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on March 4, 2004
This book is divided into three parts (space, light, order) and 27 chapters. Each chapter has a two-page spread introducing the topic (e.g. Changes in Level), with one full-page and several smaller photos, followed by a two-page spread giving examples of the concepts (e.g. Stairs as Sculpture, Lowered Room, Raised Room, Platforms, Over Under), with one or two illustrating photos or sketches and a couple of paragraphs for each. Following is about 4 pages profiling how the concept is used in one house. Some chapters include a half-page feature on the concept as used in public architecture, or using doctored photos to show how a space looks with and without the concept (e.g. show a space with a lowered soffit and without).
I found Susanka's first book, The Not So Big House, a helpful reference when buying my current quite-small house 4 years ago. It's far from architecturally designed, but allows light on two sides of major rooms, and I arranged furniture and art to use diagonal views and create window-seat-like spots on the edge of the living and dining rooms. The lack of visual connection between the living room and kitchen/dining area does, as predicted, make that room less used.
Her second book, Creating the Not So Big House, I found a helpful continuation of the theme, and I expect to use concepts I learned in both in five years or so when I hope to be looking for a slightly larger house in the same school district--land prices here would preclude building new. I'm trying to train my eye to figure out what is fixable with minor remodeling, or even a paint/drapery/furniture change, and what is intractable or very costly to fix, a skill I don't yet have a natural instinct for.
So I bought this book hoping to add to my toolkit. Many themes are well-illustrated, but I miss the focus on individual houses from Creating--the featured home sections show a couple of striking highlights, but I really wanted to see how it all worked together. There's no scale on the floorplans, so you can't tell how big a huge-seeming space really is. If you have read books from the Taunton Press, or Inspired Home magazine, you've seen some of these homes before. And by and large these are million dollar homes, including a truly beautiful two-story pool-house/gymnasium. It's stunning, but since you don't need to furnish it or lay it out to work like you do a home, how useful is this example? Of course, if you're thinking of building an elaborate two-story poolhouse, buy this book...
The doctored photos are an inspired idea, useful in identifying patterns that matter to you and those that don't. I confirmed that changes in ceiling height often irritate me, while aligning views is important. The two photos of the same space are a much better comparison than two photos of different rooms, since the only difference is the ceiling height, open view, trim line, etc.
Overall, the book is useful but not as strong as the others by the author. If you have those, you may not need this. I wish I'd gotten it from the library, and perhaps bought the paperback version in a year.
I would buy a book about Estes Twombley's architecture--in this and Creating they showcase comparably modest homes, made special by attention to detail. I'd like to see more of that, and fewer mansions--even if not mcmansions, they still aren't something I ever plan to buy or build.
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on July 10, 2005
After reading the negative reviews, I got the book from the library instead of buying it. The negative reviews are really unfounded. It is worth buying.

I was able to easily see all of the pictures, even the smallest ones, so the reviewer who complained about the small pictures needs glasses. I get more information from five small pictures on a page than one picture filling the entire page, so I appreciate the denser content.

While many of the houses are luxury houses, the design principles can definitely be adapted to more modest houses. One of the houses used granite bathroom tile on the counter - clearly they had budgetary constraints. Many of the unique design features could be added to a modest house with considerable impact.

The design principles are simplified into 27 types and illustrated better than any architecture book I have ever seen. In many cases, a second photo is modifed to remove the one isolated design feature being illustrated and it is easy to see the effect that the feature creates when it is missing.

Regarding the lack of scale in the floor plans: I am glad there *are* floor plans - most books don't have them at all. It is very easy to create a scale knowing that a kitchen or bathroom counter is 2 feet wide, or that a entry door is 3 feet wide and go from there. A trained designer does this automatically in their head.

Many projects are profusely illustrated from multiple angles and each one demonstrates several design principles. This is a very useful resource and an excellent primer on basic design principles. Although the principles explained are very basic, the examples shown are very sophisticated. This book is useful to the novice, and even more so to a trained designer who will see much more than what the text explains. The best design cannot be contained by mere words.

