Common house design, rooms, and room sizes?
From: Thomas Lofft (
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2015 14:16:12 -0800 (PST)
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2015 08:25:10 -0500
Douglas McCarroll list.cohousing-l.001 [at]  wrote: 

Subject: Re: [C-L]_ [C-L] Common house design, rooms, and room sizes?

[A few of you have suggested, or asked whether we've done, a common house 

Yes, we have. Mary Kraus of Kraus-Fitch Architects has led us in a series of 
workshops and one of these workshops was focused on our common house. IMO these 
workshops were extremely helpful.

In our common house workshop Mary recommended that we have a common house with 
at least 3500 square feet of space. (We have 32 households in our community.) 
We ended up with 4500 square foot design, and this was after a somewhat painful 
prioritization process. In other words, we had more needs
and desires than our budget would allow, and we felt the 4500 feet was as high 
as we could go. But we ended up with a design that we felt was 'mostly 
finished' and 'mostly satisfactory'. At least, that's my sense of how the group 

Then we learned that other aspects of our project (site infrastructure in 
particular) are going to cost more than we'd estimated, and are facing the 
prospect of unit prices going up ~10% on average. So now we're trying to be 
creative and look at all possible avenues for cost reduction.

Several of you have suggested that we not skimp, and this sounds like good 
advice. On the other hand we're concerned that higher prices could mean that 
some people, including people that we already consider to be a part of our 
community, may be priced out. So we need to be creative and balance competing 
I read your post on Cohousing-L today. Very interesting to me. In my 
experience, a common house need to be in the range of 100 to 135 sq. feet per 
household in the community, mostly constrained by your budget and schedule. 

I worked with Sharon Villines, a frequent contributor to CH-L, on developing a 
co-ho project in Delray Beach in 1999. I came in as a take-over project manager 
long after the community design had been completed. 
As it turned out, the project was designed without introspective consideration 
of a budget. It was driven by aesthetic and emotional wants rather than 
affordability and needs. 
At the final decision point, it was considerably above the affordability level 
and the members were so enamored of the grandiose design with which they had 
fallen in love, that they were unwilling to accept redesign down to their level 
of affordability.
I'm still developing cohousing with exactly the same challenge: but our issue 
15 years later is completing a project with less expensive homes where the 
infrastructure is already in place, lots are platted, and we primarily need to 
produce affordable, smaller homes for a current market that has fewer children 
and needs smaller homes than were originally constructed.
When we started Liberty Village, we were very sensitive to what we could 
afford.  Our quandary was whether to build the first half of the community and 
half of a common house, requiring later grading and utility extensions to 
complete additional infrastructure before we could build another phase of 
houses and complete the community. Our decision was to invest our money in 
infrastructure for all 38 homes and postpone a common house to a later phase, 
hopefully after we had built several homes and had replenished cash reserves 
from lot sales.  Meanwhile we have been using temporary rented facilities for 
community space. 
Fortunately, our lender put a harness on our ambition and would lend us enough 
for the infrastructure, but would not advance another $500,000 to build a 
common house in advance of more lot sales.  We have been solvent since the 
beginning, still are, and have 10 platted lots ready to build with sewer and 
water taps readily available.   If your group is very interested in joining an 
active functioning community which is very sensitive to incorporating 
everyone's opinion, give us a call.
My budgetary perspective is that the total budget has to be based upon the 
total home affordability of all the established and committed members. Of that 
budget, 25% is the maximum for land, 15% is the maximum for the common house 
and other front end capital facilities; leaving 60% for the homes and soft 
costs which can be severe, depending upon how expensive the local government 
levies will be upon your startup.  If you aren't staying within those 
constraints, your budget is unrealistic and unaffordable.  A realistic budget 
based upon needs is more important than trying to meet everyone's emotional 
The quandary may be trying to balance needs and wants:
Maybe you need more members, but want to get started now?
Maybe you want larger homes, but can't afford them?
Maybe you built a grandiose common house because that was what you wanted, but 
now can't afford the utility and maintenance expenses and are now faced with 
growing capital costs for repairs? 
Maybe your younger members have all moved on to colleges and now you need to 
remodel homes for senior living accessibility, but that was not on the original 
needs list? 
Best wishes for more wisdom and foresight in planning your community. It will 
be less expensive than hindsight.
Tom Lofft
Liberty Village, MD 

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