Crazy about housing


Here I sit, in my 800-square-foot house, reading a Wall Street Journal story about how American homes are supposedly getting more practical.

The story sounded promising: Out with the McMansion, in with homes that are smarter and more usable for families across generations. Homes aren’t really shrinking in size, but they’re leaving behind the ostentatious features that add up to wasted space and energy. (The two-story foyer, apparently, is out. Those who worry about climate change will be just as happy to hear this news as those who prize good taste.)

As I progressed through the article, though, I found myself doubting the proposition that Americans are done with built-in status symbols. Out with soaker tubs! But–in with "steam showers," some featuring Kohler’s new "digital shower system that allows users to press buttons for steam, lights and music." See story for more chuckles.

It sounds to me like a story a homebuilder might have pitched, looking for a way to sell this year’s features under the guise of responding to belt-tightening times. They’re also times in which people like to claim greenness, efficiency and a certain down-to-earth ethos, even when none of those really apply.

Homes do need to get smaller. We do need to let go of our hankering for high-tech toys. What if we all pretended we were living in the Depression–when my small, humble, pretty much adequate house was built–and adjusted accordingly? How would we define "need" then?