Creating the Not So Big House - Sarah Susanka

As Robyn and I have been wrestling with floor plan designs and trying to figure out exactly what it is we'd like in our future house, we both hae felt strongly that we'd prefer a smaller, well-designed house to something that is just big. There are several motivations for this: we'd like to have plenty of room for a big vegetable garden; we want to have an energy-efficient house, for a smaller footprint on the earth; we don't want a whole lot of space that we have to decorate, fill with furniture, and then clean. But as we looked at floor plan catalogs we realized that what we have in mind is quite hard to find.

I stumbled upon the "Not So Big House" during one of my many online searches, and the principles Susanka describes in her book express in words what Robyn and I only had vague notions about. She doesn't really give a size that is "too big," but instead sets forth the idea that we shouldn't spend money building rooms that we only use rarely (or perhaps not at all). Vaulted ceilings do not necessarily make a room more comfortable; varied ceiling heights throughout the house do. Simply increasing the square footage of a room isn't the best way to make it feel bigger. The nooks and crannies and leftover spaces in a house are often the ones that we use the most. Floor plans are usually only in two dimensions, but we should really think in three. Creating the Not So Big House is about finding ways to design your home so that it fits the way you really live, not the way you think you're supposed to.

I found it an extremely helpful book in giving me some ideas about designing particular aspects of a house. However, it's still discouraging that there's not really an inexpensive way to have a well-designed house. Susanka even says it herself:

... [P]eople want the quality that comes with the Ralp Lauren or Liz Claiborne label, without having to hire Ralph or Liz themselves. Unfortunately, unlike the fashion industry, there are few such options in the residential-housing industry. You can either buy generic, or you can hire the artist directly. This leaves a huge middle-ground that is almost completely unserved in today's marketplace.

I'm in that middle ground--I keep reading about green design, the "slow home" movement, sustainability, but everything I read seems to suggest that "green" houses can only be built by the very rich, or built for low-income families by rich cities. Her half-way solution is to offer plans for the homes in this book for sale; it would be cheaper than hiring an architect yourself but you'd have a fully-designed home. To me, though, it seems like selling patterns for somebody else's tailor-made suit. Sure, it's great if you happen to have the exact same situation, but these are not the sort of plans that you can buy and easily make adjustments to.

I fully support the idea of the "Not So Big House" and if you're thinking about building or remodeling a house, I highly recommend taking a look at this book. However, I'm not sure that it's a method that's as easily put into practice.

Fed to jonathan's brain | February 01, 2008 | Comments (0)


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