Google+ House Revivals: N is for Not Such a Big House?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

N is for Not Such a Big House?

Most of you are probably aware of the writings of Sarah Susanka.  Sarah is an architect and author who helped to spearhead the small house movement.  She has written many books on small house design.  Her book, The Not So Big House, brought new attention to the concept of living in a smaller space.

Susanka followed The Not So Big House with several other books on the topic.

She even branched out into a more philosophical approach to living small -- making room for the really important things.

Susanka's works were part of a larger reaction to the McMansions of the nineties.
photo image courtesy Time CNN article, found here

These 3000 to 6000 square foot behemoths began cropping up all over the country.  As families got smaller, and began spending less and less time at home, their houses just got bigger.  And so did their mortgages (and their home equity lines of credit got bigger-- all while their equity, like their family size, shrunk -- but that's a story for another day...).

Many McMansions were built using the same formula: 
Palladian window in front + double height foyer + cathedral ceiling in great room + not very efficient kitchen = really big house that's hard to heat, doesn't function as well as it should, and looks just like a thousand other houses.  
photo Aaron Houston, source New York Times


 Reminds me of a profound little folk song, Little Boxes, of Malvina Reynolds (and Weeds) fame.  You can listen to Pete Seeger singing Little Boxes  here. To hear Billy Bob Thornton's version of the Little Boxes intro to Weeds, click hereTo hear Malvina Reynolds' recording, click here.

For the price point, you might have expected McMansions to have really nice finishes, but, alas, they usually had builder grade cabinetry sporting flat cut honey oak veneer and doors.  All of this beauty was usually topped with laminate counter tops.  Light fixtures and hardware were usually factory painted to look like fake brass.  The home exteriors often sported  projecting garages, and fake stone veneer.


Trim--if there was any--was often natural stained fir (at best) that was not in appropriate proportion to the large spaces.  See the wee skinny baseboard and window trim in the picture below?  Hey, a builder's gotta save money wherever he can!
Not surprisingly, people have started to get tired of their cold white and beige boxes, with their big electric bills and lack of character. For years, writers have been suggesting that the sprawling neighborhoods full of today's McMansions...

are tomorrow's slums.....
image Dharavi-Mumbai slum, found here

An interesting article about this topic, published in March 2008, in The Atlantic, can be found here.

Moving into a very-tiny-temporary-until-we-figure-out-where-we-really-want-to-live-or-get-transferred-again-apartment, has caused my husband and I to sit back and really think about what we need.  We looked at a floating home earlier this week that would have seemed ridiculously small a year ago.  Now, however, we wonder if we won't rattle around in something that big (it has TWO bedrooms)!  And we were really wowed by the four foot by twenty foot deck!

After Huricane Katrina, people were so grateful to have a tiny "Katrina Cottage".  There's just nothing like a life altering event to put things into perspective!  These sweet little cottages contained all the essentials, as well as cozy little front porches.  They were modeled after traditional shot-gun cottages from another era.  Learn more about Katrina Cottages here.
 

Are you interested in purchasing a historic shotgun cottage?  Five grand will get you one of these Indianapolis ladies.  For more information on this preservation program, go to the Historic Properties Foundation website, here.


The historic home shown below is only seven feet wide!

Here is the same home today....

This Alexandria, Virginia home was built in 1830.  The current owners use it as their "city house", but the previous owners lived in the home full-time for twenty-five years!

What makes this house work is the same thing that makes the little Katrina cottages work -- thoughtful design, and a-little-slice-of-outdoor-space-all-your-own.  For more information on this house, dubbed The Spite House, see this New York Times article.

This little stone cottage is in Iceland. The man who built it raised his twenty-two children here.
image source: Iceland Eyes blog 
click the link to learn more about the family that once lived in this home

Here is a picture of the interior.
image source: Iceland Eyes blog

I can imagine that the family who lived here felt very grateful to live in a space that was easily heated during the long, cold winters.  Of course, at the time the home was built, none of the surrounding buildings existed, so the family had plenty of outdoor space.  I'm not saying that I want to move into a postage stamp-size house and raise two dozen children -- I'm just trying to look at things from a different point of view....  

This is not the floating home we looked at this week, but I thought I'd share it because it is so doggone cute.

So, tell me what you think?  Did houses get too big for most American families in the nineties?  I think most of the houses in this article are just a wee bit small to live in permanently, and that the right-size house is somewhere in the middle. What do you think?

