The joys of living in a small house

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You can call it diminutive. Maybe modest. Don’t call it comfortable.

“People tell us this all the time, but to me, that means it’s small,” says Alexandra Martinez, who lives with her partner, Brian Leverton, in the limited comfort of a… er… little cottage of 1,200 square feet in Centerport. . The distinction is important for the couple. Sure, it’s physically limited, but casually tucking it into that category trivializes their choice.

Forget about comfort. It is the house.

“We love this place,” says Martinez. “We never want to give it up.”

This is not an unusual attitude for those who live in bungalows, cottages, and an assortment of undersized homes that can be found in various communities scattered around Long Island.

“It’s perfect for this time of our lives,” says Shane Hassin, who lives with his wife, Megan Long, in a 1,176 square foot bungalow in a unique section of Long Beach. “We see people our age who have big houses and expensive cars and try to keep up with the Joneses. We don’t have to face that. Here it’s all about enjoying what you have.”

While difficult to document, empirical evidence suggests Long Island has more than its share of homes like these. This is based on the fact that in the days of the horses and buggy it was a hot-weather getaway from New York City, spawning many summer cabins typically built near the water. . The bay houses built by fishermen, baymen and duck hunters have been around for a century. Other additions came when religious movements in the 1800s and early 1900s drew thousands of people to Long Island for summer gatherings, leaving behind a residue of goblin-like homes in places like Sea Cliff and North Merrick.

Many are unrecognizable now, having been expanded with extensions or additions to the second floor, but settlements of this size can still be found.

“Much more practical”

Tiny homes measure about 1,200 square feet, according to Lloyd Kahn, author of “Small Homes: The Right Size.” He also wrote a very popular book on tiny houses, which are between 200 and 300 square feet in size, but consider the small size of the house “much more practical.” The average home today is about 2,500 square feet, or about 62% larger than in 1973, Kahn says.

Are more and more people looking to buy small homes today?

“If they have common sense, they are,” he says, adding that these residences are better for the environment, easier to clean and generally have lower utility bills.

Leverton and Martinez first spotted their residence four years ago when they spotted an open house while driving around Centerport. As they entered, they passed a couple leaving.

“Too small for us,” they said. “Good luck.”

But for Leverton, a 36-year-old utility worker, and Martinez, 33, a school librarian and volunteer historian, it was love at first sight. “It was just the right time for us,” Martinez said. “And everything went well.” They paid $ 390,000 for their house.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why the first couple had reservations.

The facade of the 94-year-old house is so small it’s half-obscured by Leverton’s black DodgeRam pickup truck parked in the front yard driveway.

Making the most of their living space has been a project.

They installed IKEA-designed cabinets in the kitchen to expand the storage space and took out the dishwasher (Martinez says her family didn’t have one growing up, so she didn’t see the need) to save counter space. His companion added storage benches in the aft dining room and also integrated into the dining table. Just inside the living room door is a coat rack for him and her, a necessity as there are only two closets. Their bedroom wall can be touched on either side of the bed, which also contains storage drawers.

The end result is not small, it is livable.

Peanut the cat is lounging on the screened porch, which features framed stained glass and dotted with slogan-laden cushions. Occasionally, the couple have a drink there at the end of the day and play Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald records on the Victrola Leverton they bought after they moved in. Overall, the interior is surprisingly livable. The effect is like stepping into a Harry Potter tent where the inside looks twice the size of the outside.

“This is misleading,” said Leverton.

The two plan to get married soon. Martinez points out a line from a poem on the wall that sums up their philosophy.

“Love grows best in small houses …” he said. “We think it’s a special place,” she says.

A tight community

This sentiment is shared by Shane Hassin, 30, and Megan Long, 32, a lawyer couple who occupy a cream-colored bungalow in the barrier town of Long Beach. The two live in a historic district known as “Walks,” a quirky neighborhood of modest residences with postage stamp courtyards each separated by a narrow walkway. Each of the arm-length “streets” in the 10-block area is named after the months of the year and is within walking distance of the ocean.

