Musings On A Not-So-Small House

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.

11 thoughts on “Musings On A Not-So-Small House

  1. Congratulations on your new house! We recently moved to the East Falls section of Philly in a single home, after looking at many houses in the surrounding area. I think you’ll find that there will always be a central gathering place in a house of any size and it is usually the kitchen. It may seem overwhelming now, but I’ve noticed that if each person has a room or space of their own, it can lead to a more harmonious home, especially as children get older. Also, it may lend itself to cutting down clutter, which can be a time drain to clean, since everything will have its own designated place. Many blessings for your home – and welcome to the area!

  2. Congratulations!
    I love the Not So Big House philosophy; it’s driving our house search in IL. We don’t want a big, rambling house. We want details and a good use of space and to not be house poor.
    Oh, and to sell the CO home, so we can actually move forward. 😉

  3. Thanks guys! Yes, the plethora of storage space is a big perk. We have no storage space right now, and it’s just hard to keep the clutter under control, no matter how ruthless I get about purging. And given that my boys are only 2 years apart, some of the stuff you don’t want to get rid of, because the little one will soon use it!

  4. Congrats on the new house! Don’t get too good at remembering to take things with you — I had to unlearn that habit to boost my exercise when I wanted to lose weight!

  5. Welcome to the Philly burbs. I live about 15 minutes away from your new house. I enjoy your writing, but have always thought that with no car, no school aged kids, and no large house to run, your life was very different from mine and therefore some of your assumptions and conclusions were different from mine. I will look forward to reading about your experiences as you make this big transition. And don’t worry. NYC is always an easy trip away!

  6. Congratulations! My husband and I once lived in a two-story, 1700-square-foot home, and we’ve long since decided that that was definitely way too big for two adults with no kids. We’re relatively frugal people to begin with, and all that extra space just ended up being…space. Plus, we liked being near each other, so more often than not we usually would just occupy one very small part of it.

    We’re now in a 600-square-foot, 1-bedroom apartment, and NOW we’ve decided that, yes, this is too SMALL for us, especially with my growing business and (most importantly!) the addition of two active (if small) dogs. We’re moving to a 1500-square-foot house with a backyard, but it’ll be a good size for us, with our dogs and the business. One of the things I detest the most about big homes is the upkeep, as I — like you — do not prioritize cleaning at all. (In that 1700 sq ft home, I vacuumed about once a year.) However, a 1500 sq ft, one-story home is probably more doable than a slightly larger, two-story one. And if not, there’s always a housecleaning service!

    Happy homemaking!


  7. Congrats on the new house, Laura! Don’t forget, since I think you are self-employed, that you can write off part of the costs of the housing as a business expense, since you have a home office! Great perk, and I hope the boys enjoy the house too!

  8. @Laura–congratulations. I agree with sarahsw and am interested in how your perspective will change on some issues.
    I also agree with Laticia, that you will have harmony, yet lots of togetherness too, as you will plan for it and make it a priority for your family and I can’t imagine that you would let any space go unused.
    When our kids were young, we found that keeping diaper changing supplies (and a spare set of clothes) in a pretty basket on the main floor saved a lot of time and energy. I also doubled up on scissors and toothbrushes/toothpaste for each floor.
    Yes, people still walk. I always walk to my library, and local stores as often as I can.

  9. I live in a house (much smaller, 3 bedrooms) but one of my favorite things about a house over an apartment is a separate freezer. Since the grocery store/restaurant is 3-5 mi away, keeping my own “store” of what we eat most saves lots of time. Even if you’re closer to the store, going for one item with a preschooler and a toddler isn’t fun.

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