OK, it's not quite tiny-house living. But an Ohio couple's move to smaller digs lets them tailor every space for their growing family.

The other couple touring the 1950s ranch looked horrified. Dana and Steve Miller were high-fiving. The Dayton home they dubbed The Underdog—"the worst house on the street," Dana says (it came with termite trails in the carpet padding)—gave the downsizing DIYers a proverbial blank slate.

Though they had two young boys in tow and a daughter on the way, Dana and Steve decided to live more in less space. "Our previous home was 2,700 square feet, but we lived in two rooms about 90 percent of the time," Dana says. "We wanted a smaller house that we could mold to our family's needs."

Keeping the 1,600-square-foot footprint, the couple opened up the kitchen, widened doorways, raised ceilings and made rooms do double (or triple) duty.

Ohio home
Dana and Steve opened their kitchen to the living room and added a vaulted ceiling and walnut-topped island. "We almost always eat here, unless we have guests," Dana says.

Downsizing Upsides

1) Dollars Go Further "With less space to fill, we were able to splurge on items that can get expensive-flooring and tile, for example."

2) No Room for Clutter "We don't have space to keep extra things, so this gives us an excuse to say no when a family member tries to give us stuff."

3) Face Time (Not the App) The cozy floor plan keeps kids close to Mom and Dad: "We actually spend more time together."

Living room

Comfort Zone A no-fuss living room indulges kid-centric chilling. "Everything in the room is meant to be sat on or have feet put on," Dana said. Wood and leather forgive wear and tear, as does a shag rug atop sisal.

Personal Touch Dana and Steve painted the fireplace brick white and designed a plank bump-out for the TV.

Kitchen for less

Swedish Message The Millers used IKEA kitchen cabinets to convey a custom look for less, mixing dark base units with white glass-front uppers that create a light and open feel.

Personal Touch And in this corner … Dana's home office. French doors and skylights brighten the former dining room space.

Downsizing home
The 1950s ranch gave downsizing DIYers a proverbial blank slate.