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Living Small
September 1, 2009 1:03 PM   Subscribe

With the economic downturn and a steady downward trend in family sizes, the end of the McMansion could be at hand. Some people are living in and building tiny houses (previously) to decrease their impact on the environment, while others can't afford more (or wish to own something small instead of paying off something big). Sergio Santos saw his small budget and limited space as a challenge (gallery), maximizing his 77 square foot space as a bedroom, office, and mini-kitchen. Claire Wolf lists the four pieces of living small: building, gadgeting, decorating, and coping. If these spaces are too small for you, Dan Maginn suggest 900 square feet for a 2 bed, 2 bath house, and outlines how to design your own small home (his tips: think "events" more than "rooms," and don't forget the cupboards and water heater closet).
posted by filthy light thief (95 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
haven't read through all the articles yet, but one further advantage to occupying a small space that may not have been mentioned here is that it's less to clean and obsess over if you have a compulsive condition. i know it's helped me.
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 1:07 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Corrections to Dan Maginn's article: people are living in very spaces, as shown by Sergio Santos and Tumbleweed Homes, and Dirk Dieter's 250 square foot house discussed previously. Also, Hong Kong's oldest public housing estate Shek Kip Mei, is a prime example that people can live in 100 square foot spaces, as displayed in Michael Wolf's 100 x 100 photo essay/project (previously)

Additionally, Kaczynski's cabin is 10' x 12', not 300 square feet. It's on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., though Ted is displeased by this.

Bonus bit: There is an estimated 2.194 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space in the United States, an area roughly 858 times the size of the U.S. National Archives, as displayed in this infographic.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:08 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mr. Santos appears to have built my college dorm room.
posted by electroboy at 1:28 PM on September 1, 2009


I'm one of those kinds of people that takes this sort of cramped living thing as a delightful challenge, like Sergio Santos. My own personal room in the house I'm in isn't too small, but it's small enough that I regularly reconfigure the room to figure out my optimum space, like feng shui but less pretentious. In fact I almost like the lack of space; I don't really have claustrophobia except to an extreme point.

I always did have a thing for apartment living; up in some tiny New York studio seems like a fun time to me, not like terrible conditions. 70 square feet? Bring it on!
posted by Askiba at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2009


Where does Santos shower and use the bathroom?

I could fit his room into my walk-in closet, I think. I feel so decadent and slightly (but only slightly, since my house is paid for) ashamed.
posted by misha at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2009


electroboy: My thought too. Mine was almost the same dimensions ("Five and a half feet wide, by 14 feet long, or 77 square feet…"); when it was unfurnished it looked like a one-lane bowling alley.

I didn't have to cook there, though. If he's actually preparing 2 or more meals a day in that space, I'm duly impressed. Otherwise, assuming high ceilings which he seems to have, a space like that can actually be a very comfortable sleeping and work area, if you loft the bed.

I wouldn't want to do it permanently, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2009


There are five of us living in less than 1000 sq feet in my house. A lot of the tiny house designs assume one or two adults, not families. It is tight; it will be easier when the baby paraphenalia and toddler toys go though (not to mention the dollhouse that takes up four square feet by itself). Storage space is the big problem (workers cottage, hence no closets). If I even get around to upgrading my kitchen it will be cheap to use the best materials - my countertop is three feet long and I only have two cupboards.
posted by saucysault at 1:37 PM on September 1, 2009


whatever. these people just want to pretend they're living in New York.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:38 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Portion control. Big meals, big cars, big houses brimming with big inventories of stuff they should never have bought. People have trouble buying less than the maximum they can get.

Maybe people are getting smaller places now, but they'll be back to living in oversize houses as soon as they dare.
posted by pracowity at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2009


I imagine these things work better for individuals rather than families. It is very easy to repurpose a space (for instance from living room to bedroom) when you are the only one using it. When you have a family of four getting everyone to agree on the current function of the room seems difficult. What if the kids should be in bed but the grown-ups want to stay up?
posted by lucasks at 1:42 PM on September 1, 2009


In the future in my head, those circle-drives of McMasions becore little villages with many families in one house, houses scrapped-re-purposed, re-built, with lots of garden and farm-line around then and an old Van that acts the town bus to other places.
posted by The Whelk at 1:45 PM on September 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, like goldfish,I find people's junk tends to grow to fill the amount of space a person has.

I can't be the only person in the world who wanted Korban Dallas' apartment? Right?
posted by The Whelk at 1:47 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for these links...very interesting reading, especially for one who finds his 1200 sqft house perfect for a family of four, including two pre-teen kids. One thing we have done to increase our living space is move more outside. We live in a temperate climate, so sleeping on a covered porch is no problem year round and much of our play, cooking, eating and living happens out there too. It's only in the rainy winter when we spend time indoors, and then we're grateful that our small space can be easily heated by one small woodstove.
posted by salishsea at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2009


Also, Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House series is pretty good for small-ish (not as small as the links above) houses.
posted by electroboy at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, if I bought a 2100 sq ft house built (mostly) in the 1940s and completely affordable, can I still look down on the McMansion idiots or am I part of the bourgeois elite? I think a lot of these small houses are totally cool, but I have no problem with the idea that my master bedroom is bigger than some of them. I mean, where do I fit my decadent king-size bed in one of these things?
posted by dellsolace at 2:06 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: the end of the McMansion could be at hand

Needs a Thank-fucking-God tag.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:07 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


people's junk tends to grow to fill the amount of space a person has

I agree. At least, that's how I live (though my music collection knows no bounds). The problem is when you first get a storage unit, it's like a distant, magical closet that knows no bounds. Of course it's limited, but you don't remember that because it's not in your house or apartment.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2009


It is obvious that the people who dream up these "pod living" concepts do not have children.

