True Lithuania

Home and away: Lithuanian public/personal space

A large modern detached family house is the coveted accommodation to many (a popular saying goes that "Every Lithuanian has to plant a tree, raise a child and build a house"). In Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, however, a non-Soviet apartment can also be a status symbol. The majority lives in Soviet apartments (cities) or old detached homes (villages).

Nearly every family owns its home, 90%+ without any bank credits attached. Rental is considered acceptable only for students and expatriates. Most homes are even self-designed (at least the interiors).

Types of Lithuanian family homes

On average every Lithuanian has 26,2 m2 of living space. 36% live in detached homes, 63% live in apartments (the division is 15%-85% in cities/towns and 80%-20% in villages).

All Lithuanian single-family detached homes can be roughly divided into 4 main types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 detached homes (-1945) Villages, town centers, former city suburbs The traditional dwelling. Usually wooden, lacking indoor WC and sewerage. 7,8%
Soviet detached homes (1945-1990) Villages, town suburbs The "mainstream" dwelling of a Soviet countryside. Small and of dubious building quality, their brick or prefab walls and modern amenities still seemed an improvement to many. 21%
1990s detached homes City suburbs Large-to-enormous, self-designed brick homes that people rushed to build "for generations" when they were finally able to earn money with the advent of capitalism. New technologies, ideas, and movement made many of these homes obsolescent, however. 2,5%
2000s detached homes City suburbs, towns In 2000s more Western ideas (styles, layouts, materials) reached the detached home construction 3,1%

The four main types of detached homes in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

All Lithuanian apartments may be roughly divided into these 5 types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 apartments (-1945) City downtowns Brick buildings of pretty architecture from the ages gone-by. Every apartment is unique and most are expensive, but a lack of parking space and the "building aging problems" make them a dream home only to some Lithuanians. 5,8%
Early Soviet apartments (1945-1960) City downtowns Dating to the Stalin's campaign of rebuilding downtowns in his own grandeur these apartments have especially high ceilings and are semi-prestigious due to their central locations. WC and bath are in a single room. 3,6%
Soviet apartments (1960-1990) City Soviet micro-districts, towns Still the "mainstream" accommodation in cities. Prefab, badly insulated, unprestigious, cramped. All buildings and apartments designed the same way and many still have the same furniture. Very different people live next door leaving no place for a true community. 46,8%
Soviet dormitories (1945-1990) City Soviet micro-districts The crampiest form of Soviet accommodations where every family has a single room and must share toilets and kitchen with an entire floor. After independence people used to allocate part of their room for amenities thus effectively making dormitories into apartment blocks. Note: today it is also common among out-of-city students to rent large apartments and use them as dormitories. 1%
Post-independence apartments (1990-) Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda Despite a rapidly falling population residential construction boomed after independence as the economic growth permitted many to acquire new better quality apartments. These are preferred by young families leaving multi-generational homes 7,7%

The four main types of Lithuanian apartments. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian home culture and etiquette

A great care is taken to keep the home tidy and comfortable. It is not entirely a personal space however and guests are commonly invited (removing shoes is a must). Guests may be given a home-prepared dish (see: Lithuanian cuisine).

This cherished "home" ends abruptly at the front door (front gate) - the staircases/public yards may be dirty and derelict. In the Soviet apartment blocks, this has been a necessity as the inhabitants are simply too different to agree on common rules. In modern housing developments, there is more respect for common good.

Lithuanians are especially attached to the location. A popular Lithuanian expression "[he is] so sad as if he sold his land" implies that even a willful transfer of one's real estate has traditionally been a sorrowful event. To this day many spend entire lives (or at least entire adulthood) in a single home. Even when buying a new apartment most prefer improving size/quality but not the neighborhood (this helps city districts to remain socially heterogeneous). However the historical fondness of location has found its limits: many (especially the youth) "improve status" by moving from towns to cities, from non-capital cities to Vilnius, from city apartments to suburban houses or emigrating abroad. While Lithuanians used to build homes "for generations" until 1990s today they increasingly take the new mobility into account.

In villages, most people own some crops or cattle, even if they have other jobs. Urban relatives may come to help in harvests. "Going to the village" and "Where is your village?" are common expressions among middle-aged urban Lithuanians, showing that fairly recently ~80% of Lithuanians were rural and, as a local proverb goes, [nearly everyone is] "a 3rd generation from a plow". Lithuanian villages are however aging swiftly and today's urban kids may already lack "their village". Some reestablish the connection to nature by buying an abandoned farm or visiting "village tourism" sites in summer to enjoy a sauna, swim in a lake.

A car is a kind of obligatory "home away from home" and well cared for (Lithuania is among the global leaders by car ownership rates). Intra-city public transport is thus used mainly by the poor and those unable to drive. Used prestigious cars are preferred to new(er) small ones.

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