Get Out of the (Oversized) House!

I never imagined there would come a day when I would link to an editorial in House & Garden magazine, but this piece on smartsizing is a winner. It discusses the ridiculousness and pure waste of home sizes that have ballooned to, in parts of Connecticut, 27,000 square feet and more. Neighbors are working to block a house that was going to be 38,000 square feet since, well, that is just too big.

That’s about the size of a Wal-mart superstore, but who’s counting? It isn’t just the size (27,000 square feet is already more than 10 times the average home in America, which is already a higher average than anywhere in the world by far), it’s the isolating existance that these mega-mansions produce. When your massive estate includes all the things normally done in communities, the article points out, what’s the point of ever coming in contact with other people?

“In feudal link Connecticut, houses have elaborate gymnasiums complete with climbing walls, swimming pools, and tennis courts, their own skating rinks, skeet-shooting ranges, carousels, putting greens—in fact, anything you can think of in the way of entertainment that was once enjoyed in communion with other families, in clubs or, God forbid, public parks.

Public? What a quaint idea. How inconvenient to wait your turn to tee up, or to have to skate past the slowpokes by the railings. Who knows who you might bump into? How quaint, the idea that you might spend several million dollars to fund a carousel so that hundreds of children could have a turn.

I suppose it is only a matter of time before families have their own cobblers and ironmongers and nursing stations on their grounds.”

This kind of life is the polar opposite of that experienced by the independent traveler. Breaking out of even the simplest cocoon, the traveler is constantly in a state of public contact, continually meeting people with different backgrounds, hearing different ideas and opinions, learning about different cultures and traditions. If you are sitting in a modern castle, only seeing the world through what comes into your media room, you are instead insulated from everything not of your own little world and thoughts. You only talk to people who think and act like you.

Please Mr. and Mrs. Zillionaire of Connecticut. Take just one room’s worth of that money and spend a few months traveling abroad. Go talk to real people. Figure out what a home gymnasium’s worth of excess could accomplish somewhere. Maybe it’s a community library. Maybe it’s clean water that comes out of a spigot instead of a distant well. Maybe it’s a few head of cattle that will support an extended family. Maybe it’s even a microlending program that supports the promise of capitalism. In the end though, you and they will both be richer as a result.

Besides, huge house bragging rights aren’t what they used to be. The founder of PeopleSoft wants to build a 72,000 square foot house in California, perhaps to compensate for the fact that his company eventually got swallowed by Oracle. (It would be larger than the Hearst Castle in the photo above.)

  1. Brian

    Living in San Francisco, this kind of stuff is just crazy. I personally can’t believe that the Pacific Heights mansions even exist. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with spending money you’ve worked with in any means you see fit but I’m glad to see folks like Buffet and Gates doing something more memorable with their wealth.

    On a side-note, I really appreciate the “web” format of the RSS feed now. Much better with pictures!

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