Big Ideas Behind Not So Big Houses
by Sarah Susanka
When someone buys a Mercedes Benz or Jaguar, they look for quality, comfort, and detail. Size has nothing to do with the appeal of these cars. If you wanted nothing but space, you could buy a truck. Why is it, then, that some people feel compelled to buy huge houses with empty, cathedral-like spaces that offer few comforts of home?
In my experience as an architect, a house in which every space is designed for everyday living is far more satisfying than one with unused formal spaces for formal guests who never show up. Most of us tend to entertain our friends in the family room; a formal dining room becomes a mail sorting place, and a formal living room is a museum for curios and uncomfortable furniture.
Rethinking the House
My book The Not So Big House asks what happens if we eliminate the formal rooms, design our everyday living spaces for both formal and informal purposes, and use the dollars we save to really personalize the spaces we live in every day? It puts forth a message that it's time for a different kind of house—one that values quality over quantity of space, is built for the long term, and is filled with the crafted details that make a house a home. Simply stated, the book proposes that we move away from our obsession with square footage and refocus on livability.
What defines the character of a house are the details, such as a beautiful stair railing, well-crafted moldings around windows and doors, and useful, finely tailored built-ins. These details are what attract us to older houses. Materials such as wood and fieldstone bespeak comfort, and coziness is created by a room's small scale, lowered soffits at the edges, soft lighting, and even overstuffed furniture.
Bigger Isn't Better
When the book first came out in October of 1998, I was frankly a bit nervous about what architects, builders, and homeowners around the country might think.
Architects: Jean Larson and Mark Larson of SALA Architects.
Photo: Saari & Forrai Photography
Architect Michaela Mahady of SALA Architects.
Photo: Phillip Mueller
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.