Some of our English houses are so small that if you have a couple of kids, you could easily feel like the old lady that lived in a shoe. But why does England sport some of Europe’s tiniest townhouses? For example, our average new-build house is 76 sq m whereas in Spain it’s 97 sq m and in Denmark the average is even bigger at 137 sq m (according to Money Week). In fact, even Japanese new houses beat us in the size stakes at 92 sq m.
The answer doesn’t lie in the housing supply crisis or shortage of land. “It's because builders make more money that way – and, perhaps, because we are the only EU country not to have minimum-space standards for the homes we live in,” reports the Guardian. It’s so bad one couple in Liverpool told the newspaper that they had to keep their vacuum cleaner at their mother’s house which was a 20 minute drive away.
Another problem lies in the distribution of housing. You only have to drive down the road and you’ll notice plenty of large and airy country houses or slick city apartments, but these often belong to the older generation - and sometimes even single people.
This is a by-product of the capital gains system. It’s simple, in the UK you stay in a house that is as big as you can possibly afford in order to benefit from tax-free gains. Yet, it results in a country where young families struggle to get their foot onto the property ladder and when they do, they may find themselves in a cramped new build with little space to swing a cat in (or stow a vacuum cleaner).
The good news is that if you look at population density, England doesn’t fare too badly. “In the UK, we have 37.32 sq m each – about the same as the Germans – the Italians have 33.65 sq m, and the Spanish have 33 sq m,” reports Money Week.
As our new build houses shrink in size, it begs the question - what is being done? Well, currently, there is little enforcement of standards for house sizes in the private sector, but public-funded housing has seen some intervention. For example, Boris Johnson stipulated that publicly funded London housing needed to be built to "Parker Morris +10%” standards. Parker Morris standards required each room in a house to be built to accommodate the furniture it would typically house. That was back in 1961 before people had American-style fridges, dishwashers and two televisions, but it gives an excellent ballpark figure. However, this stopped being enforced in the early ‘80s before Johnson stepped in.
If there is no government intervention, the space problem may only get worse. A survey by CABE revealed that a whopping 58% of dwellers in new homes did not have enough space for their furniture, with nearly 70% revealing that they could not store all their possessions in their own home.
All is not lost however! If you do find yourself in a townhouse, you may not need to move to get the space you need. We take our inspiration from Sarah Beeny who teaches us how to make loft conversions or reclaim basement space in order to double our living space. Smaller spaces also teach us to declutter and make the most of our existing space, which is an excellent habit to pass on to our children.
Image courtesy of the Daily Mail