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(Published: 2011-05-25)

As I write this, eight men are hammering on the roof above my head. It is really hard to concentrate, so if I flounder or flub, please forgive. My husband and I are getting ready to sell our home, beginning the journey to downsize our lives. A few years ago I wrote a newsletter titled “Simplifying Your Life Can Be Complicated.” I thought I knew what I was talking about, but I’m in the midst of being reeducated.

Thank goodness for Sarah Susanka! Sarah is an architect, cultural visionary, and best-selling author of the “Not So Big” series: “The Not So Big House,” “Not So Big Remodeling,” and “The Not So Big Life.” She has been helping Americans understand how they can downsize their homes without downsizing their dreams for over 10 years. ( and

Her “build better, not bigger” approach to residential architecture is now embraced across the country, but when “The Not So Big House” was first published it was in direct opposition to the McMansion trend. The 60-year trend was homes that got increasingly bigger, even as families got smaller. In 1940, the average amount of square footage per person in a new, single-family home was roughly 300 square feet. By 2000, that number had more than tripled. After a long run-up in median new home size, square footage peaked at 2,309 in 2007. Since then, home sizes have been shrinking, hitting 2,091 in 2009.

Savvy builders are starting to cater to the more modest needs of first-time buyers and their empty-nester parents, the dominant demographic groups over the next decade. Rising energy costs, the poor economy, and the decline in home prices also contribute to the downsizing trend.

Today, more than one-third of Americans say their ideal home size is under 2,0000 square feet, according to the real-estate site Trulia. If you’re thinking of downsizing your home, here are Sarah’s 10 Tips for Designing “Not So Big.”

1. Not So Big doesn’t have to be small: Focus on quality of space, rather than just quantity. Her rule of thumb: you can live easily in 1/3 less space than you think.
2. Make it personal: Your home should provide a sense of livability and comfort that is tailored to YOUR life. Don’t build to impress others.
3. Design for sustainable living: Build your home to last for generations, make it energy efficient, and make it beautiful. We take better care of things we find beautiful.
4. A good neighbor: Ensure your home fits the setting. Respect the views of your neighbors and design it to fit into the existing streetscape in scale and character.
5. A better floor plan for today: All the space should be used every day. With a more open floor plan, rooms can often do double duty over the course of a day.
6. Interior views: Long, diagonal views through adjacent spaces extend the perceived scale. Strategically placed windows or a lighted focal point draws the eye to the farthest point and accentuates spaciousness.
7. Varying ceiling heights: Think height, not just length and width. Create a hierarchy of space where more important spaces are open and expansive, and more intimate areas are lower and more sheltered.
8. Sense of shelter: Use a variety of visual cues to separate open spaces instead of solid walls. Raised counters, rugs, floating ceiling sections and beams can provide a sense of shelter around the activity taking place.
9. Pleasingly proportioned: Appropriate proportioning for human scale can make rooms feel both spacious and intimate.
10. Attention to detail: Everything should be thought through and designed to perfectly support your needs. Think comfort and functionality.

Follow Sarah’s tips and you can have a home that’s both inspiring to live in and perfectly crafted for your everyday living. Bottom line, your home should feed your soul, not your ego.

Smaller homes

Sarah Susanka

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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