July 8 2010 12:00 AM

Property: 610 Helen St.
Owner: Adrienne Smorra
Taxpayer: Kathrine Matthews
Assessed: $18,000
Owner says: Could not be reached

The scraggly remains of a porch protrude from 610 Helen St. A front door rests beside its boarded-up frame. Though the central part of the house seems tolerable, there is no way to approach it without hazarding one’s life on a front porch that looks likely to collapse in the next gentle breeze.
Though this house is not located in the most glamorous neighborhood (the fact that it’s just off the railroad tracks seems almost too cliché to mention), there are homes nearby that show signs of life. Some modest decorations are displayed at the house on the corner, and a few elaborate gardens peak out of the depression on conjoining Beech Street. Maybe, with the proper attention, this house could someday become one of those signs of hope – maybe.
A lesson on “centsible” homes by architecture critic Amanda Harrell-Seyburn:
This small white house at 610 Helen St. is on a street full of model residences. At an average 800 square feet (the typical American home has nearly doubled over the last century to an average of 2,500 square feet), these petite houses on pocket-sized lots in walkable neighborhoods are economical and sustainable. A few restorations to the facade, including extending the existing roof to encompass a new porch, beautifully proportioned columns and the addition of windows to the main facade, will restore this house to its original beauty.
The centsible home is about size, economy and connectivity. A centsible home is a small, elegant, energy efficient structure that minimizes human impact on the environment by reducing the home footprint and lot size. A centsible home is also located in a walkable neighborhood and close to public transportation to lessen dependence on the car while supporting a healthy, active lifestyle.
The centsible home is perfect for young couples, single professionals and empty nesters/retirees looking for an individual home with a yard that is big on amenities but short on space. The centsible home is affordable and energy efficient. It is Ideal for those who want to increase quality of life while reducing clutter and maintenance.
A centsible home can be an existing structure or new construction that complies with the following design parameters:

  • Maximum 800 to 950 square feet

  • 1 to 2 bedrooms

  • 1 to 2 bathrooms

  • 1 to 1 1/2 stories

  • Front porch

  • Detached garage

  • Maximum 2,000 to 2,500 square-foot lots

The house at 610 Helen St., with a few improvements, is an excellent centsible home.
The following improvements focus on the porch and windows because these amenities are incredibly important to a successful design that minimizes space while maximizing the needs of a modern world.

  • Windows are incredibly important, particularly in a small home. Windows extend the living space visually and bring the outdoors in. Reformist Jane Jacobs noted that neighborhoods are safer when there are “eyes on the street.” A lack of windows on the facade prevents this built-in security system.

  • Extend the existing roof to encompass a newly constructed porch within the footprint of the house. The roof extension allows for increased storage in the economically sized house and extends the living space (the porch is an outside room) into the outdoors.

  • Beautifully proportioned columns elevate this home from plain to elegant.


“Centsible Home” Design and Rendering by Amanda Harrell-Seyburn
Photograph of Existing 610 Helen Street. Want to learn more about the “Centsible Home?” Contact Amanda Harrell-Seyburn at harrellseyburn@yahoo.com

— Jane Alexander

“Eyesore of the Week is our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing. It rotates each week with Eye Candy of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 371- 5600 ex. 17.