Don’t let the title “Inside the Not So Big House,” by Sarah Susanka with Marc Vassalo, fool you. It is not about just one house. It is about 23 modest-size homes, located throughout the nation, emphasizing the features and details famous home architect Sarah Susanka likes best in each residence.
This is one of those beautiful coffee table-type books (with gorgeous photos by Ken Gutmaker) where the readers can point to the photo of something they want in their next home or in a remodel of their current home. Many of the homes shown are remodels of very old homes. The results show what can be done with small spaces.
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Susanka’s goal is to make a not-so-big-home feel “homey,” for lack of a better word. Her “top secret formula” is to cut floor space by up to one-third to pay for the cost of the extraordinary details. These are clearly one-of-a-kind houses, but many of the features are easy to duplicate.
Along the way, the author shares many “tricks” used by the 23 architects, including herself, for one home. For example, she shows how bringing a bathroom mirror down to the level of the counter makes a small bathroom seem much larger. Her motto is: “small and real, rather than large and fake.”
Another example is to use a low hallway ceiling leading to the master bedroom that has a comparatively high ceiling, making the bedroom seem almost huge. Throughout the book are several examples of the author’s signature ceiling, “floating lattice panel frames,” which add warmth to virtually any room.
Although Susanka loves small houses, some of the examples are downright tiny. There is a 700-square-foot houseboat on Lake Union near Seattle that uses every inch of available space. Then there is the 650-square-foot Washington, D.C., condo or co-op conversion in an older building that seems spacious by comparison.
An interesting feature for each home is the exterior photo. The book’s emphasis, of course, is on making interior space practical and comfortable. The use of window seats is a common thread for many of the homes, as is heavy use of wood floors and wood trim to give interior warmth. From the outside, some of the houses appear ugly, but inside they are warm and inviting.
I especially enjoyed a remodeled home in Minneapolis, built in the 1960s in the midst of a much older neighborhood. After slight expansion, it became a home whose exterior could fit in almost any older or even a brand-new area.
A very useful feature of the book, on the last three pages, is small photos of the house exteriors, along with the names of the architects for each one. However, this reference could have been made even more useful by including the supplier names for the unique products highlighted in the text for each home.
Without getting in the way of the beautiful color photos, Susanka uses a few words overlayed on many photos to show what the architect achieved, such as, “with exposed ceiling joints, the structure is the decoration”; “a small framed interior view hints at space beyond without giving it all away”; and, “positioned just right even a tiny alcove can take in the whole outdoors.”
Each “not so big house” emphasizes special features including “Classic Cottage Simplicity”; “Texas Tuscan”; “Order in the Details”; “Defining Space With Light”; “Detailed for the View”; “A Modest Ranch Opens Up”; “Simple Trim, Substantial Impact”; “Rooms Defined but Not Confined”; “The Illusion of More Space”; and “Ceilings Shine in Rooms Without Walls.”
By far, this is architect Susanka’s best book. Co-author Vassallo, also an architect, obviously played a major role in its creation and implementation, along with superb color photographer Ken Gutmaker. Considering the huge variety of homes shown and described, this book was obviously a monumental task to create. On my scale of one to 10, it rates an off-the-chart 12.
“Inside the Not So Big House,” by Sarah Susanka with Marc Vassalo (The Taunton Press, Newtown, CT), $34.95, 210 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries, and www.amazon.com.
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