When 65-year-old Paul Pinkala moved to Medford five years ago to be closer to his children, he wasn't in the market for any house, much less one that would require extensive restoration.
Strapped for cash and searching for a steady job, he was largely unfamiliar with the area near South High School when he stumbled upon a rundown house on Holly Street with a steep roof, off-center door and rat-infested mattresses stacked against one wall.
Medford designer Dave Fisse says too many houses wind up with wasted space due to a long list of design features added to a home without considering whether the space will be well used by the people who live inside.
Too many homes are outfitted with formal living and dining rooms at the cost of smaller family rooms and actual living area. Great rooms have grown in popularity and open floor plans, instead of multiple small rooms, are the way to go.
Paul Pinkala realized early on that simple landings were better than long empty hallways taking up square footage that could go towards bedrooms and other usable space.
Short ceilings are a big taboo, too, says Fisse, especially for smaller homes like Pinkala's.
"Eight-foot ceilings are a thing of the past," he says. "You really want to open up your home by removing those barriers. A large space with a low ceiling is history. Open and inviting is the thing to do."
A native New Englander, Pinkala's perspective was different than he would learn neighbors felt about the 735 square foot structure.
He recalls, "I drove by and though, 'What a cute little Cape Cod!"
An inquisitive guy by nature, Pinkala decided to track down the owners of the homely little rental house. At the time, during the valley's recent real estate peak, homes in the Holly Street neighborhood were priced in the $150,000-$200,000 range.
"The lady said, 'Would you like to make an offer?' So I offered $50,000 and she said, 'I'll send you a contract.'" Pinkala says.
"I thought to myself, am I buying a house over the phone?"
Built in 1947, Pinkala bought the house for his 60th birthday and would spend the next five years turning it into a home for his family.
The mattresses and near walls of vegetation in the backyard were hauled away and much of the house was torn away, save for a few walls and structural portions. A fraction of the size of places he'd lived in before, the tiny house's biggest flaw was bad use of existing space.
Two upstairs bedrooms were virtually chopped in half by a staircase situated "the wrong way."
Local designer Dave Fisse, of Northwest Design and Restoration, drew plans to realign the stairway parallel to the roofline, tucked between the two upstairs bedrooms.
Seven-foot dormers were added to turn the previously closet-sized upstairs bedrooms into 13- by 15-foot rooms.
Fisse incorporated feng shui into the home to create a natural flow and cozy feeling.
At the same time he and Fisse were redesigning the inside layout, Pinkala was replacing a virtually non-existent, leaking "swaybacked" roof on a structurally unsound garage.
As the project came together, Pinkala set out to create focal points on his "cute little Cape Cod" and make the best use of available space.
The trademark Cape Cod "galley kitchen" was outfitted with "new" 1940s style cabinets and long countertops that extend past the kitchen wall.
At the corner, the shelf drops several inches and creates a wall desk for the mudroom. A nearby eating area is brightly lit, allowing a range of uses in the less than 65-foot mudroom.
Just nearby, a space-saving stackable washer-dryer, a water heater, file cabinets and additional storage are at arm's reach.
The master bedroom, created out of two smaller downstairs bedrooms, is one of the home's larger rooms with a small-but-functional bathroom and a walk-in closet with wall-to-wall shelving.
After pricing shelving units to maximize closet space, Pinkala created, for $400, a set of solid wood shelves identical to a particleboard set he'd been told would cost nearly $5,000.
For the living room, more shelving takes up an entire wall, within which a large screen TV and gas heater are mounted flush within floor-to-ceiling shelving. The wood floors have a large simple rug and minimal 1940s style furniture creates an inviting appeal.
Not big on fancy décor, Pinkala's home is outfitted with things he loves. A section of living room shelves are dedicated to his National Geographic collection, dating to 1913, and books and family photos.
One wall features old, wood snowshoes, worn by Pinkala for "thousands of miles" in New England and carvings of hunting decoy ducks.
Out back, a decent size backyard offers a picnic area, hot tub and garden area, popular for parties with family and friends.
Any seating, such as window seats in the bedrooms, are movable and/or offer hidden storage. Furniture is basic and long, empty hallways are non-existent.
The once failing garage has been reinforced and a trap door in the ceiling accesses a secret room for his son and friends to enjoy music and play games.
Out front, two autumn blaze maples will one day grow to shade the dormers and add brilliant colors each fall.
A faux cupola mimics the front of the house and a flag pole, front and center, is typical of Cape Cod style homes in New England.
Fisse says Pinkala's little Cape Cod dwelling is an ideal example of how small spaces don't have to feel small.
"It's really all in how you use the space," Fisse says. "This house is big in personality and very livable. It doesn't feel like it's as small as it really is.