Giant T.V. Boxes

A Good Backyard circa 1960

My husband has recently been hired by a major airline. This means we will eventually move from our beloved little town, far from an interstate, to the inevitable matrix of commercialism, toll roads, and bustle inherently found near major airports. I am trying real hard not to think about this too much, so I am concentrating on getting excited about finding a house and neighborhood that I like. One with charm, neighborly goodwill, and an abundance of green spaces.

This is harder than you think. What I am finding is that most homes these days are designed for a lifestyle that does not fit our family. As I plow through online photos of houses for sale, I am continually floored by both the size and number of t.v.s found in homes these days. Page after page of living rooms with recesses built specifically for oversized t.v.s, replacing the built-in bookcases that used to be preferred. There are t.v.s in kitchens, bathrooms, even garages. Predictably, any home built after 1990 follows a formula based around current values. As I look at the architectural changes and general house-to-yard ratio from the early 30s homes to now, I see proof in how much our values have changed.

Square Feet
As our families have shrunk in both size and co-habiting generations, our houses have grown. Tremendously. 1,200 sq. feet used to be sufficient to raise a family of 6. Now, 3,000 sq. feet is a must. For a family of 4. No matter what this says about our attitude towards children, one thing is clear. We like our stuff. We need bigger houses to hold more stuff. We prefer exercise equipment to a walk outdoors. We need closets the size of bedrooms to hold our clothes, shoes, and purses. Our kitchens must be able to accommodate every gadget Pampered Chef ever made, yet I would bet the average family eats out more often than it cooks! And, of course, we need more space for t.v.s and the couches that must accompany them. Personally, I don’t want that much house to clean! Whew! It tires me out just thinking about it. But, then again, if your kids are glued to the t.v., they don’t make that much of a mess.

Don’t worry. Windows have not gone away. New homes have windows. I just have noticed that the placement is different. The windows are designed now to catch light. This is not a bad thing. Countless homes I have viewed have these gorgeous windows flanking the fireplaces t.v. alcoves. These windows run clear up to the second story. Stunning. But what is lacking are windows that afford a good view of the backyard and side yards. Bedrooms seem to favor high windows. Picture windows are out. Besides, those pesky windows, if placed low, interfere with the t.v. armoire placement.

Backyards, or lack of them
Why do you need low windows when there is nothing to look out upon? Why a picture window when you are only gazing upon a fence? Or a neighbor’s air conditioning unit? We have sacrificed green spaces and trees and a yard to accommodate all of that living space we seem to need. Never mind if you enjoy breakfast on the patio. Or that the kids have no where to build a fort, play war (hear the collective sucking in of breath), or toss a ball. We need the space to build a game room so the Game Cube playing doesn’t interfere with the big t.v. in the living room.

A Bad Backyard circa 2000

The Great Room Concept
I’m not talking about a kitchen that is open to a family room. I renovated my 1930s servant’s kitchen to remove a swinging door with the precise purpose of opening up my kitchen. I am talking about these cavernous rooms that have open kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and even open balconies to include the second story. I assume this is so everyone can keep an eye or ear on American Idol, even while going about their other activities. This would drive me crazy. In a homeschooling family, quiet, private space is a premium. Besides, who wants to see the dirty dishes stacked in the sink and glasses left out on the counter from all angles of the house? Oh, wait, that’s what fast food is for!

Image over Substance
My last frustration with current values is the lack of quality in construction materials. Something has to give when building such enormous homes, so I suppose real wood takes a back seat to fiberboard. Trimwork has almost disappeared. The front of a home may have brick, but certainly not the sides. And these are homes that are not inexpensive! I guess that as long as the house looks good from the street it doesn’t really matter what the inside looks like. Besides, no one will notice when must-see t.v. is on.

I know that I sound a little bitter, but seeing how our homes have been turned into giant t.v. boxes, I can’t help but worry about our future generations. Will they appreciate nature? Will they know how to have a conversation? What are the effects of surrogate parenting with Nickelodeon? We are already seeing a massive decline in the physical health of our children. Their thumb muscles are well-developed, and a few gifted ones may put that to good use by becoming excellent surgeons, but those will be the exceptions. Who will know the joys of curling up in a quiet corner and reading a book? Who will remember watching the habits of birds through a bird feeder placed outside a low window? All of these things endure, many years after the names of the American Idols have long been forgotten.

