My fascination with small spaces comes in part from my desire to make a cozy nest. A home should be a sanctuary from the frenetic pace of the outside world. It should offer comfort, and security. Some of my fondest memories of childhood were of being tucked in like sardines in the cabin of our Cat Boat named the Councilor – in reference to my Father’s profession. We’d anchor in the outer harbor at Wychmere for the night, and play crazy eights to the light of a swinging lantern. Cozy.
A second contributing factor I have talked more about – small equals achievable perfection. Or so I thought when I began this quest. While I realized that I couldn’t exactly get everything I wanted in my 523sf home, I could turn it into a little jewel box, and I did. I like beautiful things – a lot, and beautiful things are really expensive. Believe me, I can get worked up about the beauty of a Lacanche stove but it was not going to suddenly appear in all its $10K glory in my little Charlestown apartment. Still, it was then, and is now, an aspiration.
So, combine cozy, with beautiful craftsmanship, and I lean toward the small. While the homes in Pocket Neighborhoods are not exactly tiny, they are also not McMansions. In the urban and suburban jungle, where buildings tower overhead, and homes have not one kitchen, but two or three – yes you heard me right, I have been to Beacon Hill, where there was a kitchen on the first floor, the fifth floor and outdoors – obvi a dumbwaiter would take too long to deliver the cold drinks and the hot burgers to the game room – 13 modestly sized homes, beautifully designed, face forward to the community, where everyone really does know your name, is appealing.
It’s hard not to think of Mr. Rogers singing “Who are the people in your neighborhood”. These people you should meet every day, but with whom eye contact is rarely made. I almost called the police the other day on some guy who claimed to live in my building. I flat out didn’t believe him. He does in fact live here, I’m still not sure how that came to be, and I missed him moving in entirely. It’s not like I live in a building of 500 – there were only four of us until Patrick showed up. This never would have happened in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and by design, it wouldn’t happen in a Pocket Neighborhood either.
Ross Chapin, a Washington State Architect is most commonly credited with the design and creation of these neighborhoods. The key characteristics of which are a cluster – “community” of homes, carefully sited around a common green, in which the community takes part in caring. This shared stewardship is an essential element within the Pocket Neighborhood, as it contributes to the interaction of the inhabitants, enhances the sense of belonging, and security. Children can run free and play as they have many watching over them, and a stranger would be detected immediately.
One of the most attractive elements, to my mind, of these neighborhoods is there walkability. Pathways wrap around, and along homes, which spoon one another. Artfully designed to enhance community while preserving privacy. Public space is central with homes facing the green, porches, wide and inviting overlook this focal point of activity. Low railings and flower boxes begin to express the semi-private nature of this space. Large windows, and active gathering spaces – living rooms and kitchen, can be viewed by passer’s by. The floor plan takes you back further into the home for the most private spaces – not visible from the walking paths lining the green. High windows and skylights ensure that neighbors sited behind the home cannot peer into the sanctuary of ones sleeping place.
To me – this is attractive. I get asked often, which of the homes I owned to date is my favorite. Which do I miss the most? For me this is a tough question, not because I have so many to choose from, but because I fear that other’s will think of me as cold, or disconnected. My answer is none of them. When I began this quest I didn’t even know it had begun, but it had. To steal a phrase from a friend of my – these places were not my forever place – and that makes letting them go …. easy for me. Still, I am immensely proud of what they become.
The homes in a Pocket Neighborhood harken back to a simpler time. They remind me of my very favorite island – Nantucket, where the homes are tucked in close to one another in town, and walking and biking are preferred over the motor vehicle. How lovely it would be to get out of your car – which is carefully hidden away to the side or back, not obstructing the sense of community that is prized here – and leave your troubles astern, just like you would when you hop on the boat and watch the mainland disappear from view.