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

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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.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live:

1

September 24, 2010

A hoax
This book is disappointing because what she refers to as a not-so-big house is only not-so-big when compared with a McMansion. The rooms pictured in her book look so spacious ... because the rooms are big. She seldom actually admits in her books how big her rooms are, or the square footage of her houses. I can tell you that her rooms are huge compared to the ones in my 1500 sq. ft. house, which accommodates a family of four plus multi-month stays by extended family. She does not deal with the real world, like, for example, children. She uses a lot of built-ins, which make a room really inflexible when you want to repurpose it. She goes for cuteness, like little window seats, which no one will sit in for any length of time because they are so uncomfortable. She likes the craftsman style - which is nice, but it does not fit well with the basic design of every house that someone might already own. She does not deal with real issues with small houses, for example that they also come with small yards. Not all of us can just put a window anywhere on the wall to look out on a beautiful view. It took me quite a while to figure out that her houses are not really not-so-big. What a waste of money her books were. I'd like her to give me my money back for selling under false pretenses. Don't buy these books for real construction ideas. They are really for the guilty rich who want to convince themselves that their 2000-3000-sq. ft. house is not-so-big, and justify spending a lot of money inside it for custom built-ins that will be torn out when their current lifestyles change.
5

December 11, 2012

NOT SO BIG means not small, but JUST RIGHT
I see some complaints that people are quantifying the square footage of the Not So Big House. YES, some of them are still big... For some big families, 4000 sq ft might be Not So Big. For some individuals who like to live big, even 4000 sq ft might be Not So Big. I think another term that could be used would be JUST RIGHT. For one person, depending on his/her lifestyle, 4000 sq ft might be Just Right.

Some people are saying "What?!? I live in 1,500 sq ft" or even "800 sq ft" ... and this book "has examples of 2,500 sq ft... that's not 'Not So Big'!!!". Well, yes, FOR THAT PERSON. Again, it's not about the actual size. It's about being JUST RIGHT.

Again, the complaints of some reviewers focus really on area covered, rather than the real focus of the book: quality of life in one's living space. The book does say, in one example, that a couple with children moved from a 4,000 sq ft McMansion to a 2,500 sq ft house THAT WAS NOT MUCH MORE INEXPENSIVE than the 4,000 sq ft house -- in other words, it costs almost as much, even though it is only roughly 60% the size of their former bigger house. But, the point is, this book was giving ideas on how we really use rooms and areas of the house, so not only are the areas of use maximized, but also ENJOYED.

Spend on details like trimmings, lighting, etc... on details that count (to make it cozy, inviting, warm, or whatever effect one is after), instead of area, and instead of having just a big house, you end up with a LIVEABLE house.

And this is where this book shines: it shows examples (and comparisons of) big (and even impressive) rooms and houses that seem cold and uninviting, to a smaller area (again, smaller being relative) that is WELL DESIGNED, not to impress, but rather to be a place where one wants to be. And that is precisely what a home should be -- a place where one wants to be. The Not So Big House is really just another way of saying the HOME that is FOR YOU.

There are many examples of making basically small areas like the dining, living, kitchen, etc... and make it seem like one BIG area because of the lack of walls, and yet still make them separate (using lighting, ceiling height, etc) from each other. But, it looks bigger, even if it's really Not So Big.

This is an idea book, not a book about actual square feet (I really should be using square meters, because it's metric where I'm from, but anyway...). And, as an idea book on how to maximize space, and maximize quality of life in a house to make it a home, it deserves top props.

