Small Is Big

All those big houses in Westport?

They’re so 2009.

At least, that’s what this Sunday’s New York Times real estate section says.

Lisa Prevost writes that Scott Buddenhagen — “a builder in this image-conscious shore town for 18 years” — 1st resisted the rush to 7,000-square foot “showplaces.”  He even “scoffed at the greed of those who joined in.”

Scott Buddenhagen built this 6,000-square foot home in Weston... (Photo by Douglas Healey for the New York Times)

But eventually, Prevost writes, “he, too, played along — doing very well in the process.”

She says:

Mr. Buddenhagen is still following the money, but these days it’s leading him in the other direction. Convinced that people with the financial means to buy ostentatious houses were humbled by the economy’s near-collapse, he has decided to size his newest speculative project for a more conservative and cautious mindset.

The house, going up on just under an acre on Long Lots Lane, will offer his usual architectural detailing and custom woodwork, but at a smaller scale: 4,400 square feet.

“I’m not trying to make a cheap house,” Mr. Buddenhagen said. “I’m trying to make a more affordable, quality house.”

...but is scaling back to 4,400 square feet. (Illustration by Tom McCartney/Howard Associates, in the New York Times)

Though, she notes, “a downsized house by Westport standards is still larger than the national average for new construction — about 2,480 square feet” — the trend is “notable in a community that has lost hundreds of older houses to the bulldozer over the past decade to allow for residences that sizewise often resemble hotels.”

Prevost says that some large homes here — 9,000 square feet and up — have sat on the market for more than a year. A 13,000-square foot, 20-room colonial on Clapboard Hill Road took 18 months to sell — “at a sharply reduced $6.85 million.”

She quotes Judy Michaelis of Coldwell Banker:  “People want to be a little cozier.”

This being the Times real estate section, there are caveats.  Prevost writes:

Not that builders expect the wealthy to turn their backs on the estate lifestyle. But younger buyers who might have gone to extremes on square footage several years ago seem to be placing a higher premium on pleasing design, superior construction and energy-efficient features.

High-end builder Michael Greenberg “thinks the market is slowly moving toward a time when ‘the new showplace will be, instead of about size, more like, “Look at my solar panels.”’ ”

Builder Buddenhagen “hopes to downsize himself, once he sells his Weston house,” Prevost says.  “He wistfully recalled the 2,300-square-foot antique house in Westport where his family of four lived while the larger house was being built.”

He said:

“We loved it.  Within a week of moving into the house in Weston, my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

But wait!  The Sunday Times real estate section is not through with Westport.  The page 4 “The Hunt” story — which each week features the often-elaborate twists and turns of an always-intriguing person, couple or family as they seek lodging in New York or environs — features Brian Reich, his wife Karen Dahl and their son Henry.

Brian is the son of Westporter Ann Sheffer.  His intriguing life includes 2 years working for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.  At that time, the Times wryly reports, he lived “mostly in Arlington, Va., and on Air Force Two.”

Karen Dahl, Henry and Brian Reich (Photo by Daniel Barry/The New York Times)

One response to “Small Is Big

  1. This is actually a trend that was reported on (in the NYT?) more than 5 years ago. The article described homes in California and other high-end locations that were smaller and real “little architectural pearls”, but they were sold for a high price to pay for the quality. Two advantages, I guess: buyers could still feel proud of their $2mm+ house BUT for people driving by they would see a lovely house in beautiful proportions while the home owners could enjoy (instead of a big box) wonderful moldings, a classic design, beautiful wood inside, real fireplaces, a well-thought-out traffic pattern, room for lots of artwork, etc. Sounds like a great win-win situation, doesn’t it?