Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dear House Beautiful,

The July 2009 issue of House Beautiful is really great, probably the best this year. Thats hard to beat when you're one of the top decor magazines left and each issue seems to get progressively better. However, I have a small problem with this month's 'Theme', Small Spaces, and decided to air my concerns in this open letter.
You do realize, House Beautiful, that the apartments and houses pictured in this issue ARE NOT SMALL. Neither are the rooms pictured in these houses particularly small. The only exception would be the kitchen of the month on page 108; I've seen smaller and it wasn't the first adjective that came to mind, but it's small, I'll give you that.
While the apartments pictured aren't huge and may seem somewhat small to the suburbanite in a mcmansion -they are large apartments to us city dwellers. The house featured on page 96, cute and cottagey as it is, is not a small house. What WERE your qualifications for a 'small space', because I'm not seeing it. PS - a 'guesthouse' doesn't it's basically a guest room -BUT A WHOLE BUILDING bigger than most people's houses as a whole!
This gigantic sized notion of what a home (and a car or even a meal) should be is one of the problems I think this country is facing right now. Remember the houses built after WWII that no one wants anymore? Whole families, larger then the average family of today, lived in these houses: college graduation till death. Do 2 people really need 4,000 SF? Is this environmentally or fiscally responsible? Not to mention the fact that to decorate a whole house beautifully requires a lot of time, energy and money which not everyone has at their disposal. One of the biggest problems being "what do I use this space for?".
I would love to see pictures of a thoughtfully decorated ACTUAL small space. Remember Cottage Living? They featured some small spaces (before closing shop earlier this year). How about a 1920's 2 bedroom bungalow that measures in at under 1,000 sf? How about more studio apartments creatively and beautiful decorated? Nick Olsen's studio apartment was featured in Domino and was a huge success (remember those 2 twin beds, the acid green color and the beautiful fireplace?). I currently live in a small space (475 SF studio apartment -which is an AVERAGE sized studio and was featured HERE) and I am always looking for new and creative ways to improve my space: Maybe next month you'll feature something small, or at least not tease me with a theme on the cover? Thank you for listening.
Pictures are of my first apartment out of college: a truly small space at 375 SF that I loved living in for 3 years. I realize it wasn't beautifully done or magazine worthy but it is an example of a truly small space.

PS: the 'One-Day Makeover' on page 72-77 is probably the most brilliant thing I've ever seen in a magazine before!


Things That Inspire said...

I am out of town right now, and am trying to avoid any previews of the new issue of HB (which seems to be getting good buzz) - but this post does not feature any pictures of the current magazine issue (thank you for that!).

I remember posting a house in Atlanta, and commenting how small the kitchen was. I had several comments about how the kitchen was bigger than many city dwellers' apartments! It is an interesting contrast - the luxury of space that is possible in many of the cities and suburbs in the US, and the economy of space that is required in some other cities, primarily NE cities.

In Atlanta, a 4000 sf house would be considered on the small side. I often wonder how people who built a 2500 sf ranch house on 2 acres were able to manage with such a small amount of space! Or, wonder why someone would build such a small house on such a big piece of land. And yet, I have friends who live in NYC and 1500 sf is considered palatial.

I suppose the design magazines must find some sort of a happy medium. It must be quite a challenge.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Very true, TTI, but I KNOW those small older houses exist, even in Atlanta!
I just was disappointed that a magazine from NYC would consider any of these spaces 'small' -doesn't mean that I enjoy it any less. It's a great issue!
I didn't want to spoil anything by featuring images from it :-) Wait till you see the Miles Redd designed apartment!

La Maison Fou said...

What a great post, I poured over this one last night as well. True there is a fine line between small and smaller as far a city apartment goes. I understand, my sister lived in Manhattan for several years and her "spacious" digs to say the least had a wonderful feel and location ( a few short blocks from Central Park, Madison Avenue, and Museum of Natural History)but her little abode was entirely SMALL as well.

I like the feel of the article with an imagination for what can really & cannot really be accomplished in one of these spaces, but to find an apartment like one of these would probably translate to not too much worry about budget restraints.

I loved the rooms of the apartment, the thinking out of the box in the design and decor but when you really get to it, there is a sence of space reality that was some what overlooked there. I will continue to covet my HB issues as they reign supreme in the world of paper design these days.

And yes, the makeover on 1 day was extremely brilliant. The way the room came together with almost a simplistic and non cohesive way was truly brilliant. I loved the way the room evolved, how some items went back into the room, others were out, and an armfull of beutiful items were brought in (Suri throw as a skirted roundtable) brilliant! Also the fireplace area was gorgeous!
It is also wonderful to open one of the remining magazines left, imagine what an apartment in NY would look like if $$ were no object and to see it on the page is eye candy that feeds the soul.
So, luxury vs neccessity is probably the remining question to answer.

David said...

Classic, graceful spaces even when you were in school...that's impressive. My college apartment was notable only for the big old farmhouse sink (which I loved) and an ivory and brown crewel sofa my mom's friend Carol gave me (which I didn't). Good times.

Elizgonz said...

