When my mom realized I wasn’t going to outgrow this small, old house fetish, she introduced me to architect Sarah Susanka and her “Not So Big House” philosophy. It was trendy and maybe even popular a decade ago, but I haven’t heard, well, ANYONE my age talk about her ideas. I mean, minimalism is cool, and Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been a big deal the last couple years, but Susanka’s message is different than those schools of thought and ought to be explored by individuals hoping to live large in a smaller space.
The gist of Susanka’s message is this: By living in a smaller home than you thought you needed, you can afford to have a nicer home. That’s really it. Quality over quantity. With less square footage, you can make every inch sing. Side benefits include coziness, togetherness, nicer finishes, better windows, better function, and sustainability. Not So Big Houses complement the way you live or want to live.
I live in a part of the country where housing is relatively cheap. That’s why so many opt to build large houses—they can afford it. Whether they need space for 15 kids is beside the point; since they can have the space, why not? Susanka would say square footage isn’t a prerequisite to living well and can in fact hinder the kind of lifestyle we instinctively long to have.
This is a Susanka house plan; take a look at it here.
Some of my favorite Susanka tips include varying your ceiling heights or floor depths to define spaces and designing houses with long, uninterrupted sight lines so spaces feel more expansive and adjacent rooms draw you in.
If everyone builds a quality home, our houses and communities will look better longer and stick around for decades. Compare that with cheaply built, character-devoid houses, and I think you’ll see the difference.
Susanka has written nine books about Not So Big living, and many of these will be available at your local library. Also, check out this video for more information on the Not So Big philosophy. •