Tag Archives: architectural design

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

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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.

Many 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. 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

5 Kitchen Remodel Ideas That Pay Off

Kitchens are a place of sustenance and sociability. Food, family, and friends mingle to create a winning combination. So it makes perfect sense that remodels are so often geared toward the kitchen. What about thinking of your kitchen in the long-term sense, in terms of investment and return? Will your kitchen remodel projects be a positive contribution to your home’s value or will they erode that value? Continue reading

A Step-by-Step Guide for Building Your Custom Home

You know you want to build your dream house, but don’t know how to begin? It can seem like a daunting task to build a custom home. And admittedly, it is complicated. This 3-part checklist is aimed at getting you on the right track and providing an overview of the process. Continue reading

How We Can Redesign Cities to Fight Epidemics

A heat map analyzing the ventilation between urban buildings.

Architecture can be the Secret Weapon To Combat Infectious Diseases
Throughout history, disease outbreaks have forced new innovations in urban design. Fighting cholera epidemics in the 1800s, for example, necessitated the building of new plumbing and sewer systems and the devising of new zoning laws to prevent overcrowding. As the new coronavirus lays bare the need for broader changes across our economy, such as widespread paid sick leave, it might also influence how cities and buildings are built. Continue reading

Solar Shading Devices: What You Need to Know

When the ambient temperature within a building is within or above the comfort zone, any additional heating of the interior due to solar gain will result in discomfort. Architects therefor design solar shading devices to prevent this. However, at cool times of the year, it is generally desirable to allow solar radiation to pass directly into the room to provide a useful heating effect. This response – between blocking excess gain in summer vs optimizing gain in winter- can be provided either by the shading device being moveable, or by it being geometrically selective. Continue reading

What is the Optimal Roof Pitch?

It’s no exaggeration to say that the roof is the most vital part of the building envelope, and therefore, the most critical investment.  It’s also no overstatement to say that we now enjoy a wider range of roofing materials and roofing system than at any other time in history. However, not every roofing system works in every application.   Finding the right system involves weighing a multitude of variables including cost, weight, lifespan, maintenance requirements, and most importantly, aesthetics. Of all these variables, roof slope (a.k.a. “pitch”) is perhaps the most important. Continue reading

6 Best Remodel Projects to Improve Your Home’s Value

When it comes to home remodels, the money you put in cannot always be recouped when it comes time to sell: some remodel projects add to resale value while others don’t. For those prioritizing how to get best value for their dollar there are some important things to keep in mind. Before you decide on a remodel, consider the cost vs. value, and then decide if the remodel is a worthy investment. Ultimately, you want to improve your lifestyle and, when it comes time to sell, command the highest price. Continue reading

Floating Architecture

AntiRoom II, a Floating Pavilion in Malta

From New York to Shanghai, coastal cities around the world are at risk from rising sea levels and unpredictable storm surges. But rather than simply building higher seawalls to hold back floodwaters, many builders and urban planners are turning to floating and amphibious architecture — and finding ways to adapt buildings to this new reality. Some new buildings, including a number of homes in Amsterdam, are designed to float permanently on shorelines and waterways. Others feature special foundations that let them rest on solid ground or float on water when necessary. Projects range from simple retrofits for individual homes in flood zones to the construction of entire floating neighborhoods — and possibly even floating cities. Continue reading

The Pros & Cons of Smart Home Technology

Smart homes are no longer a fanciful consideration. The technology market is full of devices automating household processes. The Internet of Things (I.O.T.) works towards the homeowner’s convenience and security. Despite their usage, smart home technologies also have a number of disadvantages. Incorporating them into your house is a personal decision. Consider the following pros and cons before making your home “smart”. Continue reading

The Sea Ranch Style

The Architecture of Sea RanchConceived at a time when nature and utopian ideals were becoming increasingly prevalent in American culture and modern architecture, the Northern California community of Sea Ranch was developed in the early 1960s by architect and planner Al Boeke. Boeke envisioned a community that would preserve the area’s natural, rugged beauty and coastline, and would be based on ecological principles with minimal impact on the native environment. Continue reading