Category Archives: UK vs US

Size Matters: US/UK Housing Edition

This is one of those posts that is focused on the “… and beyond” part of Greater Gotham. It’s been a busier year of moving, bedding in and – not unsurprisingly decorating. Moving from an apartment into a house usually means you don’t have NEARLY enough furniture from the former to fill the latter. But in this case, because I moved from the US to the UK, space didn’t work out that way. Why? UK houses are smaller than your average American expects.  A few years ago, the BBC had an article on JUST this point. In brief, average home sizes around the world work out something like this:

  • US: 2,300sf
  • Australia: 2,217sf
  • Denmark: 1,475sf
  • France: 1,216sf
  • Spain: 1,044sf
  • Ireland: 947sf
  • UK: 818sf

So if I’d been moving from a New York City apartment into a house and if both of those places were in the US, I might well have found myself wandering around in empty, furniture-less rooms. Even if, as was the case, my apartment was a pretty good sized two bed for Manhattan (approx 1190 sq ft). But I wasn’t moving within the US. I moved to the UK and the furniture from my two bedroom, 1190 sq ft apartment filled my 4 bed (they called it a 5 bed but we’ll debate that later) up quite nicely.

Other things that I had to wrap my head around (and which watching years of decorating shows prepared me for) – the closet issue. Now, my apartment in New York had closets, having been built only 20 some odd years ago but I knew plenty of people who lived in older, mostly pre-war apartments who struggled with one closet or no closets. The creativity displayed in the face of the adversity was tremendous and I salute everyone who carved a closet out of a niche, organized entire wardrobes into under bed bins or found ways to make their clothing part of the decor.

Closets in the UK? Not so much. I was told this was because back in the days of yore, no one used them and the more recent lack of closets was down to square footage. “Closets,” I was told, “made the rooms smaller.” This is true. You know what else makes rooms smaller? HUGE WARDROBES. Don’t get me wrong – I knew exactly what to expect so I didn’t actually say that. I kept it to myself. But I know a lot of the real estate agents got very nervous when they heard the American accent and thought “Oh here we go – it’s gonna be an afternoon of size complaints.”  But I assured them I knew the score and all proceeded well. As it happened, I lucked out and settled on a house described as a 5 bed but which any sane person would call a 4 bed with an odd shaped room that could only theoretically have a bed of any kind in it. That room (to stretch the boundaries of the word) became my closet. I have generously given over the enormous closet IN the master bedroom to my husband.


But wait – I hear you cry. What enormous closet in the master bedroom? Weren’t you just complaining about a lack of closets? Yes I was. But not in the extension the previous owners put in. Lots of storage in the master bedroom (now master suite after a handy dandy door move). But the other 3 bedrooms? Sans closet. Well, OK – one has an airing cupboard so the linens have a home and I have a guest room with no enclosed hanging space. But never mind – guests are made comfortable (IKEA hacked some hanging space and embraced over-door hooks) but not TOO comfortable thus ensuring that they depart before taking root. 🙂

One more thing. This whole single/double bedroom business. It’s a bedroom or it isn’t. It might be a small bedroom but as most of these “single bedrooms” also lack a closet and require some sort of storage furniture as a result, these rooms would be more accurately labeled closets. Try turning this bug into a feature (as my software developer friends would say). You might find people LIKE houses with closets.

Reading the Landscape. Again.

People sometimes complain that no one has any new ideas these days – movies are all remakes, all the pop songs sound the same, TV shows are all part of either Law and Order or CSI franchises (Honestly, I can’t help but feel we’re heading for Law and Order: The Donut Shop or CSI: Akron very soon). Anyway, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; nothing new under the sun, etc…

Only there are occasions where variations on a theme work for me and I’ve found just such an occasion today.

Six years ago, the New York Times published the Literary Map of Manhattan, illustrating where books and stories that take place in Manhattan – well, took place. I loved it. I loved how Manhattan and some of my favorite works fit together. I even enjoyed seeing how it fit with stuff that was not one of my favorites (for I confess, I am NOT a Melville fan). And now, I see that the British Library has done something similar – called Writing Britain – for the whole of Britain. It’s a crowd sourced supplement to their exhibit of the same name. As I said – it’s a similar idea but with a key difference. It’s not just the geographic breadth that is different however – it’s the breadth of entries themselves. The people at the BL have asked people to select and submit works that personally represent or have been shaped by a place – and have asked them to explain why. The Manhattan map was simply factual. This is a series of mini-stories in and of themselves. Fabulous!

The exhibit at the BL closes on Sept 25th (see the video preview below) but this site will carry on afterwards. Which is great because as I continue exploring my new home from coast to coast, I may want to “read along” with the locals.

Of Fare Hikes and Bruised Jaws

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Last summer there was much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth here in the UK when a rise in rail fares was announced for the upcoming year. I didn’t do much hemming, hawing or gnashing of teeth at the time. I couldn’t -a) my jaw was already on the floor at the cost of the fares as they stood at the time as I couldn’t help but compare them to similar fares (for same approx time and distance) I would have been paying to the New York MTA and b) I was still living in NYC most of the time where I wasn’t having to pawn jewelry to take the train to Wassaic. I did finally pick my jaw up and gnash along side everyone else eventually – when I journeyed into London and came face to face with the off-peak and peak fares for a mid-week train.

Well guess what? It’s THAT time of year again and a rail fare hike has been announced for next year. There is – as there was before – hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth. There is wailing this time too. And still, my jaw is on the floor – a) because the MTA fares are still notably lower and service more reliable (from all reports) but b) I’m now living in the UK – though not needing the train much. Yet. I have to sop being so surprised. My jaw is starting to hurt. Even stranger – I am starting to miss the Harlem Line train to Wassaic even if it is summer and it’s probably a mad house every Friday afternoon.