In the early days of the 20th century, America followed Britain into the architectural response to the previously dominating Victorian style. The upper class and upper middle class during this time believed in a complex set of social rules about appropriateness which is greatly reflected in many houses from that era. The homes built at the time were full of fancy single purpose rooms for public functions and private use as well as less ornate rooms for their children and servants, as deemed appropriate by the social mores of the day.
Jump up to the present day now, where our modern housing trends seem to echo the Victorian trend to large superfluously roomed homes. As the American family has slowly shrunk over the last 40 or so years, the size of the homes that we live in has steadily inflated so that many of our neighbourhoods are shoulder to shoulder with characterless monster homes built to the edges of their tiny city lots. Many of these homes echo the Victorian trend of multiple rooms all serving related purposes, sometimes exactly the same purpose.
This trend is of little consequence until you take a look at a vital difference. There were cultural reasons that the Victorian-era family needed duplicity in their homes. The rules about public and private areas dictated that you needed to have a foyer, a parlour near the entrance to your home to receive guests, a butler's pantry, a china closet, a drawing room, and servant's quarters. Some of these rooms were needed, of course, because home design hadn't progressed to the point where kitchens had food and dish storage built into them yet, but some were also a matter of manners.
In our modern times most people would be hard pressed to explain why they really need to have a living room as well as a family room much less six bedrooms and five bathrooms in their house. One of the accompanying trends that we've seen over the same years that houses have been increasing in size is a shrinking of the 'average' family size in North America. So, this means that we're building bigger and bigger spaces to live in with smaller and smaller families.
I've been very interested in the trend that's slowly becoming more prevalent in North America lately. At the end of the Victorian era there was the drive to return to more useable spaces, emphasizing the form of function and the genuine materials that houses were made from instead of faux finishing. This trend meant for many people the movement away from homes that existed for other people to homes that existed to be lived in. This was known as the Arts and Crafts movement.
Our modern down-sizing trend is strikingly similar to the Arts and Crafts movement in many ways. Both movements were concerned about building livable spaces with quality materials. Many of the small home designs being designed and built currently have an emphasis on quality over the 'quantity' involved in the massive "McMansions". The smaller homes have a much smaller carbon footprint, making them a wise choice for the environment as well. Hopefully we will continue to see this trend grow.
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