The American home may be shrinking, but not the Great American Dream. Americans still are living large, just doing so in smaller spaces.

To some trend-watchers, the down-scaling of the American home comes as good news. Architects, designers and social observers say our willingness to resize our floor space means Americans are rethinking the way we really live and how we use whatever space we do have. Home, they say, has become less about impressing others and more about making ourselves happy. And since we are mostly Boomers that tidal wave of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 who have long been accustomed to getting what we want, happiness is often defined in terms of luxuries and personal amenities.

"Natural materials like American Hardwoods are redefining the word 'luxury,'" said Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center. "Hardwoods bring richness and warmth to even small rooms, whether it's used on the floors and walls, or crafted into built-ins. Custom hardwood furnishings like bookcases and cabinets make a home personal, yours alone, and isn't that the ultimate luxury!"

This new definition of luxury: top quality, mostly natural materials, careful attention to architectural details like natural wood window frames and mouldings, is one that architect and author Sarah Susanka agrees with. And what Susanka thinks, matters.

In 1998, her professional hunch launched what has become the "build-better-not-bigger" movement, when she published the first in her best-selling series of "The Not So Big House" books.

Her mantra is think smaller, and she also believes , "luxury comes from the materials we surround ourselves with. Beauty comes from natural materials. You can see where they come from in the grain, the veining. The more natural the materials, like real hardwoods and granite, the more content you are. There's a quality you can't name, but you can feel it."

Gale Steves, author/editor/design industry consultant sums up a similar concept in her book about "Right-Sizing Your Home." According to Steves, "Right-sizing is about making the best use of the spaces you have for the way you live." A popular consultant to the home furnishings industry, she suggests these ways to best enjoy the shrinking and changing American home.

"Create a room within a room," Steves said. Her ideas begin at floor-level. Install hardwood flooring throughout to unify the spaces and make them look larger, then use area rugs to define separate areas. Lay hardwood on the diagonal to set off special architectural features, like a dining ell. Create a "rug" under a dining table with an inset frame of contrasting hardwood. Or outline an entire room with two courses of contrasting hardwood.

Courtesy Home Improvement News and Information Center

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