on tailoring the home to the owners’ way of life for maximum elegance, harmony and function.

“Just because [a home buyer] is downsizing doesn’t mean that they want less,” said Kay Green, president of Kay Green Design Inc. “They simply want the same great amenities in a smaller space.”

Jewel box homes typically appeal to newlyweds, single professionals, empty nesters, retirees, Millennials and just about anyone with a “less-is-more” mentality, Green said.

Space planning in jewel box homes is essential. Green said it’s important to design in a way that maximizes space, leaves no area without a purpose and creates personal escapes. She offered open concept showers as an example.

freestanding tub glass shower

Courtesy of Houzz

“Placing a tub inside a glass shower maximizes space and adds a wow factor,” she said. “We’re creating that spa-like feeling for the buyer.”

Use of bright, reflective finishes, like brushed chrome, pocket and barn doors, decorative fixtures, dramatic lighting, floating shelves, white walls, lots of windows and continuous flooring throughout the home also help maximize space and function, she said.

As the recession trudged on, Tony Weremeichik, a home builder and principal of Canin Associates in Orlando, saw jewel box homes as a critical architecture and land-planning solution. He knew there would be continued demand for smaller houses, but wasn’t exactly sure who to target and what to target them with.

“With a move toward smaller houses, you ask yourself, ‘How do you do that right?’,” he said. “How do you plan out a community of smaller homes?”

What he found upon doing some market research, was surprising. Women make over 90% of all home-buying decisions, and between 2008 and 2010, almost 20% of home buyers were single women, he said.

Once his target market became apparent, he started making his home builds “women-centric” — averaging between 1,800-2,000 square feet with three to four bedrooms, and custom-designed for women looking for an investment in a single-family detached home.

Meaningful space and quality materials are what keep his customers happy, he said.

“It’s not about creating a small floor plan. It’s about looking at the spaces first: considering how it will be furnished, whether it’s comfortable, what the flow will be like,” he said. “It’s important to have quality spaces, designed well.”

For example, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces with sliding doors helps to maximize space and give the buyer the feeling of a personal oasis at home. Islands with seating, domestic suites (mud rooms, pocket offices, vac/broom closet), the space beneath the stairs, diverse cabinetry and built-ins are also critical in making jewel box homes spacious and functional, he added.


Courtesy of Decoist

Another key advantage to building jewel box homes: They’re ideal for high-density areas. In some of Weremeichik’s planned communities, he has reached densities up to 9-11 dwelling units per acre.

The Cottages on Greene, in East Greenwich, R.I., is an innovative example of jewel home building on an urban infill, and has been used by HUD as a case study of best practices.


Don Powers, founding principal of Union Studio, the firm that designed the Cottages on Greene, said that getting projects like these approved is typically the hardest part, since it has to be appealing to all involved stakeholders.

“You have to design it carefully and demonstrate that no single piece of the neighborhood is any bigger than the pattern that it abuts,” he said. “And your sales game at the level of approvals has got to be high.”

Another critical piece of the strategy: knowing the codes inside and out, and not just the code, but the intent behind it.

“If you can convince them that your intent will meet the requirements, they can override the rules,” he said. “Know the safety objectives as well as [the code officials] do.”

Planned well, jewel box homes can be an ideal fit for both builder and buyer.

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  1. Small house with proper planning and placement of things will look great and amazing.

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