I Traded a Compact Bungalow For a Sprawling Victorian (& Here’s What I Miss About Small Living)

published Jan 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street for Airbnb)

When I lived in a small bungalow, I sung its virtues to all who’d listen. Anytime a family member living in a more typically sized American home might question how we made do with two people and two dogs in “only” 900 square feet I was quick with a retort: We can only be in one room at a time!

(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street for Airbnb)

Then when my husband and I abruptly decided to buy a behemoth old Victorian—emboldened by our experience renovating an equally big and almost-as-old house in Detroit, and prompted by the sudden skyrocketing real estate prices in our unassuming but now popular neighborhood—we found ourselves on the other side of the fence. Now, hoping to lure more friends to buy in our less popular neighborhood full of the most magnificent architecture in the city—at a fraction of the price per square foot of the trendy areas—we instead sing the praises of our ridiculously large house. Parties have no upper invite limit, and hosting a slew of house guests? Bring ’em! Our part-mountain-dog’s monstrous crate, albeit an eyesore, easily fits in the dining room. No need for a TV in the living room when we have a whole room dedicated to Netflix binges! And I haven’t decided if this is a pro or con, but a giant walk-in pantry means our Costco runs are limited only by our budget and car trunk capacity. The best part? Thanks to the third floor quarters that we renovated and run as an Airbnb, and carriage house apartment that we rent, it basically pays for itself.

While I do love our house—a rather stately affair presiding on a corner, with its soaring ceilings, eight fireplaces and original hardwood floors—I’m in no hurry to trade it for something smaller, despite its drawbacks (which, I’m getting to!). But truth be told there are plenty of things I miss about the days living in our sweet little house. For instance…

The Heating Bills

I type now bundled up (including wearing heated slippers—did you know that was a thing!?) next to an electric radiator. Why? The utility bills on these monster houses will make a grown woman weep; it’s one of the first things neighbors tell you when you move in. So, in true Ebenezer style, we layer up and keep the heat cranked waaaaay down. At our old bungalow, we splurged on a wonderful little cast iron fireplace, one of those gas ventless deals, and it kept the living room (where, yes, we did our TV watching and basically all other activities) and kitchen deliciously toasty. How I miss those relatively minuscule winter heat bills and nights in front of the fire.

(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street for Airbnb)

The fireplace also lent the most wonderful ambiance. We may have a multitude of fireplaces now (including one in the room we converted to a laundry room, no less) but not a one of them works (though I put Christmas lights inside some for a faux festive air!). They’re also one more thing to clean.

(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street for Airbnb)

Speaking of Cleaning…

If you’ve got a while, pull up a seat and let me tell you how long it takes to clean this house and the speed at which dust settles in it. At our little house we’d set a timer for 20 minutes and each tear through the handful of rooms in a whirlwind of vacuums, dusters, and mops, and at the end the house would be sparkling clean. Here? Ha. The acres of floors take an hour alone to swiffer, vacuum, or mop, let alone do two of those in combination. We hired an army of cleaners before we Airbnb’d our house for the Kentucky Derby last year (I told you it pays for itself!) and their combined labor totaled 10 hours—and that was just the first two floors. It is easy to understand why the families who built these homes in the Victorian era employed servants.

The Coziness Factor

But it’s not just practical things like heat bills and cleaning time that I miss. There was a coziness to the snug little home. If I can’t see my husband in this house I literally call him on his cell. The thick walls make it impossible to hear one another from room to room, let alone floor to floor. Our rule is: when one person shouts “where are you?” the answer must be (very loudly) an exact location, not “in here!” because that’s useless. We could practically see each other at all times in the small house days. If he was cooking, I was sitting at the dining table in the adjacent dining nook, or at furthest, in the living room—which opened to the kitchen, and we could still carry on a conversation.

(Image credit: Diane Deaton Street for Airbnb)

Fast (& Cheap!) Projects

The scale of the house also made a lot of things possible. We were able to buy the most gorgeous Italian floor tiles for the kitchen because it was so compact we needed only a handful. We’ll never replace the metric ton of the so-not-my-style terra cotta-ish tiles covering this kitchen, hall, and downstairs bath floors because it would cost the earth. Home improvement projects took no more than a weekend there (well, not counting our first foray into demo, when we took down a wall between the two cramped bedrooms to make one nice-sized one). New bedroom flooring or painting the cabinets and kitchen, bathroom, or living room? A weekend each. We had actual, real lives outside the home because the house itself was so easy to manage; here we’ve worked pretty much non-stop since moving in nearly two years ago without an end in sight.

And other things were affordable thanks to the scale. We were able to have beautiful curtains made from fabric I brought home from Paris (at one of those fabric discount places in Montmartre) because, well, there weren’t that many windows, but also they weren’t very big. When we sold the house the buyer insisted on keeping them. Not that I could have used them here anyway; when I couldn’t stand to look at the previous owner’s gold-striped poly satin living room drapes a moment longer, I had to special order a 120″ set.

So yes, I currently live in a beautiful old Victorian that we are lucky to call home and to be making our dream home bit by bit, but, especially on a nine-degree day like this, I miss plenty about our little bungalow.