Images Credit: Ben Brown
Ben Brown of PlaceMakers has been talking about living in smaller spaces and cottage neighbourhoods for years, but recently got to practice what he preaches, living for three months in the original 308 square foot Katrina Cottage designed by Marianne Cusato, now part of a cottage community in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He learned that designing a small cottage is only one part of the problem; there has to be a critical mass.
Dropped randomly into acre-lot subdivisions and diminished by surrounding McMansions, they look eccentric and experimental. They need small-lot site-planning and the company of friends.
Here's the second lesson confirmed by my life in 300 square feet: The space has to be beautifully designed and the construction detailed perfectly. Otherwise you've got exactly what Katrina Cottage critics warned against - a tricked-out trailer.
Quality and design does matter.
When you compress the volume, the first thing to go is wiggle room for sloppy decision-making. Compromise on design and construction quality, including material choices, and you're off to the race to the bottom. That's why Cusato, Tolar, Steve Mouzon and others fight so tenaciously against cheaping out on ceiling heights, window selections, flooring, roofing, and trim details.
That's bad news for workforce housing advocates committed to driving prices per square foot down. Better to achieve the savings by intelligently compacting the space, as opposed to competing with production builders who amortize prices per square foot over thousands of under-performing square feet.
But the key takeaway is that if one is going to live in small spaces, you have to be part of a larger community. His stay in the cottage worked because he could hop on his bike and go places. That's why people can survive in 400 square foot apartments in New York; the city is your living room.
No problem feeding the private, nesting impulse with cottage living; but the smaller the nest, the bigger the balancing need for community. Big community. Bigger than a greenfield new town or village.
Read more in Livin' Large in Small Spaces: It Takes a Town at PlaceMakers, via Planetizen
More on Katrina Cottages and Marianne Cusato:
Katrina Cottages Available at Lowe's
"Americans Are Moving Up To Smaller, Smarter Homes" Says USA Today
Katrina Cottage: The New Urbanist Response
More on Living in Small Spaces at LifeEdited