Chicago Life and Style.

Your Home. Your Life. Your Style

Month: April, 2011

Earth Day is coming up-celebrations starting this weekend!

The official date is April 22nd but celebrations are already getting under way.  One of the easiest and most rewarding ways to celebrate Earth Day is to participate in your local park’s clean up and festivities for Earth Day.  Most of the local neighborhood parks in Chicago are organizing some type of activity, whether its planting, cleaning up or fun activities for the kids.  This weekend, April 16th, our local park, Commercial Playground, is hosting a cleanup and even offering lunch for volunteers. As the signs posted around our neighborhood say, “Many hands make work light.”  It’s not just a good way to spend time honoring the Earth but its also a great way to meet your neighbors, check out your local park facilities–or explore parks you haven’t been to before–and spend quality time together with friends and family outside!  We’ve been cooped up long enough this winter, get outside, have fun and be productive! Check the park district website for a list of parks near you–be aware though, most don’t have their activities listed online, call the park you want to go to and ask them what they are planning and how you can participate.

On my personal to-do list this year is to go on more picnics around the city.  There are so many awesome beaches and parks that we have yet to explore! It just so happens that the nature conservancy is sponsoring Picnic for the Planet for Earth Day this year. There is already one planned for Chicago, you can either join in or plan your own! There are a million ways to observe Earth Day, many you can do at home with no fanfare.  The Earth is certainly worth a moment of our thoughts on all days, but especially Earth Day, so I hope you will find some way to honor our home.  As my daughter tells me, “the Earth is our home and we have to be responsible and keep it clean so we can always have a beautiful place to live and have fun”.  I think that about sums it up.

Happy Earth Day!


Does size really matter?

Of course it does!  I’m talking about houses here, obviously. I am a hug fan of House Hunters on HGTV. Addicted you might say. If by some chance you have not seen this fabulous show yet, it’s about people looking for a new home. You get to follow them and their Realtor around to three options that suit their needs and then they choose and you get to see what it looks like after they move in. It’s so fun! My almost 4 year old and I love to guess which one they are going to choose and see which of us is right.  They also have a spin off show, House Hunters International. As you can imagine, the original show highlights moves within the US and International focuses on those living abroad.

The International show is a fun, easy and brief (30 minutes) look into another culture and how people live all over the world. You get to see great scenery, hear lovely accents and catch some sights. But, what always impresses me when I watch the show is how small the homes are everywhere else in the world. I mean, really.  I just watched an episode featuring Paris.  The lady ended up purchasing an apartment that was 121 square feet for $200,000 US.  That’s not a typo guys, one hundred and twenty one square feet! And, it had all the necessities, bathroom, kitchen (at least what goes for a kitchen outside the US) bed, window, etc.  Speaking of kitchens, if you are a fan of contemporary style, you may have run across Euro-kitchens which many developers here in the US began installing in modern and contemporary new construction homes.  Certainly they are sleek and blend very well with contemporary design and architecture. But, don’t try to cook an American Thanksgiving turkey in the oven–no bird over 10 lbs is going to fit! And, forget about shopping at Costco for anything perishable, the sleek and stylish fridge is not made for storing the massive amounts of food most of are used to keeping around.  In the show, you almost NEVER see what we consider a full size fridge anywhere. Even in really high end properties.

So, back to size. I don’t think anyone would consider Parisians to be living in hardship, in fact, I tend to think of Parisian as stylish and sophisticated. Stylish they may be, but they certainly don’t have walk in closets and massive dressing rooms that became the norm here during the housing boom.  Now that the economy has been less than stellar for several years now, people in the US are rethinking the idea that bigger is better.  I often talk about the adjustment of moving to the city from the suburbs or another, smaller city where space is not at such a premium. Now, even people living in wide open space are opting for smaller houses, to the point that many expect their next home to be smaller than the one they are currently living in.

I live in a three bedroom condo with a kitchen, dining room, living room, two full baths and a nice big deck. My neighbor does too, but their condo is 2.5 times the size of mine.  Still only three bedrooms, although they get an extra half bath and all their rooms are bigger than mine. But, functionally, it’s basically the same.  Where is the biggest difference? The upkeep–heating and cooling costs skyrocket, cleaning that amount of space is no small feat which means you have to have the time an energy to spend many hours doing it yourself or add a significant line item to your budget for professional cleaning services, taxes are significantly higher and the cost of the home is obviously higher.  Now, I’m the last person who is going to try to convince you that generous, stately rooms aren’t worth it but as people tighten their belts and re-evaluate what’s important, size suddenly matters and for many people, smaller just got better.

The National Association of Home Builders tracks statistics related to new construction and purchasing patterns.  There are several factors beyond the economy that may be affecting the trends towards smaller homes. In addition to smaller size, home buyers are opting for single story living when they can.  This is likely a reflection of the age and lifestyle of the average home buyer–and it’s great news for city dwellers as most of us live in single story homes.  Some of the most luxurious, well appointed residences are in our historic highrises along Lake Shore Drive.  You can find a home that’s 5,000 square feet or larger if that’s what you want. Purchasing multiple units and creating  a one of a kind residence can be more rewarding than building a single family home from the ground up. Another factor people are considering in new homes in how energy efficient and “Green” they can be.

A recent survey by NAHB asks not only about size but what rooms/features will be included in our future homes.  Formal spaces continue to diminish and disappear. It’s an interesting read if you are considering purchasing a new home, building one or remodeling your current home.  Take a step back and think about how you really use your space–not just what has traditionally been viewed as necessary or important. Before you decide that you need at least x amount of square footage, think about the rooms you really need to live your life, number of bedrooms, baths etc and let that be your guide instead.  Perhaps you can cut your commuting time, as well as your cleaning time, not to mention your budget, by choosing a smaller space with all the important rooms and then spend all the time and money you saved enjoying yourself instead.