If I say ‘small house,’ what comes to mind? A super wee micro-house or something like this? Or do you think of a structure containing roughly 1700+ sq. ft. of floor space? Because, hey, it’s not a McMansion, so it must be small, right? I got to thinking about this subject after reading The Elusive Small-House Utopia, an article about Builder magazine’s latest concept home and what it means for building trends in general.
That concept house, the Home for a New Economy designed by Marianne Cusato, measured in at the size of the average American home built in 1980, or around 1700 sq. ft. Then the housing market went insane, and soon it became not unusual to see newly built houses hovering out the 6000 sq. ft. mark!
When Cusato sat down to devise the Home for the New Economy, she tried to consider how families actually use their living areas. She started with a simple, symmetrical three-bedroom plan, excising extraneous spaces — the seldom-used formal dining room, for instance — while enlarging windows wherever she could and adding a wraparound porch. A result was a house that was compact, comfortable, bright and energy-efficient.
Sounds tasty, right? But at 1700 sq. ft., does it really seem particularly small? Maybe I’m just coming at the article with a bias – my house tops out at 1100 sq. ft. and we think that might include the finished basement – but even when I hear that in 2007 the average American house surpassed 2500 sq. ft., 1700 still sounds like a lot of space for the average family. Not huge, but big enough for comfort.
“Everybody hates the Calvinist sacrifice; they just don’t want to hear of it,” says the architect Andrés Duany, a founding father of the New Urbanist movement and a mentor of Marianne Cusato’s. Duany argues that the sprawling homes of the last decade actually met a need, albeit imperfectly, by reproducing internally what suburban communities lacked: an exercise room substitutes for a park, a home theater for the Main Street cinema. Buyers will only accept smaller homes, he says, if their surroundings compensate them.
So let me ask you, my lovely readers, what you think small means when it comes to housing for, say, a family of three? How much space does a person really need, anyway?