How much of their home do residents use?

An op-ed opposing Los Angeles mansionization suggests owners of large homes don’t regularly use all that space:

In “Life at Home in the 21st Century,” UCLA researchers tracked 32 middle-class Angelenos, trying to measure and analyze how we live today. One family in particular they followed intimately, tracking how they moved around the house during the mornings, evenings, and weekends — when they were all home. The results were amazing: the family huddled around the kitchen and family room nearly all the time, leaving the living room, porch, and more than 50% of the rest of the first floor communal spaces almost entirely empty. The habit of gathering around the kitchen to eat, or huddling in front of the TV to watch, hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, but the average home size has — from 983 square feet in 1950 to more than 2,660 square feet today. Meanwhile, the average family size has shrunk and so has the average number of people living under one roof, from 3.3 in 1960 to 2.54 today.

See more about the book here. While the book appears to detail the heights of American consumerism (see this interview with one of the authors), it is interesting to consider how often rooms in a house are used. Are they really like office or store parking lots that tend to get used during certain work hours each day and then sit empty for more than half the day? Bedrooms operate that way during sleeping hours while gathering spaces – kitchens and family rooms – attract users in the evenings. Those hobby or storage rooms that are popular now – ranging from the man cave to a large closets – rarely see human activity. Could homes be made significantly smaller if the uses were combined or square footage was changed to reflect usage patterns? Or, should homes be built in a hub and spoke model around these key social spaces? On the other hand, American homes seem to privilege maintaining private spaces even if they aren’t used very much. The formal living room may be out but some homeowners seem to want private retreats (at least on TV, particularly in their bathrooms).

All of this gets back to you what homes are for in the first place. From decades ago to today, American homes often represent an escape from the outside world. A place to escape to with your family. A space where outsiders and the government cannot tread. Making such homes more communal is an interesting challenge when the homeowners need to be protected from forces outside the home.

Seeing American home trends from the 1900s to the 2020s

This scrolling exhibit highlights some of the changes to American homes in the last 110 years. Here is what it predicts for homes in 2020:

Houses are nearly three times the size of homes from 1900.

Two master bedrooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) is a growing trend.

Water and energy conservation systems are becoming mainstream.

Extra bedrooms are being replaced by specialized storage (i.e. bigger pantries and closets).

Home automation tech (remotely controlling locks, lights, HVAC, and appliances) is booming.

There are some major changes over time this period including increasing size (with decreasing household sizes), more of an emphasis on cars, and changes in interior design and layout that take advantage of new technology and different social arrangements but are also subject to aesthetic whims (floating staircases in the 1970s, floral wallpaper in the 1980s, etc.).

Also noted: the 2000s are said to be the decade where “McMansionism continues.”

Contrasting living in a McMansion and a micro-unit

Real-life tales of living in a McMansion and a micro-unit! First, the residents of the 7,500 square foot McMansion and then the 344 square foot micro-unit dweller:

The McColls lived in Arlington for years before deciding last fall that it had become too dense. “The straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kim says, “was when I saw my kids playing in the back yard and I had to shush them because it was too loud for the neighbors.” Their five-bedroom in Loudoun County’s Willowsford development has two offices—key because they often work from home—and abundant entertaining space. Also: More than 20 miles of nearby trails means the kids have room to shriek all they want.

Williams sold most of her furniture and sacrificed proximity to family when she left her 1,100-square-foot condo in Olney for a micro-unit in a building on DC’s 14th Street, Northwest. And she has no regrets. Because she isn’t much of a cook, the sliver of a kitchen is no big deal, and she didn’t have to give up her one must-have, a bathtub. (It’s off the hallway.) Before, her closer-in friends didn’t like driving out to Olney; now she can socialize without leaving her floor. “When Scandal comes on, the neighbors down the hall cook and have people over. They have a junior one-bedroom—they have room for a couch.”

Quite the difference in housing units. This is fairly obvious from the floor plans. But, I suspect this goes deeper and Bourdieu’s theories about social class may provide some explanatory leverage. Would these two sets of residents ever cross paths? Or do their housing choices suggest such different tastes and lifestyle choices that they might never interact and if they did know each other, not spend time in the home of the other? One life revolves around work and friends close by while the other involves children and space. I would guess the decorating is different as are the leisure activities pursued by each group.

In other words, these housing choices may just be the tip of the iceberg of deeply-rooted social clusters. Would the micro-apartment dweller ever live in a McMansion, let alone even imagine it?

The two basic floor plans in the original Levittown

One important aspect of the influential Levittowns were the houses: simple, cheap for buyers, and could be efficiently built.

http://www.ushistory.org/us/53b.asp

The Levitts mass-produced these homes in a way that would become fairly standard among large builders. The process involved manufacturing a number of the pieces off-site and having different crews tackle each home site at different points of the home’s construction. This process differed quite a bit from the rest of the housing industry which was largely comprised of small builders who took more time with each home. While this mass process led to more uniformity (and suburban critics jumped on the architectural similarity as a metaphor for all of suburbanization), it also dramatically reduced the cost of houses. A number of initial buyers noted that they could purchase a new home in a Levittown with a cheaper monthly cost than they could rent accommodations elsewhere.

Two additional thoughts about these floor plans:

1. A fascinating aspect of these basic house models is the number of modifications made to the homes over the decades.

2. The square footage of these new homes, roughly 1,000 square feet, is unthinkable today in new homes as the average new American home is now over 2,500 square feet.