I agree completely. I live in Austin and we recently moved into a larger post-war home than we were in previously. It feels huge to us (1900 s.f.), but it's interesting how our friends are just stunned that a family of five can live in such a small space. "Small" is definitely a relative term.

I agree about the makeover feature. I hope they continue that as a recurring feature.

Blue said...

Stefan, I fully agree with what you say. We live in about 2000 square feet more or less and do not consider it to be small at all - and we live in Atlanta where 4000 square feet perhaps is considered to be small but not by me. In Amsterdam we had about 1000 square feet on two floors, and lived quite comfortably there for 13 years. Perhaps the editor's concept of what "small" means is meant boost the egos of those for whom too much is never enough. Remember, aspiration driven by covetousness is all!

Excellent post. Congratulations.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thanks everyone -i just want to clarify -that I have nothing against big houses! But call a spade a spade -the houses in the issue were not small! I would love to have a little more space, but have to admit I don't have the desire to live in anything over 2000 sf really at this point in my life. I'm happy with my 475 sf for the moment!

Cote de Texas said...

cute apartment - the kitchen is adorable.

I LOVED that one day redo too!!!!! that was soooo great! loved it. I wish they did that every month. Of course - she had a lot to work with - just happened to have two matching chests and matching chairs, etc. haha.

Renee Finberg said...

i adore small spaces !!!
(i guess it is the nyc deep inside me)

i grew up in a huge home, and to me it felt spooky.
just the thought of someone in your house, while you are there, creeping around (even if it is your brother) freaks me out.
if someone comes in the house, i want to hear the front door open !!


niartist said...

It was a great issue - but did you notice the shotty paint job on the stair treads in the middle of the mag (not infront of me or I'd reference a page #) the tablescape was great - love the blue and white, no doubt, but you'd think with modern editing software they would have taken care of the black paint sorta sloppily thrown all over the place! Sheeesh! Better yet - if my home were going to be photographed for a mag, I would have done it. I know I know - I'm picking it apart, the issue was beautiful and the rooms inside of that house (albeit the stairs were awful) were great. Go back and look that them - I swear I'm not exaggerating! LOL! Great post.

Pigtown-Design said...

I am like Renee... grew up in a huge old house, but live in a 800 +/- square foot house. I've been sort of looking for another house, but they're all too big! I can't imagine what I'd do with all of that space... I don't even use all of my space now!

My current house is 11.5 feet wide, which is two feet wider than my last house at 9.5 feet!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I just think they have no basis in reality on what a 'small space' is. I recently just heard they rejected a designer's apartment for publication for being too small!!!! Why tease us with 'small spaces' on the cover then not include them?

Anonymous said...

Amen brother! Along the same vein, I took the time to write to a magazine that did an issue on green homes - the main feature was a southern house of 6,000 sf for a family of four! How can a house be green when it is consuming the time and materials that could use three families of the same size? Empty voids in houses = empty voids in people in my opinion!

home before dark said...

I look to articles about small homes to see real creativity. When I worked for an advertising agency, the small budgets always seemed to bring out the most creative juices. Our home has 2400 square feet not huge by McMansion standards, but human scale. Enough room for distance when you want it, but not so huge it echoes emptiness. Along with your theme of more people living together under one roof, I am seeing a mini-trend of adult children, often with their own children, having to move back with their parents. What life lessons will be learned? Our greed and stubborn unwillingness to learn from our mistakes is a big part of this economic meltdown. I hope something positive will come with our living with less. Excellent post.

Dana said...

Oh, I want to get it so bad!!

Tracy said...

You've said exactly what I've been thinking! I've flipped those pages back and forth trying to see the "small". The kitchen was beautiful and the one-day makeover brilliant, but the rest? Lovely, as usual, but certainly not small. And not exactly helpful to those of us who do live in modest spaces. Sadly, Cottage Living was the best, I think, at showing us "regular-sized" interiors done beautifully (so glad I kept ALL the issues!)
Love your after-college apartment, btw... timeless and warm and charming. And didn't it's restrictions make you feel that much more creative and accomplished once you'd figured it out? I know mine did.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thanks Tracey, I loved that little apt. It was so cozy, especially after I painted.
I wish I had gotten rid of that big bed sooner and switched to the daybed I currently have. Coming up with all of the creative solutions and realize what I did and didn't actually need was really fun!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

HBD, 2400 SF sounds just about right to me too! I will admit I had more space than my 475 sf! And with more than 1 person you definitely need a little 'space'.

Toronto realtor said...

I guess small is in the eye of the beholder. I agree that these spaces aren’t exactly small, but I do feel some sympathy for the photographers and designers – getting great light and design options is easier when you have a little more elbow room. I deal with many small properties, though, so I am always on the lookout for solutions for truly small spaces.

Anonymous said...

While I'm not into big, having lived in cities where small flats can cost as much as my house payment.

Sadly size matters in America it’s one way for people to impress other people since we no longer value other people for their skills, talent or general character.

CashmereLibrarian said...

Bravo, Stefan: nicely argued.

I haven't rec'd my July issue of HB yet..can't wait!

MicheleFromBoston said...

