What does one put in a 10,000 square foot house?

So I live in New York City, which in general means living in relatively small amounts of space. Kids share bedrooms and bathrooms, and no one thinks it’s weird. We occasionally look at stuff and say “that’s something we’d buy if we had a big suburban house,” but the only thing I think we’re really missing is a guest bedroom (my mother-in-law, who is a very good sport, recently spent about a week sleeping on an air mattress which would inevitably be deflated by 4AM). And a closet in the master bedroom, which is a kind of a long story, but is one of the reasons we will likely move in July.

Where to? Probably a house somewhere outside the city. Which means we will have more space. I guess that means we can spread out, but one of the things I like about having 4 people in 1500 square feet is that we interact with each other. The kids don’t have the option of shutting themselves in their rooms. When we watch TV (which we usually don’t) choices must be debated, because there’s only one place to watch TV. I read an NPR report recently about mega-houses, which mentioned some being built with 3 playrooms for 2 children. Because heaven forbid you ever have to share your toys…. Though it’s actually an interesting article — the homeowner profiled at the beginning notes that his wife grew up in the projects in New Haven, and it’s really an American Dream to be able to afford an 11,000 square foot house. Which is true. But…

That article got me wondering: what do you put in a 10,000 square foot mansion? Most houses don’t advertise more than 5-6 bedrooms, so the builders have to get creative. I went over to DreamHomeSource.com, and found different plans in the 10,000 sq ft plus category, like this one, which has a separate study, office, library, video library and computer loft (all things I manage to incorporate into one half of my bedroom!) or this one, whose basement has a separate billiards room, game room and rec room.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the return to smaller houses. This is typical of the way media coverage works, in that whenever a huge trend (toward bigger houses — we’ve gone from 1000 square feet in 1950 to just shy of 2500 now) reverses slightly, we like to make a big deal about it. But I find it hard to believe that a 10,000 square foot house would make a person twice as happy as a 5000 square foot house. And given that social ties are one of the things that make people happiest, if a house succeeds in cutting family members off from each other, then it would actually have a negative effect. What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “What does one put in a 10,000 square foot house?

  1. I second the recommendation for Sarah Susanka — she’s really awesome.

    I read an article on Candace Spelling once that said she had a separate room dedicated to giftwrapping. To giftwrapping! Stores don’t have separate rooms dedicated to gift wrapping.

    I can’t even imagine how I’d fill 10,000 square feet. It might have to involve horses.

    1. @Julie – maybe that’s the secret. Horses. Actually, I think a number of the houses that have, say, 20,000 square feet have things like basketball courts or hockey rinks, so that’s not exactly living space. And I heard a rumor that Bill Gates’ 40,000 square foot house is mostly for entertaining, and features a 5,000 square foot family living space inside it, which actually functions as their house. But yes, I’ve managed to wrap my presents on the bed quite well.

  2. I’d like to turn my garage into a home office for my business — garage door into big window with a seat — a fireplace.. possibly turn the garage into a rental unit if our business got big enough to have its own separate office or my kids got big enough that I wanted to work outside the home etc.

    I also would like to create a home gym either in my current office — either in the large closet or storage area in the garage.

    I live in NJ — do you know of any folks who could help me do this not too expensively in my area?

    Don’t you think garages are kind of pointless these days?

    I also have a few areas that are legally not closets but could be closets — or offices god help us — and I’d love to have someone help me with those, for example the area where the utility box is if a safe something were put around it could also have some shelving etc. or a mini closet… any thoughts on this or know of anyone in NJ who does this kind of thing? I emailed this woman you mention here to see what she recommends… decluttering is a big part of this, increases happiness and if you get rid of clutter say a home office can double as a gym

  3. We are 100% happy in our 1,400 square foot home. It helps that it’s 4 little levels and has a lot of storage (attic and basement). There are families with the same exact home raising 4 kids in my neighborhood. It can be done. We always make fun of friends/family that have McMansions because we know you can be very happy in 1,400 sq ft if it’s designed well.

    1. @Leah: I think that is the key- design. Some small houses feel claustrophobic and dark. But a well-designed space would not be. Our 1500 square foot apartment is quite well designed and aside from the closet issue is lovely.

  4. a few years ago my husband and I were considering a move upstate, as many of his friends in his company had relocated, and the company was providing an incentive. The big ‘draw’ from people who had made the move was the giant size house you could get for what we were paying on Long Island for a smaller house. I wasn’t convinced. Many of the houses had giant hallways, second floor balconies overlooking the front door etc. Much of this space wasn’t technically living space, but it was definitely area that had to be cleaned and maintained. Another big ‘attraction’ was the high number of bathrooms. The 4 of us do fine in the 1 1/2 we have. Although I’d like there to be less kiddie toothpaste in my bathroom sink, I like that we have to work together and figure out schedules. It’s a life skill.
    I am a fan of Susanka’s books too. When I return to work we have plans to make our house a better house, one that suits our current needs, rather than a bigger house.

    A 10,000 sq ft house—no way I’d want one.