I suppose we will be looking in neighborhoods built in the pre-entertainment era. I want a backyard! A big one! I want bookshelves! A window seat! A cozy kitchen! A house big enough to find a good place to read a book, but small enough that we don’t need intercoms to hear each other. Anyone have a house like that they want to sell? Of course you don’t. You’re not budging. Is that why I only see the giant t.v. boxes for sale? *sigh*


Filed under Babies & Kids, Homeschooling, Thoughts, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Giant T.V. Boxes

  1. Jen

    Another thing I’ve learned to hate are 6 ft. privacy fences! Here if you have a fence at all, it is a low cedar fence. There are lots of neighborhood conversations while hanging over the fence. Very friendly!!

  2. We were looking to move last year and boy was it an experience…we could not find anything that we liked because unlike most in our area we wanted more land and same/less house and everything was less land and more house. Like you, I do not want to have to clean it. 🙂

    Seriously, things have changed. In the end, we stayed in our home and made some upgrades and our house is pre 1990 so we do not have all of those tv places. Actually, I took a 7 day fast from the tv and now the thing gets turned on for music and nature/animal shows. Our kids are 4 and 3 and they have not even miss the tv because they read, do puzzles, and other family related activities.

    Our home does back to woods, so we have deer that travel by daily as well as rabbits, gophers, and tons of birds and the kids like to be able to observe nature. Here’s hoping and praying that you find the house that suits your family.

  3. So how much are you asking for it?! 🙂

  4. If you are coming to Maryland…let me know. 🙂

  5. Ooo! Ooo! Ooo! Pick me! Pick me!! (hand raised)

    This is so up my alley. And my hubby’s — he designs houses. He works for a big homebuilder, so he has to cater to the folks who are doing the purchasing. But on a personal level, we are definitely not into the “big box” houses (which is what his company really calls them) that optimize room count and square footage while minimizing the “spec level”, which is what the quality-level of materials is called.

    Thankfully, “his” company is privately held, and is not totally profit-driven, so he’s given a fair number of opportunity to try to speak some high-quality sense into the homebuilding process.

    Have you ever read anything by Sarah Susanka? She’s the author of “The Not-So-Big House” and several others along the same lines. She’s definitely into maximizing quality spaces & materials that make sense, not the low-quality McMansions that so many have been fond of the last 15 years or so.

    BTW, if you’re going to have to move to a big-city-hub, my vote is for St. Louis. It has some very neighborly suburbs in close proximity to the airport. Just last month, I visited a friend in St. Charles, MO, and thought the area was really lovely.

    My hubby and I are (slowly) working towards designing our own home that will (hopefully) be on 5 acres+ — a not-so-big house on a really big lot.

  6. So does he ever get to put the principles of the Susanka book into practice? I’ll have to check this book out. It sounds like the kind of home we are looking for will either be custom built or old, both of which are usually expensive!!

    That’s funny that they are actually called “big boxes.” I have a realtor friend who calls them ‘disposable houses.’

  7. Karen – Another question…I know there is no magic formula but what do you and your husband think the ideal square feet would be for a large family (4+ children) that would cozy but smart?

  8. Nita

    I love the photos you have added! Although we are very close to the major hubs of our town we have a fabulous back yard! The families that lived here before were retired and the landscaping shows it! There is a large lawn space for soccer balls and baseballs and yet a strip of woods along the back so my kids think they are hiking around the wilderness – perfect for hiding out from the pirates! Although we have the fences they are strategically covered by bushes (some flowering some not) but enough vegetation cover the fence you really don’t notice it! We don’t get deer but enough birds and a few squirrel that we can do a “backyard bird count” for the Audobon right here. We have blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, and three raised gardens. So I must say even though acreage is wonderful there are places in the “city” that have been adapted to feel like an open space park. We can’t take the credit it was the previous owners plan and I thank them each time I look out – (however they probably never intended it to get quite such a wild, overgrown look we love it)!


    My point is don’t be discouraged in looking – gems can be found even in the midst of “neighborhoods”!

  9. Sounds like a backyard paradise!!

    In what year was your home built?

  10. Nita

    The house is 15 years old – so all of the “landscaping” has had time to fill out significantly due to our geographical location. We’ve had to replace carpet (WHY does anyone put carpet in a dining room or a bathroom??????????) but our windows are fantastic – in the kitchen the sink sits in a section that juts out into the backyard (picture a window box) with three windows from counter level almost to ceiling – so I feel I have this command view of the backyard – in the adjoining living room we have two windows that extend from knee height to almost ceiling with only a small space between – we arrange our furniture so the most seats face the windows and the yard – it feels like having the yard on two big screen tvs.

