Home is Where the McMansion Isn’t


Which sounds more fun?

1. Investing in real estate
2. Buying a house
3. Making a home

The McMansioning of America would indicate that many people have mistaken the first two tasks with the third. With all the pressure to expand and fill spaces with more and more stuff (each kid needs POUNDS Of toys), it’s easy to become enslaved to the assumption that each little person needs his or her own room, his or her very own well-organized shelving system.

Architect and unintended revolutionary, Sarah Susanka, has a beautiful series called the Not So Big House, which lays out beautifully the joys of smaller, and well-crafted spaces.

As my family and I try and recapture our gypsy spirits, our cottage hearts swell at the thought of making something homier, better suited, and smaller out of our housing dream. Less fortress, more neighborhood. Less driving, more walking.

I’ve always been enchanted by home, nesting, and finding a place that feels, smells of love. But I’ve often been so busy responding mindlessly to a sense of restlessness, I’ve mistaken adventure for home. Real estate investment for home.

When I hear others’ tales of house sprucing up, buying and selling and moving and recreating space, I’m often envious, but always always riveted.

Somewhere in my future is my home sweet cottage. Have you found yours? Your dream home?


21 Responses to “Home is Where the McMansion Isn’t”

  1. June 6, 2007 at 10:42 am

    I have indeed found that “Home” I grew up as a military brat quite literally all over the world. I never attended any school for more than 4 years and until this home never had one address for more than 3 years.
    4 years ago my wife and I set out to make the best of a bad situation. We are bound to the small Central New York city we live in. My daughter, from a previous relationship, lives here with her mother and per my agreement with my daughter I will live no more than 10 minutes from her.

    This town is depressing. Its basically an industrial city on the NYS canal system, that used to be a big deal, when canals were a big deal, and has seen most of its major employers pull up stakes and split town in the last 20 years. Real estate is VERY cheap here, and you can buy alot of house for next to nothing. We found our dream home in the middle of this God forsaken place. It truly is an oasis in a blighted “Hasbeentown”

    The house is almost 200 years old, and as such is a constant work in progress. It’s massive, 5 bedrooms, 3.5 bath, full size 1 bedroom in-law apartment, 2 car garage, on a MASSIVE fenced corner lot. It’s like a fortress from the outside, and like a park on the inside. The yard is what sold the place. Its sheer size, 8ft fence, and grand history as a garden showplace made it irresistible to us. I told my wife before we even went inside that unless the place was literally falling down we were buying it. It wasn’t and we did. The rebirthing of the gardens has been a huge joy for me and everyone is anticipating the addition of a modest above ground pool next summer. My mother was able to come and occupy the in-law apartment and the house while always a challenge feels like home. We love it. We just wish it was in a different part of the country. We’ll be here for a long time. Forever? Hmmm…you never can tell….though every winter we dream of fleeing south. 8ft of fence holds up 8ft of snow just about every year..but home is home.

  2. June 6, 2007 at 10:54 am

    I totally agree with your entry today and have been reading over the past year or so about the countermovement towards smaller spaces. My brother has a “McMansion” and everyone else in our family has commented on how “chilly” it seems.

    I had to laugh though when I saw the “Not So Big House” beautiful featured showhouse on Sarah’s site. It’s lovely. It’s also 2660 feet, has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, an office, a 500 foot gazebo and a 400 foot screened porch (on top of the square footage.)I guess compared to a McMansion it is smaller, but come on! Is that the best she could do to illustrate the smaller space idea?

    Anyway, I’ve been struck by how you have always managed to create a cozy, beautiful space, no matter where you are, whether in a dorm room, a little apartment, or a house, and I’m confident you’ll reach your home nirvana as soon as you put your mind to it!

  3. June 6, 2007 at 10:56 am

    What a terrific post. I’m so glad there are others talking about this. I’ve been battling the frustration with “stuff” lately.

    I hope this starts a bigger conversation.

  4. June 6, 2007 at 11:25 am

    My dream home? Nope, haven’t found it yet. I am fortunate enough to live in an amazing home – one that many people would dream of, sort of a Mini McMansion. It’s old, it has character, big trees, amazing neighborhood. So why isn’t it my dream home?

    It’s too damn big for me. And it’s really not even “that” big. Sometimes I feel a slave to the home. There’s always cleaning and upkeep (it’s almost 100 years old), and I can’t help but wish for something smaller, cozier, easier to clean so I can spend my time living life!!!

  5. June 6, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    ohhhh not yet but I so hope to.

  6. June 6, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    we are just starting to think about buying our first home, and maybe it’s a blessing that real estate is so expensive here that it will be less than 1,000 sq feet.