I rate this book 4.5 stars (not quite the 5 I gave), because even if this is the 10th anniversary edition, it could use more pictures/examples of the Not So Big lifestyle and designs, and how they all work.
4

Jun 01, 2009

I really enjoyed the basic premise of this book: that we should focus more on the quality of our homes than on the quantity (i.e. square footage), and that we ought to build (or remodel) homes that reflect our actual lifestyles. I also particularly enjoyed her assertion that we should think about the ways that we use space--where do we spend most of our time? What activities do we do in those spaces?--and compose our homes inline with that thinking. In other words, we may find it worthwhile to I really enjoyed the basic premise of this book: that we should focus more on the quality of our homes than on the quantity (i.e. square footage), and that we ought to build (or remodel) homes that reflect our actual lifestyles. I also particularly enjoyed her assertion that we should think about the ways that we use space--where do we spend most of our time? What activities do we do in those spaces?--and compose our homes inline with that thinking. In other words, we may find it worthwhile to spend more time, money, and effort on certain parts of the home than on others; and we may be able to find ways to incorporate multiple activities into a single space by the way we design the space itself.

Some of the critiques I've seen leveled against this book are that 3000 sq feet is not a "not-so-big" house--but in fairness to Susanka, she's arguing that, if you can afford to build 6000 sq feet, you might consider building half that size and putting the remaining budget money in the kind of details (built ins, etc.) that make a house a livable home. I don't think she's arguing that everyone should build this size--in fact, she repeatedly emphasizes that the size and nature of the home should be in line with what the homeowners are financially capable of (and in fact, the homes in the book range from 800 sq feet on up). I did find that many of the interiors are much richer than I will probably ever be able to afford (and not all of them quite to my taste), but I think her basic principle--that we should make our homes into the kind of spaces we want to be in--rings true and is a refreshing contrast from the trend of ever bigger and more spacious (and often character-less) new homes.

Since my husband and I are currently in the process of buying a new home, I found this book particularly pertinent--more importantly, for me, this helped me be more confident about our final choice. We chose, not the biggest or newest house we could afford with our budget, but an older home that was far above the other houses in terms of sheer personality and charm. This book helped explain why we were more drawn to this older home and, for me, validated our choice.

Overall, I found this book to be highly readable--I read the entire thing in less than two days. ...more
3

April 12, 2016

Great Concept, But Out-of-Date
A long time ago, when this book came out, I was such a fan. Time passed, I passed the book along. When I prepared to move to a smaller home, I bought it again. Love the concept, but this book isn't current. It is still a good introduction to the "Not So Big" concept, but I wish I had just borrowed it from the library.
3

February 7, 2009

Not So Big House
I did learn a lot by reading the book but would have liked more diversified styles. My traditional, European style wasn't at all portrayed and too much modern for my tastes. She has a lot of good ideas but illustrations, pics, etc to show different tastes, would have helped a lot.
2

February 5, 2011

The not so big house
After all the hype I heard about this book I rushed and bought it at Amazon the same day I heard an interview replayed on NPR.
This book is OK at best but, as it can be said about every book ,there is always one or two good ideas within its pages.
All the houses in the several books I bought written by her only have very traditional houses little old cottages from the east coast. How about " the not so big MODERN house"?.
I would say this book could have been summarized in a little three page booklet or promotional flier saying. Open the walls, connect everything kitchen,living room, sun room etc together and it looks bigger. Get use to smaller.This is basically this book and all the others. And apply the same to life ,expect less and you will be less disappointed.
3

March 18, 2016

Good book, with lots of nice pictures
Good book, with lots of nice pictures. Two main problems: (1) many of the houses are actually pretty big and (2) its all a bit dated. Time for an update reflecting current design and construction techniques.
3

January 19, 2010

Some nice architectural ideas but not for everyone (details)
First I must say that I wholly agree with author Sarah Susanka that a large house doesn't necessarily equate to a great home. I live in a very small house (a 1930s expanded creek-side fishing camp) and it has served as a wonderful home for my daughter, my wife, and me for many years.

However, even though Susanka presents some terrific ideas to punctuate her architectural outlook, I cannot say that I found a single one for which I was personally enthusiastic. I viewed most of these perspectives as entirely contemporary and lacking charm, boasting way too many vaulted ceilings and exposed rafters for me. A surfeit of windows of various designs represented yet another feature which I've never directly associated with comfort.