    The down-side is that we are in a neighborhood and the houses on either side are very close – we aren’t in a cul-de-sac so there isn’t a place for safe bike riding and I don’t have a front porch!

    If I were dreaming up a house though I would have a school room with built in book shelves (at least 4 massive sections), built in cubbies, and a closet with shelves so I could store, organize, and close the door!

    Ah more storage!!

  11. Jill ~ My hubby works in smart design as much as he can. We’re just not “keeping up with the Joneses” kind of people, so of course, that’s going to be reflected in his home design choices. I think the book “A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander was more influential to him than Susanka’s stuff. Hers was more, I think, confirmation of what he already knew.

    But, since he works for a builder (Shea Homes Arizona), and they put the food on the table, if it’s a huge-square-footage series that needs to be designed, then that’s what he’ll do. But, he’s always pushing for smarter, more thoughtful design.

    Also, pivotal to his design decisions has been a close working relationship with a guy named Howard Englander, who is a national expert on home design.

    As far as homes for large families go… it’s more the bedroom size that matters than the overall square footage of the house. Most 3+ bedroom houses are built under the assumption that you’re going to put one kid in each room… so they minimize the secondary bedrooms, down to 10′ x 10′ or smaller, and put the footage into the “master suite” or some place like that. I think if you have two (maybe three) HUGE secondary bedrooms (like 15×18 or larger), you can turn them into bunk rooms, putting 2-4 kids in each room, with room for beds & dressers & toys & maybe even desks… but keep your living spaces more practically sized, and keep the traffic areas (like halls) to a minimum. Still, though, you’d be hard pressed to do that in under 2000 s.f.

    IOW, the layout matters more than the actual square footage (which is one of Susanka’s continual points).

  12. I love this post. We have 7 kids, and the first thing we are asked when people find this out is “how big is your house?” But we have a small (just about 2000sf) cape style house. My husband and I have a tiny bedroom downstairs, and the upstairs is 2 big bedrooms… 3 girls in one, 4 boys in the other. To add living space, my husband converted our 2 car garage into a big open family room. We spend 90% of our time in that room… it’s all we need. We do have a good sized backyard, and that is something I wouldn’t give up for anything.

    I am reading the comment above and totally agree. It’s all in the layout. Ours was built in 1950, so the layout was pretty tight, small rooms etc. But we took down walls and opened it up, and it works well for the 9 of us.

    I stumbled upon here by accident, but I think I will go peruse the rest of your blog!

  13. Everyone thought we were crazy when we bought our current house, a 3 bedroom 1930s bungalow when we were pregnant with our fourth child. We have 3 girls in one room and 1 boy in the other. Each of the rooms is huge, 16 x 20. The only problem I have is the varying levels of neatness among a 10, 5, and soon to be 2 y/o. My oldest has finally started taking pride in her room and bed appearance and gets frustrated with the 5 y/o’s sloppiness. Often, 1/2 the room is clean and the other half a total mess! I am hoping her neatness will rub off on the youngers!

    I was excited to read about your older adoption! We know that we want to adopt but are waiting to get this big move behind us and also raise the funds. Finding a smaller home will help us to do this!!

  14. I’m sorta halfway in the middle here. I like having the ‘great’ room… it makes me feel like I can really connect with my whole family by having that one space be really open. And we need at least 2000 sqft for our family. But that’s mostly because our oldest son is in a wheelchair and needs open spaces to be able to maneuver in. Not only that, but at least one of the bathrooms needs to be large for his wheelchair to be able to move around in, even if that means we share the master bathroom with him. But then, at the moment, we don’t home school any of our children. We may need to home school our oldest later in life when he can’t communicate as well as he can now. And yet, I’d also love to have a HUGE yard. One that he can go run around in the back yard with his other 3 brothers with. One that will let us have some large dogs sometime down the road. Alas, being a military family, we’re not going to be able to afford such a house anytime soon. But who knows, maybe we can buy a smaller home, and send in an application for Extreme Makeover Home Edition to come build us a house to meet all our needs. I really like your sense of humor, and I’ll be coming back again sometime. I found you by clicking the random link on the CWO webring do-hickey on my blog. Ta for now dahling!

  15. closets as big as bedrooms..funny. when we were looking for a house a few years ago we found one with a nice walkin closet off the master bedroom. we thought we could use it as a nursery. lol

    like another person said, don’t get too discouraged cuz you might find a nice sized place. it took us a while but we were finally able to find one that has a good chunk of land (by socal standards) that we could afford.

    do you know where you are moving to yet?

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