33 comments:

  1. Loved your post and I found it quite interesting..and I know at the thought of foreclosure,that so many wish they had lived within their means. I loved the last little houses you show,cept for the one where 25 children were raised. Great Grief!!! I can't imagine having 25 children.. Happy VTT..have a lovely weekend.

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  2. Oh, lord, what a cute post, and I too am with CC....25 kids....I can not imagine...Very neat post, I loved all the houses and looks. Have a great VTT!

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  3. I'm not into the McMansions ... i would rather have a smaller house and larger garden/yard. I always learn so much at your blog, it is always a pleasure to visit!

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  4. I am in total agreement with you on the McMansions. I could go on and on about this but I digress. Suffice it to say IMHO, you are spot on!

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  5. Our first home was a 3 bedroom bungalow. The home we live in now is a 3 bedroom ranch. I doubt we'd ever move. We never really wanted a big home. Too much cleaning for me LOL. When we bought the ranch we specifically went for it thinking ahead to when we older. We wanted everything one one floor.

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  6. Oh, I can't stand McMansions. They really sliced up my hometown's farmland. So unproductive, and they have huge yards that they are always mowing, but no one is ever in the yard any other time! So wasteful. I love a cozy little house.

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  7. I like my cozy little house. Can't imagine living someplace huge. And sure wouldn't want to clean someplace huge. There was always plenty of room for the 4 of us. :-)

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  8. Very interesting post. I am stopping by from New Friend Friday at The Girl Creative.

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  9. This is THE BEST blog I have ever read wow it is a real eyeopener . I would like us to get to know each other . I really was blown over by what you said. How true it all is. I am currently sorting my house post husband left and know I will have to downsize how I dont know

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  10. Thanks so much for stopping by to leave such a nice comment on my napkin tutorial! I would love for you to follow along, and I am now following you back! Have a great weekend.

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  11. Our house is pretty tiny, and it forces you to have only the things you love out on display, because there just isn't any room! If I could have just one more room though, I'd be happy!

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  12. Following from The Creative Girl's New Friend Friday.

    Stop by and enter a giveaway for a Rachael Ray Bakeware set:
    http://extremepersonalmeasures.blogspot.com/2010/04/do-you-know-about-family-of-csn-stores.html

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  13. I love this post! I have lived in a giant house and I now I live in a small house and I love the walls around me...it is comforting and it keeps me organized and grounded....Here is to small homes....

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  14. Very interesting Post. I need to go read about that man in Iceland. I was fascinated by the idea that the new neighborhoods will become the slums of tomorrow. Something to ponder. Love the little floating house :)

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  15. I am (a bit of) an HGTV addict and I some times watch back to back episodes of shows like House Hunters. I am always appalled at the HUGE homes that people think they need because their 2000 sf, 3/2/2 is "too small" now that they have a baby! I know my little house is overcrowded but it's not because I need a bigger one! It's because I hold onto too much junk! I think you are wise to rethink what is truly necessary and I think a lot of the rest of us need to do likewise!

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post! (But there is NO WAY I would survive even one winter in that tiny cottage with 24 kids!)

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  16. Stopping by from New Friend Friday. I'm following you now! Hope you can stop by and follow me, too. :)

    http://tweepoppets.blogspot.com
    http://twitter.com/tweepoppets

    By the way, I'm starting a NEW BLOG HOP!!! It's called Tuesday Tag-Along, and it premieres this coming Tuesday! I hope you'll be there to join in the fun!

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  17. Amen, sister. We lived seven years in 760 sq. ft. We picked this place as our "last house". We knew we were stretched, but never wanted to move. I love my 1970s Brady Bunch ranch of 1800 sq. ft. The yard is amazing, it has our garden, and we are content. I think the whole McMansion things is just another sign of the restless searching of man...looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. Big, empty homes with nobody home.

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  18. First of all I love that book.

    I am intrique with the idea of cottages and I am forever telling my husband that I want a smaller house...but my yard is so amazing that I would have a hard time moving.

    Our house is in an older neighborhood and built really well. It is sturdy and made with thought and has "real" things in like hardwood and pocket doors and stained glass and it is amazing.

    All the huge houses we look at from local builders feel flimsy...like a good door slam might knock a wall down.

    I love all your pictures.

    Those are a tiny bit small but it definitely makes more sense!

    Thanks for a nifty and fastinating stop on my little journey through Alphabe-Thursday's Letter "N"!

    A+

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  19. Very interesting post! Living overseas, I know that living in a smaller house is very comfortable...rooms here are much smaller and our house is considered a good size at about 1600 sq. ft.!

