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Moseyin’ Along

The Changing Look of Today’s Homes

March 12, 2015
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

The sprawling up-scale dwellings that line the boating canals here in southwest Florida are the stuff of those slick color photos in Architectural Digest.

Son Tim and I recently joined an evening cruise along these posh waterways to take in the scenes of magnificent homes and landscapes. Along the way, the tour boat captain gave a running account of the places we passed. .

As we neared one vast structure, he said, "This is the largest house in the area and has 6,900 square feet under roof. It also includes a three-car garage, three boat lifts, an indoor swimming pool, a game room and an exercise gym. And, by the way, it's the home of two people, a husband and wife."

You could almost hear an audible gasp as our boatload of regular folks sat stunned by such opulence.

Back in our humble home, curiosity sent me to the computer to see just how common this massive mansion was in today's inventory of houses.

I learned that the largest dwelling in the world is slightly larger than the one we just saw. It's Windsor Castle, the home of England's Royal Family. The cozy little place has 484,000 square feet, 1000 rooms and covering 13 acres.

But, I was surprised to learn there is a current trend away from the ever-larger dwellings that became popular in the 1970s. In recent years, an increasing number of homeowners have opted for mini-houses.

In fact, in 2012, Michael Bloomberg, then the Mayor of New York City, announced a competition for innovative micro apartment units to be built in Manhattan. These models would be smaller than current-zoning regulations would allow. The movement was an effort to create affordable homes for New York's growing small-household population.

He envisioned each unit would measure 275 to 300 square feet.

In making the announcement, Bloomberg said, "Developing housing that matches how New Yorkers live today is critical to the city's continued growth."

The New York City project is being echoed around the country. As one builder stated, "In the world of dwellings, downsizing space and resources makes sense."

One example of the trend is the home of artist/builder Jay Shafer. The 96 square foot structure is smaller than most bathrooms yet includes a stainless-steel kitchen, custom storage and a wood interior.

In LA, a company called Big and Small Houses by Anonymous Architects, is building homes for the crowded city. The models have a footprint of 20 square feet and sit atop 4 concrete stilts. This "frees up land beneath the house for other uses," the builders stress.

To give the feeling of more open space inside, the plan uses folding furniture and partitions instead of standard walls.

According to the company's literature, the mini-houses are one-half the size of the usual minimum for an LA home.

In Pennsylvania, another builder completed his 83 sq ft home for under $500. The shoestring budget was made possible by the use of salvaged and gift materials.

The structure, which sits on concrete blocks, frees up interior space by using an outhouse and outhouse shower.

I'll be the first to applaud the efforts to counteract society's excesses when it comes to housing. The average family certainly doesn't need a Windsor Castle to be comfortable. But giving up my favorite room, the bathroom, to save space? Not at this stage of my life!



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