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Rue Britannia?

I embrace the idea of living in a small home — I’d be an idiot not to, when I’m going to be moving into less than 50 square metres of living space in a few months.

I don’t pretend it’s for everyone, but it’s perfect for me and mine and for many others.

So I was quite surprised when I read several articles from British newspapers disparaging the trend for smaller houses, calling them “rabbit hutches”; and decrying the decreasing size of houses and apartments in the UK.

According to this Guardian article by Penny Anderson,

The UK has the smallest new-build houses in Europe

a situation she called a “crisis”.  I could almost see her point.  Although her OpEd piece is rich in hyperbole and short of actual statistics, according to her anecdotal info many homes are too small to live in.

miles of single-fronted new-builds with awkward open-plan kitchen/diners/spare rooms/lounges, almost entirely free of storage. Then there are converted homes in older buildings situated in desirable areas where the market is febrile, which are often the worst low-space offenders, with bathrooms or even kitchens, squeezed into what used to be cupboards, and the original bedrooms sliced in half.

Apart from giving me a new word (febrile = feverous), she paints an ugly picture indeed.  Rapacious builders squeezing every square inch of living space out of small plots of land “to maximise profit”. “Bedrooms … as cramped as prison cells”.

Even the hard facts in this Telegraph article seem to bear her out.

Of the 2,500 owners of private new homes who were questioned, 57 per cent said there was not enough storage space, 47 per cent said there was not enough space for furniture and 35 per cent said there was not enough kitchen space for appliances such as toasters and microwave

Newer houses are definitely smaller than the traditional detached home, as Simon Bowers says in The Guardian:

In 1920, the average semi-detached new-build had four bedrooms and measured 1,647 sq ft, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Today’s equivalent has three bedrooms and is 925 sq ft. Typical new terrace houses have shrunk from 1,020 sq ft and three bedrooms, to 645 sq ft and two bedrooms.

But is the problem size?  or design?  I know that our North American ways are not theirs.  As Anderson says

add in the need to dry laundry inside when it’s raining, with one or more adults working from home and you have a problem.

because in Britain very few homes have clothes dryers, an appliance we take for granted.  Take into consideration other specifically British realty idiosyncracies

unlike other countries, houses in the UK are sold on the number of bedrooms rather than square footage…. The result is a lot of small rooms. And UK consumers like gardens, which leads to smaller houses.

The rise of solo living is another factor. People wanting to live alone trade space for having their own flat.

OK, I’m beginning to see the problem here.  I’ve been to Great Britain, and I know that I was surprised at the housing there.  People seem to either live in detached or semi-detached homes, or in massive blocks of flats (these are often in the less-desirable sections of large cities).  To me, a Canadian used to very wide very open spaces, I was amazed that they could fit so many people into such a tiny area without resorting to a) Hong Kong style apartment houses reaching to the sky, and b) vast housing tracts despoiling the English countryside.

But I think those days of “and Englishman’s home is his three-bed and two-bath castle” are through.  It’s time they faced up to some hard facts.  Brits can no longer expect

enough room for a two-, or even a three-seater sofa, a dining table with chairs, and a little space for those things you can’t bear to part with.

Instead, they will have to accept some compromise.

The UK has a housing crisis. A shortage of homes has pushed prices out of the reach of many hoping to get onto the ladder. But once they get there, they may be disappointed – the UK has some of the smallest properties in Europe.

Many of the problems cited (lack of storage, fitting furniture into open plan spaces) can be overcome with good design.

Happily living in a small home is first of all about psychology, says Hannah Booth, homes editor at Guardian Weekend. “You can live without much more than you think.”

Apartment dwellers in New York and Japan know the secrets of this lifestyle, she says. “They’re the masters, they eat out a lot, spend a lot of time in the park. In the winter your home can be a nice little cocoon.”

I get the impressions that these new, small homes are still following traditional building styles, separate living and dining rooms,

All of us who live in areas where building space is at a premium are having to change the way we live — not just our domiciles.  Some people are sharing gardens.  Many are using dual-purpose furniture to get the most use out of the least amount of space.  Everyone is carving storage out of spaces they never thought of before.

And we are living with less, certainly fewer of “those things you can’t bear to part with”.

But what is the alternative for British homes? How are you going to fit more people into that extremely finite space?  They can either accept living in smaller places…..or ????

Just one more quote, from Quentin Crisp:

The British do not expect happiness. I had the impression, all the time that I lived there, that they do not want to be happy; they want to be right.


About ladywholivesdownthelane

Starting the adventure of building a laneway house in the real-estate jungle of Vancouver, BC

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