Bigger is Better? Not!

A small row home style in Philadelphia called a trinity.

A small row home style in Philadelphia called a trinity.

Although some row houses are quite large, usually called townhouses, most are modest. At one point, I’m sure the urban row house was considered a starter home, something transitional, something for a couple without kids and certainly nothing you’d want to live in for very long. The dream goal was to move to the suburbs and have ten walk-in closets and acres of lawn to mow for hours on end. Yeah, that’s successful living, big, bigger and enormous. Perhaps this need for big is compensating for the fear that maybe you’ll have to make decisions in your life? Why choose one sofa out of three, when you can have them all. I have relatives who have such a big house that you could fit two of my row house, intact, inside. It’s gotten out of control.

Well, times they are a changin’. From the beginning, RowHouse Magazine has promoted small living as a way to be environmentally and economically responsible. We’ve tried to show how it can be totally liberating having a reasonable space, trimming down your wardrobe, and purging excess possesions. We’ve told you that if you don’t spend money on “stuff” you can visit neat places like Amsterdam or Great Yarmouth and see nice row houses in other cities. Well, maybe you’d go for other reasons too like the seashore and art museums. We’ve tried to tell you how happy you’ll be when the budget gets a little tight and you realize you have a little stashed away because you didn’t buy that extra shirt or sofa.

Up to now, I thought maybe we were just crazy — promoting a lifestyle that will never catch on but then I read something fabulous on CNNMoney.com. Some developers are getting smart. They are accepting that no one is going to buy these hulking McMansions anymore. Instead, they are building cottages — small cottages at about 1,800 feet and, even in this tumultuous market, the little cottages are selling like hot cakes. Imagine that! People are going small. The article, “The incredible shrinking house,” (May 9, 2008) can be read at http://money.cnn.com/2008/05/02/real_estate/gandel_your_next_house.

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Many people can’t afford the houses they’re in. Buyers are looking to downsize. It’s frightening at first but then people realize they don’t even use many of the rooms in their house. It’s prompting a movement in favor of smaller homes.

As if there needed to be another reason beside better managability, smaller homes are a great investment, even in these times. CNNMoney says, “A recent study by online house-pricing service Zillow.com found that less expensive houses appreciate more than costlier and presumably larger homes.”

The nice thing about small houses is that they can put more of them together. A recent article in Cottage Living called “A Cottage Neighborhood in the Scale of Life,” (http://www.cottageliving.com/cottage/travel/article/0,21135,1734016,00.html) discussed little neighborhoods of cottages that are being developed around courtyards. This inside facing arrangement promotes neighborly behavior since you have to walk by your neighbor’s house to get to your own, having to park around the parimeter of the development. It used to be that a man’s home was his castle but maybe being isolated in a castle isn’t as much fun as previously thought. Aside from a few reclusive types, most people find it’s more emotionally healthy and rewarding to have a close community.

Building smaller homes is more sustainable since you need less materials. Instead, the developers put more attention into the details, like architectural mouldings and high quality finishes and materials. Developers find it’s easier to use, sometimes more expensive, environmentally responsible products because you need less of them for your project.

It’s great to hear that cottages and small homes are making a comeback. How does this translate to row houses? Quite a few people are trading in their big suburan homes for smaller row houses in the city. They’ve missed the community and the close proximity to everything. Needing less is attractive when you can’t afford more and with everything urban living has to offer, you won’t even miss that extra sofa.

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