Learn to Live the Not-So-Big Lifestyle

Author, architect and visionary Sarah Susanka explains the “not-so-big” lifestyle and how it’s evolved.


| Oct. 14, 2008



Sarah Susanka

Architect and author Sarah Susanka has written a series of books on the “not-so-big” philosophy.


CHERYL MUHR

Sarah Susanka is an architect and author. Ten years ago, she wrote The Not So Big House, which has recently been updated. Mother Earth News spoke with Sarah about her philosophy of “not so big” and how it relates to architecture and lifestyle.

What inspired you to become an architect?

I grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1971, so I was a teenager at the time. In England, things are a little bit smaller in terms of house design. One of the things that I noticed right away was that a lot of the space in American houses seemed to go unused. In some of my friends’ houses, the living room and dining room furniture still had plastic covers on. Why did they have it if they weren’t going to sit on it? That precipitated an interest in architecture, and I ended up going to architecture school. I was always really interested in house design.

What prompted you to write The Not So Big House?

I moved to Minnesota shortly after I graduated from the University of Oregon, and started my own firm with a partner. We started serving middle-class America and discovered that there was a large part of the population that wanted a better house design but didn’t know that architects were the people to go to — mostly because architects were known, at the time, for building big, expensive houses. We wanted to help people build smaller, better-designed houses, and we found a huge market.

After 15 years of serving that clientele, I got completely sick of telling clients “what you need is not square footage, what you need is character and quality.” So, I decided to write a book to put that whole theory down on paper.

glenn merchant
10/17/2008 6:02:18 PM

About a year ago, my wife and I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama and were amazed at the quality and richness of the space. As one of Wright's original "Usonian" houses from the 1930's, it really spoke to us as an excellent example of design suggestions from The Not So Big House - which we added to our library a few years ago. These homes are a real contrast to the overblown Georgian imitations we see in most new single family homes in our area - "bonus" rooms and all. Wright designed many Usonians across the country and a number are open to the public. A visit will change your views about "home"....it sure changed ours.


maggie tatum_2
10/17/2008 1:35:01 PM

I "downsized" almost 2 years ago. I looked for a smaller already built house, but could not find what I wanted. I decided to draw up a rudimentary plan, present it to a builder and see if we could work together. We did. In doing my plan I thought of the way I wanted to live, ignoring all the attractive aspects of other peoples' houses and also items in magazines. I ended up with a house in which I love to live. It is up in the hills and has natural vegetation all around. I think lawns are an abomination because they use valuable water and often take a lot of work to care for. I would rather give that time as a volunteer to the community. I rain harvest, have a tankless water heater and do all I can to protect the environment. I use passive solar power to dry my clothes. (I wish I could afford solar panels for the whole house, but cannot afford them at this time.) I am a Texas Master Naturalist so of course greatly value the outdoors. The deck on my house is almost as large as the big open living area within the house. This was a necessary item in my house plan. Big is certainly NOT better. I keep hoping more people will begin to see that each persons real value does not rest on the square footage of a house nor the green lawn around it. mt






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