Square-Foot Hours: Designing 24-Hour Spaces

Michael Mortensen, a Vancouver-based urban planner and developer, wrote an excellent blog post last week entitled “Making Apartments Work Harder: the Third-Bedroom Challenge.”

He gives us a great look at how good design can uncover a third bedroom in most two-bedroom condos, simply by removing a walk-in closet, for instance. Michael touches on nine “Principles for Harder-Working Apartments,” all of which are great, but I wanted to highlight just one today: square-foot hours, or ft2hours.

Our master bedroom wasn't always a 24 hour space. Here's me, attempting to work from home with kids...

Our master bedroom wasn’t always a 24-hour space. Here’s me, attempting to work from home with kids…

The concept behind ft2hours (square-foot hours) is to add a time-based measurement to how we assess and use our space. So if your 10′ x 12′ bedroom is used only eight hours a day (i.e., when you’re sleeping), your actual usage is 120 ft2 divided by three (one-third of the day), which is just 40 ft2hours of used space.

I’ve been maximizing the ft2hours of our condo for months now, albeit without having such great terminology for it. The biggest improvements I’ve made have come from doubling or tripling the uses for each bedroom by giving each room at least one daytime function, sometimes more. The net effect is that the bedrooms have gone from being used only for sleeping to being used for a variety of purposes throughout the day.


Boys’ Room (+33 ft2hours)

In the boys’ room, we added a PlayStation 4 and LED TV atop a 2×2 Expedit cabinet from IKEA. We then found a perfectly sized couch/futon (also from IKEA) that completed the gaming-room-by-day function and then doubled as a spare bed for sleepover guests.

Result: We obviously don’t let the kids game all day, but they spend a lot of time in their room now, lounging around. So while the boys’ 99 ft2 room isn’t at 100% efficiency, its usefulness has doubled from its former “sleeping-only” function (33 ft2hours) to a hefty, multi-purpose 66 ft2hours.

The boys turn the couch toward the TV to make their room into a gaming lounge.

The boys turn the couch toward the TV to make their room into a gaming lounge.


Master Bedroom (+88 ft2hours)

Next, with the addition of a well-designed wall bed/desk combo, my 132 ft2 master bedroom morphed from single-purpose (sleeping), to daytime office. There are days when I use the office almost constantly, from the time I wake up and put the bed away to the moment I pull it back down to sleep. Bonus: the older kids also use the desk for a quiet homework area in the evenings.

And by attaching wheels to the boys’ room TV cabinet, we can now easily wheel the TV into this room for some of the kids to watch after the youngest boy has gone to bed.

Result: The master bedroom has tripled its efficiency, from 44 ft2hours to 132 ft2hours. This is the second office we never had before, and also a second entertainment room when we want that.

The wall bed in our master bedroom features a fold down desk and folding chairs. We spend hours a day working from here.

The wall bed in our master bedroom features a fold-down desk and folding chairs. We spend hours a day working from here.


Girls’ Room (+31 ft2hours)

The girls used to have a custom-made IKEA toddler bunk, which saved floor space but was single function (sleeping). And inevitably the girls grew right out of it. It now has a happy “adoptive home” with Rachel Jonat from Minimalist Mom, who bought that piece off me when I acquired a bunk bed/table convertible bed frame.

While it took me a little while to get over the increased floor space occupied by the new bed – especially in such a small room (63ft2)  – the actual ft2hours of the room increased dramatically. The bottom bunk converts into a very healthy-sized table with bench seating on both sides, large enough for four adults to comfortably sit at.

The lower bunk on the girls' bed converts to a table and bench combo during the day.

The lower bunk on the girls’ bed converts to a table and bench combo during the day.

When we need a second office or the kids need a quiet place to read, colour, or play on their computers, the table in the girls’ room is perfect. We had my mom and her partner over recently and before we knew it, we’d spent the first hour of the evening sitting at that little table, chatting!

Result: The girls’ room has probably increased its efficiency by nearly 150%, going from 21 ft2hours (sleeping) to over 50 ft2hours.

I setup my podcasting studio in the girls room one evening when I needed some quiet.

I setup my podcasting studio in the girls’ room one evening when I needed some quiet.


Why bother?

But why care about ft2hours at all? Why not just get a bigger house and let each room have a single purpose?

I’ve written a lot about that in the past… the answers are all to do with density, walkability, complexity, and cost. Living further out in a bigger place is actually more complex, costlier, and less healthy than maximizing the ft2hours of a smaller place in a denser neighbourhood.

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: recently we visited a couple who had their place laid out as do most single-child families. They had the child’s toys in the living room, where all family members were most of the time, and the bedrooms were just for sleeping. When we came over, we brought a few of our kids, all of whom immediately alighted upon the toys in the living room. The net effect was that our visit was like having cocktails in the middle of a daycare.

Square-foot hours gained in each room (dark green is before, light green is after).

Square-foot hours gained in each room (dark green is before, light green is after).

About a week later, we had another family with five kids over for dinner. (Yes, there are more five-kid families – living downtown, no less!)

After dinner, all ten of the kids decamped to three different bedrooms. Some played Lego in our master bedroom, where the bed and desk were folded into the wall and pillows strewn all over the wide-open floor. Several of the girls retreated to the girls’ room to sit around the table and play a card game. Still others watched movies in the boys’ room theatre until the youngest had to go to bed, spurring us to roll the movie cart into the master bedroom to continue the festivities.

The result? Four adults had their own quiet dinner and drinks, listening to adult music in the living room, while 10 kids played elsewhere in the condo.

All that’s possible because our condo is a lot closer to 1,000 ft2hours than it used to be.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. He's an advocate for rental housing and public transit.

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