It's so funny that you should mention the title of the issue this morning! I received my issue yesterday and as soon as I saw that Miles Redd was inside I completely forgot about the Small Spaces cover line. I certainly didn't see any. I, too, was amazed at the one day makeover feature. I hope they do more. It is true - even though the interview format tends to annoy me and leave me wanting - Stephen Drucker has really brought the magazine a long way. And I still agree with John Saladino: anything over 10,000 s.f. should be considered VULGAR.

katiedid said...

Great issue I thought....but you are right...I wouldn't consider the spaces small either. We had a familyof four in a 1100 sq. ft. house, which really was small for us, (one bathroom wasn't working for us. ) But now that I have 3500 sq. ft. I think it is too big. I can't imagine living in anything bigger!

Your apartment was really well done and efficiently laid out. Thanks for the peek!

VictoriaArt said...

Well, reading the comments it shows that we out here seem to mostly agree what small means...
Every time I read about something being small in this country I have to starts with the burgers and ends with the jewelry!
Put suburban houses on the huge side. Living in Westchester since 1999 we have seen so many McMansions growing in our neighborhood, that we feel absolutly dwarfed. Our house is a truly small 2300sf colonial home and absolutly humble compared with others around here. We live with 4 people here, a dog and a handful of other pets, regular long term visitors from oversees, we have not felt so far the need to expand. Ok, sometimes I am dreaming...Apart from all the regular makeovers and my wish to adjust the standard of two
40' bathrooms and my sad 70's kitchen...
I think it is so much nicer to live in a human scaled house, double hight entrance halls are so not hip...and not green at all, thinking of the heating bills and the waste of energy to col it in the summer!
That is what I love about older houses: scale, proprotion and character.
That's what I do not love: Too small bathrooms and kitchens, lot's of room separations and often not so environmental friendly materials, bad insulation.
Finding middle ground should be the goal.

Toby Worthington said...

Oh, this is too good. After reading your provocative post, I looked again through the pages of my new HB and found much to admire. Then I compared it with an issue of House Beautiful for January 2003. Cover story:
Decorating in Small Spaces. And they meant it! A Manhattan studio apartment measuring 250 sq feet.
A "thimble sized" flat in Paris, brilliantly decorated by Jean-Louis Deniot: 377 square feet. A tremendously chic Hudson Valley farmhouse, 1,100 square feet.
Small as they were, they were each a kind of triumph over circumstances.

The-Countrypolitan said...

My first apartment was a single room studio, and I loved the open concept living. I also loved the intimacy and scale of it. I don’t have a problem with large homes. But I think the challenge is the balance of filling the spaces without over doing it. I think that by maintaining a certain degree of simplicity it eliminates stress from our lives. Another challenge may be in providing adequately scaled spaces that appeal to our comfort zone.

A positive aspect of large homes is the amount of capital it takes to create and furnish. From the craftsmen and laborers of the home to the furniture makers and artists that create the art that will fill the spaces, it is providing many people with jobs and incomes… perhaps even some fortunate interior designer may get hired.

Scott Fazzini said...

You know, I was just about to sit down and devour this issue with a cup of coffee the size of my head and a croissant equally as large(speaking of sizeist Americans) when I did something that I don't normally do -flip through the magazine instead of savoring each page from front to back. After two seconds I realized that the truly brilliant Mr. Drucker has a strange perception of space. Agreed, Stefan, the spaces shown are not small -chic, but not small. Oh well, at least it's pretty!

kathleen said...


I have this HB issue and haven't looked at it yet. Except for the Kitchen of the Month. I still don't have my upper shelves in the kitchen, so I examined the floating shelves very closely.

You are an architect. I think you must know the answer to this question. How did they attach those floating shelves to the wall? If they used some of of rods in them, wouldn't the rods at the corner be problematic?

Also, I can't believe Cottage Living is gone. Permanently. I am holding out hope for a resurrection.

So Haute said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly! When I saw the first story from the cover which featured that colorful Brooklyn brownstone the first thing I thought was "how in the world is a brownstone considered a small space?!" In the New York City area, a brownstone is practically a mansion! And most brownstones are at least a couple thousand square feet. I'd hardly classify that as small. Although I agree that idea of what constitutes small is relative, i just can't see how any the homes featured, with the exception of the Miles Redd designed one bedroom apt, could ever qualify as small! But still, as you said, this was a beautifully produced issue of HB filled with lots of inspiring spaces!

little augury said...

Stefan- What a super sized post! Tongues wagging! I have heard more than one client say- I don't know why we are building- we all stay huddled in a den and kitchen together when at home? Interesting isn't it? Rooms must mean something besides having titles- I think we as a nation have fancied ourselves wanting to live as the English gentry- the American dream, not so much. I moved from an almost 4000 sf house to a 2200- as you say just about right- All I have to do now is to learn to DETACH from some on the stuff I have collected and really have no need for. And I agree- the spaces in the mag aren't small for WHAT they are- they certainly LOOK ROOMY- touche on the Guest house comments!!,and I just couldn't get into the makeover story at all. My BAD,I try-LA

VictoriaArt said...

I'm available!!!