ORLANDO — They've been dubbed "jewel-box houses" — small homes designed with top-quality materials, upscale detailing and custom built-ins.
Tailored to the owners' way of life, smaller homes suit a variety of demographic groups, including newlyweds, young professionals, empty-nesters and retirees — the last two a fast-growing segment of the population. The recession, the downturn in the housing market and the emphasis on energy-efficiency all are playing into the jewel-box trend — and are making it increasingly difficult for homeowners to unload "starter castles," says architect Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House.
For the past two decades, dream homes have assumed McMansion proportions, says Stephen Gidus, co-owner of PSG Construction in Orlando. Now, "downsizing" is the new watchword.
"Homeowners are taking that portion of their budget that would have been used for larger living spaces, and using it for better details in smaller spaces," Gidus says.
There are signs the housing industry is heeding this trend toward jewel-box homes. Data collected by the National Association of Home Builders in 2008 indicate the average size of a new home is leveling off at just under 2,500 square feet.
One such jewel-box home belongs to Clifford and Krista Goeller of Orlando. Designed by Lucia Custom Home Designers and built by PSG Construction, the exterior features the Craftsman styling popular in the early 20th century, complete with a recessed porch, tapered-box columns and fish-scale siding. The interior has a contemporary open floor plan, but is detailed with traditional Craftsman elements such as wood floors with inlaid tile, an oak staircase and a built-in, furniture-grade entertainment center surrounding the fireplace.
The 2,300-square-foot home "suits our lifestyle and our taste," says Krista Goeller, a transplant from Wisconsin. "Florida houses seem so big and cool and painted. We like the warmth and richness of stained wood. We wanted a cozy house, a house that looks as if it belongs among big old oak trees with moss hanging down."
Huge houses with hotel-scale foyers, formal dining and living rooms, and vast master suites with spa-style bathrooms are out of synch with the informal way Americans live today, says Susanka. In most homes, the kitchen is the place where family and friends gather. Americans take quick showers; they don't luxuriate in soaking tubs. So why not invest in areas we regularly use, and eliminate those that are mostly for show?
Not surprisingly, the home-furnishings industry is attuned to the downsizing trend, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president/marketing at the American Home Furnishings Alliance.
Increasingly, manufacturers are making furniture that is smaller and more multipurpose: love seats instead of sofas, expandable dining tables, home-office armoires with fold-down work stations, and compact corner units for big-screen TVs.