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506-square-foot modern house

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Our house is 506 square feet, but we didn’t skimp on luxury

When high prices and city rules halted a couple’s house-building plans, they went small

Ian Adamson and Leah Garcia were all set to build their 3,000-square-foot dream house (and a 450-square-foot guest house) on a scenic plot in Boulder, Colorado, when reality got in the way.

“We had our architect, Brad Tomecek of Tomecek Studio Architecture, design a large home for the lot, which we had fallen in love with, in part because of the amazing views of the Flatirons,” says Garcia. “But then, we found out about city requirements that would have forced us to change the design. At the same time, we realized this was going to be a financial stress and the math didn’t add up for us. We decided to go small, but go big.”

The house sits in the middle of scenic mountains and fields. Large glass windows and doors make the indoor-outdoor connection strong and immediate.
Left: Ian Adamson and Leah Garcia planned to build a large home that took advantage of these amazing vistas, but when that became a challenge, they went small. Right: Architect Brad Tomecek modified plans for a guest house to make a small house that lets its owners live large thanks to an indoor-outdoor connection.

For them, that meant putting the design for the big house on ice and making the smaller guest dwelling their primary house, but without sacrificing luxury. “We wanted all of the bells and whistles, just in a limited space,” Garcia explains.

For some architects, downgrading a project by 2,494 square feet would be a bummer. For Tomecek, the thrill of a challenge followed a moment of disappointment.

“Losing the big vision was a bit of a ‘wait, what?’ feeling, but that was quickly replaced by the excitement of designing the smallest home we had ever created in this office,” he says. “"And, to be honest, looking at these clients and their needs, it completely makes sense.”

Looking out from the kitchen, you see very high ceilings, glass doors that open a wall of the house, and lots of windows.
Tomecek says the key to making the house feel expansive are the 16-foot-high ceilings. The kitchen cabinets are from Ikea, the barstools are from Concepts Furniture, and the quartz countertops are from Arizona Tile.

Here’s why: Adamson and Garcia are active people on the go. Both are former pro-athletes (he’s the most successful adventure racer of all time; she’s a mountain bike racing champ) and current business people who work at home, but travel often. (He’s the president of the International Obstacle Sports Federation, the world governing body for Obstacle Races and related disciplines; she’s a sports sideline reporter and founder-CEO of the skincare company Nulastin, Inc.) Their needs are few: They have no kids, no pets, and no house plants.

And, frankly, living small was nothing new for them. Adamson grew up in a 800-square-foot family home in Australia (“We slept three kids to a room,” he says) and, after selling a larger home, the couple was living together on the lot in a 23-foot airstream trailer. “Maybe this kind of lifestyle wouldn’t make sense for 98 percent of the public,” says Tomecek. “But for them, it works. It’s how they like to live.”

A spiral, metal staircase leads to the loft. A glass enclosed, electric, wall-hung fire box that burns butane hangs in the living room. A small sectional with a midcentury style maximizes seating in the living room.
Left: A winding staircase leads to the loft. Right: A Bantam sofa from Design Within Reach is tucked into a corner. Although there wasn’t room for a traditional hearth, the couple creates a similar atmosphere with an electric, wall-mounted fireplace.

Exactly how they like to live is in a light-filled space with great access to the outdoors and a cook’s kitchen. “We made it work in two ways: architecturally and with fixtures and finishes,” says Tomecek. “Architecturally, we vaulted the space, which makes it tall and gives it a more spacious feeling. We also gave it bi-fold glass doors that completely open one wall of the house and expand it to the patio and pool.”

Garcia adds: “The doors on the west side of the house create an absolutely ginormous indoor-outdoor space we can use three seasons out of the year.”

In allocating the use of the interior space, architects looked at the couple’s priorities. “Cooking and entertaining are so important to them, and we gave most of the space to the kitchen,” he says. “There’s room to cook and room at the peninsula for people to sit and eat.”

A view from the loft shows the kitchen, the living room, and the large outdoor space. An exterior shot shows several solar panels on the roof.
Left: A view from the loft. Right: On the exterior, you can see a series of Sunrun solar panels. “It was important for us to be as green as possible,” says Garcia.

The couple estimates they spent hundreds of hours sweating the details about the lower level and how much room should be allocated as kitchen area and how much should be designated living room. “At one point, we came in with painter’s tape and marked out where things would go,” says Adamson.

In the end, the kitchen has the lion's share of square footage, and the living area is smaller. “It’s more of a sitting area, really,” says Garcia. “The funny part is that when people come over, everyone huddles around the bar, opting not to sit in the 'living room.'"

Finishes were mostly selected by Garcia. “I took a strategy some people use when dressing: pair a cheap shirt with expensive jeans for an overall expensive look,” she says. “In other words, we used Ikea cabinets, but we also used high-end Bosch appliances—including a five-burner cooktop.”

A bathroom has a very long glass shower that has a long clerestory window running above it at the top of the wall. The master bedroom is not large, and almost filled by the bed.
Left: The bathroom is outfitted with a vanity from Ikea and a mirrored medicine cabinet from Robern. An oversized glass shower topped by a clerestory window make the space as light-filled as possible. Right: Past the staircase and under the loft you find the small master bedroom. “We don’t need a large room for sleeping,” says Garcia.

Both Adamson and Garcia work at home in a small loft above the bathroom and bedroom. For some, that might be a challenge. “It can get a little crazy when we are both on the phone. Ian has been known to take a call in the bathroom downstairs, including being interviewed by an international magazine,” says Garcia. “But it’s usually not an issue; we have the ability to focus and not pay attention to each other when we are working—sometimes we don’t talk for hours. And, since we both travel a lot, we tend to relish time we are together.”

The second smallest room in the house is the master bedroom. “We love our king-size bed, and we weren’t about to get rid of it,” Garcia says. “But that means there are very few inches on either side to move around, it’s kind of like being on a boat.”

A lap pool is outside the house, it’s surrounded by a deck.
A heated stationary swimming pool completes the outdoor space and can be used nearly all year round.

Looking at the spaces, you have to wonder: Where is all their stuff? “We have some things stored in the storage area over the carport, including trophies, medals, tents, and other equipment,” says Garcia. “We have gotten rid of a lot of things, and reduced where we can—such as digitally scanning all of our photos rather than keep albums.”

That said, the key is organization and discipline. “We don’t have the floor space for hampers, so when we change, we walk our dirty clothes down to a small, below-ground laundry room,” says Garcia. “We have one spot for everything, and you have to be good about putting items away. It’s a bit like living on a boat, where you have to be tidy. I think the years of bike racing—where you have to think ahead and pack a small bag with items that will last you for 20 days—were good training.”

Echo Park | From Curbed LA

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