Key to promoting small houses: it needs to be cool

A columnist discusses small houses and how the houses need to be “cool”:

How the poor fit their families into these tiny spaces has become the stuff of wonder for the urban young seeking to do likewise in expensive cities — but with considerably fewer people and more polished style. This month’s Dwell magazine, the hipster bible, shows how these clever people can turn a two-room third-floor walkup into a stylish and low-maintenance place. The “Small World” issue features houses that are 235 square feet, 900 square feet and 2,000 square feet (that’s cheating, IMHO)…

What makes small living spaces cool — in addition to their historic environs — is the thinking that’s involved, the sort of thinking you need heavy black-rim glasses for. You have to “curate,” a favorite hipster word. That is, you pick the one or five things you really want to keep and get rid of the rest. This can be a brutal task.

Minimalism is an attractive ethic in moderation. (Bare concrete walls don’t do much for me.) But it remains my dream. The iPad, though I love it, hasn’t replaced my affection for books. Where do you put the books in 500 square feet? You don’t. You store them in your parents’ basement or a rented storage unit — a minimalist cop-out, but one I understand…

Once the thinking is done, though, you can ponder higher things, like writing a symphony, inventing a new app or what’s for supper. That’s because the stuff you got rid of doesn’t have to be moved around, polished or updated. And money is time. You save hours not shopping for more stuff. The smaller spaces cost less to buy, heat and electrify. Fixing one leaky toilet is cheaper than fixing four. All this adds up to less time spent in unpleasant day jobs trying to pay for consumption. Less of the material also creates less distraction. There’s a reason why holy men choose small, bare rooms for meditation.

The columnist puts the tradeoff this way: you can either choose to store all your stuff (perhaps left over from all of those trips to Costco) or live in a a more minimalist, sleek, and cool setting. This is getting at a larger issue: for people to move into smaller homes, there has to be a positive image associated with them. This image would be the opposite of the use of the term McMansion which is generally meant to be derisive and criticize people who chose size and impressiveness over quality and fit. Small and well-designed could indeed be considered cool if it is branded (associated with certain lifestyles, symbols, and values), marketed through the appropriate channels (like Design magazine), gets the right endorsements (what if a bunch of Hollywood celebrities moved this direction?), and other social forces, like a down housing industry and economy, push people in that direction.

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