The Trend Towards Smaller Homes

The Trend Towards Smaller Homes


s an architect specializing in residential design, I am finding more and more people are trending towards smaller homes. The distressed economy has been leading this evolution, but there are other factors as well, including space efficiency, energy efficiency, sustainability, a return to quality, and long term value.

Many reduced financial portfolios simply cannot currently pay for large lodge homes. One of the most popular questions I received before we revamped our website was, "Do you design anything less expensive?" Cozy cabins and small cottages are now in much more demand.

Mountain Cabin
Mountain Cabin

These smaller homes are demanding more efficient use of space, both visually and functionally. Visually, a home can take advantage of the outdoors by strategically placing windows, doors, materials and landscaping in areas that can seamlessly bring the outside in, and the inside out. Thoughtful design will make the interior rooms look bigger. The outdoor "rooms" are also generally cheaper than indoor rooms.

In regards to function, as an example, I'm often asked to design bigger guest rooms. Some questions I'll ask are; how long will the guest be staying? What will they be doing in there besides sleeping? Can they do without a TV and desk? Can queen sized beds be used instead of kings?

These questions may help turn a 16x16 room into a more cozy 10x10 room, thus saving 156 square feet per guest room. Two smaller guest rooms saving 312 square feet, at say $300 per square foot, equals $93,600. Would the costs be better placed elsewhere in rooms used more often? The same could be said for having the guests share a bathroom. Everybody of course has different opinions on this, but the point is architects need to ask these questions to help the home owners save on costs.

On some projects I have considered marine architecture, a great example of space efficiency. Anybody who has been on a well designed yacht can see efficiencies of space at work. Every cubic foot of these boats is put to good use, whether it's storage under the seats or cubbyholes above the beds. Some of the marine concepts can be used in homes as well.

Small Mountain Home
Small Mountain Home

Smaller homes are also more energy efficient and sustainable. To put it simply, small homes save on energy costs by lowering your heating and cooling bills. For more information on this please see our blog post on Energy Efficiency. Smaller homes can also save materials, trees and transportation costs, among others.

Quality, not quantity, seems to be the choice of the new generation, if given a choice between the two. A smaller home can save more room in the budget for thoughtful architecturally designed details, including coffered ceilings, custom built-ins, wood walls and trim, high end lighting fixtures and appliances, and quality curved windows. One of the most rewarding projects I've designed was a small family chapel on a family's property. The exterior matched the rustic mountain style home, while the interior includes exposed beams, wood walls and ceilings, and custom curved windows. Powder rooms are another example of improving the quality of small spaces at a low cost.

Quality homes also add value over some of the bigger homes. Resale values are generally increased with better quality, energy efficiencies, etc. For more information on value, please see our blog post on Good Architecture Adds Value to Your Home.

With today's lower construction prices, more people today can afford custom designed homes to suit their own tastes. If homeowners with smaller budgets can compromise on quantity of space, they can enjoy a higher quality home that will last for generations, instead of a spec home that may become quickly outdated.

John Hendricks, Architect AIA

Hendricks Architecture, mountain architects located in Sandpoint, Idaho.

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