All of the projects illustrated are top-notch designs. If you want this kind of design quality, you can't expect to learn how to do it all yourself. Yes, an architect adds 10% to the cost of a house, but if you want expertise, you have to pay the person who spent twenty years of their lives earning it. It is the most important 10% of your budget you will pay. This book can at least help you to explain to the architect what it is you want.
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on June 23, 2004
In essence, this book is a checklist of new vocabulary terms that Susanka invented for the purpose of articulating design concepts. Each term is well-illustrated by a residential example,with plenty of pictures. The print quality is beautiful as usual, and the editing and book design are well done, although a little overslicked and glossy. I was very happy to see the comparative photomanipulations to illustrate how a design concept changes the feel of a room. I enjoyed and appreciated the "Public Space" feature, in which Sarah's newly-named concepts are shown in photos of familiar large public buildings such as libraries or museums.
The not-so-big books dealt with the primary design -- the floor plan. The bulk of this book is concerned with "secondary" details that could be applied to any floor plan, such as window placement, staircase railings, ceiling shape, window type, or even the way the wall covering reflected light. Sometimes this felt more like interior design than architecture. You should probably have a floor plan -- and a bursting bank account -- in hand before you try to apply what is shown here.
One major weaknes is that Susanka has chosen far too few houses for her examples. It must have be convenient for the author and photographer when a single example illustrated several design concepts (cuts down on photography time), but the book became very tedious. Must we tour Susanka's own house for the FOURTH time? And the circular kitchen lost its novelty quickly.
Although I understood this would not be a repeat of her not-so-big concepts, I was surprised at the magnitude of departure from the Not So Big books to Home By Design. Although her text has a familiar hominess, her examples here all have a look-don't-touch attitude that I found off-putting. No consideration is given to cost or even space; indeed some of the houses looked so unlivable and showy that sometimes I confused the residential houses with the museums featured in Public Space. My impression was that Susanka was relieved to cast off the limits of not-so-big and focus on the lofty ideals of pure design without distraction from the practical concerns of those pesky clients who were acutally going to live in the house. I don't believe this was her intention, but be prepared for the shift in tone.
On its own objective architectural merit, this is probably a 4-star book, but I chose to take off a star because of Susanka's choice too few residences (and they were too artsy-fartsy at that), and because I don't want readers to be misled by the author's name into thinking this is a No So Big book. DO NOT buy this book sight unseen, especially if you are a fan of Not So Big. Borrow it from the library, or at least flip through all the way through it at a real bookstore before you spend the money on it. It's not for everybody.
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on January 12, 2005
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 cred' 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.

We found her 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!)
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on March 23, 2004
Sarah Susanka describes "Home by Design" as "the book I've always wanted to write." As an experienced architect, she works with clients who recognize what they like, but often lack the ability to describe it. She has developed not only a vocabulary to describe some of the design concepts she uses in her houses, but, through this new book, has illustrated these concepts with technically simple language and well selected photos.
She organizes the book into 27 concepts under the broad headings of "Space, Light, and Order." A chapter is devoted to each concept with photographs and layouts of a house carefully selected to illustrate the concept. Other illustrations are provided as needed, mostly selected from the other example houses.
The quality of publication is up to the standard of her first two books - beautiful photos, well formatted, pleasing to the eye and written in language accessible to a lay audience. She used the practice of her second book, illustrating the principles discussed with the works of other architects who share some of her design ideas. Except for three small photos, only one of the example houses is her own design (Introduction, pp. 10-17).
Does this really work? I can speak from a 6-year dialogue with the author that resulted in a house we love. My wife admired the author's work before I ever thought about building a house. We bought a "difficult" lot in an old neighborhood - long, narrow, with a big tree right in the middle of it. We needed an architect. We looked around and liked her work the best of the architects we considered. She accepted the challenge.
She had us make a scrapbook of house images we liked and drawings of layouts and other ideas that came to us. We talked a lot. She got an idea of our tastes in materials, forms and colors. She developed drafts of several houses she thought incorporated the ideas we liked. We selected a patchwork from among these possibilities. That provided the cartoon within which she applied her concepts of "Space, Light and Order."
The specifications of the house plans that evolved were very detailed - 19 pages of blueprints. Materials and construction methods were tightly specified. Despite that, several key pieces were designed on-site: the entry door, the fireplace surround, the stairwell, some of the trim layouts (both interior and exterior), several additional bookcases.
As I read the book, I can mentally illustrate each concept with at least one, often many, uses of the concept within our house design.
Does this work for others? It certainly should for readers who build a new house. Its not just that smaller is better - organization of space, use of natural light, alignment are essential to making a house look and feel right. Creative use of these principals is not necessarily expensive but it does not happen by accident. When a visitor admires the way something looks in our house, I tell them it is not an accident. It may look simple and easy, but it takes careful thought to provide the feel of a well-designed house.
Can this book be useful to the remodeler? I think so. Even if you can't knock out a lot of walls, most projects provide opportunity to reorganize the use of space, trim, surface materials, fixtures, window treatments, colors. These are all beautifully illustrated by this new book. For the remodeler, I'd suggest that the author's third book "Not So Big Solutions for Your Home", provides some essential insights that I would consider first principles, even before her first book, "The Not So Big House". Read "Not So Big Solutions", then develop the organization, balance, and beauty with the new book, "Home by Design".
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on March 5, 2006
A groundbreaking book that empowers homeowners to transform a house into a home

