Design Question of the Day: McMansion vs Right-size Living

When it comes to interior design & architecture, space is usually a prevalent issue. Everybody wants more space, right? A bigger home seems better you may be thinking. I can't agree. Usually bigger means more expensive, more running costs, more maintenance, and possibly the feeling of 'keeping up with the Jones' in a more affluent neighbourhood. You wouldn't want your home to 'own' you instead, right?  Certainly you wouldn't want yourself, your family or guests to feel less than welcome or comfortable in your own home either. A feeling of authentic charm and style can certainly be achieved in a more modest sized home without sacrificing style and unique design. Smaller doesn't have to be a disadvantage, you just have to be smart about the design and finish.

When I first started in interior design & real estate, I was living in Fairfield County, Connecticut. The towns of Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan and Westport may sound familiar having been immortalised in films like The Stepford Wives and The Ice Storm. These towns are a mecca for over-sized homes, most newly crafted with opulent architectural detail, excessive design finsihes and quantity in furniture and home decor. These are still some of the wealthiest towns and county in the United States (mainly due to its' position as a 'bedroom community' for New York City).

Given that, McMansions* were a major influence in this region over the last half century (not to be confused with stately Heritage homes built by artisans before the 1950s). As an interior designer & RE agent working in the NY/CT region, there were often challenges in creating character for little-used, enormous rooms with high ceilings. Champagne problems, right? *McMansions are characterised as overly large, opulent mass-produced (1980s forward) homes for the US upper middle class that lack architectural authenticity or unique style. 

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Space may seem like a huge benefit, however being out of scale to human existence often makes large scale homes feel staged, not lived in, not cozy nor welcoming. In reality, people tend to live in 3-4 rooms max: bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Often a utility room, basement play/TV space or an outdoor/indoor space get regular use too.  Generally auxiliary 'formal' rooms get little use and are simply intended to 'impress' only. A waste of space, with little useful purpose and often overly ornate.

What constitutes 'too big' in a home? Generally a modest size home is between 1,000 sq ft (2 people) to 2900 sq ft (up to 5 people). A 'McMansion' is generally anything over 3,000 sq ft.  In addition, an over use of marble, wood, faux architectural detail lacking in authentic character can overwhelm the senses along with the number of unused rooms. Much of this depends on the family living in a home and how they use it. Perhaps a larger home for a larger family (more than 5 people) is useful, especially if there are multiple generations living together or individuals who 'work from home'.  An in-law suite may add square footage but provide necessary separation for private space. If you take a formula of 500 sq ft per person living in a space you will truly have a 'right-size' home for your needs. Mind you, that doesn't mean you have to skimp on style and character! By contrast to a McMansion, modest does not have to mean simple. Generally a smaller or more 'human scale' home & rooms are actually a benefit! Better and more adaptable to clever, cosy design! I also recommend utilising garden space for additional outdoor living and potential, separate garden studios for office, home gym or an extra guest space etc. 

In designing or styling a smaller home, you just have to be smart in adapting the design and what goes into it. Making a room feel comfortable and cozy without being suffocating. There are a number of tips to make a space feel open, inviting, clutter free and providing for multiple uses. Style and character should infuse the space and inspire its' occupants. It is achievable in a right-size home.  One you'll be both proud of and feel emotional and financial stability living in!

Follow along, our next Design blog post will offer tips on how to make a small space feel spacious and add charcter!


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