Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Texan IKEA

No matter how many different IKEAs I shop in all over the world, it still amazes me how similar every store is. Our new store in exurban Texas was spookily like the one in Barkaby, down to some of the smallest details.

It gave me an odd feeling, as I've apparently associated shopping at IKEA with trips out to our stuga in an almost Pavlovian way. But now, we're looking at things for a very different kind of house. It will probably take me a few trips to recalibrate my thinking from 'small house and hard to transport' to 'big house and fill up the station wagon'.

By Texas standards, our house isn't all that big, although it is certainly larger than the average suburban English or Swedish home. As we've been unpacking and settling in, I've noticed a few fundamental differences between my new home and my previous ones in Europe.

There's a shortage of homes in the UK. Planning restrictions make it difficult to build new homes, and so the law of supply and demand make them increasingly expensive. As one reaction, homes are getting smaller and smaller. I posted previously about home sizes around the world, with the UK trailing the list with an average of 76 square meters, about a third the size of the homes in their former colonies.

Those problems don't exist where I live now. There's empty land seemingly everywhere, so it is easy to throw up housing subdivisions. On my way to IKEA, I drove past suburb after suburb, on a six-lane tollway that didn't exist when I lived here last. This creates a virtuous circle; land and homes are cheap, which attracts people and businesses, which in turn attracts more growth, and so on. This keeps costs of new homes down, or allows them to be built even larger at affordable prices. I've seen some real monster houses in my neighborhood.

However, this cycle has its drawbacks, too, which I'll save for further exploration in future posts.

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