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  20. Very interesting. I've always wanted to live in a Craftsman style cottage. It's funny, but over the years our houses have gotten smaller. We came to Texas right before the oil bust in the 80's when prices dropped and we lost money on that house and the next one. After that we just kept getting smaller. Where we live homes are still reasonably priced because they don't go up in value much like other parts of the country. We've never made a killing on a house. I remember my Dad's house in NJ doubling in value in five years. We've never had a house double in value and we've been in this one since 1991. I'm ready to move down again into a cottage. Will it happen? Probably not...it's just a dream. Next week is the Galveston Historic Home Tour where we'll probably get to go in a cute cottage or two. If it wasn't for hurricanes Galveston would be very tempting.

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  21. Hi..I’m Barb from Fri. Follow. I am your newest follower. I hope you will get a chance to visit my blog @ santasgiftshoppe.blogspot.com
    & get inspired by something for your family/home. I hope you will follow me as well.

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  22. so...i clicked on the historic home directory and just spent an hour designing my future in about 10 different properties! :)
    thank you for this look into charming little homes. i have a new perspective on my simple small place and renewed energy to make it a bit more interesting!

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  23. first of all, thanks for stopping by my page! This is such an interesting article. We move quite often now as we are military, but for our more permanent future, I would love to buy an older cottage. I think smaller houses are wonderful if they are designed well - lots of built-ins and all those things that only true custom builders offer now. Again, loved this - good stuff!

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  24. That is a great post today. I would rather live in a older home. Ny cut off date would probably the 1930's. Homes of today all look alike when you turn into a new neighborhood. That is what it look's like in my neck of the woods. Thanks for your visit today...Julian

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  25. I love looking at all the cute cottages and adorable abodes that you shared here with us :o)

    I agree that if they are designed well and every space is used to it's utmost potential...they would be wonderful!

    Whew! Can you imagine raising 22 children in that little space? My hubby's grandfather was one of 22 children (and all were single births! no twins, triplets,etc). They were born and raised in Hawaii to help work on the sugar plantation.

    Blessings & Aloha!
    (Thank you for stopping by! I'm on my son's computer-since we are visiting for two days here before continuing up to my dad's.)

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  26. oops! I meant to also say...it is so wonderful to have all the beautiful memories of our moms, but what you wrote is so true...no matter how much time has passed (both of us with our moms-about 6 yrs), they will always be missed.

    Yes, it was so very very difficult for my little sister, since she was only 20 yrs old and that she was and is single...while my brother has his wife and children and I have my husband and children. So seeing our dad is very important...

    Blessings & Aloha!

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  27. I would live in the Katerina Cottage. It is so cute. My husband would live in the house on the last picture to get away from the kids to relax and do some fishing. Heck, I would do the same too. HAVE A BLESS MONDAY!!!

    Gina
    Visit my blog at http://motherof1princessand2princes.blogspot.com

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  28. Thanks for the "jolt". We were about to fall for the "big is beautiful" illusion. We will re-think what we really need for our family of five...

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  29. My dad grew up in a 1200 sq ft home with 18 people - 3 bedrooms, a kitchen a living room and a bath. Period. Sometimes my 2900 sqft home seems too big with 10 of us living here, I want anything bigger.

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  30. Some very meaty food for thought. I think individuality is important when it comes to homes. Cookie cutter designs are boring and not as interesting as older, more eccentric plans. I do like having enough rooms to have a separate office and guest bedroom. But I think we have grown indulgent with our need for large square footage.
    Thanks for visiting my blog earlier last week. I'm just now getting around to catching up with everyone. Hope to see you again for Vintage Thingy Thursday!

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  31. I find your comments very thought provoking. Our family had to move to 5 different homes as a result of job transfers and though we started with a very basic 3 bedroom bungalow, we were able to build equity with each move and experience a variety of home designs. Once I had a sewing room, once my machine was set up on a small desk in a tiny laundry area, once in a guest bedroom and now i have a corner of the family room. Change is good and I believe young couples who start small really appreciate the extra space and know what their needs are as they make the next move. Sometimes it's good for a young family to spend time together rather than everyone being in a separate room. A young couple in a huge home with all the bells and whistles might find it difficult to find the funds to furnish a super sized home. Thanks for your insight!

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  32. Your research is remarkable! I enjoyed this post a lot! I just have a few vintage linens at my place. But I am glad I stopped by. Anne

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  33. I agree with being content with smaller spaces, less cleaning, more family time. I think some people have just gotten so caught up in having what their friends have, that they just keep getting and getting, without giving thought to how they're going to repay all that debt. I love your blog, thank you for the thought provoking posts!

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