A few months ago, I posed a question to blog readers: What Does One Put In a 10,000 Square Foot House? Some people pointed me over to Sarah Susanka’s works (The Not So Big House series), which I found fascinating. I interviewed Susanka, and will have some insights from her in The Money Book (the title is in flux again. I’m starting to think it might be published without a title).
Susanka’s key message is that square footage, by itself, is not particularly desirable. Given that the majority of us have to make financial trade offs, we may enjoy our homes more if we take money that would have gone toward square footage, and put it toward design details. And even people who do have higher budgets enjoy their homes most when there is an every day use for space.
Certainly, with 4 of us living in a 1500 square foot apartment in New York City, I can attest that we have had an every day use for space. Indeed, we use every room in this home every day. We’re close to using every square foot! But we are rapidly outgrowing it. There’s no space to make cookies with the kids at the kitchen counter. Their toys take over the whole apartment, because there’s no kid-centric spot for playing. We definitely couldn’t fit any more kids in here. It’s hard to create any space between “work” and “life” when I can see my desk from my bed. In our case, the usual problem of moving out of the city — adding a large commute — doesn’t really apply. Indeed, since Michael usually works closer to Philly, by moving closer to there, we’d be coming out ahead on the travel front.
So we wound up closing on Friday on a house in the Philly suburbs. A not-so-small house. It’s not 10,000 square feet. But if one were rounding to a 10,000 square foot level, it would round to that, and not down to zero.
We shall see how this goes. I’m a bit apprehensive about moving out of the city this summer, having lived here so long. I’m not used to a world built for cars. Our house is within walking distance of Jasper’s new preschool, a supermarket, the library, etc., but I’m not sure how many people walk. I’m also a bit apprehensive about living in a lot more square footage. When we spent the night there on Friday, I soon learned about remembering to take things with you, lest you have to go up and down the stairs multiple times. In 1500 square feet, if you forget something, you just go retrieve it.
But I’m also very excited, and I’m being cognizant of what makes houses livable. Our house actually has many fascinating architectural details (different levels of flooring, and different levels of ceilings in places, a few window reading nooks, some very usable outdoor living space). And with Susanka’s words about every day uses for space in my head, we’ve figured out ways to make that true for most of the house. The study — unused in many larger houses — will be my 50-hours-a-week office. The formal living room adjoining it will be a library. I am very excited about having a cozy reading space! The guest bedroom will double as my husband’s office. The boys’ bedrooms connect via their shared bathroom, which will hopefully help them keep some of the same closeness and communal living style that they currently have sharing a bedroom.
I guess the one worry is whether we will all retreat to our separate spaces. Our tight quarters currently ensure that we’re always on top of each other. I guess a drifting away could happen over time. But right now, with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old, they often want to occupy the same square foot I’m in, whether we’re in 1500 square feet or 6000. So that’s probably a worry for later down the road.