Ten years ago, The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live, by architect Sarah Susanka, FAIA, with Kira Obolensky, successfully translated for the average homeowner the language of architects and the principles of good design, and in so doing, helped spawn a revolution against the "bigger is better" mentality that has driven American home building for so long.
In September 2008, The Taunton Press is releasing a special 10th anniversary second edition of The Not So Big House, with a new introduction by Susanka and an additional chapter that focuses on three Not So Big projects commissioned by owners who read and were inspired by the book's first edition. Ten years later, Susanka's promotion of quality over quantity; comfort; and personalized and sustainable design is just as relevant—if not more so.
First and foremost, Susanka's book and its sequels have given non-architects the tools to recognize good design and to articulate their own needs. "As I started to work as an architect, I noticed that people didn't really know how to ask for what they wanted; they didn't have any language," Susanka says. "What I wanted to do was create a much more vivid language that allowed all of us to start talking together about the qualities and not quantities of home. I have this ability to translate the language that we as architects know into a language that regular people can understand."
The response to The Not So Big House shows that she managed to reach the American public in ways earlier books about residential architecture and design didn't. "I have had a version of this e-mail sent to me thousands of times, basically saying 'Thank you for writing a book that puts into words something I couldn't express but knew that I wanted,'" she continues.
Susanka's work gave homeowners and architects a bridge on which to meet and discuss ideas. Several of her peers say that many of their clients come to first meetings clutching copies of the books, with favorite pages marked, asking "Have you heard about this?"
After its release, The Not So Big House quickly climbed to No. 1 in popularity among all books on Amazon.com and ranked as the site's 1998 No. 1 best-seller in the Arts & Music book category. A companion Web site, www.notsobighouse.com, debuted along with the book, providing supplemental information and resources for homeowners and designers alike. One of the most popular features is the "Home Professionals Directory," which lists the profiles and contact information for design and building professionals who embrace the Not So Big approach in their own practices.
Since 1998, Susanka has published seven additional titles in the Not So Big House series, along with a DVD-ROM. In 2009, Taunton will release Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home To Fit The Way You Really Live. To date, her series has sold well over one million copies. She is in demand as a lecturer for home shows, industry conferences, and other design events around the country, and she also has taught AIA courses and written several articles about the Not So Big House philosophy.
Susanka's message of thoughtful, personalized design and smaller, more detailed spaces resonates with many homeowners, particularly with a group identified as "Cultural Creatives," who don't want cookie-cutter homes devoid of character or soul. "The words 'Not So Big' were a big flag for the Cultural Creatives. For them, anything not so big is going to be good," Susanka says. "I had accidentally identified myself as part of that club and identified in my title the primary characteristics in a home that a quarter of the U.S. population is looking for. They are looking for quality over quantity in just about everything."
According to Susanka and many of her peers, the Not So Big movement is shifting ever-closer toward the mainstream of home building, spurred by increasing energy prices, the rise of green home building, a much stronger focus on the home, and consumers' realization that more personalized living spaces are possible.