In Sweden, the big property site Hemnet designed a house based on consumer preferences and it turned out small, efficient and modern. Wondering what an American version would look like, I contacted Dan Gregory, Editor in Chief of Houseplans.com, which has been selling complete house plans since 2004, with over 100,000 homes built. They come in all styles and sizes, and people put down real money, about a thousand dollars, to buy a set of plans so I thought they would be a real indicator of what people are really interested in when they finally build a house. And it ain't small, efficient or modern.
The most popular plan is this craftsman style house, at 2091 square feet. It pushes almost all the buttons that Dan says people want in their houses; elaborate master suites with bedroom-sized walk-in closets, big porches for outdoor living, kids' bedrooms on the other side of the house with a shared bathroom between, big open "kitchen hubs"- it is "the heart of the home and opens to a great room, usually across a food prep/buffet."
In another post, Boyce Thompson notes looks at consumer preferences and finds that the wide open informal living area is by far the most popular, the majority of plans are one-story or have main floor master bedrooms, "a reflection of the aging American population." They almost all have home offices.
It should be said that people who buy house plans and build their own houses are a very small proportion of the population, and tend to be building out in the country, because the developers control most urban and suburban lots. They tend to be older and richer. But is still a large group building houses from clicks, and this is what they are buying:
- Between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet
- Single floor living; ground floor master if two floors
- Big elaborate master bathrooms with separate tub, shower and toilet in its own room, and big walk-in closets
- "Jack and Jill" shared bathrooms for the kids
- "great rooms" where living, dining and kitchen are all combined
- big porches for outdoor living
- home offices
Many of the houseplans are architect-designed and here is where it gets interesting. They have almost all the same features, but are a lot simpler and even modern; this is the third most popular design and there is a lot to like about it, particularly the lack of jogs, the relatively simple form and yes, it even puts the bedrooms in corners with windows that can actually provide cross-ventilation. The dual front doors dumping you into the kitchen are weird, but architect Nicholas Lee has pushed all the buttons in a more thoughtful way. It doesn't look too bad either.
But whether craftsman, farmhouse or modern, when Americans build a house of clicks, it's a bigger single story house on a big piece of land. And they can afford it, because they will probably build it with vinyl windows and siding to American building code standards because natural gas and electricity are a lot cheaper.
This 2168 square foot Nicholas Lee house probably costs not much more to build than the 1296 square foot Tham & Videgård Arkitekter Swedish house shown in our previous post, which has fancy euro windows, wood siding and Swedish grade insulation, which is probably close to Passivhaus standard.
If they were the same price, which would you buy?