Small homes are becoming a rage in many parts of our country – some of it out of economic necessity, some of it due to life choices.
I just heard Aug. 15 that Portland, Oregon, is the fastest-gentrifying city in the country. And one of the steps people there are taking to try to keep folks in their neighborhoods as rent prices soar is to allow what we here in Taos call casitas. There, they have some fancy name for them, like auxiliary housing units or some such. Creating small places to live in people’s backyards has become the rage and the city is creating zoning to encourage more of those small houses. Small houses mean small rents and help keep folks from being displaced.
Here in Taos, we have traditionally had small houses, but mostly as auxiliary structures to a main house. I’m not sure of the history and how they came to be so important here, but my guess is they began somewhat organically – just as how houses grew in size back in the day. Simply, necessity is the mother of invention and caused expanded housing, many times with bedrooms leading to and through other bedrooms, which would never be accepted today. And at some point, the house got as big as it could and another structure was just the best way to deal with greater need. At least that’s how I think it came to pass.
But there were also teepees that our Native American brothers and sisters lived in. And they were just one room, with no way to expand them. All family members slept in the same space as they cooked and hung out – that is, if they hung out. (I’m not really sure of that.) Anyway, those spaces were also portable, which casitas could not match. I don’t think Native Americans had anything like guesthouses or casitas, although maybe they had extra poles and skins and brought them out when company came.
Back in New Jersey, where I used to live – with an emphasis on used to – most homes were three or four bedrooms. Zoning didn’t allow for – and, frankly, I knew no one who pined for – additional structures on their land. There, all was done within one home or structure. If you needed more bedrooms, you made do or moved.
To me, casitas or small homes can be cool. We had one that had been a large carport, but was built with vigas and corbels and it was so spiffy we turned it into a place to live. It was about 450 square feet, but had a full living room, bedroom, a small kitchenette and a bathroom. While small, it was an efficient use of space and we lived in it quite happily for a month while we were having some work done in the main house.
I have seen some really sweet casitas. One of my favorites of all time is on the former John Young Hunter estate. That one was small, with no kitchen, but it was a page out of a Ralph Lauren catalog and really spiffy funky – if you can imagine that. I will always remember that cabin, as one day, another broker was showing the property and signals somehow got crossed. She and her client walked in on a couple doing what comes naturally. A first and only for me. And for those folks.
On a separate note, there is a casita on the west side of Blueberry Hill Road that goes with the large house with the turret or gable-like roof. I saw that one on the Realtors’ tour more than seven years ago, but it sticks in my head because it is the only one I’ve been in where I thought the casita was nicer than the main house.
Look in any newspaper or magazine these days that feature homes and you’re bound to find an article on small homes. I have seen some incredible creativity and functionality, but I know I couldn’t live in 200 square feet, no matter how nice. I prefer having more than one place to sit at home and more than one place where I can be on my computer. I can do small, but small is relative.
We have downsized without getting small. One space we live in is 1,750 square feet and the other about 1,350. Those work for us now – not too much, but just enough. I know I could go smaller, but for now, I prefer what I have. And isn’t that all of our goals?
Harvey Blaustein is a retired attorney and local real estate broker.