Children do not confine themselves to cleverly defined architectural areas. 900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive unless the apartment is adjacent Central Park. They need to see the sun and the weather, but they also need a place to play (i.e. work) and read that is semi-private.

If you want to teach your kids how to cook, fix things, build things, do physical work, and explore nature, you need a place where that stuff is available all the time. Hell, the suburban garage is the home of more start-ups than I can count.

Outside of a city, real estate costs are based on the size of the lot, and the lots location to schools, libraries, public transport, shopping, etc. The cost of a house with an additional room is pretty nominal; that's why people routinely add rooms, and finish basements and attics.

Yes, the McMansion should die, but only because McMansions are merely standard houses with larger rooms, a preposterous kitchen, and maybe a media room. The people who buy them just want bigger everything. But give me 5000 sq feet and I'm not building a big screen media room or a 1500 sq ft kitchen. I'm putting in a machine shop, a laboratory, and a goddamn clean room. And I'm pretty sure there's no room in Mr. Santos's Eco-Closet for an aerodrome. I gots me some flying magnetic robots what needs buildin'.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:09 PM on September 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


We recently downgraded from 1250 sqft. to 750 sqft....and 3 storage spaces.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:11 PM on September 1, 2009


The Whelk: In the future in my head, those circle-drives of McMasions becore little villages with many families in one house, houses scrapped-re-purposed, re-built, with lots of garden and farm-line around then and an old Van that acts the town bus to other places.

That would be wonderful. Except that they are all built with cheap drywall and staples, and they look terrible when they are under 10 years old. Under your conditions, they would fall right in on themselves, sadly.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:21 PM on September 1, 2009


I'm putting in a machine shop, a laboratory, and a goddamn clean room. And I'm pretty sure there's no room in Mr. Santos's Eco-Closet for an aerodrome. I gots me some flying magnetic robots what needs buildin'.

I feel you.

My wife and I are about to buy a house. We plan not to have kids.

I want a bigish house with a giant lot.

Because I want a machine shop, an office, and a server room to keep/run retro big iron. My wife also wants an office. And then there's the garage... which will likely never hold the cars we drive. And someplace to fly kites, and RC aircraft, and shoot guns.
posted by Netzapper at 2:35 PM on September 1, 2009


the end of the McMansion could be at hand

Needs a Thank-fucking-God tag.


I opted for the pessimistic NotHoldingMyBreath.

Yes, the McMansion should die, but only because McMansions are merely standard houses with larger rooms, a preposterous kitchen, and maybe a media room. .. often built at the cost of the outdoor space.

There is a tract of $1 million+ USD houses across the creek from where I live. The structural scale is decent, but the houses dwarf their yards, which makes me really sad. Why bother having lawn if it can be trimmed with two passes of a push mower? So your little dog can poop on it? Maybe if you live somewhere that is unpleasant most times of the year it's nicer live indoors, but I live in sunny California.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:37 PM on September 1, 2009


I want a small house. I'm in Houston now and all the new homes are huge. Why do builders assume everyone wants 4 or 5 bedrooms? I'd like to build a small house just outside the city on a large parcel (I've got giant dogs and I want a good-size vegetable and flower garden).

I had a 1200 square foot flat in San Francisco that was a 1902 Victorian with a double parlor. It had 5 rooms (kitchen, bedroom, living room, 2nd parlor, dining room). The parlor room is usually made into a bedroom but I used mine as the TV room. I found that I never used my living room.

Mrmojoflying, you need to purge. Three storage spaces is too much unless you're storing things that appreciate in value. Most people find that the eventual cost of storage is more than the value of the items stored.
posted by shoesietart at 2:40 PM on September 1, 2009


Maybe if you live somewhere that is unpleasant most times of the year it's nicer live indoors, but I live in sunny California.

If I lived anyplace as consistently sunny and oppressive as SoCal, I'd spend all my time indoors. Even Carmel was kind of intolerable: -20% sun, +200% wind.
posted by Netzapper at 2:41 PM on September 1, 2009


Children do not confine themselves to cleverly defined architectural areas. 900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive unless the apartment is adjacent Central Park.

what
posted by kathrineg at 2:47 PM on September 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


people's junk tends to grow to fill the amount of space a person has

And it's not only the amount of junk, but the size of that junk.

One of the things I've noticed over the last ten years is how much bigger the scale of mass-market furniture and decorative objects has grown, seemingly in accordance with the scale of houses. Bedposts got fatter. Sofas expanded and were accompanied by "chair-and-a-half" seating - a kind of chair option I'd never previously come across. It all looked to me like Edith Ann would appear at any moment to sit in it. Candlesticks got noticeably bigger, for crying out loud. I suppose bigger furnishings were what was needed to fill bigger rooms in bigger houses, but it all looks a bit vulgar to me.

I've thought that maybe the growth of furniture had something to do with the general rise of obesity in that same period, and that maybe somehow people wanted to surround themselves with furnishings that matched their scale, or that maybe they didn't notice their burgeoning size as they were surrounded by larger objects.

I've noticed this in vehicles too. Every so often I'd ride in someone else's car, usually an SUV (my own vehicle being what I referred to humorously as a "Volkswagen Speck") and would be shocked at how oversize everything seemed - the instruments, the knobs, but especially the seating. Nothing seemed to be human-scale anymore.

