Not So Big House: 5 Ways To Make Your Home Feel Bigger


Alta House: view of Kitchen. Note windows and skylights for ample daylighting, variety of ceiling heights, and cozy inglenook space with windows on two sides.

With the recession finally over, homeowners are now gearing up to create that long-postponed new or remodeled home. Many of those homeowners are keen to attain more home at less expense, and so in our architectural practice we are seeing resurgent interest in the Not So Big House.

The Not So Big House movement was kicked off by the 1998 publication of The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka. In it is spelled out a comprehensive strategy to build smaller, more cost effectively, and smarter by favoring quality over quantity. The book was an instant phenomenon, and the movement has understandably experienced resurgent, sustained immediacy over the past several years.

Here are five key ways to attain the benefits of the Not So Big House in your new home or remodel:

1. If you use it, you should see it: Rooms that are isolated from other spaces, hidden behind hallways or staircases first of all tend not to be used and secondly contribute to a house that feels kludgy, closed in, and claustrophobic. Certainly some rooms do need privacy, but if you can, opening up the view through and between the kitchen, family area, dining area, study, and other public spaces you will contribute to a feeling of lightness and spaciousness throughout the home.

View from bedroom, through bathroom, to windows beyond. To create spaciousness the owners elected to dispense with any intervening wall.

View from bedroom, through bathroom, to windows beyond. To create spaciousness the owners elected to dispense with any intervening wall.

Doors between these areas can be dispensed with entirely, building instead a framed opening a foot or two wider than a regular doorway. And even if you can’t open an intervening wall completely, you can make an interior window instead. That little strategy by itself will make your home both feel and live bigger.

2. The diagonal view: Another secret to making your house feel larger is opening up a diagonal view, a line-of-sight that extends from one corner of the house to another. To do this, in new construction we make sure there are no intervening walls. In remodels, consider removing all or part of a wall that’s blocking that line-of-sight. If that’s outside of your comfort zone, again you might consider installing a framed opening or interior window. The opening need not be inordinately large, but instead need only be strategically placed, to achieve the desired result.

*dining 6 copy

Alta House: note spiral stair featured as sculptural element highlighted by daylighting. Not hidden behind claustrophobic walls, instead it’s an architectural focal point on a diagonal line-of-sight.

3. Double duty: The floor plans of many of today’s homes have failed to keep pace with the realities of actual lifestyle. For example, for many families today the formal living room is in reality just expensive, rarely-entered real estate used to showcase rarely-utilized furnishings. Instead, consider consolidating the living area with dining area resulting in a space that can serve both formal and informal functions. If a formal dining room is an essential commodity, consider lining it with bookshelves so it can double as a library. The result will be an elegant, lived-in sensibility which at the same time frees up space elsewhere that can be used for something else, such much-needed additional resources in your home office or media room.

4. Shelter around activity: Children instinctively understand the concept of creating shelter around a specific activity, for example creating cozy playhouses out of cardboard boxes. This is instinctual in adults, too, and an alcove or inglenook is the adult equivalent of the cardboard box, doing the double duty of providing an alternative space for dedicated activity within a larger space. The larger space feels larger by contrast with the smaller, while the nook provides semi-private comfort for dedicated activities.


Alta House: diagonal line of sight from the kitchen reveals variety of ceiling heights, open upper landing, and window openings in interior walls used to create a feeling of spaciousness.

5. Vary ceiling heights: In order to establish variety and contrast, employ the strategy of adjusting and varying the height of the ceilings. For example, a lower ceiling over the kitchen, a medium-height ceiling over the dining area, and a tall ceiling over the entry will provide spatial contrast, a hierarchy of activity spaces, so that the entire house actually ends up living larger. This is a strategy readily employed in new construction. In the case of the remodel, raising a ceiling can be accomplished by raising the roof by means of a dormer. An even more affordable solution is to lower parts of the ceiling without changes to the support structure. When you lower a ceiling, you’re not affecting the structure, thus making it a relatively easy strategy to accomplish.

Images in this article: Alta House, an example of our design work implementing the key fundamentals of the Not So Big House.

2 thoughts on “Not So Big House: 5 Ways To Make Your Home Feel Bigger

  1. Chuck

    All good ideas. Another one is being able to flexibly divide space. Medieval Japanese Architecture did so masterfully. For an affordable iteration of the same idea see my web site:
    Charles Huddleston
    Aptos, Ca


    1. santacruzarchitect Post author

      Thanks for writing! Yes, there are dozens of good ideas but I arbitrarily limited myself to 5. Traditional Japanese has been among my influences, as well: I will definitely check out your site.



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