What is your new economy?

Since the launch of the Builder Concept Home 2010, I have been at the center of a fascinating dialog with builders/developers, homeowners and the media regarding the homebuilding industry – both where we are now and where we are going next. Here are some observations:

1. Small is the New Green – Everyone is talking about it but no one knows quite what it means. Small is everywhere. For some this simply means reducing the floor plan of a McMansion on a Xerox machine; for others, “going small” means eliminating formal rooms, such as living rooms, dining rooms and foyers. Bother strategies miss an opportunity to make smaller homes just as livable, if not more so, than their larger predecessors.

As home sizes grew during the boom, there was very little strategy for adding the space; square footage was relatively free and a marketing advantage. Downsizing is not as easy. Done well, a small home lives large. Done wrong, it won’t sell.

My tips for designing small: use high, flat ceilings; keep the foyer but skip the missile silo volume; use windows on side walls; connect to the outdoors, via windows and usable porches; and connect to a larger community so you can walk to some if not all of your daily needs—the coffee shop, the movie theater, the gym—instead of having to cram them into your home or add footage to accommodate them.

2. TVs are important … but, there are ways to design a home, using both furnishings and technology, that allow a TV to be watched and enjoyed without setting it up as a central alter for worship.

3. If we design closets better our homes will live larger. This means designing closets to take advantage of all of the space they provide, from floor to ceiling. Unless you have a closet full of ball gowns, you do not need 6′ of full-length hanging space. Double up hang rods, add storage above the closet, and create more room for shelving to maximize storage in the same-size (or smaller) closet spaces you already provide. Organizing systems are also an option to optimize these spaces.

4. The Clutter Closet is the new Message Center. A new concept that is getting great traction in the New Economy Home is the Clutter Closet. The Clutter Closet merges the program of the message center with the practicalities of how we live today.

Let’s face it: the message center was a great idea, but a waste of space. Rather than sitting at a desk paying the bills or surfing the ‘net, the desk became a heap of papers.

The clutter closet is designed to accommodate all of the chargers and little electronic gadgets that clutter our lives. It also absorbs papers, files, mail, books, all of our gadget rechargers, and the wireless printer, among other stuff of modern life. The best part about it is that you can close it all behind a door so you don’t have to look at it when it’s not in use.

The idea of this concept home was to introduce a discussion in the industry, and beyond, about what and how we build as we navigate the shifting sands of the economy. As such, I would like to take the opportunity of my first blog on this site to do exactly that —have a discussion. We want to hear from you. What is your new economy? What is working for you?

Let  us know. Don’t be shy; post a comment.


4 comments to “What is your new economy?”

  1. Roger says:

    I’ve known about your concept home for a while now and I find it very compelling, but some things concern me. I am in the market for a new home and I like the idea of building a brand new small home like yours. But I have have some concerns. I know nothing about house building & design so forgive me if my questions/comments seem ignorant.

    In such a relatively small house how is the sound proofing from room to room compared to other new homes? To an older (1980s say) home?

    I live in a COLD place. Wouldn’t an arctic entry make sense? The recessed garage seems like a disadvantage to me. I know snout houses are ugly and all, but the closer the garage is to the street the less I have to shovel the drive way.

    I read magazines like Popular Science and they often talk about this and that innovation (e.g. some fancy window that’s supposed to save me oodles of heating cost & save the planet). I see so many products out there promising to be the gold standard or be some new innovation and I am confused as to which is actually the best value for the $. For me, it doesn’t have to be luxury, for me it’s all about cost quality & durability, i.e.value. My standard is some repairman showing up 100 years from now and saying, “Damn they built ‘em good in 2010.” Not, “Looks real pretty but damn the thing is like my wife, high-maintainence”. How did you pick the “right” window (or whatever other product) did you have a rubric on which product to pick?

    I see you have all these corporate sponsors. Sorry for being cynical, but I just worry you picked a given product because you could get a tie-in deal, not because it’s the best value.

    I wish your design had a pantry. I find mine so useful. Since it never really gets hot here I put all my semi-perishables in there that I want relatively cold but not taking up space in the fridge.

    Did you take into consideration future proofing? Are there technologies on the horizon but aren’t quite here yet? How does the house anticipate being able to adapt to these?

    What about the lawn? I know this isn’t the house per se, but I’d like to have a zero or no maintainence yard. I don’t want to mow it but don’t want to piss off the neighbors either. Is there some certain vegetation you can suggest?

    What is compelling to me is the size of your house. Where I live the property taxes are partly determined by the square footage of the home, size of the lot and any added improvements (e.g. deck, shed, garage, etc). See they don’t tax quality. I like that. Build a small home on a small lot but extremely high quality as opposed to a larger home with poor design & construction.

    Lot’s of questions I know. But hey, you said not to be shy. If some of these are simply ignorant of basic concepts & ideas is there some literature you can suggest?

    Thanks, love your house and am leaning towards buying something like it.

  2. Marianne Cusato says:


    Thanks for your email. In response to your questions –

    1. Bedrooms are separated when possible by closets. For the rooms where this is not possible, we suggest using insulation in the walls for privacy.

    2. The entry foyer can easily be enclosed with French doors or a curtain to keep the cold air out of the living room.

    3. See Builder online letters to the editor from the Feb. issue of Builder Magazine in regard to the garage.

    4. We believe in all of the products that we specified for this house, not because we were bought by corporate sponsors, but because we feel the products contribute to making this house a sustainable long term design. Both Mark LaLiberte and myself reviewed the specs to make sure everything
    fit our vision.

    5. There is a pantry to the left of the refridgerator. It is not large, but fitted out with storage shelves, it can hold quite a bit. We have also added a double layer of upper cabinets to accommodate more storage.

    6. This house is designed to be future-proofed as much as possible. It is based on timeless principles of design that have proven their value through the years.

    I hope that these answers address your questions. Thanks for your post.


  3. Susan Nielsen says:

    I like the house, especially the storage and the unfinished upstairs room (my sewing studio!). However, I do not see the diminsions of the house. How wide? How long? I have a 50 x 100 lot. Could it accomodate solar panels on the roof? And where does the TV fit in the living room? There seems to be no wall space available.

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