The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live

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Ten years ago, Sarah Susanka started a revolution in home design with a deceptively simple message: quality should always come before quantity. Now, the book that celebrated that bold declaration is back in this special 10th anniversary edition featuring a new introduction and 16 additional pages that explore three new homes.

Nearly a quarter-million people bought this ground-breaking book when it was published in Fall 1998. Since then, the book's simple message — that quality should come before quantity — has started a movement in home design. Homeowners now know to expect more. And the people responsible for building our homes have also gotten the message. Architects and builders around the country report clients showing up with dog-eared copies of The Not So Big House , pages marked to a favorite section.

Why are we drawn more to smaller, more personal spaces than to larger, more expansive ones? Why do we spend more time in the kitchen than we do in the formal dining room? The Not So Big House proposes clear, workable guidelines for creating homes that serve both our spiritual needs and our material requirements, whether for a couple with no children, a family, empty nesters, or one person alone.

In 1999, Sarah Susanka was then architect and principal with Mulfinger, Susanka, Mahady & Partners, the firm selected to design the 1999 Life Dream House brought Frank Lloyd Wright's same common-sense, human-scale design principles to our generation. Consider which rooms in your house you use and enjoy most, and you have a sense of the essential principles of The Not So Big House . Whether you seek comfort and calm or activity and energy at home, The Not So Big House offers a place for every mood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781600851506
Publisher: Taunton Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Edition description: Expanded Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 353,245
Product dimensions: 9.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sarah Susanka is one of the leading residential architects in the United States. Her first book, "The Not So Big House," topped best-seller charts in Home & Garden categories in its first year of publication. Susanka has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Charlie Rose Show, and NPR's Diane Rehm Show. She is a former principal and founding partner of Mulfinger, Susanka, Mahady & Partners, Inc., the firm chosen by LIFE magazine to design its 1999 Dream House.

Kira Obolensky has written for print, film, and stage. She co-authored Sarah Susanka's national bestseller, "The Not So Big House. Kira's book, "Garage, was published in 2001. She has received a number of writing awards and fellowships, including the Kesselring Prize and a Guggenheim fellowship. She lives in Minneapolis.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Bigger Isn't Better

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."--Albert Einstein

So many houses, so big with so little soul. Our suburbs are filled with houses that are bigger than ever. But are bigger houses really better? Are the dreams that build them bigger, or is it simply that there seems to be no alternative? Americans are searching for home in unprecedented numbers. Yet when we look, the only tools we seem to have are those we find in the real estate listings. But a house is more than square footage and the number of beds and baths. In one of the wealthiest societies ever, many people are deeply dissatisfied with their most expensive purchase. Which is where Paul and Laura come in.

I had just completed a lecture at our local Home and Garden Show. As I stepped from the podium, I was greeted by several members of the audience who wanted to thank me for saying something they hadn't heard before--that we need to value quality over quantity in house design. There was a couple in the crowd with a story about their own experience, a story that gave me the impetus to write this book. As they approached me, I saw tears in the woman's eyes.

"We want you to come to our new house and tell us what you think," she said. "We just built it. We spent over $500,000 on it and we hate it. It's just not us at all. After listening to you, we think ..." She paused and looked at her husband, who nodded. "We know that we have to start over. All we've got is square footage with no soul. We want the type of house that you describe. Can you help us?"

The next week, I drove out to the suburbs to see the house, past rowafter row of enormous structures covering the newly developed hillsides. These houses loomed in their treeless sites, staring blankly out toward vistas of more of the same. I felt as though I was driving through a collection of massive storage containers for people.

Paul and Laura's house was fairly typical of new, large subdivision homes. It had the required arched window topping off a soaring front entrance scaled more for an office building than a home. Inside the house, I was greeted by an enormous space, all white, with a cold marble floor. There was no separation between this vaulting foyer and the next room, which I assumed must be the family room, although there was no furniture in it (see the photo on p. 10). Laura ushered me into the kitchen, which was also oversized and made up of all hard surfaces that gave it the acoustics of a parking garage.

She and Paul explained to me that until a year before, they had lived in the city, in a small, older home. Although they liked the house, their three boys were growing up quickly, and they were starting to feel cramped for space. The house had no family room, so the kids didn't have a place to be rambunctious. The couple found a piece of property they loved. The lot was owned by a builder, who made it clear as part of the terms of sale that he would be the one to build the home. They thought this would be fine--they didn't know any other builders and this one had a good reputation.

The builder showed them his portfolio of plans and explained that they could choose any one of them. Although they weren't particularly enamored with any of the plans, they picked the one that seemed to have the rooms they needed in the right relationships to one another: kitchen opening into family room, formal living room separated from family room to allow kids some space to play away from mom and dad.

It wasn't until the house was actually under construction that the feeling of uneasiness began to set in. As the framing proceeded, the heights of the spaces became clear, as did the proportions of each room. "All the rooms just seemed huge," said Laura.

They asked to make some changes, such as lowering some ceiling heights and dividing a room in two to make each a more manageable scale. But such changes would be very expensive at this stage in the process, the builder explained, promising that, "When the house is done, you'll love it." However, the house didn't get better, and when it was finished, it was clear to both of them that they felt no affinity for it. It seemed ostentatious to them. The scale of each room was overwhelming.

