In America, bigger is always better, right? Our cars, our accomplishments, even our personalities have always been outsized. But the fact is that bigger isn’t always better — at least not when it comes to our houses.

This truth became even more obvious to me after an acquaintance of mine who’d grown up lower-middle class suddenly became a dot-com millionaire in the late 1990s. He got so rich, in fact, that he was able to buy himself a gigantic, fresh-built mansion in a gated community on a hill.

Now, you’d think this would be the proverbial dream come true for most people. But like Citizen Kane at Xanadu, my friend always seemed ill at ease shuffling around all those echoing formal spaces in his so-called "home." Whenever I visited, he’d withdraw either to a tiny, peripheral study the size of a normal suburban bedroom, or to the garage, where all his guy stuff was stashed.

Not surprisingly, this made me wonder anew about the use or value of all the rest of all the huge spaces that made up the bulk of the place. The problem with really big rooms is that we human beings are naturally ill at ease inhabiting them. Our primitive brains still feel more secure, and hence more comfortable, in spaces we can traverse in a few steps.

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