From mansion to studio, there’s no place like home

Part of the American Dream has always been a big house, like the New Jersey home of Calvin and Orsula Knowlton, whose home measures 40,000 square feet (not counting the finished basement).

Calvin and Orsula Knowlton’s New Jersey home measures 40,000 square feet. 

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The bathroom features an elevator that goes down to the workout room.

An elevator will whisk you back and forth between the bathroom and the workout room. 

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And adjacent to Calvin’s office is a private chapel. “So, if things aren’t going well in the business …?” asked Pogue.

“I’m there!” Calvin replied.

Calvin Knowlton’s office is adjacent to a private chapel. 

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“Most people will never get a chance to live in a house with this much space,” said Pogue. “Are there certain advantages to it that might not occur to the average person?”

“Well, you don’t bump into anybody very often,” Calvin replied. “So, we call each other on the phone within the house.”

“Is there such a thing as a downside to having a really big house?”

“Yeah, that you don’t run into people very often!” Calvin laughed.

According to Orsula, “Trying to find your cell phone when you’ve lost it isn’t fun at all!”

The Knowltons’ home is on the market for $24,950,000.

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The Knowltons built the house to accommodate gatherings of their eight children. But they didn’t always live in this much space.

Pogue asked, “Did you ever imagine as a kid you’d be living in a house like this?”

“Absolutely not, never,” Calvin replied. “My dad struggled a lot. When I was in high school, we lost the house. I mean, it was bad. When you go through that type of struggle, it puts a real dent in you. I think it gave me more purpose.”

Setha Low, a professor of environmental psychology at the City University of New York, told Pogue, “When we talk about size, it is about wealth, and power, and the American dream.” But, she says not everyone needs big square footage to be happy, especially when they’re just starting out. “I lived in a little, tiny, tiny studio apartment, and I was very comfortable,” she said. “Why? Well, I could control it. I could afford it. It might be perfect for someone at one moment in time.”

For 20-year-old dancer Miriam Zorc, the perfect place, at this moment in time, is a 75 square-foot apartment. “This isn’t my forever home,” she explained. “I’m only gonna be here for, like, a year. So, it’s an adventure. It’s pretty great for me. I’m young, and I get to live in New York, and I can afford it.”

She gave “Sunday Morning” a little tour. Very little.

Miriam Zorc’s 75 sq.-ft. apartment in New York runs her $1,100 a month, utilities included. 

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“I have, like, this little sofa thing that pulls out. I’ve had, like, guests sleep on that, ’cause it reclines all the way, too.”

“So, this is the guest room?” asked Pogue.  

“Yes, this is the guest room, and the living room, and everything!”

There is a kitchen with a hot plate, and a sink. There is, she hinted, a “shared bathroom situation.”

“Is there an issue with slobs in the bathroom?” asked Pogue.   

“Not like beautiful, but I wouldn’t say it’s too bad,” she diplomatically offered.

And then, there is the second floor – her raised bed.

For this space she pays $1,100 a month, utilities included. That’s less than one-third of the average rent for a Manhattan studio apartment.

Realtor Cash Jordan showed Pogue one tiny apartment, measuring 60 square feet. “If you come to New York City and you’re trying to save as much money as you can, you’re gonna go look at apartments with a roommate,” Jordan said.

You can get this 60-sq.-ft. apartment for $1,300 a month.  

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He points out that you’re getting about the same space you’d have if you shared a place, but it costs less, and it’s all yours. “A two-bedroom in this part of town might run you $2,000 per roommate, but $1,300 here,” said Jordan.

But saving money is no longer the only reason people are considering smaller living spaces. Setha Low believes that a sustainable, beautifully designed home is becoming a status symbol, too. “More and more, people are becoming quite sensitive to their carbon footprint,” she said. “The trend is also to design some of these small spaces in really beautiful and thoughtful ways.”

Ways like this. According to broker Talia McKinney, this 200-square-foot studio feels much bigger, thanks to movable walls designed by a company called Ori Living. The sliding wall transforms the living space into office space.

Talia McKinney demonstrates for David Pogue how a movable wall opens up a hidden office space. 

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“It’s the origami apartment!” said Pogue. “If I’m living in this apartment, and I’m working, I don’t need a living room until I go to the living room, and then I don’t need an office.”

The closet can disappear, too. “People who say they need this walk-in closet, and then you’re not using the space? It’s a waste,” said McKinney.

Even the bedroom folds away. And you don’t have to move the furniture out of the way.

A descending bed. 

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As for the Knowltons, their children are grown now. So, their 40,000-square-foot home is for sale, listed at $25 million. They are, Calvin exclaimed, “Empty nesters, in a big nest!”

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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Ed Givnish. 


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