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Small houses have big appeal

By Jennifer Wolcott / August 9, 2000



Jim Tolpin has big news for people who like small houses: You are fast becoming the majority. In "The New Cottage Home" ($22.95, Taunton Press, 231 pp.), Mr. Tolpin writes that in recent years there has been a "sea change in the way people are thinking about true wealth, true happiness, and the homes in which they want to live." From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, the size of the average new American house grew from 1,400 square feet to 2,200 square feet. Now, he says, it's shrinking, and cottages are back.

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Driving this trend is the desire to escape today's cybernetic world with a mellower, more fundamental lifestyle, says Tolpin. "It seems we are finally ready to consider unpretentious, modest-sized houses that offer simplicity of form and construction, that are less consumptive of resources and energy, and that so fit the landscape that they look like they were 'grown' rather than built there."

Tolpin takes readers on a stunning visual tour of some of the most interesting cottage homes he's discovered across America - from a Nantucket Island "beach box" to a little red house in the woods of Minnesota and a French-style hunting lodge in the Pacific Northwest.

These homes are under 2,000 square feet, have an unpretentious interior, an exterior that makes good use of indigenous materials, well-crafted architectural details, sashed windows, and thoughtful orientation to the outdoors. They are not, however, the humble dwellings one might think, but a collection of elegant, sometimes-lavish homes.

Tolpin says cottages evoke such qualities as comfort, coziness, charm, simplicity, intimacy, and romance. For many of us, their appeal harks back to when we were children. "In our childhood," he explains, "we found or created spaces to fulfill an essential, unspoken need to feel secure from an overstimulating and dangerous-feeling outside world."

Tolpin traces the history of this architectural style from English country houses of the 1600s through Cape Cod cottages, Gothic Revival cottages, post-Civil War cottages, modernist cottages, and finally, the Arts and Crafts bungalow.

This time of year, when daily life is more relaxed and informal, the idea of a cottage hardly needs selling. Nonetheless, he makes a convincing case. His book just might inspire fresh plans for that dream house. Or at least a little summertime daydreaming.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society