Making Less Feel Like More: Not So Big Showhouse

It’s the worst economy in 30 years. Home builders have fallen by the dozens. Foreclosures fail to recede.

And yet, in downtown Libertyville, people are building their dream homes again. This time around, it’s a new kind of dream.

Sarah Susanka, architect and author of nine best-selling books, is leading a movement to redefine the American home and lifestyle. Her “Not So Big” series covers new construction, remodeling and rethinking the space you already have.

“It started with 9/11, and then came Hurricane Katrina, and the recession was the final nail in the coffin,” says Susanka. “People went from building McMansions to asking, `What makes me feel safe with my family – and what if things aren’t really good in the future?’ What we know right now is that we can’t be sure.”

See Ideas Live: November 19
Susanka has built her first Not So Big showhouse in the School Street Homes development just off of Libertyville’s main street. The 2,450-square-foot home opens to the public on Nov. 19 for a six-month run, and will showcase all of her ideas under one roof, completely furnished by Room and Board.
Susanka sees people gravitating toward places with a sense of community, quality, and rejecting showy-ness – all qualities she found in Libertyville, and the new urbanism development there.

Not Less, Better
“The Not So Big movement is not about less. It’s about a different kind of moreness,” Susanka says. ”We’ve been used to moving around a lot. Today, people have a different, more positive attitude about putting down roots. Stability is very confidence-boosting.”

John McLinden, the School Street developer, says, “This project understands that people aren’t looking for a smaller, cheaper house – they’re looking for a smaller, higher-quality home at a reasonable price point.”

Older Homes Can Function Better Too
For those of us on the North Shore who live in older homes, Susanka has ideas for making them work without adding on. Since old homes were set up for a lifestyle we don’t live (servants in the tiny kitchen at the back of the house and the living room the most beautiful room in the house – sound familiar?), some repurposing of space is called for.

“Often, opening up the kitchen to the dining room and living room will make a huge difference,” says Susanka. “You need the visual connection, because rooms don’t get used if you can’t see them.”

Susanka suggests alternate uses for our grand old living and dining rooms. A living room often makes an ideal home office, since it’s close to the front door, and clients don’t need to walk through your house. Other ideas are to turn it into a playroom, or a music room. As for dining rooms, Susanka often lines them with bookshelves, and puts a clear table protector on the dining room table, turning it into a library and homework venue.

Susanka says, “Let down the `show’ and design your house for the way you really live. Our well-being begins in our homes. Not So Big is about a sustainable you.”

To get information on how to tour the Not So Big showhouse, go to

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