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Wanted: Smaller, cozier houses

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Get this: Americans are getting sick of McMansions.

So says The Wall Street Journal in a recent report. Americans are favoring more historic designs, such as the arts-and-crafts houses their grandparents once lived in, over gargantuan suburban houses.

A new style of housing developer is emerging to serve this demand. These developers are designing and building more modest size homes — in the 2,500-square-foot range — that look historic on the outside, but that have modern amenities on the inside, such as custom kitchens and walk-in closets, that the original homes did not have.

I never did understand the allure of the giant boxes. You need a bicycle to go from the couch to the fridge to get a beer.

They are drafty and impersonal inside — big just for the sake of being big. They may be homes, but they certainly are not homey.

And so a longing for smaller, saner housing stock is growing. Part of this is the result of the stumbling economy — though, the article points out, the average size of a U.S. home has rebounded to 2,642 square feet.

Part of it is the result of people who are tired of living in big houses — people who are nostalgic for the Sunday dinners they enjoyed at Grandma's many years ago, when the average American family lived happily in a much smaller home. The average size of a U.S. home was 1,660 square feet in 1973.

Heck, when I was born in 1962, the third child in our clan, my family was living in an 850-square-foot ranch, one probably built with GI Bill money after World War II. Needless to say, the house was a little tight.

When my mother became pregnant with my sister Lisa, a bigger house was essential. My parents found that house in a new housing plan that my father drove by every day on his way to work.

It was a rectangular “cookie cutter” design typical of 1964. It had red brick on the bottom and white aluminum siding on the top. It had four bedrooms, one full bathroom and one half-bathroom. And it was all of 1,400 square feet.

My parents would raise six children in that house. I still remember my poor father, sitting on the edge of his bed in his robe, waiting to get into the shower. As soon as he heard the bathroom door open, he'd rush down the hall, but someone else would always beat him to it — and back to his room he went to wait some more.

By 1974, he'd had enough, so he and my mother hired a contractor to build an addition onto the first floor — their new bedroom with their own bathroom! They were in heaven. And our house had been expanded to a whopping 1,662 square feet!

My parents lived in that house happily for 34 years. It served us well and none of us ever realized how small it was until my parents moved into a bigger house. Now, when we drive by the old place, we say, “How did all of us fit in there?”

But it sure was cozy and is still the place of many grand memories. I suppose the modest size of the house forced us to live together — particularly during holiday gatherings in which people were cheerfully piled atop people.

I think this is what more Americans are longing for these days. Sure, we want to add “great rooms” on the back and three or four full baths, but I still think the trend is positive and reflects America's desire to get back to the basics.

Cozier and saner is better than massive and wasteful, but that doesn't mean dads should have to wait hours to gain access to the shower.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. E-mail him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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