Sarah Susanka and Kira Obolensky - The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live

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The Not So Big House: Still expensive, still slanted to the high end market

Jan 5, 2002
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lovely photographs, interesting ideas, but little for adapting what you do have.

Cons:Very much slanted towards Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts and Crafts movement.

The Bottom Line: Interesting to those who are into modernism, or Frank Lloyd Wright, but those looking for more traditional styling will be left out in the cold.


I'm a helpless sucker for those glossly, make-you-drool books and magazines on homebuilding, design and plans. Inside we get glamour shots of polished wood, soft light, plenty of space, and exquisite detailing that pulls me right in. I can't help it, all I have to do is see one on the check-out, and I'm reeled right in.

So it was natural that I would gravitate towards this book. Susan Susanka and photographer Kira Oblensky have worked together to create a sumptuous book of photographs and text, with a few line drawings of home plans and ideas to sell their concept of a house that's designed around the way people live, not necessarily on a designers vision.

I will admit that Susanka's ideas are innovative and interesting, but there were a few things that left me cold. Most of the decorating is done by large windows, lots of natural woods, a minimum of decorative touches and some impracticalities. Think of very large boxes with high ceilings, track lights, and furnishings that seem to be rather cubish and neutral. That's great if you like that, but some of it felt rather sterile and bare. Not to mention cramped in others -- bathrooms are tucked into under eaves, into corners, staircases are used for storage in one case, and every inch of the house is used for hiding cupboards. Some of the designs are downright uninviting, such as a home that's partially built into a hillside, that looks more like a rabbit hutch than a place to live.

Unfortunately, the worst aspect of this book is that despite Susanka's selling of the 'Small is Beautiful' idea -- unfortunately, designing a home that's just 2000 square feet by her standards, will cost just as much for a larger home of say, 3000 square feet, since you have to pay for custom work, custom materials, custom design -- you get the idea. This is fine if you have the money to spend, but unhappily this places her concepts out of the reach of the average homeowner, who will never see anything like this unless they hit the lotto.

I give this one both a yes and no recommendation. Those who enjoy a 'natural' look to their homes and designs will enjoy this. Those who enjoy luxury or traditional styling will not find too much to inspire them in this one. It's great for ideas, but not much else.


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