From the Archive

Susan Orlean’s regular-sized house

June 23rd, 2011 at 10:25 pm ET


As someone who’s mostly lived in regular-sized houses as an adult, i enjoyed Susan Orlean’s post on the metastatic growth in the size of the American house over the past twenty years (which seems to have topped off and even maybe turned around).

When I lived in this Atlanta house — at under 900 square feet, not the smallest place I’ve ever lived, either — there were plenty of times when I wished I had more space. But on the whole the house, while not expensively tricked-out (in fact, it was the least expensive house I’ve ever lived in my adult life) was quite well designed. All the space was usable, and I bought furniture carefully to keep it functional. I loved the setting, backing on a broad ravine running between two streets, at the top of a deep woods studded with mature trees and blanketed with thicket and kudzu. There was a pond behind, with a bullfrog, and a deck behind and another on the side, and a long flowering hedge leading up to the street, and (despite the humidity and the occasional mosquitoes) I mostly lived with the windows and doors open in warm weather.

One of the things I liked best about living in Atlanta is that someone who earned a more or less normal salary could afford a lot of housing choice. In the parts of Southeast Atlanta where I spent most of my time, there were hundreds and hundreds of houses I could afford to buy and would have enjoyed living in. That was an experience I’d never had before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have it again. But it didn’t lead me to buy a gigantic house — it led me to select carefully among the many options available so that I ended up in the right house. And in the end, despite the drawbacks of that little house (starting with the fact that it was a dozen steps below the street, with no way to pull the car up to the door), when I had to leave it, it was a sad moment.

I now have quite a bit more square footage, even here in New York; but by the standards of anywhere but New York, this is not a particularly large home.  But I have more than enough space for everything I need and for plenty more besides — there’s even room for an 8-foot flat elephant (pictured).

Whenever I feel cramped (and in New York, no matter where you live, you occasionally do — as much as I like this apartment, I look out on the windows of another family and not, you know, across 1000 waving acres of grain) — I think about my father, who (like everyone else he knew) grew up in a house about the size of my Atlanta house, where he and his brother and their parents all lived in two little bedrooms, and didn’t feel “poor,” and objectively weren’t. They lived in a house with a flower garden and a comfortable back patio on a sunny street in a neighborhood of people with steady jobs in a prosperous city, in circumstances more or less similar to everyone they knew.

I can see wanting a bit more space, or even a lot more — but who needs 4,000 square feet?


One Response to “Susan Orlean’s regular-sized house”

  1. Carla Bruni Says:


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