Reconfiguring your house to store your stuff

A trickle-down effect of American consumerism includes finding space to store all that stuff:

Take closet space — that holy grail of home must-haves — as an example. Says Brininstool, “Fifteen years ago, it was about how many linear feet of closets you had. Now it’s economics and people are adapting more to scaling down. So with closets today, it’s more specifically designed for built-in drawers and shelves — specific places for specific things.”

On the kitchen side, Brininstool says, “It so much reflects where the culture is with the artisanal, farm-to-table movement. People now shop more selectively for their food and they are willing to shop more often. So the idea of having a lot of kitchen square footage for groceries that you’re not sure when you’re going to consume them is going away.”…

Abels says that “people are looking for creative ways to utilize their storage,” and notes that Pinterest boards devoted to inventive storage ideas abound. She also says that, for multiunit buildings, there is a growing trend to have “bedroom-sized storage lockers” in common areas that can also serve as workrooms. “One of my next-door neighbors has her kiln down there.”…

So often, decisions about stuff come down to creating space for how you actually live, rather than how you think you should live.

Perhaps we should view the homes of today as giant storage units? Many people may want to maximize their storage space rather than just pile up a bunch of things in a room. A decluttered home and/or efficient use of space might say something important about the resident. Yet, it is one thing to purchase a home for its primary social spaces and another because it has sufficient storage space for a lot of consumer goods. I imagine we’ll see even better designed storage spaces – whether specialty rooms or unique storage options like the movable walls already found in some micro-apartments – in the future.

The Not So Big House is also featured in this article. On one hand, the home is supposed to be superior because instead of having super-sized yet sterile spaces, it has customized settings. On the other hand, I hadn’t previously considered that the Not So Big House can allow an owner to have just as much stuff but simply tidily organized.

Five kinds of new houses that are non-McMansions

A recent discussion thread started with this statement: “I don’t think it should cost $500K or 5,000 square feet for a body to live. Show me the opposite of the McMansion that is still sexy.” So what might this look like? Here are some common options today of non-McMansions, homes intentionally built not to be McMansions:

1. Tiny houses. These are opposites of McMansions because of their size. While McMansions are known for having 3,000 square feet or more, tiny houses have several hundred square feet or less. The tiny house is not just about having less space; it is a completely different way of life as it is hard to accumulate much in the house.

2. The Not-So-Big House. Promoted by architect Sarah Susanka, these homes are not necessarily much smaller than McMansions but are built more to the personal interests and tastes of the individual owner. In other words, these houses are built to fit the owners while McMansions are seen as being mass-produced homes that owners have to fit themselves into.

3. New Urbanist homes. These homes could look quite different depending on the area of the country in which they are located as New Urbanists argue homes should follow regional architectural styles. But, there would be some common features: front porches, closer placement to the street, alleys if possible. The New Urbanist home might have the same square footage or similar features compared to McMansions but is intended to be better connected to the surrounding neighborhood, encouraging more social life.

4. Very energy-efficient homes including passive homes and net zero-energy homes. Again, these homes may be like McMansions in features and size but they are seen as less wasteful and have more quality construction.

5. Modernist homes. I’m not convinced many Americans would choose this option but it seems to be a regular favorite of architects and designers. These homes are not necessarily smaller than McMansions but have much more architectural credibility and are often one-of-a-kind.

All those new Facebook millionaries won’t be buying McMansions

As Facebook prepares its IPO, you might not have considered how it would affect the real estate market in Silicon Valley:

Typically clients pay cash for the homes, he said, which can range anywhere from 4,000 to 15,000 square feet (372 to 1,393 square meters) depending on the size of the family.

Real estate agent Dawn Thomas said she is already seeing home prices rise in areas surrounding Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters and expects that to continue…

Thomas described her tech-savvy homebuyers as “very, very green-minded” and in search of smaller, tech-equipped, energy-efficient homes with high-end amenities.

“They don’t want ‘McMansions,'” she said, referring to super-sized houses that can gobble up energy.

The implication: the young and wealthy wouldn’t be caught dead buying a home that could be considered a McMansion. If the home is indeed big, and I would say 4,000 square feet is McMansion territory and 15,000 square feet is a just a plain mansion, it has to be green and energy-efficient. Is this the same argument that Gisele Bunchen tried to make recently?

This makes me think that we might need a new term to describe an abnormally large home that is intentionally not a McMansion. A “green home” or “eco-home” doesn’t cut it because these homes are still much larger than the average size of the new American home (around 2,400 square feet). A “greenwashed mansion” but be more accurate but I don’t think these tech-savvy buyers would like the connotations of this term either. Playing off the “Not So Big House,” how about the “not so polluting house”?

The still somewhat large and pricey “Not So Big” house in the Chicago suburbs

Architect Sarah Susanka has become well-known for her idea of the “Not So Big House.” One of her homes has just been built in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville:

The showcase home, located at the 26-site SchoolStreet Homes development under construction a block east of downtown, is open for weekend tours until May 20. It and the rest of the homes, which are not open to the public, are Susanka’s and developer John McLinden’s take on new urbanism: smaller homes close together, with front porches, a sense of community and walking distance to shops, restaurants and services.

