Scaled-down lamps and lighting fixtures are gaining in popularity.
The economy is heating up, building permits are being issued more freely, and consumers are still intent on finding their dream homes – even though those residences are less McMansion and more humble in square footage.
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), today’s median desired home size is 2,266 square feet, yet the latest U.S. Census (2010) pegged the average home size at 2,392 square feet. In the NAHB’s recent “What Home Buyers Really Want” survey, those age 35 and younger are seeking a home that is approximately 2,500 square feet while those age 65+ were looking at spaces of 2,065 square feet.
Other developments are also influencing home size. As the sustainability movement becomes more ingrained and the tough lessons of the Recession continue to affect the home mortgage market, some consumers are exploring the possibility of downsizing their lifestyles. Even among some architects, smaller spaces are gaining popularity.
Sarah Susanka, FAIA – who began the Not So Big House movement in the late 1990s with a series of books and home plans to prove her point – remains a sought-after speaker and has expanded her philosophy into entire cities with the Not So Big Community concept. She expounded upon both themes at this year’s Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU21) in Salt Lake City. During her keynote speech, she discussed her inspiration.
“The scale of big is not about size, but quality,” Susanka explains. She posed the question of “How much space is enough?” when clients of her first architectural firm continuously expressed the desire for 5,000-sq.-ft. homes when they only had 1,500-sq.-ft. worth of budget. What she discovered is that people are looking for a sense of “home” that is not always satisfied by square footage.
“The Not So Big concept isn’t about size; it’s a sensibility. It’s about spaces that inspire and that are used every day,” Susanka explains. Her designs achieve this through quality workmanship and meaningful spaces – and among her tools are light and lighting.
“We are [innately] programmed to walk to toward light,” Susanka explains. “It seems all hallways terminate in darkness, however, if there is a painting on the wall at the end that is illuminated, it changes the entire experience of the space.” She also employs layers of lighting in kitchens with adjacent dining areas (Susanka is not a fan of the formal dining room). By changing or dimming certain fixtures, emphasis can be placed on either the task of cooking or the art of dining.
The tiny trend
To be sure, small does not mean stark or unlivable. Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool contest, which just concluded its ninth edition, generates hundreds of entries from creative people living in less than 1,000 square feet. The contest asks entrants to also give tips on living well. “Garrett” was the grand prize winner this year with his 340-sq.ft. apartment entered in the Teeny-Tiny category. ( HYPERLINK “http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/garretts-everything-every-day-small-cool-contest-189922” http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/garretts-everything-every-day-small-cool-contest-189922). The space is outfitted with a Murphy bed – his favorite small space solution – upholstered pieces, a mix of dark and light woods, plus a stylish drum shade over the overhead light in the living room, plenty of articulating and stick style portables, as well as a contemporary acrylic chandelier for the dining space.
There are some homeowners seeking out “tiny” homes – and by tiny, we are talking less than 800 square feet. Since 1999, builder Jay Shafer has been advocating tiny house living, supplying enthusiasts with plans and workshops through his original Tumbleweed Tiny Homes enterprise and more recently his Four Lights Tiny House Company. These spaces of 100 to 400 square feet can be trailered for zoning reasons, but some cottages may also be placed on foundations for more permanency. Shafer has been living in his original 112-sq.-ft. residence for more than 12 years.
The tiny trend is also on the rise in major cities with the advent of the micro-apartment, spanning somewhere between 200 and 400 square feet. These units are under the zoned square footage for a studio apartment, however, many mayors and developers from San Francisco and Seattle to New York and Boston are jumping on the bandwagon, sensing a way to meet tight housing demands as well as incorporating more units per building. In Providence, R.I., the Arcade Providence – a $10 million rehab of one of the oldest enclosed malls in the U.S. – is claiming that the 48 micro-apartments on its second and third floors are already sold out and a waiting list has formed.
One of the more high-profile projects has been instigated by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s Citizens Housing Planning Council. The adAPT design competition encouraged architects from around the world to submit concepts for micro-apartments ranging from 250 to 370 square feet. The winning design by New York City-based nArchitects is My Micro NY, a building of 55 micro units with shared public spaces. The project is currently slated for construction on 27th Street in Manhattan. An exhibit called “Making Room” can be viewed at the Museum of the City of New York (running through September 2) and includes a fully furnished 325-sq.-ft. space as well as models from the competition and existing projects around the world.
As controversial as the micro trend is, the fact remains that the need for housing among singles, young couples, and single elderly will continue to grow. Combine that with the ecological community’s goal to dwell within a smaller footprint and there are possibilities around the country. The new model lives life in the “cloud” where books, DVDs, desktop computers, and possibly flat screen TVs will be considered vintage paraphernalia. There’s no longer a need for such storage, which then frees up valuable square footage in these new micro spaces.
One pioneer in the movement is the founder of the sustainable Web site Treehugger. Graham Hill decided to illustrate how to design life with “more happiness and less stuff.”
In 2009, he purchased two New York City apartments that were 420 square feet each. In one (his own), technology and custom craftsmanship combine to yield a satisfying, livable space, documented through his consultancy and Web site both named LifeEdited. His unique space utilizes fixtures from Lightolier and even has room for a ceiling fan from Modern Fan as well as custom furniture from Resource Furniture. Hill also devised a design competition for the other space that attracted 300 entries from around the world. LifeEdited.com also shows the winning design.
As living space contracts and its occupants shed “stuff,” the remaining pieces will have to have more meaning to the owners. The furnishings that remain will have to combine details, cutting-edge design, and utility that speak to a unique generation that is not defined by age, but by a definite lifestyle.
The winner in the ninth Apartment Therapy Small Cool contest was Garrett, who shared views of his stylishly appointed 340-sq.-ft. space. An overhead light is dressed with a drum shade and portables help fill in for more illumination. The large wall mirror is the bottom of the Murphy bed.
Story By: Susan Grisham