Written by Sylvia Small Tuesday, April 05 2011
Snapshot: Sarah Susanka
Sarah Susanka, native of Kent, England, releasedThe Not So Big House in 1998 to an enthusiastic audience. Since that time, she has written eight other books that collectively weave together home and life design, revealing that a "not so big" attitude can serve both architectural and life goals. Her books have sold more than 1.2 million copies.
During her career, Susanka has received much recognition for her work. Fast Company named her a "Fast 50" innovator whose work has helped to change society. U.S. News & World Report called her an "innovator in American culture." She also landed on the Organic Style "Environmental Power List." In 2007, she received the Lindbergh Foundation's Anne Morrow Lindbergh Award for outstanding individual achievement in making positive contributions to the world.
Susanka, who resides in North Carolina, is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects and a senior fellow of the Design Futures Council.
Womenetics: What advice do you have for people who want to make a purchase in the existing housing market?
Sarah Susanka: People should recognize that what they're really looking for is the quality of feeling at home in a place. I try to point out that buying more space doesn't automatically bring that sense of "home." When you're looking for a place to purchase in the existing housing market, pay close attention to not only your list of features, but also to how you feel as you step into a place. If you put less emphasis on square footage and more emphasis on that feeling, you're going to end up with a much better purchase.
Womenetics: Are there architects whose work you admire?
Susanka: There are many architects who do good work all across the country. My challenge has been to help people find them. There is a searchable Home Professionals Directory on my website (www.notsobighouse.com). We list home professionals who embrace the philosophy of designing and building not so big houses.
Womenetics: What's the philosophy behind a not so big house?
Susanka: A not so big house focuses on quality of space rather than quantity. It's about feeling comfortable and inspired, rather than trying to impress the neighbors. It's typically about one-third smaller than you thought you needed, but just as expensive. That's because the dollars will be reapportioned out of square footage and into tailoring the house for the way you really live. The "more-ness" we look for is a quality and not a quantity.
Womenetics: Do you watch HGTV?
Susanka: I know by heart all Mike Holmes' episodes. As an architect, I know people are sometimes faced with difficult problems in their homes. He has a really good way of helping them solve those problems. Not so much from an architectural standpoint as from a technical one.
Womenetics: Why do you think HGTV is so popular?
Susanka: It was really an untapped market until HGTV stepped into the fray. We love to consider how to make our house better. And, with HGTV, we can do it roughly all night!
I think there is a market for a more thoughtful program, which I'm interested in developing. What I'm trying to teach people is to not just look at the pretty pictures.
Womenetics: What suggestions do you have for people who want to remain in their homes as they age?
Susanka: Make sure you don't have to go up and down stairs to access the main floor. Are the doorways wide enough? You may not want to put in a ramp right away. Sometimes people put in a shower that is accessible for wheelchairs. That's not always a bad thing to do. Also look for access to public transportation and the other basic amenities. When people are designing for aging in place, they sometimes make the mistake of not making it feel like "home."
Womenetics: Did you want to be an architect growing up?
Susanka: I didn't know what an architect was. I used to love drawing plans of houses and playing with Legos.
Womenetics: Are people still basing their remodeling plans on return on investment?
Susanka: I think it's becoming more balanced now than it was a few years ago. Up until the recession, homeowners were thinking of their houses as cash cows. People are now more cautious and savvy about how they spend their money. As a result, the decisions they're making are very different.
Womenetics: What changes have you seen?
Susanka: People are looking for ways to make their existing homes more comfortable, functional, and sustainable. They're eliminating the rooms they rarely use. The formal living room has all but disappeared in many parts of the country.
We encourage people to put their remodeling dollars into character and utility rather than square footage. In Not So Big Remodeling, we help teach readers to think like an architect. With small, thoughtful changes, the home you live in can be the home you love.
Not so big houses are likely to become the sought-after alternative to the McMansion.
Sylvia Small is a metro-Atlanta based freelance writer and photographer. She also is the principal behind Sylvia Small Communications & Marketing. Her work has been included in Photo District News, Southern Homes (Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles) and numerous association, corporate and online publications.