By Kevin Meyer
A while back I described a conversation, albeit one-sided, that I had with my mother in-law regarding desired features in a home. As is usually the case, I took the contrarian but obviously correct position (ahem!) that homes should have less storage space rather than more. More storage space simply leads to more… storage. Without that space you are forced to discern what is truly worth storing with the probable realization that very little is.
The recession is forcing home builders to take a similar approach, although not necessarily with storage. Well perhaps.
The other day, Ms. Bishop sketched a new Arden [a model home design] on tracing paper. She erased the rear staircase and flattened out the bay window. She cut the 94-square-foot pantry in half. She turned the mud and laundry rooms into a mud-and-laundry room. The three-car garage remained, but she redrew it so two cars now had to be parked bumper to bumper.
A smaller pantry? Smaller garage? Egads! Where oh where should all the stuff go? Perhaps to the food bank… how many of you have looked in your pantry recently? How much of that stuff has been sitting around for a few years? Oh that’s right… it’s in case of a natural disaster. Preparedness. Yeah, right.
Storage space isn’t the only thing being cut.
For the first time in four decades in the luxury-home business, executives at John Wieland builders are thinking the unthinkable: Maybe houses in the South don't really need a fireplace. They're also wondering whether new homes require 4,700 square feet of living space. Or private theaters with 100-inch screens. Or super-size-me foyers.
As they draw up blueprints for the house of the post-recession future, builders are struggling to distinguish among what home buyers need, what they want and what they can live without — Jacuzzi by Jacuzzi, butler's pantry by butler's pantry.
Of course a primary motive is to cut cost. But that effort to reduce cost also create a focus on value as perceived by the customer.
"You have to keep taking things out until you hit a critical point where people reject your product," said Jeff Kingsfield, senior vice president of sales at Smyrna-based John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods.
A few years ago my wife and I were casually looking at new homes and happened upon an Asian-inspired beauty surrounded by acres of vineyards. Cherry plank hardwood floors, decks galore, chef’s kitchen. What the heck, we made an offer and unfortunately at the time but fortunately in hindsight the negotiations could not get down to what we wanted to pay. It came close, but no cigar… or ball and chain. You see, it would have taken us from our current 2,600 square feet to over 4,000. Just my wife and I and a couple of cats. There would have been whole sections of the house we’d never see for months at a time. What a waste.
We’re better off where we are, especially since the value of that house took something of a dump. In fact, we’re now contemplating going in the opposite direction. You see, even in our current house we rarely set foot in nearly half of it and rely on the cats to tell us if anything’s amiss in those remote nooks and crannies. We’ve been busy getting rid of stuff… old clothes, books, nick-knacks, even sending boxes of old photos to be scanned. I’d personally like to downside to about half of where we are. A very nice but simple half, but still half.
Who really needs more? And what are the people in 3500 square foot (and up!) monsters trying to prove? Beats me.