One Couple, 600 Square Feet: “All We Have is All We Need”

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailAfter living in a 600-square-foot studio apartment for 23 years, Ken and Linda Bolton bought their first home in 2000. “I was seeking three bedrooms, a dining room and lots of windows,” Linda says. She found all that—and more—in a tiny 1946 bungalow in central New Jersey. “Our current living space is exactly the same as our former studio apartment—but now we have walls!” she says.

Linda’s initial trepidation about the home’s size, ancient bathroom and tiny kitchen was erased when she saw the living room, “with its knotty pine walls, wide pine board floors and native stone fireplace that takes up one entire wall.” The landmark home, with rough-cut siding that resembles an Adirondack style cabin, is on a heavily wooded lot on a county road a few hundred feet from a state highway. “We have an abundance of wildlife in spite of suburban sprawl—pileated woodpeckers, deer, turkeys, foxes, raccoons and, as of a few weeks ago, bear!” Linda reports.

ken and linda bolton 

When Ken and Linda moved in, the low-beamed ceilings made the living area dark enough to require lights during the day. One of Ken’s first projects was to raise the ceiling and install two skylights, giving them much-needed natural light and creating space for shelves and a wall-to-wall display of Ken’s hand-built cedar and canvas canoe.

bolton living room 

ken bolton canoe 

“Thanks to Ken’s ingenuity, there isn’t a wasted inch in the house,” Linda says. The Boltons’ living/dining area is 11 feet by 20 feet, and the rest of the living space is divided into a 6-foot by 6-foot bathroom, an 11-foot by 12-foot bedroom and a 9-foot by 12-foot galley kitchen with a 5-foot by 6-foot former pantry that serves as a home office. “I can access bookshelves and my filing cabinet in my tiny nook simply by swiveling my chair,” Linda says. “I even have two windows—one looking into the woods that border our property, the other, the backyard.”

Ken’s workshop is in the two-car garage under the house, and the couple further expanded their living space by adding a 10-foot by 10-foot sun porch and a 300 square foot deck.

bolton deck 

Linda lived with the inefficient kitchen’s limited counter and storage space for 10 years before she and Ken installed a custom kitchen last spring. Ken built a pantry at the bottom of the basement stairs, giving the Boltons ample space for groceries and little-used cookware.

bolton pantry 

“Any time we’d undertake a project, we were always mindful of retaining the house’s original charm and character, from the wallpaper and curtain and upholstery fabric to replacement floor boards,” Linda says. Ken bought a book and learned about building with stone, then removed and replaced every stone in the home’s 110-foot wall. When estimates for replacing the crumbling brick and concrete front steps with natives stones came in at well more than $3,000, Ken did the work himself. “He did such a good job that a mason driving by stopped to admire his handiwork!” Linda says.

bolton front 

For Linda and Ken, this small home provides a simple, good life. They can’t imagine needing any more space. “We learned long ago that all we have is all we need,” Linda says. “When friends who live in McMansions visit, they marvel at the efficiency and comfort and remark that ‘you don’t need more than this.’ For anyone considering downsizing, or considering a small starter home, we say just do it! We promise you won’t miss a thing living in a thousand square feet or less. You’ll just have smaller headaches.”