Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I read an article recently discussing the increase in the average size of modern houses. Although families are smaller now than 50 years ago, our homes are significantly larger. Fewer people, more square footage.

My husband designs high-end houses. Beautiful houses, I might add. We are often amazed at the amount of space people think is necessary for their families. Mom and Dad need a master suite that includes: a spacious bedroom; huge walk-in closets; a bathroom with a jacuzzi, sauna, his and her showers and vanities; a kitchenette; and an exercise room. Little Johnny needs a spacious bedroom to himself, a walk-in closet, and a private bath. So does Little Susie. Play room for the kids. Eat-in kitchen. Breakfast room. Formal dining room. Butler's pantry. Family room/den. Living room. Powder room. Library. Office. Media room. Guest bedroom and bathroom. Utility room...Honestly, how can a family of four live comfortably in less than 8000 square feet?

Okay, maybe that seems a little over the top. Most of us aren't so extravagant, are we? How about another extreme. My mother-in-law has helped build several houses for the poorest-of-the-poor in Mexico. Big, extravagant houses with working windows and both a front and a back door, solid cinderblock walls and a metal roof that doesn't leak. How can a family of four possibly use all the space in a 400-square-foot house?!

We visited Plymouth Plantation many years ago, and I was amazed to learn that a family of six lived in a house smaller than my living room. I asked the living historian "mother" how they managed in such a small space. "Oh, we spend a lot of time out-of-doors," she answered. "We have a lot of work to do, and everyone has to help out. The house is where we gather to eat meals and to sleep - we don't loiter here." The Pilgrim family - parents and kids - worked together, and when they came inside, they ate and slept together.

Home is where we begin to learn the art of being human, of being human in the company of other humans. Something tells me that a cabin in Plymouth or a cinder-block casita in rural north Mexico would provide more opportunities to practice relating to our families than the McMansions cluttering suburban America. With our modern sophistication and insatiable desire for amenities and greater personal space, we have mastered "the house" - but what has happened, I wonder, to "the home"?


Anonymous said...

Back in the day if you had a HUGE house it was filled with servants, so you could still get some basic human interaction. McMansions are just empty space. I wonder if this is due to the fact that we think servants are somehow unethical, or if this is a case of the upper middle class getting ahead of themselves and buying a huge house without being able to afford servants-an empty status symbol. Of course, many of these McMansions find themselves in the same size lot as a smaller house, in the same suburb. I rarely see a huge estate unless the owner happens to be a country music star. I think I would rather have a small house and lots of land than a bunch of big houses crammed next to each other...

Suzanne said...

Big versus small.
4 toilets to clean versus 2 toilets to clean.

And the winner is small!!!

Niki said...

I worked as a nanny for a family with a 8,000 sq ft house. It was way too much! Of course they had someone come in and clean the many toilets every week so they didn't have to. I still don't think I'd want a house that big - too easy to lose touch with the people in it.