Still, life is not the same for everyone and certainly many families will enjoy and benefit from Susanka's concepts of the small-home residence. The author evidently shares my enthusiasm for the home creations of Frank Lloyd Wright (see: 50 Favorite Rooms By Frank Lloyd Wright) but I didn't grasp where the two share much in common having finished reading Susanka's book.

The color photography in this 2008 work is quite exceptional and these numerous pictures accurately convey all the design thoughts on which the author comments throughout the text.

In summary, don't be put off by my review of you're the sort of person who exults in modern living -- I don't even have a dishwasher in my home (other than myself.) But if you foster a particular taste for older English cottages and like residential cubby-holes, this book will probably not fulfill your expectations. My recommendation for those on the fence is that they first check out a copy from the local public library and, if it happens to suit you, then buy it if you so wish.

By the way, the "Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition" of this book features only 227 pages which is in conflict with the product information as listed here on Amazon.
1

Feb 24, 2010

This is a terrible book. The houses in this book are more than twice the size of my house! I already mentioned like 150 times that we bought a house and it's fairly small and we're trying to adjust our lifestyles to use our space better. And actually, our house is 1100 square feet, which is not *really* small. Basically, this book is for people who are rich beyond my lived experience and have some novel desire for a smaller house, and a desire to spend as much on it as middle America spends on This is a terrible book. The houses in this book are more than twice the size of my house! I already mentioned like 150 times that we bought a house and it's fairly small and we're trying to adjust our lifestyles to use our space better. And actually, our house is 1100 square feet, which is not *really* small. Basically, this book is for people who are rich beyond my lived experience and have some novel desire for a smaller house, and a desire to spend as much on it as middle America spends on their giant 'burbian houses.

Anyway, I keep reading these "little house" books, many of which are really fantastic and full of ideas from people who created personalized homes with creative materials for a frugal, thoughtful, clever design. This book is none of those things. This book does rail against McMansions and the whole philosophy of "bigger is better" and the American Dream of a big house in the 'burbs with the boring fenced yard and blah blah blah but really, don't most people already know how wasteful and miserable a giant generic house in the 'burbs is? Yes, I think they do.

None of the architecture or design is especially clever. There is no "WOW!" moment when you see how a corner or hallway or overhead space gets converted to some crazy useful space. The houses are almost entirely devoid of creativity or personality. In this book, a small house is about high design and expensive materials. Frugal, eco-consciousness has nothing to do with it. This book is mind-numbingly idiotic and made me want to grate my face on a 3,000 square foot brick wall. ...more
2

February 23, 2010

Outdated.
When this book first came out it was truly groundbreaking. Home designers definitely learned from it but then moved on. Today the book seems old and outdated. Also, small homes today are smaller than these not so big houses!
2

Jan 24, 2008

This book should really be titled "The EXPENSIVE Not So Big House".

This is not an idea book for those contemplating an inexpensive small starter home. Rather, the author advocates downsizing the square-footage of a house in order to spend more money on the details that make a home feel comfortable.

Another peeve: In recommending the perfect "not so big house", the author makes sweeping assumptions about the lifestyles of others (i.e. people rarely use a dining room, people usually enter their This book should really be titled "The EXPENSIVE Not So Big House".

This is not an idea book for those contemplating an inexpensive small starter home. Rather, the author advocates downsizing the square-footage of a house in order to spend more money on the details that make a home feel comfortable.

Another peeve: In recommending the perfect "not so big house", the author makes sweeping assumptions about the lifestyles of others (i.e. people rarely use a dining room, people usually enter their home through the garage, etc). We use our dining room for every meal, and we always enter through the front door.

I'm also trying hard not to get annoyed by the politically-correct tone of the messages in this book (i.e. big houses waste the earth's resources, vaulted ceilings are not energy-efficient, etc).

It seems like this book is targeted at rich Lexus-driving liberals who feel guilty over their financial success and want to assuage their conscience by living in a more "modest" house that still costs a fortune. According to the author's standards, 2400 square-feet is considered a "not so big house" (as compared to 6000 square-foot McMansions).

I think my conscience can handle the blow if anyone wants to throw a McMansion my way.

