Todd Johnson on Size Matters

Even without large rooms and walk-in closets, Todd Johnson still adores his tiny Oak Cliff cottage. But love ain’t always easy.

Size Matters

Walk-in closets are fleeting. But true love lasts forever.

illustration by Michael White


“And this,” my friend nodded, “is the grand room.” No trumpeted fanfare. No sweeping gestures. Nor did a shaft of heavenly light slice through the firmament as angels sang their hosannas of big-screen TVs and sumptuous leather sectionals. No, the statement was rather matter-of-fact. The “grand room” could have been a toaster, in my host’s mind. But it wasn’t. It was grand. And I was green.

Why the jealousy? First, a little history. I’ve lived in the same Oak Cliff cottage for five years. It was love at first sight: mature trees, numerous windows, a remodeled kitchen and bath, and a crescent-shaped sunroom. Yes, I was seduced. And like most new relationships, I ignored the lingering doubts. Could I live with tiny 1930s closets, a single bathroom, and a thimble-sized kitchen? “Come on, lover,” my diminutive pier-and-beam vixen whispered. “We can make it work. Ten percent down and a 30-year mortgage? Our love is timeless.”

The first year was lovely. That is, until the water heater exploded. And the sprinkler system went out. And the garage had to be rebuilt. Suddenly, the closets seemed even smaller, the kitchen cabinets a little more shallow, and the lone bathroom was a series of flying elbows, hip checks, and “Oops—sorry. Didn’t mean to spit on you.”

To make matters worse, many of my friends bought houses, too. Big houses. Houses with laundry rooms, media rooms, wine rooms, and, frankly, just more room. Then there was the bane of my cramped existence: the walk-in closet. Upon entering a friend’s new house for the first time, I would push past my startled host and head straight for the master suite. (Yes, these houses had “suites.” Grrrr.) Beyond the king-sized bed and bay-window-framed reading nook, resided the land of milk and honey. A spacious nirvana, where Gucci and Gabbana frolicked with nary a care nor wrinkle. Back home, my poor chinos and polos gasped for air amid a tangle of hangers. “Oh, there you are,” my host would pant once caught up with me. “So, what do you think?”

“I love your built-in shoe rack,” I’d seethe behind a tight smile.

That was year three of the relationship with my house, and, naturally, my eyes began to wander. It started innocently enough. Time on the Internet ogling real estate sites. A longing glance at the spacious Tudor down the street. And soon I found myself taking the long way home, picking up for-sale fliers. The next step was inevitable: an open house. Yes, it was wrong. But it felt so right.

She was a roomy 3/3 with stainless steel appliances, a spa bathtub, and, yes, walk-in closets. I think I cried a little. Three years was a good run, right? I had tried to make it work. But what was my old house giving me other than a leaky roof and cramped quarters? The mature thing to do was to end it before I became bitter. Besides, we could still be friends.

“I need more space.” That would be my rationale for ending things. No emotion. Just simple logic. The break would be quick. Happily, life can pivot back into balance off the smallest moment. For me, it was a compliment from an unlikely source.

“I love your house,” the cable guy said. “It’s really nice.”

I was stunned. This sounded sincere. “Really?” I replied. “You don’t think it’s too small?”

“Nah,” he said. “It has character. I love these old houses.”

My first impulse was to grab his burly hand and take him on a tour: “But look. See this closet? It’s too tiny. And the bathroom? There’s no room for a steam shower. And the kitchen—where will I ever put my soapstone island with built-in warming tray? And where the hell is my grand room?!?”

But I didn’t need to. Mr. Cable Guy was right. My house is really nice. It’s quaint and not in the way people say it when they really mean “oh my God, that’s small.” Yes, the closets are a tad tiny. The bathroom isn’t ideal. And a single living room will have to do. But my Oak Cliff cottage is livable and well-proportioned, not at all a McMansion on steroids. Small fits me just fine. There’s nothing roomy about my home. But it’s still plenty grand.


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