Posted by    |    March 14th, 2011 at 1:54 pm

A "Not So Big" second home cabin designed for a Dallas family by Chambers Architects in piney woods of East Texas

Our firm, Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc., recently logged into GreenExpo365.com, a virtual interactive green building community, to watch a continuing education for architects webinar featuring Sarah Susanka. Susanka is a bestselling author, architect and cultural visionary leading a movement to redefine the American home and lifestyle. Her “build better, not bigger” approach to residential architecture has been embraced across the country and her “Not So Big” philosophy is evolving beyond our physical habitations and into how we inhabit our lives. She believes that Not So Big should be the first step in sustainability, both for our own and for the well being of the planet as a whole. 

Below is our summary of the webinar, which provides valuable information for the public when considering the design and construction of a new home:

“The qualities we long for have everything to do with taking time, building for the long term, crafting and paying attention to who we are, what we care about, and how we affect our world. The Not So Big house celebrates the beauty of daily life. With minimum means, it makes the act of living an art. It restores the soul to the structure.” —from The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka

Ms. Susanka realized early in her career as an architect that people often asked for more square footage in their homes because they thought that this would get them something better with a higher resale value. But, the ‘better’ to which they often refer is more about character and quality in their homes. The feeling of home has nothing to do with size. “McMansions” are not necessarily that inviting. Rather than ‘downsize’ their American Dream, however, Susanka recommends that they ‘rightsize’ it.  Clients can have quality homes with substantial value if they consider the following three concepts when designing their new home, or a second home:

1) Build better, not bigger
2) Build it to last
3) Build to inspire yourself, everyday

So how do you accomplish this? Realize that inspiring homes come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Houses based on the ways clients live their lives and are tailored to their needs are structures that feel like homes. Features that create this feeling of home are places that consider the following principles:

1) Design in all three dimensions; don’t just think of the floor plan. This is what architects lend to the creation of a home. They understand how to vary ceiling heights, add interest to hallways, emphasize lighting, create visual weight, provide good sight lines to the outdoors and indoors, and create cozy spaces that feel right and inspire when you are in them.

2) Build for the way that you live when you are actually in the home.

3) Beauty around you really matters and it is a sustainable act.

4) Make your home a personal statement, creating the rooms with details that have things of personal interest; don’t allow designers to place objects in your rooms that have no meaning for you.

5) Build in proportion to human scale.

6) Consider sustainable aspects in the design of the home and landscaping.

7) Keep your home in scale with its setting and the neighborhood.

This paradigm shift requires that all of the professionals work together toward the same vision and assist their clients to achieve the goal of quality homes that suit their lifestyles. The public can become empowered by enlightened professionals and ultimately change the rules of the real estate game, a game currently where prices are driven by square footage and location–not by the quality in design. Our families and communities are the beneficiaries of this quality lifestyle thinking.  Chambers Architects, and other professionals who follow this philosophy, may be found in the profiles on Susanka’s site by clicking this link.

  1. Andrew Young says:

    Nicely put. Reminds me of this quote – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” William Morris

  2. Jeff Hinson says:

    “5) Build in proportion to human scale.”

    I might eventually comment on each point, but this one intrigues me. Does Ms. Susanka weigh in with suggested parameters? We know for certain that the average size of homes in the US has increased substantially over the last 50 years. Has human scale changed over a similar time period?

  3. Stephanie Chambers says:

    Jeff, in the last 50 years people have increased about 3% in height. The average house today is about 50% larger than it was in the 1950s. This converts to a substantial increase in consumption of materials. Ms. Susanka stated in this presentation that an average house of 2250-2500 sq. ft. is ample for a small family. With the right variations in ceiling heights, exquisite details, intimate spaces and creative use of lighting, the feeling of “home” can be achieved. It is not necessarily cheaper per square foot to build “not so big” houses. But, by focusing on quality, the house will continue to inspire you every day that you spend in it. To paraphrase a popular advertisement—the cost of inspiration: priceless!