Cozy urban neighborhoods offer many rewards

Some of the smallest homes are nestled in the most delicious neighborhoods. Surrounded by boutique shops, cafes, coffee houses and corner markets, one can enjoy a pedestrian lifestyle with ease. You may trade space for density and convenience, but you will fully enjoy the charm of a haphazard village.

We hear a lot about how millennials value living and working in the same neighborhood. The ideal arrangement is to be without an automobile and be able to walk out the front door either to work or to public transportation that takes you to work. It's a lifestyle packed with choices and convenience.

However, it's not just the young who value this path; often, empty-nesters and retired people seek out the same broad array of experiences like parks, churches and maybe a historic site or two mixed in with the other structures.

Urban centers offer everything from extremely costly high-rise condominiums to tiny historic structures like these row houses in Washington, D.C., that can often be among the most precious in a city.

Think about Beacon Hill in Boston, for example, or Georgetown in D.C. Size can be deceptive, and it pays to do research on the area you hope to live in before plotting out a plan. In general, the farther away from the heart of a city you move, the more you may lose some character.

It is possible to discover trendy neighborhoods farther from the city center. Seattle is one city that offers distinct neighborhoods away from downtown: Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard and Capitol Hill are examples. These are walking neighborhoods. Once you step outside your private space, you have the opportunity to have exchanges with others that are often missed in suburban life.

This is the golden prize in my view: passing others on the street and being given the opportunity to look them in the eye! We need one another more than ever before — and quick, pleasant interactions can truly brighten your day.

Before the digital and electronic age, it used to be that people would hang out on their front porch in the evenings. Of course, you have to actually have a front porch for this idea to play out, and 20th-century homes were often built without that feature. Bungalow-style houses from the late 1800s to the 1930s almost always included a broad and generous front porch and sometimes had a back porch, as well.

We have seen homebuilders return to this style in recent years. Contemporary homes in the Northwest, Midwest and South are back to including front and wraparound porches as a standard element in design. People recognize the importance of setting up the tools for community, and the front yard or porch is definitely an important piece of the puzzle.

What you give up in terms of interior footprint you gain in community. There is a sweet comfort in knowing the staff at a local flower shop or bookstore. When you walk into your neighborhood wine bar, the employees know you.

No doubt it is harder to downsize to an 800-square-foot row house from a 3,000-square-foot suburban family home than it is for a recent college grad to move into a tiny place. So much of life has to do with collecting “stuff” that reminds us of our experiences, and it can be painful to get rid of a lifetime of belongings. It can also be challenging to keep one's personal treasures to a minimum while living in a tiny home.

There is no doubt that for those who decide on living in one of these highly sought-after neighborhoods, the reward is quality of life.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of “Small Space Living.” Send questions and comments to her by email at

© 2018, Creators Syndicate

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