Sunday, June 22, 2003

Every day


Homearama really tests that 'bigger isn't better' idea

Paul Daugherty

Something I learned at Homearama this year is, if you want to live in a million-dollar house, you have to be really tall. The kitchen cabinets start at about 5 feet above the floor and go almost to the ceiling, which means if you're not 6-foot-6, you better have a good vertical leap.

And the lightbulbs: Who changes the lightbulbs? It's an Olympic event. These starter mansions have recessed lights in the ceiling, which is good, except the ceilings are 20 feet high. Put it this way: When it snows upstairs, it's just light rain in the foyer. Maybe if you can afford a house with its own name - Abbington Hall, Greystone Manor - you can have a Lightbulb Guy on call whenever one blows.

Don't get me wrong. I love Homearama, our annual tribute to square-footage, bidets and $5,000 grills.

If someone wanted to hand me an 8,000-square-foot, one-point-three-nine-nine-million-dollar Manor or Hall or Lodge, I'd kiss the custom-crafted granite kitchen counters I ate on. I'd even change the lightbulbs.

But is bigger always better?

In these houses, from the basement to the guest room is three days by train. It's a 10k from the deck to the game room and if you want to go from shooting pool to taking a shower upstairs, you better take plenty of water.

The houses all have an exercise room. It seems redundant.

(They all have a window above the master tub, too. Most have a view of the neighbor's driveway. What's the point of that window? But we digress.)

One of the houses had a waterfall off the master bedroom. How have we managed without that? It had a family room big enough for three generations of Irishmen. You could run a trapeze line from one side to the other. The basement living area was so grand, my wife felt like a restaurant hostess:

"Your table will be ready in 30 minutes. Have a seat at the bar."

If you have kids in this neighborhood, how do they talk to their new playmates?

"Where do you live?"

"Greystone Manor. You?"

"Abbington Hall."

"Cool. Wanna shoot some pool, ride the stationary bike and watch a movie in the theatre?"

"OK. Your place or mine?"

These houses are built to entertain, to impress. They're like the clothes worn by runway models. They look great, but how comfortable can they be?

When you need MapQuest to get from the kitchen to the kid's room, it's hard to feel cozy.

There's a book I've been reading lately, Creating the Not So Big House, written by an architect named Sarah Susanka. It is to home design what Miss Manners is to civility. Susanka's idea is that lots of space doesn't make a house a home. All those square feet can make a body feel lonely.

Susanka calls for "houses that nurture us. Comfort has almost nothing to do with how big a space is. It is attained by tailoring our houses to fit the way we really live." The book includes 25 houses, none larger than 3,000 square feet, one as small as 560, all interesting and welcoming.

Susanka urges "homes that are sculpted to the proportions and harmonics of our own human scale." I'm not sure what that means. I think it means, What do we need a dining room for? Unless you're a head of state or a serial entertainer, who needs a dining room?

OK: The next time I have $1 million lying around, I'm heading for the hills in Hillsboro, buying 100 acres of rolling green with some woods and a pond. Then I'll hire an architect and have him design me a 2,000-square-foot cabin.

And a TV built into the foot of the bed, that rises from the bed frame with the touch of the remote. They had one of those at Homearama. I liked that a lot.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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