Letter From the Editor

Small Home Gazette, Spring 2009

Letter From the Editor: can smaller still be livable?

A recent newspaper article made me wonder if I’d unknowingly slipped into an alternate universe, the kind you see on TV where everything seems normal at first, but then people start to do and say weird things.

The article, which ran in the St. Paul paper in February, was titled, “Can Smaller Still Be Livable?” It featured interviews with suburban dwellers and new home developers.

“Why would you want a grand, huge house?” a new homeowner was quoted saying. “What would you do with all that wasted space?” he added. This guy and his family had the chance to buy a foreclosed McMansion for cheap, but instead paid $80,000 more for a smaller but better designed house.

And how about this from a member of the National Association of Home Builders: “For years, we just thought bigger was better.” Huh?

A high-end custom home developer explained, “I live in a McMansion, and the only room in the house I don’t use is the great room with the 18-foot ceiling.” He added, “My customers want 8-foot ceilings. They say it feels comfortable and cozy.”

My jaw dropped. But there was more. A spokeswoman for the Parade of Homes, that annual tour of bloated blandness, explained that the classic McMansion contained wasted space, and that single-purpose rooms were redundant.

By this time I was checking the sky for hovering saucers. Had the pod people arrived? Maybe a variation on the The Stepford Wives was unfolding in Eagan!

Okay, enough of the cheap shot sci-fi references. The fact is, these individuals were articulating the precise ideals that the Twin Cities Bungalow Club has been pushing for years, while suburban home buyers were pushing the average American house size ever upward. Of course, we haven’t been the only voice in the wilderness. There have been others with far greater influence, such as Sara Susanka and her “The Not So Big House” books.

But the Bungalow Club was there, too. The spring 1996 issue of this newsletter contained this sentence, written by Bungalow Club founder Kristi Johnson: “Sometimes I think homeowners fall into two camps: those who look to the spring “Parade of Homes” publication for their housing thrills and those who anxiously await the next issue of Old House Journal.

And this from the winter 1998 issue, written by yours truly: “Compared to the bloated proportions of today’s real estate, the houses of yesteryear are laughably undersized. But when I step into my bungalow, it feels just right. Practical. Comfortable. Manageable.”

The epiphanies suburbanites and developers are now experiencing are likely prompted by the housing crisis, not this humble newsletter. But it doesn’t matter. It’s nice to see that the rest of the world is waking up to truths we bungalow dwellers have known all along.