  7. June 6, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    I love our house. It’s in an older neighborhood. Lots of big trees. Built in 1955, which makes it one of the “newest” ones. Most of the houses here popped up in the early 1900s.

    All hardwood floors. Turquoise kitchen. Brilliant turquoise. (I kid you not. It came that way and it grew on me, so I’ve left it alone.)

    We don’t have enough room, I know. But it’s “us.” And it has character. So I will resist moving for the next several years, even though Hubs longs for a place “out in the country.”

  8. June 6, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    It’s so nice to read something sensible about real estate for a change. I am a Realtor and used to be more into the home thing and now I have clients wanting these horrible huge houses with no souls.

    I just met with a lady in a 40-year-old house she’s lived in since it was built. It is tiny, but so cute and so homey; retro stuff from the 60’s with absolutely no irony because it’s original stuff. Everything in its place and well loved. It just kills me to see cookie-cutter McMansions when there are all these great little funky houses everywhere that are HOMES.

  9. June 7, 2007 at 6:34 am

    We just moved, about three weeks ago, and I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say this is my dream home, but it’s The One for now. Even though our move was a nightmare and we are up to our eyeballs in home repairs and boxes to unpack, we’re ridiculously happy with our home and our yard. So it’s pretty close to our dream home.

  10. June 7, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Am downsizing now sister…to a little cottage in Tacoma and am LOVING IT!!!! Going from 3000 square feet to 1400. Purging purging purging.

    ON a totally and COMPLETELY different topic. YOU MUST HEAD TO THE CROCODILE CAFE this Saturday night sistah!!! My friends band THE WRENS are playing and they rock…of course cuz they are from Jersey…and they are playing at The Crocodile Cafe. PLUS…we could meet and have DRINKS!!!!!!

  11. June 7, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    A great floorplan makes all the difference, regardless of the square-footage. And no, despite my square-footage, I am not living in my dream home – the kitchen (the heart of the family) is way too small. I want a big, but cozy, kitchen where all can gather and stay for a snack or a glass of wine, or both! Some day . . .

  12. June 8, 2007 at 12:22 am

    I’m going through that with neighbors and friends. They’re all leaving their current houses, to get bigger houses (upwards of 3000 square feet and up) – and some are nearly empty nesters.
    It’s bizzare to me.

    There’s just something in our culture, I think it’s TV – that’s telling people –Bigger, Bigger, bigger; more, more, more.

    What kind of stuff are we teaching kids?

  13. June 8, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Our house is 1800 sq ft, and I often feel that it is much too large for the 5 of us. We could do better. But we love it’s history and it’s charm and are having restoring it. I still look forward to building our little strawbale cttage in the country though…

  14. June 8, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    I love my house. It is 67 years old and a quirky pain. Every contractor we’ve ever had comments on how plain old weird our house is. But it’s darling with neat little features that you can’t find in newer houses. Plus, we are within walking distance of shops and restaurants and (soon) a movie theatre. I never ever plan to move.

    Plus, a larger house equals more cleaning.

  15. June 9, 2007 at 11:58 am

    I love Susan Susanka’s book and I love my home. It’s not actually my dream house, (it’s lacking a fireplace, and a screen-in-porch) but at 934 square feet it’s perfect for us for now.

    I find the idea of McMansions kind of creepy, excessive in the way that Hummers are excessive.

  16. June 9, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    I grew up in a small home and I am most comfortable in a small house.

    I love all 1520 square feet I call my own. Mostly because it is situated on a great property and mostly because my house is filled with my husband and my kids.

    Great post!

  17. June 9, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    This is such a great reminder for me. I am constantly wanting to claim our basement(we rent it out) to expand and spread out (which may happen someday) when I see other friends who have a bigger home. I constantly need reminding that our space is enough and there are so many things we can do to make it feel comfy and cozy and pretty. On the top of my list is that we LIVE in it…really live in it and not worry so much about it being perfect,but just making it ours.

  18. June 16, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    We made our dream home. It’s just your average house, but, a couple of knocked down walls here and there can sure make a difference!

    Oh, and turning the formal dining oom into a playroom helps too!

  19. June 21, 2007 at 4:56 am

    With only the three of us, our house, @ about 1900 sq. ft., is plenty big. The only things I would really LOVE to have is a bathroom of my own (so I wouldn’t have to share it with hair-care products) and larger kitchen counters (although the ones I hase would suffice.

  20. June 26, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Just wanted to thank you for promoting Susanka’s Not So Big House movement. We just built a house and used a lot of her principles when designing the lay out. The process resulted in a tidy house with room for everyone, but not every thing. I love being home, even though it’s new and I was moving out of an 1892 Victorian-style cottage.

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