The Little Big House

The Homearama 2012 Hampton Roads Magazine House, Caramel Cottage, wows guests and wins awards, at Culpepper Landing in Chesapeake
home divider Featured at Homearama

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, expect to feel pleasantly disoriented when you step inside the “Little Big House.” Is that a salty ocean breeze I feel here in Chesapeake? Have I suddenly started dropping my “Rs” in classic Low Country fashion?

Well, probably not. But, after hearing, “I wish I could live in a place like this” so often when visiting some of the South’s most gracious cities—think Charleston and Savannah—the principals of Stephen Alexander Homes responded with, “You can!” and created the “Little Big House.” 

It doesn’t take long inside this multiple award-winning home to realize that the moniker “Little Big House” is not merely a clever marketing tagline. No, this small home lives large. And that’s by design. Though “little” is a relative term, at 2,789 square feet, and a little less livable space, this home is small by most past Homearama standards. But, while the size may be economy-driven, all other decisions were based squarely on function and aesthetics, especially the desire to create a very livable home with a nostalgic flavor.

Designed and built by Stephen Alexander Homes in partnership with architects Retnauer Baynes Associates and Sharon Goodwin and Susan Wilson of Goodwin Interiors, this two-and-a-half story Victorian Revival Farmhouse boasts generous living spaces plus five bedrooms and three full baths.

“How,” you may ask? Read on.


Big House Design

Stephen Quick IV—who, together with his brother, Alexander Quick, and father, Stephen Quick III, comprise Stephen Alexander Homes—explains that, while people’s “willingness to pay for unbridled opulence has been tamed,” they still have a desire for large spaces. And, “Those didn’t go away.” This father of eight (yes, eight) children uses his own family as the litmus test for the practicality of every feature and function. So closed-in spaces are out. 

The basic concept is simple: preserve the large kitchen, family room, eating area and bedrooms of the “big house,” and remove everything else. So, hallways and foyers became smaller. Spaces flow and/or became dual-function. And all dead space was replaced with clever storage.

But the devil is in the details. At Caramel Cottage, a “modern openness” to the floorplan leaves the “Little Big House” with plenty of room to breathe. Light flooding through generous transoms and more windows than any home has a right to expect—including in unexpected places like the laundry room, the stairwell and a closet—contributes to that feeling of airiness, as do ceilings that soar from 10 feet on the first floor to 13 feet in the upstairs master suite.

mud room

On the exterior, wide front steps with a gentle flare at their base practically gather guests into a welcoming “come on in, ya’ll” embrace on an old-fashioned front porch with modern amenities like pot lights and beautiful light fixtures.

Just inside the front door, an open foyer does double duty as a very spiffy mud room, a popular feature from much larger homes, usually located near their side entrances. A built-in bench with cubbies and hooks is handsome enough to greet both family and guests as they come and go, providing functionality without sacrificing appearance. Immediately adjacent, a continuous hand railing on the wide, open stairway is a small detail with big impact. Its continuous line contributes almost imperceptibly to the home’s uninterrupted flow. 

Dual purpose office space

On the opposite side of the foyer is another ingenious application of the dual-function space, this one addressing the desire for an office now, but a mother-in-law suite later. This large room with a finished closet (as are all the closets in this home) opens onto a full bath that doubles as the guest bath. So, essentially, this downstairs master suite masquerades as an office with convenient bath access until a time it might be needed for an aging relative.


Another bedroom, this one sharing a half-story between the first and second levels with a finished laundry room, offers similar dual-duty. The expansive space is equally functional as a bedroom with sitting area or as a theatre room with gaming area. 

Little Big House Concept

Back downstairs, beyond the foyer, a lovely and bright kitchen, family room, breakfast room cum dining room, and “Easy Living Screened Porch” flow together seamlessly. The thoughtfully designed kitchen and eating area serve up maximum seating space. Not only does the ample island offer both food preparation and eat-in flexibility, but the peninsula that partially divides the two spaces sports just enough of an overhang to provide addition-al seating as well. A surprise storage feature of the spacious kitchen is a walk-in pantry behind a set of attractive frosted glass French doors.

Though the floor plan and architectural features are absolutely essential to the “Little Big House” concept, the value of interior design decisions is everywhere apparent. For example, while the eating area is larger than its traditional breakfast room counterparts, it feels even roomier courtesy of a farmhouse table.

Though it comfortably seats eight, its long, narrow proportions allow plenty of room to circulate. A small buffet, wine rack and mirror at the far end lend function and a dash of formality to help bridge the breakfast room-dining room divide without consuming a lot of space.

Elegant but not stuffy

“Elegant, but not stuffy,” is the overall look the team was after. Throughout the home, top to bottom, an appealing and soothing color palette of warm tan and robin’s egg blue, reminiscent of sand and sea, lends a “coastal flavor that enhances authenticity” and provides visual unity which, in turn, contributes to an expansive sense of space.


stone countertopsMedium-dark toned wood floors with a “reclaimed” appearance anchor the main living spaces and contribute to the flow, while bedroom floors are softened with sand-colored carpet, and the baths and laundry room are both beautifully and practically clad in neutral stone tile. While the color palette remains constant, its varied use creates interest: an accent wall or glass tile border here, a coffered ceiling there.