Prefabricated housing, built to accommodate military personnel in the early 1900s, initially cost $ 2,500 and was intended for summer use only. But tenants have started to stay all year. Many added second floors and / or attics, and by the 1970s it was a permanent establishment. Walking around the neighborhood today, one cannot deny its gracious atmosphere. Passers-by call to each other and stop to chat. Backyards filled with plastic treehouses, swings, and kiddie pools are common, and children’s cries echo throughout the area.

The Long Beach Historical and Preservation Society presents a plaque to the hundred-year-old houses. “We get our plate in three years,” says Hassin.

He and Long bought their home in 2019 for $ 420,000 after living in a Long Beach apartment for five years, which makes their new neighborhoods feel big in comparison, he says. Long says the area’s compact nature creates a sense of closeness, which is why their rescue dog, Alpaca, knows he can sit on the front porch, hiding treats from passing neighbors.

“Everyone knows everyone,” says Long. “We still give each other tomatoes from our gardens. It’s old school.”

Holiday mood

The entrance to the house is a closed porch with a reading corner and a stationary bike. The combined living and dining area is dominated by a stone fireplace. The three bedrooms and an attic give an illusion of expanded space, while the back yard is adorned with lights and a table for a vacation vibe.

After all, the beach is their backyard.

This fact is reflected by a surfboard mounted on the dining room wall, indicating one of Hassin’s passions. Another plank is attached to the pantry ceiling, three are outside in a home-built wooden enclosure, and four are stored in his wife’s walk-in closet and office.

“I think we have nine or ten in the house somewhere,” he said, “but who matters?”

Of course, living in a bungalow has its limits. The house faces a promenade with no cars or parking lots, so the couple have to find parking nearby, which Hassin says can be a “nightmare”. Many residents transport their shopping in wagons or have them delivered.

Still, Long grew up in a larger house in Huntington and remembers his father taking two hours to mow the lawn. Here they do it in 20 minutes using a weedkiller. Long likes that the limited space makes purging clothes and personal items an occasional necessity.

“The more space you have, the more you fill it with crap,” she says. “It forces you to work with what you have.”

The two are worried about the onset of another super storm like Sandy, which destroyed the town boardwalk and flooded homes in 2012, including theirs, causing $ 80,000 in flood damage for the former owner, says Hassin. If it did, they would probably rebuild, they say. Another concern is what happens if they start a family. But, Hassin points out, a couple across the road from their house raised nine children within the confines of their Bantam dwelling.

“If they could accommodate nine children in this house,” he said, “we can accommodate a couple in this one”.

SMALL HOUSES ON THE MARKET

$ 559,000

With two bedrooms and two full bathrooms, this renovated two-level cottage located on Fifteenth Avenue in Sea Cliff faces a park. The 1,320 square foot home sits on 0.06 acre land and was built in 1922. It includes a living room with vaulted ceilings at street level and a kitchen and dining room on the lower level, which opens onto the backyard. Taxes are $ 9,253. Vivian Zhang, Coldwell banker, 516-376-7295.

$ 385,000

This updated ranch on Lakeshore Drive in Ronkonkoma, built in 1942, has two bedrooms and one bathroom in a 750 square foot space. It has a dining kitchen, a large room, an unfinished basement and a detached garage on a half acre lot. Taxes are $ 10,632. Eric and Christopher Neitzel, DeBarbieri Associates, 631-862-7447.

$ 329,990

Built in 1953, this quarter acre two bedroom, one bath bungalow on Eastport Drive in Sound Beach is up the street from Long Island Sound and has beach rights. The approximately 850 square foot house includes a den, a family room and a dining kitchen. Taxes are $ 8,793; the sale is in progress. Allyson Bruetsch, Executive Group Realty, 631-678-7477.

– JAMES KINDALL


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