Sarah Susanka Describes Her New Bungalow

By Sarah Susanka, Originally Published in

Sarah Susanka's Not So Big Bungalow is all about comfort and character while making every inch count.

I've always been fascinated by the success of the Sears Kit Homes of the early 20th century.  Several years ago, I began scheming with Michael Morley -- friend, colleague, fellow author, and an expert in Structural Insulated Panel (SIPs) construction methods -- to create a smaller but better home for today's homebuilding market that could be purchased as a SIPs kit.  That's what this minazine is all about.  

I am proud to announce that the first Not So Big Bungalow SIPs Kit Home is now available for purchase. The plans for this 1,600 sf house are highly detailed, and delineate all the "Not So Big" features and characteristics that I explain in my books, while the kit provides all the parts required to create the structural and thermal building envelope (all the parts that make the building stand up and keep the inside insulated from the outside), except for the doors and windows.  

Although the plans and kit are sold separately, both are needed in order to build the house.  

Here are the links:  

The Not So Big Bungalow Plans
The Not So Big Bungalow SIPs Kit 

In the articles below you'll learn about the features of the home, the Not So Big Design Principles it embodies, its energy efficiency characteristics, and how the process of construction happens with a SIPs house.

I hope you enjoy this tour of the Not So Big Bungalow. 

A Smaller-but-Better House for Our Time
Ever since my first book, The Not So Big House, came out in 1998, readers have been asking me if I would design a smaller version of my original Not So Big House Prototype, with the Master Bedroom and Laundry area on the Main Level.  The Not So Big Bungalow is my response to that request. Like the Craftsman Bungalows and Sears Kit Homes of a hundred years ago, this "Not So Big" bungalow is built better rather than bigger, but it's also designed for today's informal lifestyles, and it's filled with personality and the small details that can turn a house into Home. Many of these details you'll recognize from that first prototype, in fact. Add to that all the energy efficiency features that the SIPs construction process allows, and you have a home that minimizes carbon footprint while providing an inspiring platform for everyday living.
The original Not So Big House prototype
The Not So Big Bungalow shares many of the features of the Original Not So Big House, pictured here.

Although I've had the opportunity to design many homes for families and couples wanting to build based on the principles I write about, most of these homes have still tended to be over 2,000 square feet in size. But today, in the post-recession economy, with a new awareness of what it costs to heat, cool, and clean a lot of rarely used square footage, many people are seeking a house that's more compact but still sporting the same quality and character that my books encourage.

A Sears Kit House
   Sears kit house
The bungalows from the early 20th Century do this, but although these charming older homes are the perfect size for singles, for couples without children, and for empty-nesters, sadly, they just aren't designed for today's lifestyles. They tend to have tiny kitchens that are separated from the living spaces, and the bedrooms have minute closets -- not quite up to our present day shopping habits. Their sensibility, however, is spot on.
What's needed today, I believe, is a house that's not only right-sized for the way we really live, but also designed for a more sophisticated and discerning buyer -- one who values quality over quantity. The unfortunate reality is that smaller has also been equated with cheaper starter homes that generally sport low end finishes, and minimal craftsmanship.  That's what needs to change. 

There's a place today for a smaller home that's designed for the long term -- a house that can fit the needs of today's smaller households, with an eye to convenience and comfort, as well as energy efficiency, and that allows one to work at home, or age in place if desired. And that's what the Not So Big Bungalow is all about.

Made of SIPs and Zero Energy Ready
The home's walls and roof are made using an innovative panelization system called 
SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels), which makes it super energy efficient, and extra quiet on the inside. As you'll read in the guest article below from Structural Insulated Panels expert Michael Morley, the inspiration for this particular home began when we collaborated on a SIPS demonstration house in 2005 at the International Builders' Show.  I've designed many of my homes to be built with SIPs, as they allow construction to happen much faster than typical, and are a superior construction system to the standard stud frame construction that most houses are built with, both in terms of energy efficiency and structural integrity.  If you want to weather a hurricane for example, this is the system to use.  And if you are looking for a way to make the interior of your home super-quiet, SIPs will amaze you. For information about SIPs click here. 

Designed for Practicality and Comfort
The Not So Big Bungalow is 1,600 sf and employs some of the same sensible strategies as its century-old counterpart. Since the master bedroom and bathroom are located on the main level, the house is designed to expand and contract with the household's needs over a lifetime, just as the original bungalows did. You might choose to finish only the main level to start with; then finish the second floor as kids come along; and return to one story living in later years, leaving the upper level for visiting family and friends.  It's designed to be both beautiful and functional, and to inspire its inhabitants every day. In the images that follow, I'll point out some of the key Not So Big principles that were used in the design of the Bungalow.  Below each image is a brief description of the design principle featured (in bold type), along with some tips on how to incorporate the principle in your own dwelling.

The Main Floor Plan 
Not So Big Bungalow main level plan           
The Main Level is 960 sf in size, and designed for one level living if needed.  It includes a spacious kitchen that's open to a living area and dining area that serve both formal and informal functions.  The layout of these three rooms is similar in layout to Sarah's original Not So Big House Prototype, which you can see illustrated throughout The Not So Big House (see pp. 41, 42, and 44).

The Entryway
Not So Big Bungalow entryway
The specially designed front door of this house provides a personal and unique touch and emphasizes the sense of arrival during the process of entering. The passageway into the living room includes a comfortable window seat, which can also serve as a quiet place to read or look out into the garden. Not So Big Tip: You can make your own entry more welcoming by creating a place to stand and catch a glimpse of the living space. This welcomes you in, allows you to shift from the more public persona of the outside world, to the more private persona of this inside world, and if you are a guest, encourages you to keep exploring.