My husband and I lived in, and were perfectly happy with, a series of two-bedroom 800-1100 sq. ft. apartments over the last dozen years or so. Now we've bought a mid-century three-bedroom house - with rooms human-sized, but larger than our apartments mostly just by dint of having a basement. Even so, we definitely feel a bit like we're rattling around in it.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:50 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mrmojoflying, you need to purge. Three storage spaces is too much unless you're storing things that appreciate in value. Most people find that the eventual cost of storage is more than the value of the items stored.

This is post-purge and I would tend to agree, but these are things we still use or are going to be putting back into immediate service after the temporary grad school move. The good news is that our landlord hosts the storage units as part of our rent.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:52 PM on September 1, 2009


900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive unless the apartment is adjacent Central Park

900 square feet is what families with two children of the same sex were (and presumbly still are) assigned as subsidized housing in Toronto. If your family had a boy and a girl, you got three bedrooms, and about 1000-1200 sq feet, which felt humungous.
posted by jb at 2:57 PM on September 1, 2009


when I was a child, that is. It didn't feel small until I was an adult and the friends I invited over were more than 4ft tall.
posted by jb at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2009


Is this where I brag about how tiny my apartment is? It's pretty tiny.
posted by kathrineg at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd rather live long.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on September 1, 2009


My house is a little under 1500 sq ft. The kitchen & breakfast nook are already quite tiny, so there's not much extra space there, but the master bedroom could easily be half the size. Let's see...the room I use as my office could be eliminated with a built-in desk and shelves. Stick the TV in the bedroom and eliminate the living room (eh, who needs to entertain indoors?). But to deal with the books...a-ha! Mobile shelving!
posted by thomas j wise at 3:28 PM on September 1, 2009


Everybody should live exactly the way I do!

(That said, McMansions are really gross. Gimme a bungalow anyday.)
posted by entropicamericana at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2009


I'm tired of living in small spaces (after 13 years in Japan). Most places do not have well designed storage. Ceilings are low. One cup on a desk means clutter.

I want space! Uncluttered breathing space! Not a rabbit warren to burrow in hiding from the outside world.
posted by gomichild at 3:31 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


The McMansions in a nearby city look huge until you visit them. Inhabited mostly by New Canadians with a non-WASP idea of "family", I have been in many four or five bedroom houses that actually have ten or so related people living there (around 200-300 sq feet per person). It actually looks like a pretty cool way to live, although it screws up the (formerly WASP) town infrastructure as they allow parking for only two cars and build schools in new subdivisions for 1.6 students per house instead of the more realistic figure of 3.5 children, leading to new schools bursting at the seams.

I would think the environmental impact of a larger house with more people is better than a bunch of little boxes with only one or two people in them.
posted by saucysault at 3:46 PM on September 1, 2009


900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive
Heh, I was raised (in cold Canada) in about that size space with my sister and now my three children have about the same amount of room. If you know anything about children and their preferred play area they actually prefer cosy, child-sized spaces where they don't feel overwhelmed or lost (low ceilings a bonus, as is some type of circular path they can race around). The tight space also allows parents to keep a closer eye on children rather than having them hole up in their room watching god knows what on the computer or TV.
posted by saucysault at 3:53 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dan Maginn suggest 900 square feet for a 2 bed, 2 bath house,

Well, here's the thing; most people have computers, and individual ones at that. And for those you need desks, and preferably, offices. My 1971 rent house has bedrooms just big enough for a bed and dresser; I use the spare bedroom for my office and my husband's studio is in the converted garage. Meanwhile, the kajillion toys my son accumulates via his grandparents live out on the enclosed patio because otherwise he'd never find his bed. So basically we have a living room, kitchen, and two rooms for each resident of the house; one to sleep in and one to work/play in. And it feels pretty cozy, about 1200 sq feet all told. I don't think we could go smaller without having to fight for office space. To be honest, I wouldn't mind some bigger closets.

In my rambling way, what I'm trying to say is a) people do a lot more working/computing at home these days, which requires more space and b) you can never have enough closets.
posted by emjaybee at 3:54 PM on September 1, 2009


I grew up in a house of around 1000 square feet, with two kids and two parents, and I must say the idea that 900 square feet is borderline abusive sounds kind of nuts to me. Our house and several of the other houses on our block were built in 1951 to the same small floor plan, and when I was a kid in the 70s, every single one of those houses had families with multiple kids. Sometimes kids shared a bedroom, but this was no big deal.

Later, my mom raised 4 grandchildren, my sister's kids, as foster kids in that same house. But eventually the state made her move because they didn't have enough bedrooms (the boy had to have his own room, and they didn't want three girls in one bedroom).

By current standards, it is a small house, but I think it's only in the last couple of decades that we've gotten so space-demanding. Kids are creative and playful and manage to do just fine in a small house; I never even thought of my house as being tiny. It just seemed like normal house size. Of course, we did have our yard and the neighbors' yards to play in. (In that neighborhood, pretty much all yards were potential play space and travel paths even if kids didn't live in the house -- unless owned by a grumpy old neighbor who would yell at us for entering the yard.) But in the winter when we couldn't play outdoors, we were fine. You make your own privacy. (I had a reading nook in the closet, for example.)