    1. @Denise- yes, I cannot even imagine cleaning all that space. It would be ironic to spend all that money on a 10,000 square foot home and then not have the money to hire help cleaning it! The calculation I do for people is that spending $200 less per month on your mortgage buys you a 2x a month cleaning service (figuring you pay about $80 for the service, given that there’s the interest tax deduction). I imagine that for many of us, the extra space you’d get for the $200 would not buy as much happiness as saving 8-10 hours of scrubbing.

  5. @Cara: I don’t mean to sound like a jerk when I say this, but I find the statement “Don’t you think garages are kind of pointless these days?” very puzzling. Maybe it is a regional thing, but in the midwest, we park our CARS in our garages. They are quite essential. Besides the cars, we use them to store lawn mowers, snow blowers, gardening supplies, outdoor furniture, strollers, bikes, skis, tools, and on and on. The floors are usually concrete — possibly cracked and/or oily. Mice may live there. The temperature is the same as outside minus the wind. I mean there’s no way you’d want to either lounge or live there. But you love having one — for all the reasons I mentioned above.

  6. @Hydrangea–my Long Island garage is chock full of all the same stuff too, including the occasional mouse family in the winter. We are actually the only neighbors who do park our car in there though, which is odd b/c we are the only ones with young kids and all their toys in there too. (maybe we are better at throwing out clutter)

    1. @Denise and @Hydrangea: I think it is partly a regional thing – some areas are temperate enough that there’s no reason to put a car inside. Plus lots of people don’t keep their cars that long (probably an issue in its own right). And yes, lots of people turn their garages into storage space. Indeed, it’s a classic set-up on Clean Sweep or other such shows that people can’t even park their cars in their garages because there’s too much stuff in there…

  7. @Cara

    Given that you live in NJ (my former home state), I was surprised that you thought a garage to be pointless … unless you don’t own a car.

    If you do own a car, a garage is a great place to keep your car out of the elements, especially in the winter when clearing a few inches (or more) of freshly fallen snow can add a time-consuming and uncomfortable task to one’s morning.

    In Maine sensible people attach their garages to their houses so that one can get in and out of the car in inclement weather (e.g. rain) a lot more easily. Attached garages also make terrific adjunct coolers in the winter, which comes in very handy for cooling a large pot of chicken stock or when we have a house full of visitors (usually from NJ) and need to organize refrigerated food a little differently.

  8. @ Laura

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment about not wanting to cut family members off from each other. Making a priority of providing a place for regular guests (like your mother-in-law) reflects your belief that there is a strong connection between happiness and being with those you love, and your new home (either newly constructed or newly renovated) will no doubt be designed to enhance togetherness while providing each person with a nook into which one can crawl for the inevitable times when one wants to be alone, something people living in a tiny apartment in NYC generally is challenged to find.

    My husband and I live in a very large house. It’s a 1795 Federal attached to a 1775 single room house (the latter is now the kitchen) and has four bedrooms (one of which is an office and the other two of which are guest rooms), a library, a living room, dining room, two and a half baths, a full basement, and two full attics (one over the kitchen and one over the Federal). There is also an attached two-car garage and a two-story apple shed dating from when the property was an apple farm.

    We originally bought it because we love old houses and fell head over heels in love with this one. It has a mural throughout the upstairs and downstairs hallway, six fireplaces, and charm out the whazoo.

    It also has three-zone heating (radiators) and each room has a door so we never have to heat any more of the place than absolutely necessary. We use far less oil in the winter than friends of ours with smaller houses, and that’s because of the zones and the doors.

    It’s nice to have as much room as we do for guests because we do get a lot of visitors and sometimes they arrive in packs (e.g. our cousins in Canada). We love being able to put everyone up under one roof (including the sofabed in the library, two Aero beds, and two very comfortable sofas), and when they leave we just re-make the beds, turn off the radiators, and close the doors.

    Some people think it’s peculiar and wasteful for two people to live in such a big place. Our thinking is that it’s more wasteful to build a new house than to re-use an already existing one, and we have worked hard to make it more economical and frugal by doing things like replacing the ancient furnace with a highly efficient model, converting lawn into garden (e.g. herb and vegetable), and improving the insulation.

    We live in constant awareness that many others have lived here before us, and whatever we do here is done with the hope that we are being good stewards and will be able to hand it off in good order to the next people fortunate to live here.

    Good luck finding a place well-tailored for the many uses to which you’ll put your new home!

  9. Add me to the people wondering what’s so pointless about garages. Even if you don’t have a car, they function beautifully as an outdoor storage shed and, in nicer weather, a workshop or even an extra room if they are cleaned up and used for that purpose?

    1. @Elizabeth – I work at home, so nope, I’ll have no commute. Viewed in that light, living in NYC is kind of ridiculous, as we don’t need to be here (my husband usually works outside the city). And his commute would be shorter. And the taxes are crazy, as are housing prices. On the other hand, it’s a fascinating town, but I guess I can now say I’ve lived here for a while, so maybe I’ve had my fix.

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