One Carpenter's Life as Told by Small Houses and Spacescomments (11) June 1st, 2011 in Blogs
If we will have the wisdom to survive, To stand like slow-growing trees on a ruined place, Renewing, enriching it, If we will make our seasons welcome here, Asking not too much of earth or heaven, Then a long time after we are dead, The lives our lives prepare will live here.”
One of the greenest things we can do in the building industry (“asking not too much of earth or heaven”) is to build small. I hold no moral high ground, but I have never lived in a house that was more than 1200 sq. ft. I prefer living in a small home, especially one that I can afford. It would be hard for me to pay the property taxes on a huge house. Besides, small houses are easier to clean, need fewer repairs, and cost less to heat or cool. Overall, they have helped to make my life a little less complicated.
I think that the key to building a desirable small house is design. Years ago, I helped build three such houses up a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains filled with huge oaks and sycamore trees. I am especially fond of the sycamore tree, a California native that can reach a height of 100 ft. or more. The older trees have sprawling branches that follow the contour of the earth. Their thin bark peels off, leaving the trunk and branches looking like an old carpenter who has been working out in the sun too long.
Each house had 650 sq. ft., with two bedrooms on the back side. The larger bedroom was about 10 ft. by 15 ft., and the smaller one was 10 ft. by 10 ft. There was a common bath between. The front part—the living and dining areas and the kitchen—took up the remaining space: 12 ft. by 30 ft. These cold measurements don’t do justice to how warm these houses felt inside. Each was finished with two bay windows, deep window sills, wood floors, high ceilings, and wall niches to hold a statue, clock, or flower vase. The steep-pitched roof made room for a sleeping loft in the smaller bedroom. The front had an inviting, Craftsman-style porch along with clerestory windows that let in extra overhead light.
I drove up the canyon months later. The three houses, nestled between the trees, looked like they belonged there. Like soddies, they appeared to have grown out of the earth. Years later, I drove up the canyon again to show the small houses to a friend. I should have known better and rested with my memories. The houses were gone, along with the mighty oaks and sycamores. In their place were huge mansions with fences, locked gates, and cameras keeping a watchful eye on me. Good idea!
I might as well finish the story. Still later on, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that blow in from the desert every year pushed a fire into the dense canyon brush. More than three hundred homes were burned to the ground. Guess what? Nothing is forever, not even diamonds. Maybe it is best to base our happiness on what lies in our hearts.
The message is out: Our earth is not appreciative of our lifestyles. Like water, it doesn’t need us. We need it. Water and the earth will do fine without us. As Joseph Wood Krutch said, “Both the cockroach and the bird would get along very well without us, although the cockroach would miss us most.”
Across our country and around the world, there is a movement among millions to live more sensibly, to slow down some, try to be present, and make life meaningful. Many people call this the “green movement,” taking a responsibility for our homeland. We are being asked if our lifestyle is sustainable. Are we using more of our limited resources than we are giving back? How do we want to spend our precious life?
Building green means we need to take into consideration the impact our home will have on our health—physically, mentally, and spiritually. A well-designed house can nurture and heal us. Small doesn’t have to mean cramped, uncomfortable, or ugly. We can design our living spaces to be uplifting.
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