With the shrinking economy and a growing interest in sustainable building, many pros and consumers are opting for smaller footprints that make more efficient use of space without sacrificing style or luxury.

Excel Homes, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of custom modular homes, offers a broad range of styles and sizes. Steven Saffell, director of architectural design and innovation for the company, offers up these trends and tips for maximizing space and altering the illusion of size without giving up amenities or comfort.

1. Combine spaces, but define them. The trend toward great rooms connecting the kitchen to the living room and/or dining room has remained for some time. To continue that vast, open feel but still define each space, incorporate subtle room separation with columns, by changing the floor height with a sunken sitting area, or by simply changing the flooring. Excel Homes is incorporating “visually connected room dividers,” a more stylish twist on the passé half wall. These include two-sided fireplaces between the kitchen and living room or built-in bookcases with see-through glass backs.

2. Find a happy medium for ceiling heights. A desire for energy efficiency has started to trump consumers’ need for soaring ceilings. To maintain the grand effect of a high ceiling, incorporate soffits or trim to create shadow lines; sculpted ceilings create interest and draw the eye upward, Saffell says.

3. Connect with the outdoors. Well-thought-out outdoor spaces are increasingly extending livable space outside the home’s footprint. Connect them to the indoors with larger or multiple patio doors.

4. Get organized. Clutter can make smaller spaces feel cramped and uncomfortable. Use the “ship-building” theory of “a place for everything” by thinking out where everyday items, such as vacuum cleaners, will go. Upgrade closets with built-in organization systems rather than just rods. “Organize their lives as well as their outfits,” says Saffell.

5. Let in the light. Daylighting goes beyond installing extra traditional windows with typical views. Something as simple as installing a ribbon of windows above or below kitchen cabinets can help brighten up the space and make it feel larger. In bathrooms, high, narrow windows let in light while maintaining privacy; transoms on interior bedroom walls are another option.

6. Keep the air moving. Stagnant air can make a home feel tight. Design for air movement, including clerestory windows and interior transoms.

7. Future-proof unused space. Outfit unfinished basements and walk-up attics with wiring and plumbing in anticipation of future remodeling.

8. Leave the master suite alone. Though square footage of master bedrooms may be down slightly, the desire for an escape is keeping the cozy, well-appointed master suite on the top of homeowners’ lists. Saffell says the master bath, like the kitchen, is still an area buyers are willing to pay more for. They also still want a separate tub, but are more likely to outfit the shower with jets and select a soaking tub instead, “investing more in the things they’re going to use on a daily basis.”

To view and comment on Excel Homes’ latest design ideas, visit the manufacturer’s Drawing Board blog at www.exceldrawingboard.com.

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.