The value of space -- and the dollar -- are playing an important role in the design of new houses in Darien and New Canaan. Future homeowners are taking greater care when planning new projects, and while there's still a desire for ample space in various parts of the house, people often are being more discerning with their choices.
"In my business people are looking for smaller," said Mark Fox, owner of Brookside Builders in Darien. "Four thousand square feet seems to be where people want to be, right around 4,000."
He sees several reasons for this.
"I think that families are smaller," Fox said. "I think that taxes on the big houses are a factor."
But it's not just money that's motivating the change. Fox said his clientele is younger, with a lot of them looking at their first or second house in which to raise the family.
"People aren't caring so much about property, as they are neighborhood," he said. Large tracts of land are no longer a priority, but a livable family-oriented area is something that many people want.
"We see a trend in homeowners that previously wanted a 10,000-square-foot house on a large lot are now looking for homes in the 5,000-square-foot range that are closer to town," said Kim Bova, of T.R. Build in New Canaan.
"We've kind of seen the ups and downs and the tendency back in the '80s was just the bigger, the better," said Kent Eppley, president of ERI Building & Design in Darien. "These people just wanted everything," he said, with no regard for cost, "and now it seems to be a much more practical approach."
He added, "I guess smaller is the trend, or more practical, I would say, is the trend, making sure the space they have is space they're going to use."
"The reality is people are paying more attention to size," said Scott Hobbs, president of Hobbs, Inc., based in New Canaan. "We still have people that want really large houses, but it's typical that they think through what their needs are and that a very large house is what they need for their family and situation.
"It's not a simple answer," he said.
Eppley noted that "need" for space is a relative term. "Basically people are not as willing to put in all this space that they're not going to use or need on a daily basis," he said.
"I think certainly money's tighter," Eppley said. "Things are better now. I think people are a little more confident that at least the worst is over, (but) I think people don't have silly money to throw around anymore. I think people are more aware."
Another aspect involves ever-growing interest in the environment, with homeowners consciously trying to be more energy efficient.
"I agree with that 100 percent," Eppley said. "People are not as interested in these massive houses that they've got to heat and cool and maintain," with attention to energy efficiency also relating directly to savings.
"I think there are certainly people who can afford to pay these ridiculous heating and oil bills, but I think it's a consciousness about being green," he said.
When reductions are made, builders agree they are much more likely to come in bedroom sizes, or possibly supplemental rooms, such as formal dining rooms. On the other hand, shared communal space remains a big priority across the board.
"That's the No. 1 driver of what people want because they want their kids around them," Fox said.
"The important rooms are the family room-kitchen combination," he said.
"People want modern and luxurious amenities in efficiently designed spaces that work with how their families live," Bova said. "Mudrooms are in great demand to keep families with kids and pets organized. Open floor plans and relaxed entertaining areas -- both indoor and outdoor -- are more desirable than formal living and dining rooms that are rarely used."
"Gathering space is still very important, but how people allocate that space has changed, " Hobbs said. "There are more people who don't have a formally dedicated living room and dining room."
Eppley added, "Living rooms are certainly much less of a concern. We're taking a lot of these big living rooms that no one ever went into and we're cutting them in half."
"Master bedrooms are getting smaller," Fox said.
And Hobbs said some bedroom suites are becoming smaller, "especially secondary bedroom suites."
These days people seem to be building smarter, rather than -- as Hobbs put it -- "just trying to max out a property."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.