MORRILL, Maine — When builder Jim Bahoosh constructed a home for his partner, Martha Garfield, two years ago, the average size of a new house in the northeast United States was 2,594 square feet.
Bahoosh and Garfield went in a different direction — smaller. Much smaller.
Their classic New England-style farmhouse tucked into more than three acres of field and forest off Route 131 is just 700 square feet.
But while less than a third the size of the average new home, the house doesn’t feel tiny. Instead, it’s built on a human-sized scale, Bahoosh said.
“I feel like you can get everything you want in this footprint. Everything you need,” he said.
And for the couple, it has been true. Tucked into those 700 square feet is a full bathroom with a deep clawfoot tub, a galley kitchen with an oversized propane range, a dining nook and a cozy sunroom. Up a wooden staircase are two bedrooms, with one now being used as a combination guestroom and office space. Built-ins like bookshelves, closets and cupboards of all sizes are carefully fit into the house’s angles and spaces under the eaves.
On an unseasonably chilly, rainy June day, the house feels warm and welcoming, with heat coming from a small-sized Jotul wood stove and tunes from WERU-FM filling the air. Despite the gloom outside, light streams in through both external and internal windows, brightening the home.
“I love it,” Garfield said. “I love my house. I’m very happy with it.”
She said she grew up in a drafty, 16-room house in Blue Hill, where she remembered always being cold.
“I wanted a cozy, warm place to live,” she said.
She’s got it, thanks to the small size of the house, the walls set with thick foam insulation, the efficient wood stove and radiant heat set into the floors.
Utility bills are low, they said. The first year, propane used to heat the house and to cook cost a total of $800. Electric bills are less than $20 per month.
“It’s just pure physics,” Bahoosh said. “It’s a smaller home. It takes less to do everything.”
That fits in nicely with one of the builder’s primary philosophies.
“I like utilizing what’s there. I don’t like waste,” he said.
Realizing that set Bahoosh on the path to being a builder specializing in small houses. It was change from his earlier business model of buying, moving into, restoring and reselling “old wrecks.” He had started doing that in 1983, after the one-time college geology major realized he had no interest in working for an oil company after graduation and began to search for work that would fulfill him.
Bahoosh read about a brand-new show on public television called “This Old House,” and suddenly figured it out.
“I had one of those ‘a-ha!’ moments,” he recalled. “I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
He started out his new line of work in New York, where he’s from, then began a northward migration that ended up in Brooklin several years ago. He also began shifting from renovating old homes to building new homes that looked old.
At that time, Bahoosh and his family were living in a 256-square foot house that he had built.
“It was so sweet,” he said. “You can’t help but interact in a small house.”
He noticed that other builders in town were working on a “monstrous” house on the water, a fifth residence for a wealthy customer.
“A lot of people are really comfortable with [building large homes],” he said. “It’s good work. It’s solid work.”
But, he realized, it’s work that just wasn’t for him. He wasn’t okay with the waste that can be part of larger building projects. And, he said, even when he lived in larger houses that he was renovating, he ended up creating much smaller living spaces within the homes.
“I’ve started progressing to building these as small as I can,” he said.
Today, Bahoosh has hung a shingle on Route 131 in Morrill, advertising his services as a builder specializing in small homes. In addition to the house where Garfield lives, he also constructed a small yellow house across a nearby field on speculation. It includes two full bathrooms, a porch and two or three bedrooms in its 800 square feet — and quickly found a buyer, he said.
His business is just getting rolling, with new ideas coming from an Incubator Without Walls class he took over the winter through the Down East Business Alliance in Ellsworth.
According to Bahoosh, the small houses cost about $140 per square foot to build.
“Where small houses really shine, cost-wise, is living in them,” he said. “They’re smaller to heat, easier to maintain, and they take less time.”
For information, contact Jim Bahoosh at 460-0553 or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.