In the same way that America’s fast food purveyors pack their menus with cheap, empty calories, the country’s home builders pack their houses with cheap, empty space. On a cost-per-square-foot basis, the typical McMansion may seem like a good deal — but like a Big Mac, what sort of nourishment does it truly deliver? Gorge yourself on cathedral ceilings, three-car garages, and all the tasteless architectural condiments you can stomach (gables, turrets, etc.) and you’ll only end up as queasy and unsatisfied as the Joneses next door.

 

Like tiny medallions of herb-encrusted, farm-to-table lamb loin at your local fancy restaurant, smaller homes — sustainably grown, artfully assembled, a little bit pricey — represent an obvious alternative to such fare. But how to convince America’s real estate gluttons that this approach can apply equally to dining rooms as well… More…

Ever since my visit to a home show a few years ago, I have been besotted by kitchens. I fall asleep dreaming that granite countertops will replace my Corian surfaces and that an island will suddenly erupt in the middle of my island-less kitchen space. I covet a breakfast nook. Visions of teak cabinetry and Sub-Zero refrigerators dance in my head. Apparently, I am not alone in my fantasizing. An informal survey of real estate agents indicates that the kitchen has become the crucial room in the sale of a house. According to a friend in the business, my dumpy ’70s-era kitchen is likely to sink the price of my home by 20 percent.

“Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen” Through March 14, 2011. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The kitchen now holds… More…

 

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve read the Sunday Times (skimming the Week in Review and studying the wedding announcements), fiddled with an essay in progress (taking out a paragraph and putting it back in again), called my sister to hash over our insecurities (which parent was more to blame?), and watched a rerun of Girlfriends. Still, there are two hours until dinner. What to do?

Fortunately, my husband has circled an open house in the local real estate section, and we’re off on a familiar Sunday jaunt.*

There are two sorts of open houses that my husband and I tend to frequent. One is for glamorous, million-dollar “stretch” houses that occupy former farmland on the border of town. These houses have a fascinatingly freakish quality: They are too large for any self-respecting family and too small for their… More…