Now I live in a 1911 bungalow which was originally just as small, but has had the basement and attic turned into living space (before we moved in), so it's now as big as a McMansion if not bigger. But we share it with 3 other people and it's still spacious. Come on, how much space do people really need?
posted by litlnemo at 4:53 PM on September 1, 2009


I've thought that maybe the growth of furniture had something to do with the general rise of obesity in that same period,

I can't believe those cunning fat people are ruining it for the rest of us.
posted by mecran01 at 4:53 PM on September 1, 2009


Oh, our tiny house was actually 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, with a little galley kitchen. There was a living room with a little "dinette" room next to it. There was also a small room over the attic that wasn't really used until I became a teenager and moved upstairs, Greg Brady style, with a bead curtain and all. If you add that space I guess it is technically a 4 bedroom house, but legally that room didn't qualify as a bedroom -- no window, just a skylight. Once you add that room you can maybe get the house up to 1100 feet at most.
posted by litlnemo at 4:56 PM on September 1, 2009


Hmmm, I just bought a house that's 1912 square feet with 4 beds and 2.5 baths. I have three roommates, and it still feels snug to me. I suppose it's because I grew up in a family of ten where space was very limited. I now revel in having space, especially space to put things. Perhaps I've become materialistic as I grow older. In addition, I think of home as my sanctum; it should be where I regenerate at the end of the day so having that space that feels uncluttered (vs. the clutter of my workspace) is mentally refreshing.

Everyone has different living desires. Though tiny houses work for some, others would feel extremely uncomfortable in them. And what's the point of a home you feel uncomfortable in? (So long as you can afford it, of course.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:02 PM on September 1, 2009


If there was one part of the house I grew up in that could be larger, it would be the kitchen. That was a tiny, tiny kitchen. The bathroom being tiny wasn't that big a deal, but the kitchen was basically too small for two people to work in, though we often did anyway, jostling and running into each other. My 1911 house's kitchen is (and always has been, since 1911) 11x14', which is much, much larger. So originally it was a small house with a big kitchen. I kind of like that concept.

The extra space we do have now just gets filled with stuff we didn't need to keep in the first place. We are actually downsizing storage to try to get us to keep less crap and be more selective about what we hang on to.
posted by litlnemo at 5:20 PM on September 1, 2009


Billions of children all over the world have been raised perfectly well in spaces less than 1000sq ft. When kids have an adequate amount of healthy non-toxic outdoor space a small indoor living space hardly matters.

And the irony is it's this idiotic rush out to build McMansions in the 'burbs so little Timmy and little Janie can have this mythical hyper-idealized childhood that is robbing future generations of the kind of healthy outdoor environments kids... and animals, and ecosystems... need.
posted by tkchrist at 5:27 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why bother having lawn if it can be trimmed with two passes of a push mower? So your little dog can poop on it? Maybe if you live somewhere that is unpleasant most times of the year it's nicer live indoors, but I live in sunny California.

Unless you have a lawn that doesn't require watering (unlikely in SoCal), I'd argue that having a lawn at all in California is a bad idea. First thing I do when I buy a house (renting one right now so I can't) will be to rip up the lawn and put in stuff I don't have to water (or, ideally, maintain). With a water shortage as severe as ours, lawns are an easy place to cut back.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:36 PM on September 1, 2009


Where does Santos shower and use the bathroom?

Where does he keep the tools he used to do that work with?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:38 PM on September 1, 2009


I don't mind the small house...wife, kid and I are pretty fine in under 1500sq.ft.

However, I spent much of my growing up on a 1600 acre ranch, and even our current 5 acres (with another 5 acres on a separate plot that's for sale) seems pretty cramped to me. I'd like my daughter to experience always being able to go a little further or to see a place she's never seen on our own land, like I did.
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:55 PM on September 1, 2009


The ranch thing sounds pretty cool, but do you feel isolated? I find it interesting that our sense of what is comfortable varies so widely. Personally, I'd like a $900 mortgage and my entire yard converted to gardens, but I also have four kids and a spouse who does not share my hippy dreams.
posted by mecran01 at 6:02 PM on September 1, 2009


After just having spent a month and a half back home, I was worried I might have trouble adjusting to my house here in Japan. We're just under 1000 sq feet, and it feels spacious. Four rooms, in addition to the living/dining/kitchen. One of the differences, I think, is the size of the standard room here. A six tatami mat sized room comes out to just under 100 sq feet. Maybe I'm just used to that, but I don't see any problem for one, or even two kids to share a room in a house like that. A lot of families in Japan would have no problem with a large family (possibly grandparents as well as children) in this house, but for now it's just us.

What I miss is the size of yards in the States. Lucious, green, large. Lawns you can actually do things with (like, say, a pool, or a large garden). We have a very slight space next to the hosue (about 420 sq feet), that unfortunately came with two parking spaces which, since there's no car, we don't really need. If we have kids, I'd like to rip out one car space for more lawn, but the reality of living within an hour of Tokyo is that, if your kids want to play outside, they need to go to a park.

And, gomichild, if you hate the Japanese style apartments, it might be because you've been living in older buildings. Somewhere along the last ten years, Japanese architects have discovered the concept of comfort as a thing consumers want. Closets, intelligently designed rooms, it's so much better.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:19 PM on September 1, 2009


The ranch thing sounds pretty cool, but do you feel isolated?

From Kickstart70's profile:

There are no other MetaFilter members nearby, sorry.
posted by electroboy at 6:22 PM on September 1, 2009


Man, freshman year of college I shared a 8.5x14 dorm with up to two other people.
posted by xorry at 6:31 PM on September 1, 2009


First thing I do when I buy a house (renting one right now so I can't) will be to rip up the lawn and put in stuff I don't have to water (or, ideally, maintain).

