Double-Duty Spaces That Really Work

By Anne Olson Postle, AIA

Today’s home buyers want smaller, smarter homes but that doesn’t mean that they are only looking for less square footage. They may not want to pay for even one more square foot than they absolutely need but they also don’t want to sacrifice one square inch of function! Our challenge is to offer a home that meets all the demands of today’s buyers and we can do this by demanding more from the plan by offering spaces that do double duty.

Double-Duty Offices

Let’s start at the stuffy old study. Today’s version has to be a whole lot more than a place to retreat for brandy and cigars. The space has now become a working office and often has to function for two people at the same time, with separate work stations. It also has to be wired with convenient access to data, communication and printers. The smart builder will be offering a technology alcove within the office to hide the printers and store the supplies.

We often try to force the office to also function as a guest bedroom and this can work for some people but not everyone. If the office gets full-time use, or the guests stay weeks at a time, this is a bad idea! If the guests are only occasional, for short periods, and the office can be spared for short periods, then a Murphy bed or seating that converts to a bed can be a great double-duty option.

A dated plan will put a desk in the breakfast nook for the woman of the home, calling that “double duty,” but we know that this doesn’t really work. A much better solution is a “command center” or “pocket office,” which is a smaller space than the working office above, and is adjacent to the main living area. Tucked away in an alcove, it allows for voice communication with other family members but the mess is tucked away. The command center is a great option when the office is used full time by one member of the household but the other partner still needs a workspace. It is also a great option where right-sizing has eliminated an office altogether.

Double-Duty Kitchens

Careful design of the kitchen island can increase the functions for this hard-working space. Just adding a bar to one side of the island won’t cut it. Try a round dining extension, at table height, to part of the island. Make sure that family members can face each other while they eat. A well-designed island can provide a great serving bar for a party, a wonderful place to visit while the meal is being prepared, valuable preparation space, and a functional dining area. Now that is double duty!

Outdoor Areas

One of the greatest double duty spaces that doesn’t add to the square footage tally is a well-designed outdoor living area. These spaces can add incredibly useful and valuable space to a smaller home. It can double as an entertaining area, a dining area, a cooking area and a relaxing retreat.

The Laundry Area

The laundry area, if well designed and large enough, can double as a hobby and craft studio. It needs adequate work space, natural light and usually a sink. Whatever you do, don’t try to make the laundry double as a mud room! A pile of dirty laundry is never the first thing you want to see when you arrive home. Remember that the laundry should always be placed on the same floor as the master bedroom.


One of the keys to making your spaces do double duty is proper storage. Well-designed storage for the various activities performed in the space is critical for the space to function. Depending on the activity, don’t forget the shelves, the cabinets, the closets and special built-ins.

One of our favorite double-duty details, and a great storage option, is the sleepover window seat in a child’s bedroom. This is a raised plywood platform that is large enough for a twin mattress. It is great when it has built-in bookshelves adjacent. This space provides an extra bed for guests but also easily stores toys. The sleepover window seat is a great memory point for the family buyer!

Flex Rooms

Are you ready to take double duty to a whole new level? How about a room that is all about flexibility? What can home owners do in a flexspace? For starters, they can:

  • Watch television
  • Use it as an office workspace or gameroom
  • Use it as a sleeping alcove
  • Create a private retreat or space for a boomerang child.

The well-designed home that will appeal to today’s buyer is not the same home our parents bought; it’s not even the same home that sold five years ago. The spaces within today’s home, just like the people who live there, have to wear a lot of hats. Consider all the different activities that make up a typical day for your buyers and then make your homes work. Spaces that are carefully designed for double duty, with consideration for the way we actually live, will be the homes that sell.

Anne Olson Postle, AIA, CAASH, is president of Osmosis Architecture is an award winning, eight-person architecture firm specializing in housing in all sizes and price ranges. Located near Boulder, Colo. they work with home builders throughout the United States. Their clients include Standard Pacific Homes, Village Homes and Masterwork Homebuilding Company, as well as many custom builders. Their work has been featured in the Taunton Press book, The House to Ourselves, about creating the perfect home after the kids are gone.