Is Building Smaller Just a Matter of Preference?


Is Building Smaller Just A Matter of Preference?

A reader recently asked if the not so big concept is just a preference or is it a real benefit to everyone who is planning to build a home. For those not familiar with this concept, it is described by author and architect Sarah Susanka in her book,  The Not So Big House

“Not So Big doesn’t mean small. It means not as big as you thought you needed. But as a rule of thumb, a Not So Big House is approximately a third smaller than your original goal but about the same price as your original budget. The magic is that although the house is smaller in square footage, it actually feels much bigger.”
-Sarah Susanka

This design concept doesn’t mean you are spending less. In fact, you could actually end up spending more. It means that you are building less space and spending more on design and detailing.

As with any term that becomes widely used, its meaning can vary. So the first question we ask someone who is interested in the not so big concept is what does that mean to them. One client came to me with a desire to build using this concept. They wanted to build smaller but kept adding space to the project. They still wanted what they wanted and even added a master closet the size of a bedroom. What they really wanted was a home that was designed for the way that they lived and didn’t include any more space than necessary.

Others may want to build smaller because they want to spend less, but they may not know how much they need to build to get what they want. After talking with an architect, they have a better sense of how big they have to build to get what they want, but it may not fit their budget.

When designing a home there are three spheres that constrain the design of any project: budget, size, and quality of finish. Each one of these will influence the design. The not so big concept grows the quality sphere and shrinks the size.  In turn, the amount of design required increases. If your budget is fixed, then the other two spheres will have to be adjusted in order to meet your goals. If you don’t want to budge in size and quality, then you may have to grow your budget. An architect can’t make what you want cost less but they can help you manipulate the design, quality, and size in order to maintain your budget and reach your goals for your home.

So getting back to our reader’s question, is the not so big concept a personal preference or a benefit to all who build, I would say this: building smaller and spending more on detailing and quality is a personal preference and not for everyone. But the concept benefits all in that it provides a spring board to talk about priorities and how the design process includes the three spheres of influence: budget, quality and size. Finding a balance influences the outcome of the design and allows the owner to best achieve their goals.

It’s a little like the story of Goldie Locks & The Three Bears. What might be right for one may be too small or too big for another. The important thing is to develop a design that is just right for you.

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