Home by Design by Sarah Susanka

Category: Bungalow Lit

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Sarah Susanka is back with another look at the home that is better, not bigger.

Our Review

Sarah's latest book just came out and we got our copy yesterday. An architect turned writer turned "architectural advocate," Susanka made a name for herself by coining the term 'The Not So Big House' to describe residential architecture that emphasizes thoughtful design of a modest scale. While not pioneering anything new in the world of design, she did get attention (including ours!) for validating the sentiments of those folks disappointed in the rise of the suburban McMansion. Not just a populist, Sara also has 'street credibility' among architects and builders, too, as evident in her regular appearences in the respected Fine Homebuilding magazine.

Within this context, her latest book seems like a natural evolution in her work. She turns the corner from a focus on the the entire house to its individual design elements. She had already done some of this in previous books (see Creating the Not So Big House and Not So Big Solutions for Your Home) but this book takes on the task in full force.

Fundamentally, Home by Design is an effort to make common architectural concepts and language accessible to the everyday homeowner. This is what Susanka does best. Again, nothing she advocates is particularly new or original--many of these concepts were made popular by the bungalow movement--but unfortunately they've been lost in today's residential architecture. This book attempts to bring back that awareness and explains/shows the importance of these elements.

The book is divided into three parts: Space, Light and Order. Each of the twenty-seven chapters addresses a more specific design principle, such as Depth and Thickness, Light Intensity Variation or Rhythm. At 250 pages, this rates as Susanka's longest book to date. The book's dimensions are also physically larger, which make for very nice large photos. Plus it's nice to see Susanka using photos of new case study homes, since her recent books had become somewhat repetitive in this respect.

Each chapter is relatively short--4-8 pages. Each leads with a description of a concept and a feature photo to provide an example. Many chapters focus on a single home, either the house of one her own clients or of a house she admires.

Some chapters also include a two page design study which provides more variations on the concept. For example, the chapter Interior Views has a detailed study of five sample approaches: Diagonal Views, Long Views Through, Connecting Views, Partially Hidden Views and Surprise Views. We found these more detailed design studies especially appealing Often, the photos will show a room or part of the house with and without the design element being discussed. This makes it particularly easy to visualize the concept and its effect on the space within a house (especially when you are making plans for your own house!)


In conclusion, we found this book a nice expansion on Sarah Susanka's approach and a valuable addition to our own ever expanding library. It will be most useful to us when we work on our second floor, where we'll be manipulating the space more. It will be of less use for the parts of the house we're simply restoring and not reconfiguring, although many of her concepts in this book have applications to the interior elements we will affect (built-ins, passageways, windows, ceilings, and so on) and not just overall architectural design. (For example, previous owners took out the original ceilings in the living room and dining room...how can we redesign them to take advantage of the space and still keep within the style of our half Mission-style/Craftsman/Prairie bungalow?)

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