Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Houses - when bigger is not necessarily better

Does size matter? Australian house-buyers are saying 'Yes!' in bigger numbers, and so too do increasing numbers of NZers. 'Bigger is better' say owners of houses with incurable grand-o-mania -- houses in which, if you want to avoid other residents you can, and where you might almost need to wear GPS locators to actually help find each other. Australia's '60 Minutes' investigate the phenomenon here. [Hat tip butter paper]

So who exactly are these house-buyers and builders trying to impress with their big entrances, stadium-sized lounges and kitchens that take a day to walk from sink to fridge and back again -- themselves, or their neighbours? And are they comfortable to live in?

'No!' say the authors of The Not So Big House. Large and liveability don't necessarily go together; smaller and more thoughtful do. What many of the designers of these houses has forgotten is the human sale that makes a place 'fit' rather than overwhelm. Says Susan Susanka, author of The Not So Big House:
When someone buys a Mercedes Benz or Jaguar, they look for quality, comfort, and detail. Size has nothing to do with the appeal of these cars. If you wanted nothing but space, you could buy a truck. Why is it, then, that some people feel compelled to buy huge houses with empty, cathedral-like spaces that offer few comforts of home?
... Susanka writes of a conversation with a banker who was at first skeptical when she proposed her own home-building plans to him: "But as I described to him my frustration with designing large houses with rarely used formal spaces, and my vision to put forward a different home model into the market-place, his demeanor completely changed. Suddenly he was telling us about his own house, a suburban Colonial, and admitting that in 25 years his family had never sat in the living room. They lived in their family room. The banker, who at first appeared to be our biggest obstacle, became our strongest advocate."
... One very defining feature of all Not So Big Houses is that they stress quality over quantity. By shrinking the size of the house and providing less square feet for the same amount of money, the home builder can add the details, the columns, framing, millwork and the like that make a house personal.
Of course, it hardly needs saying at this blog that the choice of home is entirely up to the owner, and kudos to the successful home-owners who are enjoying their wealth by conspicuously consuming it. But is size per se really everything? Just because something is bigger, is it necessarily a good thing? Or is it perhaps just the opposite.

LINKS: The Castle - ABC's 'Sixty Minutes'
The Not So Big House - NotSoBigHouse.Com
Big ideas behind Not So Big Houses - Architecture Week
Little houses in the big burbs - Design Coalition
Creating the Not So Big House - IS Design.Net
McMansions - Wikipedia

TAGS: Architecture

1 comment:

  1. I have just finished reading the bio of Vita Sackville-West born and brought up at Knole, the largest house in England. I know this is a different category to what you were blogging about, but the roofs (rooves?) of Knole covered seven acres! For a family of three!

    On your topic, I spent 2002 living in Brookfield, Brisbane and saw what was considered de rigeur as a home there. From the comfortable and climactically suitable Queenslander, Brisbanites now want to build 3/4 bedroom, two bathroom, double garage, rumpus room, study, lounge, family living, dining room (and of course the pool and barbie) with a Parthenon like entrance, all covering an impressive floor area -beautiful homes all built solely with an eye to re-sale value. The houses were empty all day as owners were out working to pay the mortgage and the one or two children they could afford after the mortgage repayments were at day care or school.

    I am not disparaging such lifestyles, Brookfield people were pleasant and hardworking, but their lives seemed circumscribed by their beautiful houses. Most of the women had to have help to keep them clean.


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