The Living Room
Not So Big Bungalow living room
This room is the primary living space in the house. It is open to the dining area and kitchen, so whether you are entertaining or hanging out with family, conversation is easy.  Note that one wall of the room is lined with shelves, and a surrounding trim band tricks the eye into believing the room is taller than it actually is. Paint colors also add to the personality of the space.

Not So Big Tip: If you have a lower ceiling, by adding a continuous trim band (or even a painted line if money is tight) at the height of the tallest door, and painting the area below this line a different color than the area above, you'll transform the space from squashed and boring to spacious and charming.

The Dining Area
Not So Big Bungalow living area
Like the adjacent living room, the dining area is designed todo double duty. It is perfect for everyday living, but when guests come over, the space is also suitable for a more formal meal. Not So Big Tip: If you have two dining spaces, consider turning the more formal one into something else-an in-home office, an extra sitting space, or a hobby room-an make the more informal eating area more inviting, by investing in a better table, or dressing up your existing one. This is where you spend quite a bit of time. Make it a place you love, and your guests will love it too.

The Kitchen
Not So Big Bungalow kitchen
This room is visually connected to the living area, but is differentiated from it by varying the ceiling height with a horizontal trellis that extends across the space, above the kitchen island.

Not So Big Tip: If you have an enclosed kitchen that's isolated from the main living areas, consider creating an opening in the wall between the two, so that you can connect the views and see from one to the other with ease. This simple remodel will make your place feel twice the size. 

The Master Bedroom
Not So Big Bungalow master bedroom
This room is located on the main level, at the opposite end of the house from the living room. It has ample storage and built-ins, minimizing the need for additional furniture. There's a dropped ceiling above the bed that creates a sense of shelter for the bed-another example of Ceiling Height Variety. Tucked away behind the maroon colored wall is a ship's ladder to a loft above. Not So Big Tip: Some bedrooms are hard to get comfortable in because the wall behind the bed is really tall. You can add a dropped ceiling, or create the same effect with fabric draped over utility shelf or L brackets, to lend a sense of shelter to the bed below.

The Main Staircase
Not So Big Bungalow kitchen
 The staircase opens off the kitchen, and provides access to second floor bedrooms and/or office space. Like the bungalows of a century ago, many details are crafted with natural woodwork -- such as the vertical trellis, which provides a partial view to the staircase from the living room.

Not So Big Bungalow stair landing
As you reach the top of the stairs, you see further attention to detail that distinguishes this home from the run of the mill -- such as the open railing and the use of two panel craftsman style doors with natural wood veneer. Doors can be like works of art if you pick a beautiful design. We think of them as purely utilitarian, but they can be so much more. Not So Big Tip: If you are stuck with a standard door style, consider painting the doors a different color than the trim to give them some character, and make them a distinguishing feature of the house. I even did one house years ago where every door was a different color -- not for everyone, but it certainly made a statement, and was completely unique.
The Upper Level
Not So Big Bungalow upper level plan
The upstairs is designed to be very flexible space by making the main rooms do double duty. There is a full bath, so the space can serve as two bedrooms; as a bedroom and an office space; or as a guest room/office combination and TV room. In addition, there's a loft above the Master Bedroom that could alternatively be accessed from the main stairway rather than the ship's ladder if preferred, creating an additional upstairs bedroom or hobby space.

Occasional Guest Room
Not So Big Bungalow guest room           
The wall bed is designed to be lifted up and out of sight when there are no guests, allowing the main space to be dedicated to its primary function, either as a spacious home office or secondary sitting space.  But when guests are present, the entire level can serve as a private suite if desired. Not So Big Tip: If you have a guest bedroom that rarely gets used, consider installing a wall bed or fold out couch (check for comfort in sleep position before purchasing!), so that most of the time the room can serve another function, such as a hobby room or in home office.
Home Office
Not So Big Bungalow home office
Located in one of the lean-to dormers, a desk running the full length of the room offers great work space and good separation from the other activities of the house.  With the wall bed up in its vertical position, there's also room for a conference or layout table, or a couch and chair.
Not So Big Tip: You can get a lot more work space by running a length of laminate countertop from one end of a wall to the other. I like to use a full bullnose or top and bottom pencil round edge, so you can't tell easily that it's laminate. That way you keep the cost down, but it looks great.

Loft Above the Master Bedroom
Not So Big Bungalow loft
This cozy space, which is accessed by a ships ladder in the Master Bedroom below, can be used either as a place of your own (POYO) or as extra storage.  It is modeled on the one I created for myself in the original Not So Big House, which you can see featured on p. 59 of The Not So Big House. Not So Big Tip: If you want to create your own POYO, you can do something as simple as use a corner of a rarely used room, separating it off from the rest of the space with a folding shoji screen. It doesn't take much to make a POYO -- just the desire and a little creativity.

The Back Deck
Not So Big Bungalow rear exterior
A door from the living room opens out onto a small sitting space. If it's raining, you can pull your chairs under the corner overhang and watch the storm from this cozy and protected spot.  This is a version of the covered deck in the original Not So Big House, which was one of my favorite places to sit in the evenings to watch the sunset.

A House for Our Time 
I hope you've enjoyed this tour of the Not So Big Bungalow.  If you know of people who might be interested in building this house themselves, or who simply want some inspiration for a smaller but better house, please share this newsletter with them. Perhaps if enough people start asking for houses with more character, the market will respond. I know the demand is there. We just have to change our notion of what a house includes. That's why the subtitle of The Not So Big House is "a blueprint for the way we really live." To view the plans and kit, click here


To see all of Sarah's designs click here.