The Thinking 

Small Houses

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Homes on Three Continents

November 3, 2011


MR. T. writes:

I have been reading your delightful blog for many months, but this is my first comment.

Your post and thread on small houses resonated deeply with me. I grew up in the U.S.A., in a medium-sized house, but have lived most of my adult life in Hong Kong. Property here is expensive in a way only people in the ritziest environs of Manhattan can imagine. My wife, daughter and I live in a flat that’s listed at about 900 square feet, but all Hong Kong people know that’s a fiction. The ‘building area’ for a Hong Kong flat includes a share of the elevator lobby, windowsills, walls, and other unusable space. Our actual living area is closer to 600 square feet.

In this space, which might well fit in toto within a McMansion’s living room, we have a kitchen, two bathrooms, a living room and three bedrooms. As you can imagine, none of these rooms is very big, and a couple of our bedrooms would be derided as inadequate as closets in the U.S.A. Read More »


When Small is Beautiful

November 2, 2011


MARY K. writes:

When my husband and I were ready to purchase our first house two years ago, we deliberately looked for a “small” house, exactly for the benefits you describe. We could have easily gotten a bigger and cheaper house, and many people tried to persuade us to do just that. No regrets here, even when we have family flooding in for Thanksgiving and camping out in the only bathroom! Read More »


When Houses Were Small

November 2, 2011



THE STANDARDS for what constitutes a normal family house have changed dramatically in recent decades. The average home size in the United States was slightly over 2,400 square feet in 2009. This figure, down slightly from the year before, is more than twice that of the ranches and Cape Cods of the 1950s, such as those built in the Levittown developments of New York and Pennsylvania. Ironically, we have smaller families to fit in our houses.

The suburban house has swelled to the detriment of the family. With bigger houses has come more pressure on women to work. More square footage has meant a loss of family intimacy and less ease in supervising children. Our population growth rate has declined, jeopardizing future prosperity, while our lives have gotten lonelier.

The fifties-style ranch house or Cape Cod is often viewed with sneering derision unless it has undergone a fantastic architectural makeover, complete with granite counter tops and cathedral ceilings. And yet it has much to commend it. (I should know. I have raised my children in one of these houses.) Peter Bacon Hales, of the University of Illinois, wrote of the Levittown Cape Cod house: Read More »

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