In one of my favorite cartoons, Linus mistakes the color of a crayon for the flavor of hot chocolate. What’s funny is that even after Lucy highlights the issue, he continues the same flawed logic.
It is the same with the current state of homebuilding, although less humorous. The disposition to favor size means we get nothing more. Houses are larger than they have ever been and continue to rise,1 but homeowners are not satisfied with the results. Derisive and cautionary terms describe the effect: starter estate, cookie cutter, McMansion, downsizing, and empty nest. These wouldn’t be descriptive unless it was agreed that size is a poor substitute for quality.
We can imagine the perfect home for raising a family, for a retreat, or for retirement that doesn’t require it to be large at all. There is a strong nostalgia created in memories of a vacation cottage, a bed and breakfast, a mountain cabin, or the intimate restaurant booth we shared with a loved one. So why not allow these to be the ideal for a home instead?
In basic economic principles, we have exchanged all of quality, beauty, warmth, and usefulness for square footage. A simple formula expresses this equation and highlights both the problem and the solution:
Quantity x Quality = Cost
For the same price, one factor increases as the other decreases. If we want better homes we’ll have to abandon the current flawed logic. We must deflate house size and trade it for homes with character, warmer spaces, and improved energy efficiency – worthy to pass down to the next generation.
The fix is easy. By relaxing our expectations for stretched home sizes, we can design them to be better. Meaningful architecture is filled with sunlight and is comfortable year round. It has natural finishes, fewer repairs, and is built with craftsmanship and quality detailing. A house can be arranged on the site specifically to welcome the sun in winter and shield it in the summer. It can take advantage of views and create useful outdoor spaces expressive of the lifestyle it serves.
More is not better. Better is better.
- Median and Average Square Feet of Floor Area in New Single-Family Houses Completed by Location, accessed at http://www.census.gov/construction/chars/pdf/medavgsqft.pdf, United States Census Bureau, 2012.