Pick two.

That’s the typical option given to clients regarding the triangle of cost (their budget), quantity (the size of house or addition they want) and quality (the level of finishes, cabinetry and trim materials they want).

Given a fixed budget, either the quality of finishes will have to be downgraded or the size of the house or addition will have to get smaller. If the client won’t budge on these two, then the budget has to grow to cover the real world costs.

Layout design is no different.
Long-time modelers have learned this dance between quality and layout size from experience. Newbies, however, are often in for a rude awakening when reality hits that dream of replicating the Pennsylvania RR’s Enola Yard and operations in the 1950s down to the last museum quality detail.

I know it’s hard because I’ve been there. Given that most of us work with discretionary funds from the family budget for our hobby activities, compromises in quality on a large layout are inevitable. This isn’t rocket science.  We’re all bound by this reality.

There is another factor we can employ: time.
Time can be the equalizer for a higher quality basement size layout. Investing time spreads out the costs of buying higher quality materials (rolling stock, locos, scenery details, etc.) in quantity. This works very well if your are focused. The trouble is that few people are focused in this hobby. Most of us spend our early years buying this, that and everything in between.

Focus comes from experience and understanding what you want from this craft. That type of mature understanding comes from making mistakes and going off in directions that don’t pan out or that change over time. In a real way, if you are aware enough to understand, you are teaching yourself about the hobby and how you want to engage with it. I digress, however.

It’s all relative.
Quantity, quality, cost and time spent are are relative, in that they mean different things to people. In truth, what is a large layout? What is a small one? The quality of a given product or work may be more objective in nature, but opinions will still vary widely. How much is enough? Who knows?

There’s a tendency to reduce this to dogma. Doing so is simplistic and largely unproductive.

Layout size isn’t that relevant.
I’ve bashed on large layouts pretty hard on this blog and doing so has been a clumsy and short-sighted approach. All I want to emphasize in this work is the idea of building a better layout, one that truly serves your interests and needs. Layouts fitting that description come in many sizes and that’s a truth I’ve willfully ignored and de-emphasized in this space with impunity. That was, is, wrong on my part.

Wrong, because such a dogmatic stance short changes the opportunity  to have a deeper conversation. To discuss what one can gain by building smaller, rather than focus on what one is giving up.

My experience of so many false starts with basement size layouts taught me that quality is more important than size. This lesson took a long time to sink in because I wasn’t thinking for myself but following the crowded conventional wisdom that promotes: Got space? Fill it with layout.

We automatically think that smaller means less and that’s bad. We seldom consider that smaller can also be better. When the lightbulb finally went on, I understood that if the detail I love is there, the size of the layout was irrelevant. I found that smaller was, in fact, better because building smaller let me focus on what I truly enjoy about the hobby and ignore things I didn’t care about.

Regardless of size, a true Freedom Layout is one where you’ve found the balance between size and quality that enhances your experience of the hobby and brings you joy. For some that’s a simple shelf, for others a spare room, and for still others something larger.

I’m not changing my stance on the benefits of smaller, more focused layouts but simply softening my tone a bit; because encouraging you find that balance for yourself is the only goal here on the blog and in TMC.

This craft has so much depth and so many layers of nuance to explore and enjoy. Turning it into the dirt cheap commodity that some think it should be is a horrible waste.