For years now, I've felt that many new homes reflect a Madison Avenue drive toward continued conspicuous consumption. From the 1960s into the mid-1990s, while the average American family shrank from 3.6 to 2.7 people, the size of the average new American house grew from 1,400 sq. ft. to 2,200 sq. ft. Even as families became smaller, many homes were built well beyond their practical needs. The increase in the size of our houses was matched only by the corresponding increase in our debt load (and in the subsequent rate of bankruptcies).
But as this century draws to a close, there seems to be a sea change in the way people are thinking about true wealth, true happiness, and the homes in which they want to live. At the same time our lives are becoming increasingly accelerated by the demands and trappings of the cybernetic future, many Americans find their hearts turning toward visions of a mellower and somehow more fundamental lifestyle. 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. We are ready for houses that belong comfortably to their site and regional heritage -- houses to which we, in turn, can comfortably belong.
In the pages that follow I present a tour of recently constructed houses whose design clearly evokes the feeling of "cottage" while still speaking to our contemporary lifestyle and to the architects' own visions. Each of these houses shares some, if not all, of the following attributes: a compactness of footprint, an informal and unpretentious interior, an exterior effusive in the use of indigenous materials and rich architectural details, and a site plan that responds intimately to the home's natural surroundings.
These houses seem to call as much to the heart as to the head, enriching us more with the highs of nature than with the highs of technology. These are the new American cottages that embody the ancient storybook dream, and the kind of homes that many of us have always dreamed of living in.