Inside the Not So Big House — Books

My grandparents’ home in Braintree, Massachusetts was brimming with carefully crafted details. I remember the warm wood moldings that encased each room, the refined mantelpiece, and the useful glass and wood cabinets between the living and dining rooms. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was not large, but one could see that the craftsmen who built it had first considered the people who would be living there, and what they would need in a space. The charming home comforted its inhabitants and visitors alike.


(Photos Courtesy of The Taunton Press)

Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo champion this level of detail in their celebrated book, Inside the Not So Big House, Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life (2005, The Taunton Press). Susanka and Vassallo show us how thoughtfully planned and integrated details make a home function and feel better.


The Not So Big House movement began with Susanka’s 1998 book by the same title and has grown to make her one of the most sought-after architects in the country. Her philosophy is that designing homes with about a third less square footage allows us to spend more money on those details that can give the modern-day home the character and comfort that used to be found mainly in older homes. The “Not So Big” concept includes not only designed and built-in details, but also the choice of materials used for new home design and renovations.

Twenty-three homes are featured in the book with vivid photography, descriptions, and the personal stories behind the designs. Styles vary from cottage to Asian-inspired, and even include a two-story craftsman houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle.

This book zooms in on the details that make up the homes like this houseboat stairway that doubles as a library. Susanka and Vassallo tell us, “the stairway as library is one of the most pleasing and useful elements you can incorporate into a new house or a remodel. With the addition of just 10 in. on all sides, the stairway becomes a room full of books.”


The ‘Picture This’ snapshots are fascinating. Here the authors show two photos of the same space, one with a specific detail in place and another where photo-magic has erased the detail. The affect on the spaces is striking when even a seemingly minor element is removed.

Inside the Not So Big House is a new classic with a prominent place on my design bookshelf; if you appreciate the finer points that make up the whole of a home, you’ll also appreciate this book.

Does your current home or a home in your past fit the Not So Big House concept? Where in your home could you apply the concept?

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