I'm a professional gardener/landscape designer in the Bay Area, and this is what everyone says they'll do. Then when they do it, they never go outside in the heat of summer afterward because their yard is suddenly unbearably hot. Lawns are natural air conditioners that lower ambient temperature by as much as 20 degrees in low-humidity climates. So having a small lawn in California can be a very good idea if you spend much time outside. Planting a low water lawn from seed means watering as little as once a week if properly cared for.

I'm all for planting plants appropriate to the climate and soil in order to use as little resources as possible. But if no one goes outside to enjoy the garden, I'm not sure what the point of having one is.

Oh, and the no water/maintenance thing is a pipe dream. Low water/maintenance, however, is attainable.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:33 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


We have one child and an 864 square foot house* (though I don't think that includes the basement). We're not doing it as a "social statement" or because we want to "abuse" or kid (and the second one if we have one. It was affordable, and big enough to fit us. We figured it would be cheaper to heat than a bigger house, and easier to keep clean.

The side benefit (and huge attraction) was location. We have a park the size of a city block one block over. Another park with a fishing pond (with ducks, turtles, and more) a few blocks away. Plus, we have two grocery stores, and two hardware stores within two blocks.

So far, it's been great.

*3 bedrooms 1 bath with a galley kitchen
posted by drezdn at 6:34 PM on September 1, 2009


I love my studio apartment. Less stuff to clean, and less stuff in general.

I hate stuff.
posted by bardic at 6:52 PM on September 1, 2009


If you have a large house and want to both save money on fuel and have a smaller, house, you can systematically dismantle your upper floors or extra rooms and burn them in your wood burning stove.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2009


By mentioning my own house, I'm not trying to imply that everyone should live in small houses, it's just not impossible to pull off.
posted by drezdn at 6:54 PM on September 1, 2009


Until this year, my wife and I lived for 5 years in an 18평 (640 square foot) apartment. Eight months ago we moved to one that's about 1200 square feet. It feels like the vast Kalahari in there by contrast, and I fucking love it (except the goddamn leadfoot neighbours upstairs). I will never willingly go back to something that small unless it's an apartment so cunningly designed as to be irresistible, or it's a standalone living space plunked down in the middle of a garden or forest or grove of palms or something, and living indoors-and-out is a viable option.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:19 PM on September 1, 2009


I'm pretty sure I live in a smaller room than anyone else on Metafilter. I live in central Tokyo in a 25 sq. meter (270 sq. foot) studio apartment, and it's just fine for one person. Oh sure, the kitchen could be bigger and I wish I had more storage space, but for Tokyo it's pretty darn nice. It's not cheap, of course -- $1000 or so per month -- but that's the price you pay for living downtown.

Compared to where I was living before, it's a step up. My previous apartment was only 20 sq. meters, and the one before that was a tiny 10 sq meters. But they all had kitchens, toilets and baths (though the smallest had nowhere to put a washing machine), so they're pretty self-contained.

As an American, I'm used to living in houses with enough space for a whole football team, but having lived abroad and seen families of four or five living just fine in 100 sq meters or so, the whole "McMansion" idea strikes me as destructive, if not insane. If your main reason for living in the suburbs in a huge house is so that your kids have a place to play, why not just live in a small house and have a huge yard? Your utility bills will be less and your house will be a lot cheaper to build (or of higher quality for the same price as a larger one).
posted by armage at 7:20 PM on September 1, 2009


My parents managed to raise three kids in a house that was probably about 900 square feet. It had a living room and a kitchen on the first floor and 2 1/2 bedrooms and bathroom on the second. I got the 1/2 bedroom because I was the only boy. It was about 6'x8', just enough for a twin bed, a dresser and a desk. I wasn't abused by those living conditions, I actually had a pretty good childhood living there.

We went outside and played; when the weather was bad we learned to share spaces and take turns. We all grew up to be normal college educated and product members of society.
posted by octothorpe at 7:20 PM on September 1, 2009


s/product/productive
posted by octothorpe at 7:36 PM on September 1, 2009


Since my parents were carneys and had to travel for half of the year, my time was split between two very different homes while I was growing up. We had a four bedroom house in Tampa that we lived in from October through April which was about 2800 sq. ft., way more than enough space for a family of four. During the other half of the year, we lived in a trailer of some kind. My parents and I lived in a 220 sq. ft. Airstream quite comfortably for a while after I was born. When my brother came along, we moved up to a more spacious 300 sq. ft. trailer. That's a pretty tight fit for four people over the course of six months.

I alternated between these two homes for fifteen years without ever giving much thought to their difference in size, feeling just as comfortable in one as in the other and having no real preference for one or the other. I think being born into this strange kind of living situation has helped me focus more on the arrangement of a home and the things in it than the size by teaching me to fit a lot into small spaces and that I can happily live with less.
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:55 PM on September 1, 2009


octothorpe, I read that subconsciously turning adjectives into nouns is a sign of having been abused as a child.

