When it came to square footage, this Boulder couple decided bigger wasn’t better
By Lisa Marshall
Set on a spectacular tree-studded lot at the foot of Mount Sanitas, Ian Adamson and Leah Garcia’s home boasts all the features you’d expect in the dream home of a sporty, successful Boulder couple.
There’s the outdoor pool/spa for a workout and soak; the spacious patio for entertaining; and a state-of-the-art kitchen complete with Bosch appliances and a white quartz bar. The furniture also reflects their impeccable taste, with a sage-green designer couch accenting the crisp white living room. But to get all these luxuries, the couple sacrificed one thing: square footage.
“We have good taste, and we knew exactly what we wanted. Once we penciled it all out, a small house just started to look more and more logical, financially,” Garcia says, as she gives a visitor the grand tour of their immaculate, surprisingly spacious-feeling 506-square-foot home. Nearby, her husband is toweling off after a morning swim. “We wanted it to feel a bit like a really nice catamaran or a luxury hotel room,” Adamson explains. “A small but elegant space with everything we needed, and nothing more.”
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When you learn more about this dynamic duo, you might imagine such big personalities would require more space. He’s a legend in the adventure-racing world, with seven world championship wins and a Guinness World Record for once kayaking 262 miles in 24 hours. Today, as president of the International Obstacle Sports Federation, he travels the globe promoting sports like mud runs and Spartan races, and vying to get them into the next Olympics.
She’s a former pro mountain biker turned sideline reporter for the Professional Bull Riders Association. When she’s not interviewing cowboys fresh off a bull ride, she’s promoting her new anti-aging skin-care line, Nulastin.
Both Adamson and Garcia are über-fit, gregarious and outgoing, but they cherish their private time. When they come home from their travels they seek simplicity and, as they put it, “a little Zen.” Having both grown up in small homes—she in California, he in Australia—they find comfort in tight quarters.
“Our brains just function better in a small space,” Garcia says.
They did “the big-house thing” for a while, living in a 4,500-square-foot home in the Dakota Ridge subdivision. “We had every bedroom filled with things, but it was just not our cup of tea, ” Garcia says.
After they stumbled upon an idyllic three-quarter-acre lot a stone’s throw from open-space hiking and biking trails in 2014, they scraped together the money to buy the land, cashed in stocks to buy an Airstream to live in while they built the house, and started selling off belongings on Craigslist.
Initially, they planned to build a 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot house with an auxiliary carriage house. But once they started doing the math and taking a hard look at what they truly wanted, plans for the main house fell away. “We thought, ‘We don’t have kids, dogs or many plants. Why would we need a 3,000-square-foot house?’” Garcia recalls.
A Vision with a View
Instead of going big and having to penny-pinch on finishes and extras, they opted for tiny and luxurious. “It’s kind of like a teensy palace,” architect Brad Tomecek says of their home. Tomecek and project manager Brian Martin, of Denver-based Tomecek Studio Architecture, helped them design the house.
The design features only two enclosed spaces on the first floor—a small office/spare bedroom and a three-quarter bath. Otherwise, the home is wonderfully airy, with a 16-foot-tall vaulted ceiling and an open mezzanine on the second floor.
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A wall of glass faces west toward Mount Sanitas, and floor-to-ceiling La Cantina bifold doors easily collapse to either side to create an indoor-outdoor space ideal for entertaining. At roughly 500 square feet, the patio is actually larger than the home’s footprint, minus the loft. “One reason the house feels so big for its small size is the visual extension out into the yard,” Tomecek says.
Beyond the patio is a MAAX PowerPool pool/spa to indulge the couple’s shared love of water. And beyond the spa are 90 trees they planted to offset their carbon footprint. The home also has a solar system that supplies nearly all of its electricity.
Garcia designed the IKEA kitchen herself, painstakingly measuring to make the most of every quarter inch (to save space on the backsplash behind the range, she opted for stick-on tiles instead of the real thing). And since they’re both athletic with lots of sports equipment, they turned the 450-square-foot crawl space into a storage area for gear and Garcia’s substantial wardrobe.
In terms of price per square foot, the project—like many tiny homes—was not cheap, they stress. And no matter what the total square footage of a house is, they note, there are always permit fees, utility hook-up fees, and high-price items like appliances. In the end, they guess they probably shelled out around $600 per square foot. But they saved significantly on the overall cost of the house, which enabled them to splurge on a few key items, like the $7,000 Design Within Reach couch and the Robern bathroom vanity.
Their tiny home is also comparatively easy on the environment. Its construction, by contractor Ed Goodman Construction in Boulder, generated very little waste. And its long list of eco-friendly features includes photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, no-VOC paints, and high-end LED lighting. Most importantly, because it is so small, it takes less energy to heat, cool and light.
“This tiny house demonstrates that if we ask ourselves what we really need, we all have the potential to live smaller, leave smaller footprints and use less energy,” Tomecek says.
But Adamson and Garcia don’t feel like they gave up anything. “It’s perfect,” Garcia says, gazing at the Flatirons. “Absolutely perfect.”
1Bifold doors crucial to spacious feeling
The La Cantina bifold doors are crucial to the home’s spacious feeling. The doors open onto a patio that is almost the same square footage as the home, creating an ideal entertaining space.
2Fully functional kitchen
The tiny, fully functional kitchen features upscale Bosch appliances. Clerestory windows, skylights and multiple panes bathe the small home in natural light.
3A patio with a view
The poured concrete patio has a privacy wall, sumptuous natural views and plenty of space for entertaining. The pool/spa in the background even has a fountain feature to add the sound of water to outdoor festivities.
4A pool and a water feature
“Both the homeowners are into swimming,” says project manager Brian Martin, “and the PowerPool can be set for a couple of different speeds for exercising. It can also be a hot tub and a water feature.”
5A perfect staircase
A spiral steel staircase is perfect for a tiny home because it doesn’t use much floor space. And because there’s no forced-air HVAC system, the home lacks ducts, further reducing the need for space. The ductless HVAC split-mini system (on the wall to the left of the staircase) heats and cools the whole house. “That’s the only AC, along with a ceiling fan,” Martin says.
6A bathroom with radiant heat
The bathroom is the home’s only room that has radiant-floor heating to keep toes toasty. The German fixtures in the bath and kitchen are by Hansgrohe, and the vanity is by Robern. “The finishes in the home don’t call attention to themselves, and were chosen to highlight feature pieces,” says project manager Brian Martin.
The crawl-space storage area is around 450 square feet. “Most tiny homes are movable, so they aren’t built on a permanent foundation like this house, which heightens the crawl space to 5 feet,” Martin says. Floor insulation between the main level and the crawl space keeps the storage area at 55˚ F year-round. Plastic holds the insulation in place.
8Kitchen by IKEA
Homeowner Leah Garcia designed the IKEA kitchen and opted for stick-on tiles behind the range to save space on the backsplash.
This crawl-space area is where the homeowners store their clothes. The wood-inlay floor and rug make the space warmer to the feet than the polished concrete slab beneath them.
The berm behind the Airstream creates privacy from the street, along with 90 trees the owners planted for privacy and to offset their carbon footprint. The owners lived in the Airstream while the house was being built, and now use it as a guest suite. “But they often stay in it and let guests have the house,” Martin says.
11Not a bad place to call home
This Airstream isn’t a bad place to call home while you’re waiting for the real thing to be built!