What happened to “less is more”?
Dr. V and I are preparing for the arrival of our little guy Spud sometime in February (yes, you can expect a good deal of silence from me about that time). As I’ve described in previous posts, we live in a 450 square foot one-bedroom apartment in the Cherokee Apartments, a landmarked apartment building on the Upper East Side. The building was constructed by Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt for working class families where at least one member was suffering from tuberculosis. Today, the neighborhood is a lot more toney, but families still cram into the small apartments to take advantage of good public schools and riverside parks.
New Yorkers spend a lot of time on Apartment Therapy and other blogs looking for that perfect storage unit, compact appliance, or remodeling idea. The idea of a nursery filled with saucers, bouncers, changing tables, etc. is absurd. When I renovated my kitchen in 2009, I was disgruntled to find that even in NYC, it’s difficult to find mid-range but small appliances and furniture. This is based on the assumption that if you can afford that extra 200 square feet, you’ll buy a 30″ range like any other decent, single-family house-dwelling American. Nor did I have the $16-17K quoted to me for special sourcing of appliances to fit my small kitchen by a designer. All I could find was a cheap and tinny Hotpoint, or a 24″ Viking range, out of my budget, and still too big for my efficient but 24 sq. foot kitchen. But it’s not that good quality in small sizes doesn’t exist; it’s just that only the bloated appliance sells in the US. I went to Cambridge, UK for a wedding in 2008, and saw my dream: a 20″ Electrolux range with double ovens and a glass cover over the burners so the space could be used when you weren’t cooking. Alas, my budget wasn’t so roomy that I could have the whole thing rewired for 120V current and shipped to the US. Check out the plethora of small, well-designed 20″ stoves (and the beautiful SMEG ranges while you are at it) at John Lewis.
There’s a linkage in the US between square footage and moral superiority; small is necessarily lesser. Small appliances assume “college,” “starting out,” or “poverty.” And therefore, in the US most of the offerings are necessarily cheap. Unbelievably, even Home Depot in Manhattan stocks the same appliance offerings as they do in their more rural locations.
I think of the US as the birthplace of industrial design. I saw a 1965 Rambler Marlin on the street the other night and its lines were out of this world. The modern cars around it caught no such attention, having no such detail or beauty. It’s difficult for me to find details to marvel at on many American-made mid-grade appliances and furnishings. Furnishings have continued to bloat in order to keep up with the average modern bloated development house. How do we get that heritage back? How do we continue to grow living smaller and better? (while you are at it, check out my post on the Not So Big movement)
Oooh! I hear ya! My first apt in 1978 in NYC had a 4 burner gas unit with a box-like oven suspended above it. No thermostat! But I still managed to bake cakes, bread, etc. with a trusty cheap thermometer. It sat atop a tiny fridge. The kitchen was 5 x 6, and also served as the entryway and hall to the bath. The coolest foldup bed I ever saw was a DESK, believe it or not, where the workspace folded up to become the headboard, and the single mattress accordioned out from underneath. I still have my grandpa’s old 1920s couch, largely because it is exactly 6 feet from outside of arm to outside of arm. Perfect for a small living room area. And hard to find today. Good luck with Spud. NYC is a great place to raise a little kid if you are in a decent school area. Feel free to contact me for a great preschool recommendation, Best Nancy
Thanks Nancy! That oven sounds like a riot. Good to hear about people making it happen in small spaces. We live right next to a great PS and a small park (with Carl Schurz not far away), so we really want to stay. But the day care/preschool gauntlet is the most daunting thing!
PS needn’t be a gauntlet, esp if you don’t mind Spud going to the midtown west area (not close to you, alas). Email me and I’ll email back with the name of the school. High ceilings make so much possible — bike storage, overhead loft beds for when they’re older, etc.
Having lived in Europe, I feel your pain. Their utility bills are so much higher and cost of living so much more expensive, that smaller more efficient appliances make sense. The average size of appliances here is ridiculous, they might be appropriate for a family of six, but we all know that’s not the norm!
I came across your post because as a single woman I don’t want to heat up a huge oven to make a single chicken breast or piece of fish, and would rather remodel a kitchen to have more storage space/pantry space. I guess we can only hope with the tiny houses movement, that manufacturers here will get on board with the small concept for appliances. I don’t know if I can wait that long, am thinking of not having a stove at all when I remodel and just buying a countertop convection oven, but if I ever have to sell a home not having a stove in the kitchen could be a big issue for people who don’t get it.