Think Small

KUDOS TO ISLIP, LONG ISLAND. The Suffolk County town has adopted a 918-square-foot, 2BR, 1 bath Craftsman-style cottage, shown above in a rendering from The New York Times — similar to those built for some flood victims in New Orleans — as the model for new homes to be built and sold to families making less than $40,000.

As the Times reported last Sunday, the enlightened members of the town’s Community Development Agency enthusiastically embraced the diminutive “Katrina” for a number of very good reasons:

  • they’ll cost only $100,000 to build, using volunteer labor supplied by Habitat for Humanity
  • they’ll be cheaper to live in than the 1,200-square-foot, 3 BR ranches previously built by non-profits as affordable housing
  • it will be less expensive to own than to rent for the people lucky enough to buy the houses (applicants will be chosen by lottery)
  • their size will suit the needs of the many single-parent families and single individuals who require affordable housing
  • their architecture is in context with the neighborhood, which dates mostly from 1890 to 1920
  • they’ll fit onto 50’x100′ lots and still have decent-sized yards
  • they have front porches like in the old days, solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances (but no basements or air conditioning)

I think this is just so brilliant. The original Levittown houses were only 750 square feet plus an attic, which many families converted to a dormitory bedroom. (I remember visiting friends whose parents had done just that, and I was jealous. It was cozy as can be, with those exotic slanted ceilings. And that family had four children.)

The Times quotes the chairman of the Islip Community Development Agency, Christopher Bodkin, saying he raised two sons, now grown, in a 1784 cottage in Sayville measuring 625 square feet, and it was “perfectly adequate.” That sounds a bit tight even to me, who thinks “cozy” is the highest accolade you can give a house. But when it become the norm for suburban houses to measure 5,000 square feet, in the expansive ’80s, that was going in a misguided, wasteful, greedy direction. McMansions, ugh.

My personal theory is that 400 square feet per person is all you really need, with the important caveat that you also have some outside space. My present house is 800 square feet, and I’m swimming in it. I have two rooms I don’t go into (the 2nd bedroom and the porch, unused in the winter). The house would be ideal for 2 or 3 people.

I’m a big fan of small. Especially small and cute. Look how much the Katrina resembles an older Greenport house, above, I blogged about some weeks ago.

It’s a design with real charm, methinks. The only thing I don’t like about the Katrina is the vinyl siding.

2 thoughts on “Think Small

  1. The Katrina Cottages were designed to be built with Hardieplank siding for longevity and looks as well as hurricane-resistance. What a shame for them to be “vinyled up”.

  2. There’s an excellent story in last month’s Atlantic about the architectural revolution quietly going on in NO. Believe it or not, Brad Pitt is one of the benefactors…

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