...more
2

May 25, 2013

When I read a book on not-so-big houses, this is not what I'm expecting:





The wealth of the homeowners here is beyond anything I will ever experience in my life. I don't know who the "we" are in the phrase "a blueprint for the way we really live," but it's not me, baby.

I love that the problem with using "non-renewable . . .giant hardwoods from old-growth forests" for elaborate trim is that it's expensive. *nods*. Yeah. That.
5

February 4, 2014

Not So Big House Books are fun to read
I love all of Sarah Susanka's books. I especially enjoy the photography with before and after shots showing how small details can make a difference. This book is the first in the series. I enjoy Sarah's philosophy regarding having less square footage but incorporating more meaningful features. Sarah admits that the details do not make the house less expensive to build. We have used some of the book's concepts for decorating, arranging furniture, and paint colors. We have an "away room" as suggested by Sarah and I love it. It offers peace and quiet whereas the rest of our downstairs living space is open. In the past, I borrowed the Not So Big House books from our library but I love owning them. It is such a pleasure to own these books and I would recommend them them to anyone with an interest in home design.
2

August 26, 2014

Not So Big House Actually Seems Like Big Houses Made To Look Cozy
The pictures are great. Ideas if you are starting from the ground up as in building or re-building can be helpful. That being said, if you are in a home that is smaller than 3000 sq. feet these homes will feel absolutely huge to you and you may wonder how on earth you can actually execute these great plans. Here where I live the average home is at least half that size and that is what we are dealing with. I would really like to find a book that deals with homes that are specifically 1000-2000 sq ft. That would be the typical "Not-So-Big" house in my estimation. Even that may seem big to others who are living in nice, small cottages or bungalows.
2

December 5, 2018

Mission, Prairie, Arts and Crafts, Oh My!
Unless you are obsessed with the styles in the title of my review, this book won't help much. The theories are repeated ad nauseum, with no variety in how the points are illustrated. So how do you have a rustic/country/farmhouse/Early American not-so-big house? Or a French or Italianate? Or a "traditional" (whatever that means). Or Scandinavian. Or ADA? You get the drift: you have to use your imagination. Very disappointed, as we are downsizing and I was looking for pointers.
3

March 16, 2013

Not so big house
The houses are still way to BIG for my taste. The ideas were helpful. The author is helpful and experienced.
5

Oct 10, 2008

Occasionally described as the JK Rowling of architecture, Sarah Susanka's books all follow a similar theme-- smaller, exceptionally designed homes with personal details are much more pleasant to live in than impersional McMansions.

In the next six or seven months, we'll be going through the process of buying a new home. When we bought our last two houses, our MO was simple-- buy the biggest house we could afford (and it probably still wouldn't be big enough). This time, it's a different Occasionally described as the JK Rowling of architecture, Sarah Susanka's books all follow a similar theme-- smaller, exceptionally designed homes with personal details are much more pleasant to live in than impersional McMansions.

In the next six or seven months, we'll be going through the process of buying a new home. When we bought our last two houses, our MO was simple-- buy the biggest house we could afford (and it probably still wouldn't be big enough). This time, it's a different situation. We're looking in areas where most of the houses are older and need some remodeling, and we need to resist the urge to buy a house with lots of square footage just because we can. Reading Sarah Susanka's books has helped me open my eyes to the details I need to look for in a home (the flow of the floor-plan or the bones of the house, for example) and has taught me that rooms (just like moms) can be great multitaskers. I had already decided that a formal dining room probably wouldn't get much use by our family, but hadn't realized that a wall of desk space and cabinetry in the playroom could do away with the need for a separate work room for the kids. The books all tend to blend together after a while. I have three more in my reading pile, but I think I'll wait a while before tackling them.
...more
5

Aug 02, 2008

I absolutely loved this book. I checked it out from the library and have added it to my amazon wishlist. The Not So Big House concept is not so much about the square footage, but in maximizing the usable space in your home. If you're a family that will always eat your meals in the kitchen, no matter how much you have to extend the table in your nook but are scrambling for office/studio space-why would you waste over 100 precious square feet on a formal dining room?