Laura took me upstairs to show me the master bathroom. "Look at this," she exclaimed, "our previous bedroom wasn't even this size!" Although the couple now faulted themselves for being naive, they were simply following the process that is standard to working with a builder and selecting from a stock set of plans. They were not offered an opportunity for input into the design. And they didn't know how to ask for or give the feedback necessary to make it an expression of their lifestyle and their values. Like many people building a new house, Paul and Laura didn't have the words to describe what they wanted, nor did they realize how important it was to have input into the "feel" of the house. If a builder hears that a home buyer wants a spacious family room, he reasonably assumes that they are asking for a BIG family room. To Paul and Laura, almost anything would have seemed spacious compared to their previous home.

The outcome was that Paul and Laura had built a $500,000 house that was nowhere close to their dream of home. After spending almost three times the value of their previous house, they were deeply unhappy. They told me they felt no desire to make the house their own by furnishing it or personalizing it in any way. Their story was horrifying to me. And even more alarming is the fact that Paul and Laura are not alone. Over the last couple of years, more and more people who have lived in these impersonal, oversized houses have come to our office and asked, "Is there an alternative? Can you design us a house that is more beautiful and more reflective of our personalities--a house we will enjoy living in?"

The answer is, of course, yes. And the key lies in building Not So Big, in spending more money on the quality of the space and less on the sheer quantity of it. So this book is for Paul and Laura and for everyone like them, whether building from scratch or remodeling, who wants a special home that expresses something significant about their lives and values but who doesn't know how to get it...

Table of Contents

Bigger Isn't Better
Rethinking the House
Making Not So Big Work
Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous
Dreams, Details, and Dollars
The House of the Future

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Moore

A treasure of insights and ideas about making a home—perhaps the most important thing we do in life. the book is not just about size, but about quality, and especially about the fantasies we bring to our homes... It's one of those books full of practical guidance I wish I had read years ago.

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The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Love_2_Cook More than 1 year ago
This book has lots of photos that run to the Craftsman and Scandinavian styles of interior design. So, if that's your style, you'll be immediately attracted to this book. I like a more casual interior style myself. But even if the photos don't particularly jive with your taste, the text is full of great advice on home design for smaller homes and why certain spaces are more comfortable than others. It's a great read for someone home shopping or looking to make improvements to their home in addition to those looking to design a new home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in a weekend. After I finished the book I used many of her suggestions to redesign my bedroom to include an office space, reading nook and even entertaining area. A great read and great ideas for creating comfortable and functional areas in our home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As someone who is planning to build in the next couple of years, this book is phenomenal! I read every word and studied every diagram and have already ordered her sequel. She makes you understand why you feel so uncomfortable in the new cookie cutter homes and that your true needs rather than convention and tradition should guide your home design and use. Yes, she does address 3,000 sq-ft homes, but she also explores a 900 sq-ft model and addresses the tight budgets facing most of us and how to get the most bang for your buck.
Guest More than 1 year ago
3000 square feet is hardly considered a 'small house'! The author is not very realistic. Even though the contents of book does contribute some lovely design ideas, the title of the book is deceiving. I almost purchased the book, until I realized it was not written for folks who are 'small home owners'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only is Sarah Susanka an understanding architect, she is also a master teacher. She was able to retrain us the way we should look at the place we call 'home'. The concepts that she taught in this book are essential in transforming a house into a comfortable living space - a space that we'll enjoy, a space that will grow with us as time passes. We have five children, including a handicapped child, and we spend a lot of time at home. Like most people, space is always an issue. Sarah was able to convince us merely bigger space doesn't necessarily equate to happiness. She taught the concept of 'alcove' which is an intimate space that enables us to feel warm and secured in any room we are in. An alcove becomes the building block to the efficency and comfortability of any room's space. You must read this book and you'll enjoy reading it. I love Sarah's ideas, enthusiasm, and vision. If building your house is your choice, why not build it they way you can really live in and enjoy. The great thing is that it doesn't cost you much more than not doing it. All it takes is thinking and planning. Read the book and let Sarah put you in the driver's seat.
dpevers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good introduction to thinking about architectural home design and becoming a knowledgable consumer through the questions to ask oneself. A disappointment because I was hoping for more "nuts and bolts" on the effective use of space in a small house.
rampaginglibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a really helpful book (mostly for those just moving in to a first home and also designing their own home). I used to think i wanted to live in a grand mansion but now i know differently.This book has many helpful ideas for those of us living in smaller houses and smaller rooms.
Christina Fugitt-Griffiths More than 1 year ago
I like the book and it has good information about designing a not so big house which is a project I am interested in. However, it was first released in 2008 and all the photos are 2008. It is "expanded 10th anniversary edition". It has a quote towards the end by Frank Lloyd Wright "The architect must be a prophet. . .if he can't see at least 10 years ahead don't call him an architect." So it is very ironic to see 2008 television sets and desktop computers in the photos of family rooms and offices, I had to laugh. I also think the not so big house of 2017 and beyond will be smaller than 2000 square feet.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book and I enjoyed the many ideas. Throughout the book, however, I found the author to be out of touch with the average American in that she keeps talking about living in a smaller home - appoximately 3000 square feet. 3000 square feet is not small to the average home buyer. I felt in reading the book that she was living in a different world than most folks and wasn't even aware of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i watched a show with susan on discovery and was excited about the concrete counters in the kitchen. i just loved them. my husband has worked with concete for 25 yrs. he would like a installation plan. if possible
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of those rare, wonderful books where you don't just want to look at the pictures--you read every word, and wish for more. It is a jewel of a book that can help you create a jewel of a home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the Book in a store, I couldn't buy it, but, when I was looking at it, they had very good pictures and interesting house insides.