There are other things to dislike about McMansions besides the excessive space. The design doesn't respect the local climate or the site - they just plop them down and fill up the lot. For example, it's really hot and humid where I live, and older houses are built with deep eaves, and they put the garages on the west side of the house if possible, but McMansions often have no eaves at all, and garages and windows are wherever. A well-built older house will often have siding completely out of brick here, but McMansions will just have brick on the front of the lower story*, and when the owners go to paint the first time, they'll find that big chunks of their wood siding are rotting. Then, the design is all about getting a certain look, and not about function. There'll be roof peaks everywhere for no reason. The windows are usually too small, too. The floorplans often don't flow - you walk into a huge "impressive" entry and then there are all these different rooms in different directions. I've been in a 4000 square-ft house that didn't have a single room that the whole family could congregate in and do different things but still hang out together. You either watched tv over here, or ate over here, or read over yonder. Or played pool in the game room upstairs, except that it was covered in boxes of stuff.

*A recent trend here has been to build "Tuscan" style houses with concrete, too look like stucco. It doesn't rot, but if the house is built in a remotely ornate Greco-Roman style, it looks just like a topless bar, albeit one with a 3-car garage.
posted by zinfandel at 8:02 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also read that mixing up too/to/two is a sign of doing too much remodeling at once on an old house. Either that, or it's the Cabernet.
posted by zinfandel at 8:09 PM on September 1, 2009


Moving into a small space: Neat.
Building a new house, of any size, as a reaction to the economic downturn: what
posted by naoko at 8:11 PM on September 1, 2009


> 900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive

So I guess I'm borderline abusive. We're in 1000 sq ft with 2 kids, but we have a home office that takes up a bit more than 100 sq ft of that. Exactly how is this abusive? My kids can see the weather from the window. Or when we're out at the park. Or the beach. Or the forest. Or exploring the greenspaces around us.

> If you want to teach your kids how to cook, fix things, build things, do physical work, and
> explore nature, you need a place where that stuff is available all the time.

Really? My kids have been helping me cook since they could walk. They've watched or helped with drywall repair, mudding, dishwasher repair, renovations and so on. They do all sorts of work and play and learning. And they explore everything from the city to the country.

And why can they do that? Because one parent works from home and the other works 5 minutes away. We haven't overextended ourselves with a massive mortgage and loan payments on two cars. We don't spend all our time driving to and from work and school. Our kids don't spend their day in daycare. They're being raised by their own parents. In their own home. They eat whole foods cooked all day on the home stove. They explore their own neighbourhood and know the people who live in their own community. And they're being raised in the most sustainable ways we can find, with the hope that every bit counts.

That's not abuse. That's awesome.
posted by acoutu at 9:05 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I live in a smaller room than anyone else on Metafilter. I live in central Tokyo in a 25 sq. meter (270 sq. foot) studio apartment

Biscotti and I live in a single hollowed-out proton.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:54 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Luxury!

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN: You try and tell the young people of today that... and they won't believe you.
ALL: They won't!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:00 PM on September 1, 2009


Biscotti and I live in a single hollowed-out proton.

Luxury!


That's nothin' -- I shared 'alf a quark with me mum, me dad, two brothers, three sisters and t' iguana, while work twenty hour day at mill. And we were grateful!
posted by armage at 10:24 PM on September 1, 2009


Four things:-
a) I don't mind small-rooms, but I need _vistas_ of openness. Tend to get very claustrophobic if there are no windows.
b) My main requirement in a living space is that a) I be given a bed (sleeping space; floor with mattress/sheets is fine), b) I be given a desk (it _must_ be a desk), and c) the bed and desk must not be in visible proximity with each other. Bed is where I "turn off", desk is where I "turn on"; they mustn't intersect.
c) Smells matter too; to that extent, the space where I cook ('kitchen') should be able to dissipate its smells over to "desk" as much as possible. No thought of food when I "turn on".
d) Ideally, a fourth spot "reading area" might also be helpful, where I can think without "turning on".

Given these requirements (and with the sole exception of (c), and that's something that you'll only know by usage), I'm quite impressed with the closet living quarters. The bed-above-desk-below, in particular, is sheer genius.

Also, amusing to note that the designer there also uses two monitors. :-) The productivity gains from a dual-monitor setup can't be understated.
posted by the cydonian at 10:35 PM on September 1, 2009


Pshaw. 'alf a quark? You were lucky! All my forty-seven orphaned cousins and I could afford from our 165-hour-a-week shifts as hurriers in the Astley Deep Pit was a leaky, louse-ridden Higgs boson, which wasn't even there on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturday afternoons after three.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:48 PM on September 1, 2009


My partner and I live in a hollowed out rat. What can I say, we feel the need to be free and something subatomic just won't cut it. No judgment!!!
posted by kathrineg at 11:13 PM on September 1, 2009


I live in the abstract idea of reflexive contextual disassembly. There's nowhere to put the shoes, but it's much more cozy than the weak force I dwelling-sat last summer.
posted by Jilder at 11:25 PM on September 1, 2009


After spending several years tweaking existing houseplans and drawing up new ones, it really started to look to me like 500 sf/person is a good guideline, assuming one has that choice. When you get much less than that, I suspect the average family's sanity might be stretched a bit thin over time, especially during the teen years and the winter months. As for the shrinking American family, those nutty Duggers on TLC are certainly doing their darndest to make up the difference. I guess they didn't get that memo.
posted by cowpattybingo at 12:29 AM on September 2, 2009


Everyone I know these days plans to have one bedroom for each child, but there's something to be said for kids having to learn how to cope when they're all over each other. I used to squabble with the sister I shared a bedroom with, but it taught us the finer points of sharing and being considerate of others even when you're tired and cranky yourself. Sometimes people are in your face - it's good to know how to deal with that.

