The New American Dream Home
Yesterday’s NY Times profiled the Kawabatas–a family of four who share a 1300 sq ft home in Garrison, NY. The article, entitled “The Anti-McMansion,” tells the tale of one family that’s bucking the American way of living in bigger homes, with more stuff.
To our readers, 1300 sq ft, while far from the 2500 sq ft American average, is not particularly small. The house also sits on a 2 1/2 acres plot, and they are planning a 1500 sq ft addition. The interesting aspect of the Kawabata’s story is how they use the space. The house is one big open space, filled with very little stuff.
The home is modeled on traditional Japanese architecture, which revolves around a large, multi-functional communal space. The only real division, besides a sleeping loft, are dividers made from metal frames and nylon string (the modern equivalent of the shōji screen).
Takaaki and Christina Kawabata have “brainwashed” their children into thinking this way of life normal. For example, their children, Tozai, 6 and Akari, 3, have been trained to clean up after themselves at the end of each day. They are also only allowed to use one toy at a time. According to Takaaki, the children:
Are allowed to make a mess in their specified area–their bedroom–and every time they use their toys, they have to put them back in the bin before going on to the next one.
Tozai, who just entered first grade, is realizing not everyone lives in such austere conditions (which might be particularly true in tony Garrison). When Tonzai asks Takaaki why he can’t have a ton of toys splayed about like his friends do, the father appeals to his son’s sense of logic, asking “how many toys can you play with at one time?”
But it’s not just the kids who abide by a code of conduct. Takaaki and Christina, an architect and designer respectively, got rid of half of their possessions when they moved to their current home in 2008 from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She says of their pared down home, “We love the things that we have and try not to be wasteful. The rest, we edit.”
The Kawabata family shows that the barriers to living an edited life are often not deep-seated, immutable truths about how people live. Kids don’t need a million toys. Adults don’t need tons of stuff. The barriers are cultural. When culture changes, habits follow.
All photos © Takatina and Janson Goldstein, LLP