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Does Europe have it right on home size?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 3, 2012 08:06 AM

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When it comes to home design, too often big is just plain ugly, especially with new construction.

Let's face it - we positively lust after big houses in this country, with Greater Boston no exception to the rule.

In fact, teardowns have become the primary form of new construction in a number of affluent western suburbs. Today's hot-shot, two-income professional couples apparently can't imagine finding happiness in anything less than 2,500 square feet.

It increasingly means that old capes, ranches, split levels and even colonials are getting bulldozed to make way for newer and too often bigger and uglier houses.

Compared to the rest of the world, where 1,100 square feet is considered spacious, we are definitely an outlier.

I was reminded again about how the rest of the world does things during the recent home exchange that my wife Karen and I did with a family in Quebec City.

OK, Canada isn't Europe, but home sizes are a lot closer to European models than to anything here. This is especially true in the province of Quebec, where the average home size is just under 1,200 square feet and where 46 percent of all the low-rise apartments in Canada are located.

In our exchange, we spent a week in a first floor, three-bedroom flat in a neighborhood within sight of the old city. Not counting a significant expanse of basement space being retrofitted into a play area, I would peg the main living area at 800 square feet.

However, it was well laid out, well lit and pleasant.

I got a look at the rest of the neighborhood on daily jogs - in a nearby suburban area, the average house size jumped to roughly 1,100 or 1,200 square feet, with no exceptions that I could see. (For that matter, it was the pretty much the same pattern everywhere we traveled in Quebec City and its environs.) Everything was about the same size, no huge McMansion lording over the neighbors.

OK, it was different, even for someone like me whose house in Natick is barely pushing 1,700 square feet - and that's after a major renovation and addition.

But it was very liveable. Also, and I think this is key, there was a much greater investment in public spaces, with a copious number of parks with well maintained playgrounds, running tracks, and swimming pools.

Here's a list of average home sizes from around the world compiled by the BBC.

US: 2,300sf
Australia: 2,217sf
Denmark: 1,475sf
France: 1,216sf
Spain: 1,044sf
Ireland: 947sf
UK: 818sf

So what's your take? Is big bad?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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