Some big ideas for small home spaces

Friday March 09, 2001

By Barbara Mayer 

The Associated Press 


Last year when I updated the kitchen in my small 1970s-era house, it wasn’t easy finding full-featured small appliances. So the new range is a little too deep for its space, and the new refrigerator a size smaller than I would have liked. Others have difficulty finding suitable furniture for small living rooms and bedrooms. 

It seems that everything readily available is just too big and too bulky. Those who don’t live in “McMansions” especially are affected. 

“The problem is the manufacturers are selling to the soccer moms,” says kitchen designer Deborah Krasner of Putney, Vermont. “You can still buy a 30-inch stove, but the high-performance ones are 36-inch stoves and the refrigerators with more features are the larger sizes.” 

If you think that major appliances are bigger than they used to be, you are right. “Over the long term of two or more decades, the footprint of appliances has gotten larger,” says Mark Buss, vice president of Maytag Appliances of Newton, Iowa. The preferred refrigerator, for example, is now 36 inches wide compared to 30 inches some years ago 

But Krasner is one of those who see a sea change coming. “Looking ahead, simplicity seems to be the direction we are going in. As the kids grow up and move away, some of those really big houses are going to feel uncomfortable.” 

Architect Sarah Susanka of Raleigh, N.C., agrees. “Big rooms are great for a party but are less livable,” she says. In 1998, Susanka published “The Not So Big House” advocating building houses “smaller than you thought you needed, but with more quality, comfort and character.” Somewhat to her surprise, she had a runaway best seller which to date has sold about 300,000 copies. Her new book, “Creating the Not So Big House,” came out this past winter  

Now Susanka has a Web site (http://www.notsobighouse.com) with a bulletin board that features spirited discussions among those who choose to build small. 

Recently, one visitor to the site asked where to find furniture that can be used in small rooms. Solutions offered ranged from buying antique and vintage pieces made to fit smaller rooms to shopping in stores that specialize in imports. “Scandinavian furniture design tends to be for smaller bodies, and they don’t assume you are going to want to lie down on every piece,” says Susanka. 

Working against the “small is beautiful” philosophy is that most Americans equate larger size with greater comfort and convenience. 

“With appliances, it’s about solving life’s little annoyances,” Mark Buss says. Maytag’s latest offering – or available in March at $1,649 and up – is in this vein. The freezer shelves in the side-by-side unit are variable, accommodating a large frozen pizza stored flat (having to stack them vertically annoys a surprisingly large number of people, it seems). In the refrigerator section, wider shelves at the top can easily hold a large watermelon or big platter. 

A few appliance companies like Sub-Zero of Madison, Wis., maker of refrigerators and freezers in two-drawer modules, and European manufacturers such as Asko, Gaggenau and Miele make small high-end appliances beloved by affluent urbanites and their decorators. 

Barbara Mayer is a columnist for The Associated Press