Let's Get Small

Downsize the old-fashioned way with this quaint cottage

2221 Sherrod Rd.

689 sq. ft. | 2 bdrms, 1 bath | $119,900 | Contact: Jennifer Montgomery | Coldwell Banker: 693-1111

America's suburbs aren't all that has sprawled in the past 50 years. The homes within them expanded appreciably, too. From '50s rambler to the modern McMansion, the average American house has grown ever-larger, even as the average American household has grown smaller. According to census data, the average American household was 3.37 people back in 1950. The house that held those 3.37 people, based on data from the National Association of Home Builders, averaged 983 square feet. And homes with four or more bedrooms accounted for a mere 1 percent of American homes. Understandable, I suppose, since it's tough to squeeze a spare bedroom into 1,000 square feet.

By 2005, the home builders estimated that the average house had more than doubled in size, to 2,434 square feet. And, in 2003, 39 percent of new homes had at least four bedrooms. People to fill those bedrooms were a bit harder to come by, however, as the average household size had shrunk to 2.59 people, according to the 2000 census. As a result, subdivisions around town are filled with spare bedrooms converted to "craft rooms" and otherwise unused rec rooms that have become the repository for castoff recliners, sagging sofas, and that ping-pong table piled with stuff you've been meaning to sort through.

Some people have said enough, however. And, while it's a small one by definition, the backlash is growing. From regular features in upscale home magazines like Dwell and blogs like smallhousestyle.com to builders like the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, people are promoting and embracing the notion that less is more. There's even a local connection as Clayton Homes' contemporary-style iHouse has generated a fair amount of buzz around the small-house movement.

Small doesn't mean austere, as a quick glance at either the iHouse or Tumbleweed's tiny offerings can attest. Nor does it necessarily mean new. Knoxville's center city is full of historic homes that have less than 1,000 square feet. Primarily cottages and shotguns, these houses were often originally built as inexpensive homes for mill workers and such. Yet their age means they're still filled with features like hardwood floors and fireplaces.

Consider this quaint two-bedroom cottage on Sherrod Road. Not only does it have refinished heart-pine floors and a fireplace with original mantel, there are also ladder-back doors and a clawfoot tub in the bath. Meanwhile, the remodeled kitchen features new cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, and a deep farmhouse sink with gooseneck faucet. A few blocks from the south end of the Gay Street Bridge, it's also convenient to downtown, yet offers amenities most condos can't, including a front porch and a landscaped yard with raised beds and a fish pond.