The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


August 27, 2011

Linda Cannon, book review: Home-design expert tells how to utilize space

JOPLIN, Mo. — ‘More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home’

By Sarah Susanka

I think I’ll continue with my “Rebuild Joplin” theme for this week’s column. So, getting down to brass tacks, let’s talk “More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home” by Sarah Susanka.

Susanka is an architect rather well known for her “Not So Big” concepts. In a nutshell, “Not So Big” means building perhaps a bit smaller than you might think you need and putting the money into design and quality. In two-thirds the size they think they need if the house is properly designed. Building rooms that are seldom used (like formal dining rooms for most folks) costs a lot of money per use versus more creative use of space, so why waste the money and space? By the way, lots of the ideas in the book can be applied to remodels and additions as well as new homes.

The book is divided into six sections: “By Design” (human scale, how much space do you need, open-floor plans, natural light and garage placement); “Room by Room” (heart of the home, informal dining, formal dining and living rooms, guest rooms, and “away rooms”); “Attention to Detail” (column proportion, unifying design with horizontal trim, dealing with too tall Ñ yes, too tall: back to human scale Ñ and more); “Making it Personal” (front porch and entry design, breakfast nooks, personalizing space, using color); “Practical Matters” (television location, kitchen islands, squeezing in a half-bath, laundry rooms); and “Living in the Real World” (room for privacy Ñ her “away room” Ñ and extended family housing, additions and tear-downs that consider neighbors and neighborhoods).

I don’t think I found anything in the book to quarrel with, and a great number of ideas that were “a-ha” moments for me. Susanka is known for her use of varied ceiling heights (one of those things that raises costs on her smaller homes), and the reason for their use became very clear to me once I had read the book. Not only does it create a more human-scaled space, but it also reduces noise levels. Now that I hadn’t thought of. Putting windows toward the corners of rooms so that the light that comes in bounces off the adjacent walls, providing “free” light much farther into the room? Obvious once you think of it, but I hadn’t.

 Garages? She had a funny anecdote about them. She worked for months with a family to design their new home, sweating the small stuff, making sure all the bases were covered. They wanted a three-car garage, so that’s what they got. Months later, after the house was finished and they had made themselves at home, Susanka went to visit. She noticed that their cars were parked in the driveway, and the garage was full of stored stuff!

She expressed her surprise, and they were surprised right back. In their minds, that’s what a garage is for. They had never planned to park their cars there. Obviously, they weren’t thinking logically about storage, just “that’s what we always did at our house.”

The story does illustrate that lots of us don’t really think about things outside our own experience. Hence, the formal dining room. Most people want one. Few people use one much. It isn’t very sensible to set aside 180 square feet (or more!) for a room you only use on Thanksgiving, but millions of people do.

Most of us want a guest room, but how often do we have overnight guests? For most of us, not more than a few nights a year, but we have 144 square feet plus maybe a designated bathroom set aside just for that. With some planning and forethought, all that space could be used far more often and to better use while still allowing us to have guests.

For myself, I found just the bit on kitchen (breakfast) nooks well worth the price of admission. All you could ever want to know about dimensions, angles, heights, widths, you name it. I love a kitchen nook, and now I could have one built properly! All in all, a terrific book for anyone wanting to build/remodel/add on.

In case you didn’t know, Susanka has written a number of other books on the “Not So Big” concept, and the Joplin Public Library has five of them for your reading pleasure. So, if you’re rebuilding or remodeling or just curious about what makes for good home design, check ’em out!

Linda Cannon is the collection development/circulation librarian at Joplin Public Library.

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