Do you have a parent or grandparent that grew up during the Depression?  I love the resourcefulness and frugality of so many who grew up in those tough times. While later generations, including my own, loudly encourage us to reduce, reuse and recycle, the Greatest Generation quietly set the example of self reliance and intentionality.

Our homes provide a good example of this contrast. The average American home in 1950 was just less than 1,000 square feet.  By 2004, the average American home was 2,350 square feet… but was much more likely to include a recycling center.

There is wisdom in the conservative approach of smaller homes. Some advantages include the following:

  • Smaller homes cost less to maintain
  • They cost less to heat, cool and light
  • They usually have a lower tax assessment
  • They take less time to clean
  • They are generally easier homes to age-in-place in, allowing a higher degree of independence for a longer period of time (One of the primary reasons listed for moving to assisted living is the in ability to maintain the home.)

In 1998, Architect Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big House Book helped popularize the idea of reducing the size of homes and paying more attention to detailed design, craftsmanship and materials. She wrote: “The inspiration for The Not So Big House came from a growing awareness that new houses were getting bigger and bigger but with little redeeming design merit. The problem is that comfort has almost nothing to do with how big a space is. It is attained, rather, by tailoring our houses to fit the way we really live, and to the scale and proportions of our human form.”

Three strategies for reducing the size of a house

  • Create dual use space – For example allow a study to double as the guest bedroom.
  • Eliminate formal rooms – In today’s world formal dining rooms and formal living rooms are seldom used.
  • Reduce the size of rooms – The great room was popular for awhile, but is usually out of scale and over-sized.  Bedrooms, too, are often larger than necessary.  As Susanka points out, large rooms often decrease the feeling of coziness and comfort in the space.
  • Take advantage of the outdoors as part of your living space. These are often the most inviting spaces for entertaining, morning coffee or a quiet retreat.

Instead of making decisions about our homes based on trends, we should focus on our lifestyles and needs. We tend to worry about resale values, but it is usually the unique home that has been designed to actual human needs that sells more quickly.

This month we have considered homes that provide Transition by fitting into the natural and community environments, homes that are designed with attention to our senses, and now homes that are designed to a human scale.  We hope that these posts have helped you think creatively about your home. Follow our next month’s posts, in which we’ll be taking a look at kitchens.