Thursday, September 6, 2007

Big House, Little House

Down the road from us is a new subdivision of enormous houses. The model home sits on the corner on the main road, and I’ve been through it several times, usually with visitors. I’m alternately intrigued and disgusted by it. This home is huge, with over 6,000 sq. ft of living space, 3 heat pumps, and an annual utility bill that must come close to the GNP of a third world nation. There are three staircases leading to the second floor, all within just a few feet of each other, which always reminds me of the line from If I Were A Rich Man: “There would be one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down, and one more going nowhere, just for show.” The home has five sitting areas: a living room, family room, conservatory, master sitting room, and finished basement sitting area. How much sitting does one family need to do? There are 4 bedrooms, each with its own full bath (no sharing for this family). Mom and Dad’s enormous bathroom (about as big as my family room) has not just double vanities, but double toilets and a double shower, for the couple that really thrives on togetherness. In addition, there is an office, a fitness room, a laundry room, a mud room, and a three car garage.

The intriguing part is that the fully furnished model is chock full of props to help you envision the upscale lifestyle you’ll have if you move here. There’s champagne chilling on fake ice in the conservatory, fake pies cooling in the kitchen, wine with fake grapes, fake cheese and a wine-tasting notebook in the laundry room (apparently, actually doing laundry in the laundry room would be much too mundane for these homeowners). The fake computer is ready to go on the office desk, and there are fake rose petals on the massage table in the fitness room. The bedrooms are filled with the trappings of successful children: Science Fair awards, sports trophies, ballet gear. It’s like an elaborate stage set, with all the details in place, from the tissue-filled shopping bags in the closets to the bottles of San Pellegrino on the kitchen island. But the overall effect to me is one of decadence and indulgence. How much space, how much stuff, how much luxury does one family need? I’m at a point in my life where I’m more interested in the minimum I need to be happy, rather than the maximum.

Which brings me to what is currently my favorite house in Fredericksburg. I pass this tiny brick cottage on Fauquier St. all the time. I’m told that it was bought and renovated with the goal of using it as a B&B rental, but the plan fell through and it is currently unoccupied. There are shutters at the windows, so I can’t see in, and have no clue to the floorplan. But I’ve imagined it in my head—the loveseat in front of the fireplace, the kitchen area with its café table and chairs, the narrow stairway to the bedroom upstairs under the pitched roof. I’ve become enamored of small living spaces lately, and I’ve been wondering just how many square feet one person actually needs. One person alone, I’ve decided, could be quite happy in a very small space. Two people in tight quarters full time would be more difficult, but don’t you think this little cottage would make a perfect pied-à-terre for someone like me living in the wilds of Spotsylvania County?

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