Dreaming of a Sensible and Sustainable Home?

Dreaming of a Sensible and Sustainable Home?

“McMansions are making a comeback,” CNN Money has announced. During the recession, Americans downsized their concept of “house” and the square footage of the median new home actually shrank. But when the recession receded, so did did the dreams of sustainability and sensible houses. In 2012, the median new home in the U.S. ballooned to 2,306 square feet, the all-time record.

Are McMansions making a comeback on Whidbey Island? Not so much.

We are indeed an island, and some of our values are a little different from the mainland. We value sustainability, the beauty and integrity of the natural environment, and a life centered more on the simple pleasures of community than on the relentless pursuit of status.

The Highlands at Langley reflects these values. Most of the homes and plans in our small planned community are between 1,200 and 1,600 square feet, and their current base prices range from $319,000 to $374,000. That’s far below the mainland King County median of $415,000.

Our philosophy is more in line with Sarah Susanka, the architect whose first book “The Not So Big House” triggered a small revolution in thinking (at least among some people) when it first appeared in 1998. Houses should be designed for the way people really live, Susanka argues, rather than to impress the neighbors.

And it turns out there are a lot of compelling benefits for doing so.

We spend a lot less time cleaning and maintaining a smaller house than we do a large one. The same for the yard.

We feel actually feel happier when we’re living in intimate spaces with good finishes and carefully crafted architectural details than in grand spaces designed principally for entertaining. Quality is more rewarding than quantity.

And the relief from the burden of supporting an oversize house may mean that we suddenly liberate more time for the things we really care about doing. Thoreau said it perfectly in “Walden,” published 150 years before the word “McMansion” appeared in the American vocabulary: “Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.”

Life on Whidbey Island, of all places, is about feeling liberated—free from the oppressive schedules and rigid expectations of the urban mainland. It’s a perfect feeling when our not-so-big houses are helping us to live here.

Comments are closed.