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Shrinking the American dream house

New trend fights against bigger is better mentality

Published: Monday, Nov. 28 2011 8:16 p.m. MST

Then the housing bubble burst.

The latest 2010 figures have dropped slightly to 2,392, but that is still 892 square feet bigger than three decades ago.

Those extra square feet aren't cheap. One down-and-dirty way to see the cost is to simply multiply the 2010 average cost per square foot, $84.07, by house size. A 2010 home comes in at about $201 thousand. A 1971-sized home is about $132 thousand.

There are a lot more factors involved in home prices -- but the point is smaller homes can be less expensive -- a lot less expensive. And if Susanka is right, they can also feel larger and have a higher quality than more bloated domiciles.

SMALL IS THE NEW BIG

Susanka's clients used to come to her with photographs from home design magazines and tell her they had $200 thousand for a 3,000 square foot home. "And I'd have to be the bearer of bad tidings that with those pictures and that square footage they couldn't make that budget," she says with a laugh.

She would then show them how to get the quality they wanted by eliminating things they rarely used -- like the formal dining room and formal living room and a large three-story foyer. "I'd show them how to reapportion those dollars saved into the quality and character that make 'house' feel like home," she says. "That was the basic notion behind 'The Not So Big House.' Let's build less square footage but make it feel like more. ... I'm not trying to shoehorn people into tiny houses, I'm trying to get them to use their money more effectively."

And small is how a lot of people live anyway.

LIVING IN THE BIG HOUSE

"Most people have a third of their square footage that they never see, never walk through, and never really feel. They may have a 2,500 square foot house, but they are only experiencing on a daily basis maybe 1,600 square feet," Susanka says.

The key is to think of how you live. Closets used to be small because people had fewer clothes, for example. As times change, so does the way people use their homes. Usually, according to Susanka, when people add a function, they add a room to a house. On some higher-end homes this meant even adding a gift-wrapping room.

But in a tighter economy, Susanka encourages people to cut out the rooms they don't need, and create rooms that can serve dual purposes -- like a library alcove that can be used for formal dining, if the need arises, by taking the kitchen table into the room.

In older homes people end up living in their small utility-like kitchen areas -- regardless of how big the other rooms of house are. "They have the experience of living in a very cramped way," Susanka says. "People can live in quite big houses and have the experience of not having enough space. ... You don't need a lot of square footage to feel bigger. It's how you shape the space and how you connect views that makes a place feel bigger or smaller. And that is something most people are oblivious to -- they just look at the square footage of the house."

It is a matter of looking at how you really live, looking at the space you need and looking at your budget.

"Happiness is very much tied to how our house reflects us," Susanka says. "The type of space you live in shapes you immensely."

And in today's economy, smaller can make your life and your wallet seem bigger.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: www.twitter.com/degroote @degroote

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