Don’t be fooled, though. When Susanka says not so big, she doesn’t mean small or cheap. The Libertyville home, at 2,450 square feet, won’t be priced until next year when it is put on the market, but other non-Susanka single-family homes on the block start at more than $500,000.

“A lot of builders are building smaller but cheaper,” Susanka said, standing in the furnished home just before it was opened to the public this month. “I believe people are ready for something that is smaller but better.”…

McLinden read Susanka’s books when they were first published and originally invited her to work on one of the houses as a marketing strategy to draw attention to the project. Now they are planning additional collaborations and have been contacted by three other communities about doing similar projects.

In an era where the McMansion is said to be dead and “tiny houses” are growing in popularity, Susanka’s houses stand out for two reasons I’ve noticed before and are also cited in this article. First, these houses are not small. On the spectrum between mansions and tiny houses, Susanka’s houses are very near the national average for the square footage of a new home. As she has said before, the article cites Susanka as saying the homes aren’t small but the space is used well and not wasted. Second, such homes may not be cheap. Perhaps the prices in this story are primarily being driven by being in Libertyville (with a median household income just over $100,000) but then again, Not So Big houses are likely to be built in communities like these.

The emphasis in Susanka’s homes are on two things beyond size and price: quality and fit with the homeowners. Neither of these things are cheap as the homes are not meant to be mass-produced (then they might fall perilously close to tract home or McMansion territory) and the features are customized to the activities and tastes of those who live there. Apparently, there is a market for this.

This could lead to an interesting question: are these primarily homes for educated, wealthy people who appreciate the design features and can afford the prices? Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising as architects do need to make money and wealthier clients (and higher-end builders) could certainly help. Could Susanka help market her homes even further if she could create and market a smaller version that could be affordable (or in terms more palatable for many suburban communities, “workforce”) housing? Would she want to produce a lot of these homes or would these reduce the appeal of status of these architect-designed homes?

The Not So Big House in the Chicago suburbs

Architect Sarah Susanka has made a name for herself by writing about the Not-So-Big House. In this, Susanka advocates for smaller homes with custom features that fit the personality of the inhabitants. Instead of buying a cookie-cutter McMansion or tract home, Susanka would have you design a slightly smaller home that better fits your needs.

A new development in Libertyville, a northern suburb of Chicago (about 40 miles north of the Loop), will feature four of Susanka’s homes. Here is a description of the price and size of these homes:

SchoolStreet will have 26 homes in a “new urban” design, plus condominiums in the historic Central School. The single-family homes range from $500,000 to $700,000 and 17 homes have already been sold.

Susanka is designing one floor plan of about 2,200 to 2,400 square feet with four fronts, so four could be built in the community. McLinden says the bungalow-style model or showcase home will be completed and open to the public next fall. It will stay open for six months because the architect thinks the only way for most people to really understand her principles is to walk through the spaces. McLinden hopes to build homes like it in future communities, too.

“This is just the beginning,” said Susanka. “We both are doing this as a test drive to see if there really is a market here.”

It is interesting to note that these homes are not cheap (though they may be slightly smaller). The money in these homes will go to certain features that mark Susanka’s designs:

Vary the ceiling heights. This provides the intimacy and feeling of personal space that some say is missing in big-box McMansions with all tall ceilings. Builders might try this with tray ceilings — at an extra charge, said Susanka.

Create sheltered spaces. Frank Lloyd Wright had his inglenooks or seating areas around fireplaces. Susanka puts a library alcove off the living room.

Make spaces do double duty. The library alcove works as a formal dining area.

Light to walk toward. This means put a lighted something, such as a window or lighted painting at the end of a hallway or other vista. “It provides a sense of extension. It feels like it’s longer than it actually is, and people experience more space.”

Don’t forget the “away” room. This can be an office or first-floor bedroom, of course, or a room for adults to read, do crafts or entertain friends. Or maybe the messy little children can use the away room, leaving the main living areas in better shape.

Speaking of messy youngsters, the home will have a laundry room that’s about 11-by-12 feet. “It can be a craft room for the kids — let the paint fly,” said the architect.

The author-architect is willing to explain and describe her homes, but she believes nothing compares with seeing them in real life.

“I’m trying to make as simple as possible a set of ideas that in a way are complex,” she said. “We are used to thinking about design in two dimensions. The quality of the space has to do with the third dimension, the heights and shapes of the space.”

Multiple times in this article, Susanka and the developer suggest these homes must be experienced in order to understand how all of these pieces come together. I would be curious to tour one of these houses myself to see if it really does feel different to a typical home, even in a quick walk-through. I have looked through a number of her books and have most enjoyed seeing pictures of cozy reading spaces.
I would also be interested to know who is attracted to these homes rather than typical new homes. People with greater appreciation for aesthetics and design? People with higher levels of education (Bourdieu’s theory of distinction)? People looking for the “hot” yet suburban neighborhood?