According to property expert and host of Selling Houses Australia Andrew Winter, it’s not the size of your home that matters — it’s what you do with it.
The question of home size has certainly come to the fore in recent years after a few very extravagant decades of … let’s call it square-metreage gluttony. Granted, following the 1950s/60s and even into the 70s, our desire to make our homes more spacious and fit for entertaining was a natural progression. Those new generations of home-owners had grown up in cramped conditions: two or three to a bedroom and, worse, sharing bathrooms. Even more unthinkable was having to leave the building to visit the dunny.
As well as the desire for more bedrooms and bathrooms, suddenly it seemed we all wanted to entertain, play pool at home and drink at our own bars, so along came the rumpus room. No more was a single rail enough to hang our clothing collection on; we had credit cards now, so to accommodate more attire we needed walk-in-wardrobes. We needed multiple bathrooms, too, and we simply had to have space for the spa, a must-have that everyone loved to show off but never use. The one family car was traded for a pair, but these vehicles were not so hardy. They were not up to being out in the harsh Australian elements, so they needed to be garaged; hence the double garage became another essential.
The children of these families influenced the perceived need for more space, too. Having been brought up in such comfort, they weren’t going anywhere until they could afford a BIG home of their own. So, at home with Mum and Dad they stayed, perhaps encouraging yet another family move to something even bigger.
As we entered the decade of true excess, the ‘80s, we began to supersize our homes. Then came the ‘90s and early noughties and soon we were fully pumping up our homes, feeding them accommodation steroids. We now had to have media rooms, studies, bathroom numbers equal to bedrooms, several living spaces and huge outdoor covered areas to entertain friends and family, many of whom were relieved to take a break from cleaning and maintaining their own ginormous spreads.
So here we are in our teens decade, actually beginning to question the excesses in our lives. We now have a vast array of big homes, mostly in outer suburbs and quite likely enough to cater for the genuinely larger households that will want the space, use it and, hopefully, be able to afford it, though all the predictions about households of the future are for smaller family groups.
Home size is relative
In my opinion, size does matter. There is a minimum size for every location and housing need that allows comfortable accommodation for the family or individuals likely to reside in it. In cities and urban locations, where space is tight and at a substantial premium, small homes are more acceptable, no question. This confirms the theory that space is relative to where it is, who is likely to fill that space and, finally, what home buyers and builders see as the norm.
I do genuinely believe we are seeing the start of a backlash against the notion of the house that is large because it can be, rather than because it needs to be. Hence the derogatory term “McMansion”. Big homes will always be built by the rich and sometimes by those who appear to be rich until the banks remind them they really are not. Quite right, too. Our housing stock needs variety. But the days of huge piles of construction materials thrown together to be as big as possible at the cost of aesthetics, good design and quality of finish are numbered — I hope!
One unhappy outcome of the desire to build big is the demise of the backyard. As home sizes grew larger and larger, typical block sizes were getting smaller, resulting in the familiar new housing estates where every square metre of permissible building land is covered in concrete. Yet the same amount of living space could be achieved, along with more garden and more space between you and your neighbours, by partially or completely going double storey or simply reducing your design by 10 per cent. It would be cheaper, too.
Yes, size matters, but it’s absolutely vital that you know what to do with it. If you are considering building or designing a new home, or maybe you’re about to renovate or extend your existing property, and if you have the luxury of being able to choose how many square metres you build or add on, consider the following points:
– Every extra square metre costs money: typically, in a new build, anything from $1000 to $3000+ per square metre. For extensions, it can be more, with costs starting at around $1500 per square metre and rising ever upwards.
– Think about a minimum space you would be comfortable and happy in by comparing your planned spaces with existing rooms and areas you can visibly see. Sure, you may want to add a few metres to make it perfect, but this method helps keep budgets on track.
– Focus on specification and design features of your new areas. Quality windows, airy ceiling heights, finer architectural details and features, and higher-quality flooring materials and mouldings will all be more possible when sheer size is not the main focus.
– Good architecture can create a feeling of more space without actually building it. Huge rooms/open spaces with standard ceiling heights can often feel smaller than spaces that are a bit smaller in floor area but have higher ceilings. Window positions/sizes and the shape and sight lines of the area will also add the illusion of space.
– Rooms with little purpose or that offer no appeal, feature or aspect are arguably a waste of square metres.
– Think about balance in your overall design. You may want a master suite the size of a stadium at the cost of the other bedrooms being dull 3m × 3m soulless boxes. Do you really need all that space in one room at the expense of other areas or could you reduce the size and up the specification instead?
So size does matter. The space in any home must work for its occupants. I do believe, though, that the focus on building 50 or 60 squares should give way to the desire to build beautifully designed dwellings whose size is appropriate. Yes, build big if you can afford to create a high-quality space, one that will allow you to not be sharing conversations with your neighbours because you are so close. But for those of us dictated to by budget, we should not be scared to swap size for specification and creative design.
The reality I see in the real estate market is a clear move in recent years towards quality rather than quantity, and that is being appreciated by buyers, too. That means your future investment will be protected, so don’t be afraid to construct something that’s the right size for you — not the size you think everyone else believes it should be.
By Andrew Winter, property expert and host of Selling Houses Australia
Image: Home by GA & PA Pilcher, pilcherbuilder.com.au, Photography by Andrew Lecky
From Grand Designs Australia magazine Vol. 2 No. 2