The next big thing in residential real estate isn’t big at all. It’s small. Because of cost and aesthetic considerations, a strong “anti-McMansion attitude” has surfaced among home designers and buyers, according to one of the judges of an annual home design contest. Forget about ornate rooflines, gigantic kitchens, and much of the unnecessarily wasted square footage of the quintessential mid-’00s house. What’s hot today isn’t size, but modesty, as well as practicality and an efficient, sensible use of space and money.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that in certain elite circles, bathrooms are in high demand—enormous, elaborate, luxurious bathrooms, and lots of them:
Real estate brokers who cater to the moneyed say their clients typically want homes that have at least two bathrooms for every bedroom. And with spacious tubs, floor lamps, dressing areas and seating, some bathrooms rival bedrooms in size.
Got an eight-bedroom house? Then yep, 16 bathrooms are in order.
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For American homeowners not among the 1%, however, different trends are emerging. Very, very different trends. Since the onset of the Great Recession, newly built homes have been shrinking and growing more modest. As of 2010, the average new construction house 2,377 square feet, down from over 2,500 square feet as recently as 2007. By 2015, it’s been speculated, the average newly built home could measure just 2,140 square feet, on par with the average of the late ’90s.
Each year, the National Association of Home Builders hosts the Best in America Living Awards, which highlight the year’s best designs and ideas. The Chicago Tribune spoke with one of the judges, industry veteran Heather McCune, who backed up claims that the “exploding house” trend—in which homes get bigger and bigger every year—is a goner. Gone too are overly elaborate exteriors with multiple gables and dormers, and here are the reasons why:
One is that this is a change that’s driven by cost. Every time you add a bump-out or change a roofline, it adds to the cost of the house. Builders and architects seem to be consistently asking themselves, does a change like this add value, does it add to the cost?
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Besides cost, today’s buyers just don’t like the busy (and showy) McMansion look that was all the rage in the ’80s and ’90s:
The entry-level buyer is demanding a home designed for their aesthetic, not for their parents’ aesthetic. They seem to prefer a far cleaner presentation than what had been popular among their parents. I don’t think it would be out of line to characterize it as an anti-McMansion attitude.
Kitchens are being scaled back as well. Kitchens are still important, and buyers want to feel that their kitchen is incorporated fully into the rest of the home—not cordoned off behind the scenes as in olden times. But the gigantic “show” kitchens inspired by the Food Network and extreme home makeover TV programs are out of fashion.
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What’s instead become popular is, again, practicality. Buyers and designers now favor kitchens that aren’t separated at all from family rooms, so that whoever is cooking can stay in the loop with what’s on TV or what kid needs help with homework. Also interesting: Most kitchens are being designed with a permanent desk or some form or a work space—because more and more people work from home and are expected to answer e-mails even as they’re trying to get dinner on the table.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.