Not So Big House is really all I absolutely loved this book. I checked it out from the library and have added it to my amazon wishlist. The Not So Big House concept is not so much about the square footage, but in maximizing the usable space in your home. If you're a family that will always eat your meals in the kitchen, no matter how much you have to extend the table in your nook but are scrambling for office/studio space-why would you waste over 100 precious square feet on a formal dining room?

Not So Big House is really all about making a house a home and loving every inch of inch, not matter how big, or Not So Big, it may be.

There are a ton of ideas from this book that I'll be implementing in our new home, and I hope you find inspiration for yours in it as well. ...more
3

Dec 12, 2013

I think this book has some good ideas but it is also flawed in ways. The architecture feels very '90s, and the author is in love with lots of wood and built-ins. The book was very different than I thought it would be--more expensive ideas than I anticipated and bigger "not so big" houses than my average suburban home is. I've read better books on small houses. The idea here that really doesn't seem that fresh to me is that you love the space you have and use it in the way that best suits your I think this book has some good ideas but it is also flawed in ways. The architecture feels very '90s, and the author is in love with lots of wood and built-ins. The book was very different than I thought it would be--more expensive ideas than I anticipated and bigger "not so big" houses than my average suburban home is. I've read better books on small houses. The idea here that really doesn't seem that fresh to me is that you love the space you have and use it in the way that best suits your needs. My takeaway: I liked the IDEA more than I liked the book. ...more
1

May 24, 2016

Less than Expected.
Mostly a picture book of finishes and details. Not enough about floor planning.
1

March 5, 2016

Not so small disappointment
This book does not contain any actual small houses, or non-luxury ideas.
1

February 11, 2016

I thought that I would get information on how to ...
I thought that I would get information on how to live in small houses. The author considers a 2,000 square foot house a not so big house.
This book is old and the finishes are out of date. I thought that wouldn't matter when I bought it but it does.
1

September 24, 2014

One Star
Lots of pics, alternatives & options, virtually nothing on plans. Not wort the price.
5

Aug 04, 2017

A fascinating read of what to consider in designing a home you can live in along with the costs to expect.
3

Jan 27, 2010

Although I found this book useful, I couldn't buy in completely to some of her ideas, especially on double duty spaces. Having been forced for thirty years to do this because the rooms in my house are not appropriately sized for my needs, I will be the first to say that making one space serve two functions is not optimal. Other ideas I liked, especially the open kitchen and living room idea. Having said that, I agree wholeheartedly that simplification is the key, McMansions (what I call monster Although I found this book useful, I couldn't buy in completely to some of her ideas, especially on double duty spaces. Having been forced for thirty years to do this because the rooms in my house are not appropriately sized for my needs, I will be the first to say that making one space serve two functions is not optimal. Other ideas I liked, especially the open kitchen and living room idea. Having said that, I agree wholeheartedly that simplification is the key, McMansions (what I call monster houses) are not necessary, and one should only build what one needs and definitely not to keep up with the Jones or to impress. I wish she had done more with maintenance and cleaning. Houses with two stories to a room - how do they clear out the cobwebs that always form in the corners in those now out-of-reach places? How do they paint? If the owner does not want to hire people to keep their place clean and in good order and doesn't want to invest in scaffolding, is a two-story room even an option? What works best for those of us who want to do our own work on the house? Has any progress been made in building in ways to get to those pipes when they leak or put in new wires for new fixtures without having to tear out walls? Ms. Susanka mentions practicality often, but skipped the practicality of maintaining what you've built almost totally. There were a few mentions at the end of the book. On the other hand, the book brought up something inadvertently through its pictures. I found I liked almost all the interior pictures (some were too cluttered because the rooms were too small) and disliked almost all the exterior pictures. My conclusion is that having an exterior you love may not mean you have an interior you love and vice-versa. I hope it is possible to have both since we hope to build a house in the next few years. It's the first time we have chosen to build rather than buy and frankly, the idea scares me to death. Too many details to think about. ...more

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