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small is better than bloated!

July 18, 2011

In the course of my work, I visit a lot of homes each year. Here’s what I’ve learned: the most notable homes aren’t the large ones, with endless expanses of gleaming hardwood and porcelain flooring, or endless granite countertops. It’s often the small ones that leave me with the biggest impression.

When a person lives inside a 600 – 1000 square feet house, careful thought has been paid to every piece of furniture and every object on the walls, because clutter cannot be tolerated in small surroundings. A home like this is focused in a way that’s completely different than a large house whose owner has had a professional decorator place an order for three upscale sofas and matching armchairs to fill the far end of the great room with its soaring ceiling and two-story fireplace.

I track down and write about houses that interest me, and this generally means that the homes are unique in some way. They might be very small, or very old, or very energy efficient. They often display their owners’ personalities in terms of decor or overall vibe, and they practically drip with individuality. But many of the upscale homes I’ve seen are devoid of personality; they are packed with high-end finishes in room after room but they impart no sense of personal style. The furnishings are expensive but generic; the walls are painted neutral colors that don’t stand out. More and more sprawling deluxe homes are being built with two or even three suites for multi-generational living, and they exhibit BLOAT on a massive scale. They frequently feature two-story foyers, high ceilings, separate bathrooms for each bedroom, double basins for his-and-her toothbrushing, and kitchens with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Let me make a few comments:

  • Granite countertops are beautiful, but they can easily be chipped or scratched, and repairing them is difficult. Any wine-glass that gets knocked over on a granite countertop will shatter instead of roll. Granite is often imported from India or South America, so it arrives with a massive carbon footprint. Do you feel confident that quarries in these countries did not cause ecologic havoc, and that the workers were not treated like slaves? Lastly, because granite is now so ubiquitous, ten or twenty years from now everyone will think ” Oh, that looks so fifteen years ago“, and owners who are currently eager to install it will be just as anxious to get rid of it.
  • The only rationale for double wash basins is if He and She both have to leave for jobs at the same time each morning, and She  can’t afford to wait around while He finishes shaving. To me, double wash basins shout out “money wasted on redundant fixtures, and unwillingness to share a space.” One could just as well insist on double toilets, or two side-by-side showers. Perhaps He and She would also like to have double jacuzzis? Or perhaps his-and-hers bathrooms in separate corners of the master suite?
  • Decks make no sense at all. Why swelter in the sun and invite malignant melanoma? Shaded porches DO make sense, especially ones with screens on them. The phrase “outdoor living” is often found in homes magazines, and generally involves outdoor living rooms, kitchens and entertaining areas; but for inhabitants of most of the nation, these things make no sense at all in terms of comfort. Don’t invest in decks or uncovered/unscreened outdoor rooms if you live where summers are hot and humid, or where mosquitoes abound. Don’t imagine that these recent summer heatwaves are a fluke and will soon pass, because they’re only going to get worse.
  • Soaring ceilings may look impressive, but you’re heating and cooling an awful lot of cubic feet of space that can’t be used. When did thrift stop being an American virtue? and why is it deemed desirable nowadays to throw your money away by heating and cooling vast two-story-high spaces, just in order to impress your guests? Conspicuous consumption will not impress anyone who has genuine good taste, nor does it make the world a better place. It simply reinforces consumption.
  • Multiple bathrooms are not neccessarily a good thing. If each member of your household uses his or her own bathroom, they will get soiled less swiftly. But you will nevertheless have five bathrooms to clean instead of two. (Of course, if you rely upon a low-paid Third-World maid for your cleaning, you won’t have to fret, because she’ll do the dirty work for you.) It’s also more expensive to construct a house with multiple plumbing runs. Just because you CAN build a house with multiple everything doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.
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