A Psychology of Cozy

It can be difficult to write sometimes. I don’t consider myself especially prone to writer’s block, but I must admit that as we wait for our permitting process to be completed through the county building department and as spring warms things up and wakes up the garden, I have had quite a case of writer’s block, and I haven’t treated it with anything but time.

It’s interesting to me that even though we have designed and are anxiously awaiting the chance to build a truly small home, we have still made it a priority to design little spaces within a little space. Built in cupboards and cabinets, a little closet tucked under the stairs, and an attic style bedroom with sloped ceilings were all design pluses, to our mind. Our friend mentioned that even in bedroom furnishings one can see evidence of an almost primal desire to have a small, safe, cocoon like area to cozy up in – think of canopy beds, for example. I hadn’t in the past, but how true this is. I have heard a dozen times from a dozen different people from all walks of like the oft repeated story of loving some tiny nook or tiny part of their childhood home…perhaps we often want to recreate spaces like this and perhaps that desire is part of what makes me and many others so fond of small houses, tiny houses, caravans, trailers, boats, etc.In Maine, one of my very favorite spaces in our house was the attic (and the attic space, we both agree, would have handily satisfied quite a few of our childhood fantasies about living in a clean and cozy attic). I liked the attic quite a bit…it was nice to be up high but also in a space that snuggled down around one thanks to the ceiling slope. I also liked the neat little cupboard/closet we built under the stairs. It was a perfect linen closet and storage for vacuum as well as satisfying in that it cleverly used space while being attractive to look at. It was, in many senses, a tribute to our favorite things about old New England houses. Our greatest compliment of the space was when Shawn’s late grandmother, one of our truest role models, mentioned, “Oh, I really like that. There was one just like it in my grandmother’s house in Haverill (Massachusetts).”Several days ago, however, we had a serendipitous encounter with a friend who said something about small spaces that was somewhat similar to something a woman recently wrote about The Beekeeper’s Bungalow on her blog (read Small Space Living HQ) a few weeks ago. Both comments had to do with growing up – or currently living in – larger spaces but recognizing a genuine affinity for small, cozy spaces. I could instantly relate to both these sentiments. And both of them got me thinking and eventually resulted in the writing of this article. I also grew up in a large home with lots of “extra” rooms that were not used often, like a formal dining room, a den, and what we dubbed ‘the toy room’ that my parents must have hoped we kids would go into regularly and give them peace and quiet. There was also a spare bedroom. And a full basement. In some senses, it was a lonely design for a home, being so large in comparison to the size of our family. I clearly remember that some of my favorite places to play in the house were small. For one, I had a strong fondness for making forts and houses in the lower level kitchen cupboards, which could be problematic during the dinner preparation hour. There was another space, a little scarier, down in the basement under the stairs. While the basement wasn’t finished and as a small child I could sometimes convince myself too surely that it was inhabited by ghosts, I still loved the mysterious sloped roof and walled off secrecy of this under the stairs space. It made for a great play space when my little brother was around to bolster my confidence and offset my overactive imagination.

I’m also impressed at how well small spaces can work, especially when we are flexible in terms of looking at them according to our own needs. One person mentioned on her blog that if she were to build 

 model, she would use the upper floor not as a master suite, but as a space for her three daughters to make their abode. What Shawn and I envision as the upstairs reading nook in her mind became a perfect space for the girls to have their toys and to while away many a day playing under the roofline, lost in their imaginary play-worlds. I really enjoyed reading this because it made me realize that it’s this personal freedom of imagination that really turns houses into homes and also makes small spaces work well for all kinds of people. Many parents don’t require huge bedroom spaces. In fact, this is what our friend Margot told us. She doesn’t prefer large bedrooms in particular because they don’t provide the cozy, comforting cocoon quality that small ones do. Both our friend and the woman writing in her blog (as well as myself) actually grew up in very large homes. That seems to indicate that living in a big space is not something that one becomes accustomed to and can never live without. Who would think that someone who grew up in a 5200 square foot home would even consider a two bedroom home under 750 square feet to raise her three daughters in?  Well, it’s not that uncommon, really. I realize that after the last couple of weeks. I might have thought so once, but once you get conversations going or do a little reading, you realize how much a part of our psychology as well as our personal tastes a preference for small and inviting spaces might be. That’s not to say that everyone on the planet wants to live in a small space. There’s lots of examples of big houses out there, too, and obviously there are people who prefer big spacious rooms and houses. But it’s still a lot of fun to me to hear the flip side of the coin.