Is small the new cool?

September 1, 2008

That’s what the Chron’s Mark Morford is asking in a recent column.

It’s funny, because we weren’t exactly thinking about size when we were house-hunting, beyond avoiding anything that was reminiscent of a dorm room. It was mainly a matter of getting the most house we could afford in a neighborhood we wanted to live in. As it turned out, we ended up with a small bungalow that’s exactly the kind of house everyone seems to be singing the praises of these days: close to the city center, transit-accessible, walkable and bikeable, near lots of services and amenities. (Okay, we could definitely use a few more of those, but Oakland’s working on that too.) The fact that it’s a single-family home is definitely a vote against it on the footprint front, but our neighborhood is one of the city’s densest, and even the freestanding homes here are packed in on tiny lots. (We’re lucky on that front, too; ours is among the largest lots in the neighborhood—which is to say, we have a small-but-not-tiny, sweet backyard that’s nicely matched to the house.)

It’s no small coincidence that Oakland is full of small bungalows; the city grew up in an era when space was at a premium, and homes were designed to be efficient, utilitarian spaces. To wit: a family with five children lived in our home for much of the 1920s—I was astounded at first, but as we’ve lived here longer, I see how that could work (though there must have been some wait for the bathroom!) With two of us, we rarely use two of the rooms. We’ve also embraced spaces that my family never used in the houses I grew up in—we eat most meals in the dining room, for instance, and we just have a single large living room that can be either formal or informal as required. The breakfast room also has a built-in baking counter, so that’s another room that doubles up uses. A lot of this comes back to the fact that California bungalows that haven’t been muddled around too much are just really well-designed spaces that flow well for daily life. There’s a lot packed into the tiny footprint, and if anything, it sometimes seems that we have too *much* space. As a bonus, we also have super low utility bills and it’s very easy to tackle projects like rewiring or retrofitting, because the house is very compact and well-defined.

So is small really the new “cool,” or are people just momentarily swept up by high energy costs and the economy? When gas and fuel costs come back down, will people head back to their spacious luxury digs, or are small spaces truly back? I’m curious….I’m a bit biased as someone who lives in and loves the bungalow model, but I do hope it gets embraced once again if some of these value shifts stick.

This isn't our house, but it's awfully close! (From About.com's great bungalow plan library)

This isn’t our house, but it’s awfully close! (From About.com’s great bungalow plan library)


One comment

  1. Great blog and it’s really interesting to see the shift from McMansions to finding smaller more affordable houses.

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