After their only daughter left home, Ed and Joan Kobrinski began “divesting” things they’d accumulated over more than 20 years of family living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “As we emptied our nest, we realized that we didn’t need the space we had while raising our daughter and entertaining her many friends who we considered our extended family,” Joan says.
The Kobrinskis were ready to sell their family home and go small. “With no lawn to mow, yard to maintain, house to paint and snow to shovel during Michigan winters, we both realized that we would have more time to enjoy life,” Joan says.
They found a 2/3-acre waterfront lot on Chesapeake Bay, where they could keep their sailboat and convert a 1,000-square-foot office into a modest cottage. The smaller space and more temperate climate would cut down on their energy costs and footprint, and the substantial garden would allow them to grow their own food.
Joan and Ed converted this existing office building into their home.
“Because we had previously restored two century homes and remodeled a Craftsman style home, we knew this smaller-scale design would be sufficient for our currently scaled-down lifestyle,” Joan says.
The renovated office building includes two bedrooms and two three-quarter baths (no bathtubs). An open floor plan with a cathedral ceiling and skylights consolidates the kitchen, dining and living rooms, eliminating walls that reduce usable area. Ed and Joan added a seasonal screened-in porch, which provides space for entertaining and sleeping during warmer months. The porch’s location on the home’s north end also provides a buffer to severe weather from the Northwest and Northeast.
Cathedral ceiling and skylights add space and light to the great room.
A screened porch adds usable space and buffers the house from Nor’easters.
Because the house is on the bank of a creek off the Chesapeake Bay, the water–cooler in summer and milder in winter–moderates indoor temperature. Floor-to-ceiling windows accommodate passive solar heating during the winter, and strategically planted deciduous trees provide shade in summer. Energy-saving appliances; a tankless water heater; a highly efficient HVAC system; insulation; and double-pane, argon gas-sealed windows and exterior doors augment the energy savings. “The only thing keeping us from taking our all-electric cottage completely off the grid is that we have so little remaining to save in energy costs that the payback period for PV or wind power would be too long to justify the expense,” Ed says.
Ed and Joan love having more yard space to grow food and ornamentals.
The Kobrinkis love the lower energy costs, ease of cleaning and maintenance, vast yard space and incredible views in their smaller home. “From our living room, we literally enjoy sunrise and sunset views!” Ed says. They struggle—as all small home dwellers do sometimes—with entertaining (more than four guests is really too many), lack of storage space and clutter. Still, they wouldn’t trade their small home for a bigger one.
“We’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate living comfortably and contently with less,” Ed says.