For years, Michael Sprouse and George Thomasson lived in a succession of large houses.
Over time, having all that space became too much, so they decided to downsize—big time.
They found a jot of land in Lewes, in a rare inner-village development of new homes arranged in a court adjoining a century-old neighborhood.
“No one wanted this lot because it directly faces the entry to the court,” Thomasson recalls. “But I loved it.”
The partners worked with Milton builder Kenny Morris to design a single-story, 900-square-foot house, plus a freestanding 200-square-foot art studio with an outdoor shower a few steps from the main house.
The new house would be about one-quarter of the size of their previous, 3,500-square-foot home. Still, maintaining a smaller footprint was not a totally new concept for the couple, who operated an art gallery in Washington, D.C., before they moved to the beach in 2002.
“In D.C., we got used to not having a lot of space, used to not having a garage,” Sprouse says. “We also rented a small house for a while to see if we liked it—and we did.”
The living room
Their petite abode includes a living room with a fireplace and built-in cabinetry, a galley kitchen, a small dining room, two compact bedrooms and two baths. That’s it.
“We could have picked up more living space by only having one bathroom, but, for us, two bathrooms were a must,” Thomasson says.
To maximize the floor plan, the couple opted to equip one bathroom with a shower and the other with a tub. In a rare decision to upsize, they chose a soaking tub that is six inches longer than the standard model to accommodate Sprouse, who is 6-foot-5.
Each bedroom is outfitted with a bed, nightstand and storage for the partners’ pared-back wardrobes.
“What’s the rationale for a big bedroom?” Thomasson asks. “You only go there to sleep. You don’t need a lot of space to do that.”
To give the house a larger feel, they raised the ceilings, dramatically increasing the volume. In the living room and dining room, the ceilings soar to 20 feet. They are nine feet in the rest of the house, to accommodate storage in the attic space above.
“Even though the house is tiny, the ceiling height does make a big difference,” Thomasson says.
They incorporated other visual tricks into the design to create a sense of spaciousness. All the walls are painted in the same pale, space-expanding neutral, a shade called parchment. Continuous hardwood flooring provides a smooth, flowing line for the eye.
Rather than devote precious square footage to a laundry room, an apartment-size washer and dryer are stacked in a hall closet, next to the tank-less water heater.
The exterior of the house was inspired by both the Craftsman style and spare, angular architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Four beefy white pillars on the front porch are anchored in red brick bases. The house is painted soft green, with a bold red front door.
George Thomasson enjoys the porch.
“We wanted the house to have the look and feel of something that was built in the 1920s,” Sprouse says. “That’s also why we chose five-panel doors for the interior rooms.”
At first, they kept excess furniture and accessories in storage. It didn’t take long to make the decision to pass along those pieces to people who would enjoy them.
“We got rid of it, stuff we forgot we ever had,” Thomasson says.
Impulse shopping is now a rarity. There are logistics to consider.
“First, do I like it?” muses Thomasson. “Second, where do I put it?”
An artist, Sprouse is a founding partner of TwinFin Media and host of the “Arts and Entertainment Report” and the “Coastal Cuisine” show on WRDE Coast TV NBC. Thomasson is a successful real estate agent.
As someone who is in the business of selling residential properties, he ponders if he would be diminishing the home’s resale potential by limiting the square footage.
“A 900-square-foot house certainly isn’t for everyone,” he says. “But there are a growing number of people who are interested in living with less. And there’s a strong second-home market in Lewes, and many of those buyers are looking for properties that don’t require a lot of maintenance.”
Committing to a smaller footprint on the planet is a choice that has resulted in significantly lower heating and cooling costs. It also has an impact on others.
“The house is incredibly energy efficient,” Thomasson says. “And we aren’t obstructing people’s views.”
Their neighborhood is a close-knit community, a mix of year-rounders and owners of second homes. Open front porches encourage social interaction.
“All you have to do is sit out on your front porch with a glass of wine and you get lots of company,” Thomasson says. “It’s like ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ where all the neighbors come over for a party.”
The homeowners replaced the glass
In furnishing the house, they chose pieces with clean, simple lines to avoid visual clutter. In the living room, there’s a slipcovered sofa, a pair of leather club chairs and an occasional chair. The rustic wood coffee table came from the cabin of Thomasson’s parents. The painted urn displayed beside the fireplace was once owned by Sprouse’s grandmother, a gift from his uncle when he returned from Japan after World War II. Sprouse’s expressive paintings of exotic women, rich with tones of ruby and amber, make a vivid artistic statement.
A trim Danish modern table in the dining room was purchased from a friend. The bright turquoise cupboard started life as a glass-fronted wood china cabinet. Replacing the glass with a thin wood veneer and painting it enabled the homeowners to hide the contents, “which includes overflow food from the kitchen,” Thomasson says.
Three years into living with less, the couple has no regrets. They have found that a small house isn’t just good for the environment. It’s great for a relationship.
Says Thomasson, “It helps us to get along.” Adds Sprouse, “There’s no place to retreat.”
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. When you are designating spaces, decide which functions of your home are most important to you. For example, would you rather have a laundry room or a second bath? Pump up the volume. High ceilings make a space look larger. Repurpose pieces to maximize storage. In this small house, the glass in a china closet was covered to mask the cupboard’s new use as a pantry for food and sundries. Avoid visual speed bumps. Changes in wall colors and flooring materials make small spaces feel choppy. No matter how utilitarian a space, there’s always room for art. Choose larger paintings that make a statement rather than an assortment of smaller pieces.