My mother-in-law describes some people as being "nice, but she's never had to go without". It's got a certain smugness to it, but yeah, you can tell which people haven't learned how to negotiate for the tv show they want to watch, or the last good spot on the couch, or whatever.
posted by harriet vane at 3:57 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Children do not confine themselves to cleverly defined architectural areas. 900 sq feet for a child is borderline abusive unless the apartment is adjacent Central Park. They need to see the sun and the weather, but they also need a place to play (i.e. work) and read that is semi-private.

Ehhhhhh. I can see that being an issue in a place like NYC perhaps, or another similarly cramped city, but not everywhere.

We have a duplex in the Columbus, OH area that's just over 1200 sq ft, not including the one-car garage. 3 kids, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. Wife and I share the master, obviously. The Boy has a room to himself, and the girls share the other. Small front yard, and a back yard big enough for a small swingset and some play space.

All things considered, it works pretty well. The utilities are manageable, even during heating and cooling seasons. We'd like to have another 200-300 sq ft when we move next year if we can get it, or even a basement that we can finish. But not much more than that. And oddly enough, the girls told us that they would actually prefer to continue sharing a room when we do move, even if there is a 4th bedroom.
posted by spirit72 at 5:38 AM on September 2, 2009


Why do builders assume everyone wants 4 or 5 bedrooms?

They don't, of course, but that's where you get a higher profit margin.

Or at least, you did during the boom.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:38 AM on September 2, 2009


My house tops out at about 1100 square feet, and I'm pretty sure that includes the finished basement. I'm talking about a four-bedroom house (one of which is my office). We have a living room and an eat-in kitchen. The only thing missing is a dining room, and we just don't entertain like that. It's strange to think of my house as being small when to me it's just a normal sized house. The bedrooms aren't particularly small, though the living room is. We spend most of our time in the basement, however, since that's where the TV/game consoles/etc. are. We have one kid and plan to have another.

Is 1100 square feet really that small?
posted by Never teh Bride at 10:47 AM on September 2, 2009


One of the things I've noticed over the last ten years is how much bigger the scale of mass-market furniture and decorative objects has grown, seemingly in accordance with the scale of houses.

I agree. I live in a pretty big house (2300 sf plus 600 sf of garage/unfinished basement) but it was built in 1965 and most of the rooms are sort of boxy and the ceilings are low by modern standards (8 ft. or 7 in a few places), and the layout is weird. It has tons of quirky charm (<3>Monty Hall problem.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:40 AM on September 2, 2009


One of the things I've noticed over the last ten years is how much bigger the scale of mass-market furniture and decorative objects has grown, seemingly in accordance with the scale of houses.

(ARGH! Stupid html .... )

I agree. I live in a pretty big house (2300 sf plus 600 sf of garage/unfinished basement) but it was built in 1965 and most of the rooms are sort of boxy and the ceilings are low by modern standards (8 ft. or 7 in a few places), and the layout is weird. It has tons of quirky charm (I love lime green bathroom tile) but if you try to put something like a "chair and a half", king size bed, or big entertainment center in any room it looks ridiculously huge. When we shop for furnishings we tend to buy period stuff like Lane coffee tables and "mod" lamps and things - they fit the house better.

As far as space, it seems huge to me except that the galley kitchen needs to be expanded into the breakfast nook so two people can fit into it. I mean, we have a big dance studio in the finished part of the basement, and the unfinished part is the equivalent of about 6 storage utility spaces. I can't needing a bigger house unless I went from 2 to 5 kids or something. And we could *definitely* get rid of stuff but my S.O. isn't big into house projects like that, and I don't want to get divorced arguing over it.

I can't resist mentioning something weird about my bedroom - there are no walk-in closets anywhere in the house, but the 10' x 18' MBR has *three* tiny closets along one 10' wall. Three thin but full height doors in a row, one of which bumps into the entrance door. Why they did this I have no clue. Every time I look at it I think about the Monty Hall problem.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:03 PM on September 2, 2009


Is 1100 square feet really that small?

No, our first house as a married couple was 1100 sf, and we managed just fine, even after adding two kids. Entertaining was a challenge, and there were issues such as the "master" bedroom opening directly into the kitchen and one child's bedroom sharing a wall with the living room where the TV was located, but you figure out ways to make it work. We're in about 2,700 sf now, and that is plenty. If we'd gone much bigger than this, I think I'd need some help from a housekeeper. I notice that our family spends a lot more time together than families I know that live in McMansions. Of course, we don't allow TVs or computers in the bedrooms, so what choice do the little darlings really have?
posted by cowpattybingo at 12:14 PM on September 2, 2009


Entertaining was a challenge

We've never felt that. No matter how we try to herd people during parties, everyone ends up in the kitchen, in the basement, or on the porch anyway so the size of the living room and the lack of a dining room has never mattered.
posted by Never teh Bride at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2009


So, at what size does a house become a "McMansion"? It's a great term, but I imagine very subjective. For example, cowpattybingo has a 2700 sf house but mentions families she knows who have McMansions. So, in terms of square feet, how big are we talking here, do you think?
posted by misha at 2:40 PM on September 2, 2009


Our condo is 850 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom. I suspect there are weeks I don't even go into the spare room (which is a decent size), so it should be plenty of room for kid(s) when we have them. We look over a park, and have nice neighbours, a few of whom are willing to share their workshops with us if the fancy strikes us. We can easily host 20 people for casual parties, so long as a few people don't mind sitting on the floor, though they usually end up gossiping in the kitchen.

