A Shift to Smaller Houses

Many people are coming to realize that bigger homes aren’t necessarily better. Unfortunately, particularly in America, our conditioning is to think that a bigger house is synonymous with a better house: “My family is getting bigger, I need a bigger home,” or, “I just got a promotion so we can afford a bigger home now.”  To an extent, this is reasonable.  However, at some point, we crossed the line from moving to a bigger house for purely functional, comfort based reasons to reasons based on status.  Many people probably get big houses not for their ego, but because that is what is available. They aren’t aware of an alternative. 

However, there is an alternative. A home can be smaller and still be comfortable to live in.  Some smaller homes are actually more comfortable and more functional than large homes, simply because they make better use of space.  How many big houses have relatively unused grand living rooms, only to have the owners spend most of their time in the kitchen or smaller family room?


Smaller is Better

Small houses can be more functional than large houses.  They have little to no wasted space, provide comfort and beauty, and support the daily lifestyle of their owners.  Because they are smaller they cost less, so more money is available for quality materials and details, making the home even more of a joy to live in.

Small homes are greener, too.  They are less wasteful than large homes.  They have less area to heat and cool and less area to power and light.  They require less building materials and less energy to build.  They require less land and leave more of the lot open for outdoor functions like gardens, play areas,  trees and patios. 

Smaller can be better. If you want to take it to the extreme, consider micro homes.


How Much Space Do We Really Need?

When you are looking to build or buy a home, it makes sense to consider your lifestyle and get a home that supports it.  When people aren’t comfortable in their current home, it seems like the solution is often to add-on to it or move to a bigger home.  However, maybe getting the right home is more about function and beauty than square footage.  The average American lives in about 720 square feet of living space per person. In other high-income countries like The United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, it is closer to 375 square feet of living space per person.  This discrepancy is astounding.  Furthermore, it is unlikely that people in Germany or Japan have a lower quality of life because their homes are smaller.

Compare a small cottage built one hundred years ago with any of the big houses packing American suburbs today. The small cottage will easily have more soul and personality. It’s not necessarily age that makes the difference either, although that may be some of it.  The main difference is craftsmanship and making the most of what is available.  The little house must make use of every nook and cranny.  Old houses are known for beautiful woodwork and built-ins.  These houses have character and life, without the grandiose entry rooms and soaring ceilings found in many modern homes.


Small House Plan Considerations


Living Room

How big does a living room really need to be? A good, comfortable room length is between 12 and 18 feet.  If the room is too big, it feels empty and intimidating.  For everyday use, a small living room is more comfortable than a large one.  High ceiling living rooms made to impress don’t provide a feeling of shelter and comfort that smaller, cozier rooms do.  Additionally, large volume rooms have a lot of air that takes a lot of energy to heat and cool.



Bedrooms do not need a lot of extra space, just a bed,  a nightstand or two, dresser and maybe a small table.  An 11’x13’ bedroom has plenty of room for a queen-sized bed, two nightstands and a bureau or two.  Kids bedrooms need to house play space, but kids like small spaces, and kids rooms are one of the best places in a house to get creative with space.  Desks can go under loft beds, or small bed nooks take up little space to leave more play space even in a tight room.



Home office needs vary by the person.  If you work from home, you may want a room devoted to your office.  If you just need a place to pay bills, write letters, and have a family computer set up, then maybe a nook off the kitchen or living room would be better. 



Having a kitchen that is open to living and dining space is one good way to reduce home size.  Without its own room with four walls, a kitchen will feel bigger than it is. In addition, a utility room should be close to the kitchen and bathroom as possible to reduce time for water to heat up. It saves time waiting for hot water and it wastes less water.


Room Placement

In a small house, room placement becomes more critical because everyone is closer together.  Consider putting bedrooms together at one end of the house, with a closet between them and the living areas like the living room and kitchen. An open floor plan helps a small house feel bigger and the flow between rooms accommodates a modern lifestyle.


Your New Small House

If you are looking into upgrading to a new home, consider a small, beautiful, and highly functional house. Many architects will work with you as will real estate agents.  If you want to play around with designing your own small house plans, you can use traditional paper and pencil and draw house plans yourself, or you can use one of the many home design software programs available.