In Praise of Small Houses

With the shift towards saving vs. spending that our economic times has inspired in so many people, one can only hope that the real estate and building markets will seize the day and begin promoting smaller scaled homes. The benefits are many. Less energy use, and thus smaller bills, and lighter mortgages are only a few of the perks. From a designer's perspective, the intimate scale of the modest home lends itself to more complex decorative work.
For the homeowner with a larger budget, fewer square feet translates into dollars that are better spent on custom details such as non-standard moldings and finely crafted cabinetry. And for the nester who has a more confined budget, but still values quality, the more tailored the size of the home to the functions of good living, the more funds can be allocated to finer furniture and appointments. Often in the last decade, houses with a grand footprint have been tricked out shoddily in over-shopped furnishings. This greed for excess has lead to a consumer base that wants the lowest price possible to purchase the maximum amount of things. Not only has this impacted the world of craftsmen and stateside suppliers, it has taken design into a more overtly homogenized direction. For a large corporation to sell the greatest number of sofas, for instance, the design must have the fewest stylistic objections to the masses, so the characteristics become more bland.
This design consultant lives in under a thousand square feet and has tried with mixed results, numerous times, to lend a sense of character and warmth to homes as much as ten times that size. When it has been possible it has been through a host of ploys: texture and tone to draw down the ceilings, layers of textile in front of over-scaled windows to lend grace or alterations in the proportion of openings to create more anticipation of the next space. When all is said and done, very often the client has wound the process to a close long before the desired level of interest has been accomplished.
When the Victorian barons of industry began building their American castles, they employed hundreds of craftspeople. Even when the results were ostentatious, the rooms felt rich and interesting aesthetically. Rarely does one see such commitment to detail in the modern home, but if one were to narrow the scope to something workable and honest, than with thought and time, one could accomplish a personal masterpiece. It ought to be a point of pride for thinking people of large social ethics and normal-sized egos to live in only the space they need for a comfortable existence, be it simple or grand in its appointments.


  1. there is so much that can be said about this post. It is well written first of all. I can certainly appreciate the way it weaves sociology, ethics, architecture, and sustainability together. Much can be said about the "Ethics of Sustainability" in general. There's an interesting article on the subject that you may find interesting at


  2. Good post Paul.

    "It ought to be a point of pride for thinking people of large social ethics and normal-sized egos to live in only the space they need for a comfortable existence, be it simple or grand in its appointments." I agree. Personally, my ideal house would be just enough space, but very large windows. :)

  3. @Carlton: Thanks for the kind words. I took a look at your philms the other night and really liked what I saw. I'll take a look at the link you put up.
    @Lesley: I hear what you're saying. Windows add visual depth to a space, and they make home feel light and simple - especially if you have a way to create privacy after dark to avoid the fish bowl feeling.
    Thanks for reading!

  4. We are about to decorate our sitting-room. The majority of our home is a mish-mash of styles but I particularly love Georgian interiors, so we've decided to do that one room in this style the best we can, given that our decorating budget isn't huge! Can you advise me Paul? Would you do a post on this subject? I'm fancying duck egg blue. :)

  5. I've been thinking of doing a post on the theme of creating a period sensibility without having to collect all the requisite [and expensive at auction] pieces. I'll work on that over the next few days. Thanks, Lesley.

  6. Thanks Paul. I'll look forward to that.