Smaller Kitchens and Baths? Not So Fast

RICKI’s latest homeowner study finds that smaller isn’t necessarily better
By Alice Liao
February 09, 2012

McMansions may be out of style, but according to a recent study by RICKI, the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, downsizing one’s home—and in particular one’s kitchen and bath—isn’t topping most people’s wish list either. The study, Changes in U.S. Homes that Impact the Kitchen, was conducted online from October 24-31 of last year to explore how changing residential design trends and consumer sentiment are impacting the home, as well as who and why some are willing to buy a smaller home. Queried were 1,000 homeowners age 18 and older, who also discussed their preferences regarding kitchen size and layout.

While Census data has shown a trend toward reduced home sizes—often attributed to the economic downturn or a wish by consumers to reduce their carbon footprint—RICKI’s findings suggest a more complex, if not contrary, picture. Of its survey respondents, only 26 percent would want a smaller home if they were to purchase one now; 35 percent would go larger and 39 percent would seek out one with the same footprint. Also worth taking into account, “The average home in the United States is about 1,800 sq. ft.,” which is 300 sq. ft. less than the average home built in just the last two years, said Riley Kirby, RICKI chief of research. Consequently, any discussion about a move toward smaller homes “should be tempered with the fact that only around one out of four homeowners say they would be looking for a smaller home if they were buying today,” he noted.


Demographics, it seems, plays a critical role in desired home size. As the study found, two in five seniors (41 percent) age 65 or older—many of whom are longtime empty-nesters—said they would choose a smaller home than they have now, while respondents falling in the Gen X and Gen Y age groups would prefer more space if they were currently in the market: 59 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

The RICKI study also asked homeowners if they were to give up square footage, in what room would they do so. Given the increasing integration of the kitchen with adjoining living areas, that the majority (46 percent) said the family/living/great room may not come as a big surprise. The master bedroom was next at 26 percent, while 15 percent chose the master bath and 14 percent indicated they would be willing to downsize the kitchen. In terms of gender preferences, Kirby said, “Men are much more likely than women to give up square footage in the family/living/great room,” but not in the master bedroom.

Perhaps most noteworthy was the response to a question posed to those inclined to purchase a smaller home. Only 4 percent of them want a smaller kitchen. Fifty-nine percent said they desire a larger kitchen than what they currently have and 37 percent could live with the same footprint. Equally interesting, of the respondents under age 47, three-quarters also want more space in the heart of the home.


Of course, what the heart wants, the heart doesn’t always get. And no doubt, as reflected in the Census data, some homeowners will either downsize out of necessity or simply stay put. If the former, there’s still much a kitchen and bath designer can do. Because seven out of 10 surveyed homeowners expressed a wish for an open-plan kitchen, Kirby suggests thinking about “ways to allow for kitchens to expand to other areas of the home, so that you can drop the overall home square footage while giving the impression of spaciousness and not losing function and quality of life.” Be creative with storage solutions—key when space is limited—and consider incorporating flexible walls and surfaces.

Open-plan kitchens, such as
this one by Beverley Binns, of Binns Kitchen+Bath Design in Toronto, are popular and, when flowed into adjoining living areas, can create the impression of spaciousness. Above: an Austrian dollhouse kitchen from 1928.

Working with less square footage presents “a fantastic opportunity for innovation that could generate excitement in the marketplace and just might get certain segments of consumers to open up their wallets,” Kirby said. “Just don’t ‘mess’ with the size of their kitchens and master baths.”

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