For now, we have way too much stuff, but it's not crowded yet and we don't have any storage lockers. We'll have to organize a bit more when we have kids in here, but it'll be the perfect excuse when asking people not to go overboard buying them toys. :)

We rented a studio apartment in Paris for a week last year. The Paris apartment was probably around 300 square feet and had one closet for everything: clothing, coats, cleaning supplies, storage, etc. It had a half-size fridge under the counter, and a combination washer-dryer unit. The bed was in a loft above the entrance, from which you couldn't see the windows, so it was nice and dark at night. There were stools so you could sit and eat at the kitchen counter, a little reading nook, a TV area, and a nice bathroom. I wouldn't raise kids in it, but it was perfect for us as a couple. We came home feeling that our condo was gigantic.
posted by heatherann at 3:05 PM on September 2, 2009


misha: I consider a McMansion to be any house that has a small yard and a "bonus room" — ostensibly for when both the living room and family room just aren't enough. We're talking 3000+ sf. Key factors are useless rooms, size of the yard, and similarity to neighbors' houses.
posted by amuseDetachment at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2009


My house is a 14'x60' rowhouse in downtown Baltimore. It's a nice size for the two of us, but I'm not so sure about more than that. The couple we bought it from raised 5 kids here. On the other hand, they married when they were 14 and 16, respectively.
posted by electroboy at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2009


One definition for McMansion: a pejorative term used to describe a large house, particularly in the United States, that is rapidly constructed using modern labor-saving techniques in a manner reminiscent of food production at McDonald's fast food restaurants.

Other details: larger than average house on an average or smaller sized lot, mass-produced structure with inexpensive materials. The article goes on to include weird examples that I personally wouldn't attach to the notion of McMansion. Urban Dictionary has 12 more definitions of varying quality.

Also, I'd consider McMansions to be 2 story constructions, to maximize building space on small lots. Sprawling one story structures might be called "ranchettes" or "ranch-style," invoking the notion of a rural style for people living in the exurbs (outside the suburbs, but not on actual ranches and farm lands).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:05 PM on September 2, 2009


filthy light thief: Sprawling one story structures might be called "ranchettes" or "ranch-style," invoking the notion of a rural style for people living in the exurbs (outside the suburbs, but not on actual ranches and farm lands).

Although frequently on land which was, often very recently, used for ranching or farming. Until some asshole decided to build the same house 300 times.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:08 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


A house with 3 rooms the family never uses, huge wasteful ceilings and a lawn but no patio or orch (but a 3-car garage!) They have insane gables and cheap "luxury" points like useless huge windows and shiny brass fixtures. And they look exactly like their neightbors. Like someone cross-bread a Leavittown trackhome with Biltmore and then used nothing but spit and cardboard to make it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:11 PM on September 2, 2009


And arranged on some circular drive off a rural road 40 miles from anything.
posted by The Whelk at 5:11 PM on September 2, 2009


We are lucky enough to have an actual house in downtown Toronto - it's a turn-of-the century row house and it's small, but it's great.

As many have mentioned, more space often means more crap and hassles. It only takes 20 minutes to clean our small space top to bottom, and the urge to acquire is heavily tempered when you have to think about where you're going to put it.

Friends in the 'burbs have entire rooms that they don't use: I guess if you live somewhere with nothing around to walk to, you might want more inside space. But I dig our tiny place.
posted by nometa at 6:22 PM on September 2, 2009


I am so grateful for this discussion because our two-person household just moved to a smaller house, about 900 sq. ft. My efforts online to find good ideas I hadn't already thought of, for small space were not particularly helpful. I would look out at the view happily and then turn inside and think, "Oh, dear." The one large dog always has to shift position if I need to move from one space to the other.
This is a two-bedroom, one bath, open kitchen-dining-living space. There is a shortage of storage/closet space, and I am madly putting up shelves. I can't yet get everything put away. The kitchen is a tiny gas range and a sink with cabinets under. The big plus here is the expansive view (high overlook of the Caribbean Sea) and large lot. I am in hard negotiations with the fire ants for use of the outdoor space. I don't think I could quite be happy in Mr. Santos' situation. I know for sure the 430 ft cabin in a place that has winter would make me unhappy. But I certainly feel now, I am in a workable space situation. Thanks guys! The shelf-building continues.
posted by Yimji at 7:03 PM on September 2, 2009


Yimji - 2 recommendations:

1) Apartment Therapy, particularly the house tours
2) Expedit shelving or similar is awesome for lots of storage, and can work as a room divider. We put one in the kitchen to hold cookbooks, food in jars, alcohol, pots and pans. Don't know how we lived without it!
posted by heatherann at 8:59 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bed is where I "turn off", desk is where I "turn on"

You're doing it wrong.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:39 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


This a good place to talk about my dream of building a single shipping container house on a piece of someone's back yard to live in during the later years of college? Maybe add a second container on top extending out the side forming an L shape, if I find the money, giving me room to entertain?

Shipping container can make such nice spaces, and the amount of work to do the conversion isn't bad, especially with such a small space.

Also, for the people keeping up with me, travel dream is on hold, looks like work and then college in winter. Lame, I know.
posted by jellywerker at 8:11 PM on September 6, 2009


jellywerker: Something like this?
posted by immlass at 8:33 PM on September 6, 2009


immlass: Not really. Just because it's made of containers doesn't mean it's efficient. But cool place.
posted by jellywerker at 9:14 PM on September 6, 2009


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