Similarly, the repetition of paired materials like dark wood vanities with white stone countertops in two of the bathrooms provides that same continuity, not to mention a hint of traditional formality, yet with modern freshness.

granite countertopsLikewise, the kitchen’s granite countertops in tones of cream, black and reddish-brown—which unify the dark wood of the island with the warm white cabinetry—is also repeated as the dual vanity in the master bath. Simple, but handsomely crafted, wide white trim and cove molding throughout the home is yet one more unifying element that also lends a clean crispness to edges and lessens the need for drapery.

Instead, loosely draped and stylish valances top many of the windows, once again contributing to the home’s relaxed and open feel.


oil rubbed bronze fixtures Though the home was designed to cultivate what Stephen calls a “value-conscious lifestyle,” it nevertheless boasts modern amenities such as luxe finishes, stainless steel kitchen appliances, oil-rubbed bronze fixtures and a dual shower and separate water closet in the master suite to name but a few. And let’s not forget other upscale bathroom details in the up- and downstairs en suites where the designers clearly had some elegant fun with a little pizzazz: black and white dog decals on the walls of one; and thin vintage-looking silk ribbon attached to the wall in vertical stripes using pearl-headed tacks in the other. Oh, and did I mention that this house is “green”?

Throughout the home, furnishings and fixtures strike an easy balance between casual and formal, traditional and modern. In the family room, though the sofa upholstery is white, its nubby texture lends an informal organic quality ready for family movie night. Or in the master bath, granite countertops and a white pedestal tub are offset by white bead board wainscoting and a grass cloth wallpaper lookalike paint treatment. Drum shades on the kitchen island pedestal light fixtures are a retromodern touch.

screened in porch

The screened porch’s upholstered weathered wicker furniture, end tables and lamps transition between formal and casual, indoors and out, with the latter spaces designed by Robert Nye of Renaissance Outdoor Contracting. Here the value-conscious pampering continues. In the backyard, a pergola, water feature, fire pit and scaled-down outdoor kitchen all share a compact space that, while cozy, is not cramped.

The Stephen Alexander team has done the heavy lifting to create the easy-going charm and gracious living of a bygone era. You’ll have to provide the lemonade and croquet.Homearama 2012,


Award-Winning Abode

During the two weeks of Homearama, the Hampton Roads Magazine House by Stephen Alexander Homes and Neighborhoods received many prestigious plaques honoring the craftsmanship, design and overall creativity that helped to develop the Little Big House. Thanks to everyone who visited the HRM House and participated in our fabulous events. We’d also like to express our sincere appreciation for the sponsors and builders who made the HRM House an award-winning abode.


Best Home in Show

Best Family Room

Best Kitchen

Best Floor Plan

Most Creative


Silver Award for Best Interior Design
(presented to Goodwin Interiors)

Silver Award for Best Driveway

Bronze Award for Best Craftmanship

Bronze Award for Best Home Furnishings
(presented to Furniture Classics)

Bronze Award for Best Bath


Home Sponsors

We're proud to list these sponsors as having a part in the HRM House.

Closet Concepts is the affordable answer to changing your space from ordinary to extraordinary, working to transform any area into a more efficient and organized space.
1140 Jamestown Crescent, Norfolk 
757-389-8699 •

This full service marina offers excellence in service through a range of solutions to satisfy all the needs of the discerning yachtsman.
821 Railway Rd., Yorktown
757-898-3000 •

Green Gates Gifts has small town charm and big city taste, making them ideal for all your furniture, home décor and gift giving needs.
1467 George Washington Memorial Hwy.,
Gloucester Point • 804-642-5618
2341 McMenamin St., Hampton757-848-5324 •

From design to installation, you can enjoy a new kitchen from Greenwich Kitchen Center, creating functional, attractive and comfortable kitchens for families in Hampton Roads for more than 30 years.
5784 Arrowhead Dr., Virginia Beach
757-497-8919 •

With more than 33 years of experience in the closet design and storage industry, Inner Space Systems provides the best possible products and services for one of the most important investments you’ll ever make—your home.
3535 Elmhurst Lane, Portsmouth
757-487-1101 Southside
757-877-1945 Peninsula

NPCC has been building quality precast structures since 1970. Their entire process is monitored through every phase, and they strive for excellence from the initial customer call to the final delivery of their product to ensure the highest quality.
757-538-2761 •

Providing innovative and appropriate landscape design and installation for your outdoors. From waterfalls and arbors, paver pool decks, to raised patios and woodland retreats, they will create a unique and elegant atmosphere for your property.
757-548-5055 •

RVA Oriental Rugs brings you the world’s most exclusive and extensive collection of fine handmade decorative rugs with thousands of rugs in stock to choose from at prices that reflect their direct distribution.
993 Laskin Rd., Virginia Beach
757-457-1857 •

A Special Thanks to Goodwin Interiors, who coordinated the entire house interior design. Also thanks to LA-Z Boy, Furniture Classics.