Sarah Susanka has revolutionized the way we look at our homes. She is an author, an architect, and has been called a `cultural visionary.' She was chosen as a Newsweek top newsmaker in 2000 and a US News & World Report innovator in American culture in 1998.

This oversized and gorgeous book is organized into three sections: space, light, and order. The author explains one design principle at a time, showing how and why it works, and how you can incorporate it into your home. The author's goal is to guide you into making your home more comfortable and, at the some time, filled with character and beauty. No matter what the style or size of your home, you can apply each of the 27 design concepts.

This book, with its beautiful photographs, will teach you how to be a master of illusion. Sarah Susanka's mission is to create homes with thoughtful design, because, as she believes, your home affects the quality of your life. Would we not all like to have a home infused with delight and inspiration!
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on March 7, 2006
First off, I disagree with the negative reviews. The photos are just fine and I'm 54 years old and a bit eyesight challenged. The scale of many of the home plans is easy to calculate from her textual descriptions. Many, if not most, of what she explains can be done on the cheap and I've done some of them.

For those studying architecture, either as a professional architect or interior designer, or one of us perenial students of everything, this is the best intro to residential architecture I've found. It lays out the various principles in wonderful detail but in short enough chapters to keep our attention. Theory and practice are merged in a concise and clear manner. If you like "A Pattern Lauguage" and other Christopher Alexander books or were thinking of reading them then I would recommend this book for further study.

This book sits next to my work area as I design interiors in 3D computer graphics. It is now one of my most important references. With this information I can understand the problems and "fix" those awful house plans that are pervasive in plan books and on the Web.

- jim
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on March 21, 2004
This new book of Sara Susanka's does an excellent job of revealing a broad spectrum of architectural design principals used and applied to residential design. This book should sharpen consumers' eyes to why some houses feel so right and others leave you feeling like something is missing.
Her book systematically highlights how well thought out architectural design translates into a quality home, no matter what the cost of the home. The result being a beautiful and comfortable, quality living space, rather than just a series of rooms connected together.
Every house needs a place to prepare food, a place to sleep, a place to gather, windows, doors, land to sit on, etc., but success will come with the methodical planning of these items. An awareness and application of the books design principals, where applicable, will make a huge difference in the final quality and livability of a home.
Whether you are buying an existing house, remodeling a house, or building a house, this book will do a great job of helping you understand why some houses seem to draw you in and why others leave you uninspired. You can utilize the principals of this book before you buy, remodel or build your home to help you visualize the potential (or lack thereof) to ensure you get the look and feel that you are really after.
Again, I highly recommend this book for those interested in the subject matter. I have not come across another book that does so well at taking what an architect intuitively knows and puts it into words and photos that a non-architect can understand.
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on August 18, 2004
I agree with "a small house owner" in that these are not "our" houses. I find it amusing/depressing that in Not-So-Big, one could see a few animals (no people), a few personal names/anecdotes, and some signs of life. These touches disappeared by "Creating", but at least the homes felt tenable, owned by real people and something one could aspire to.

Not so with Home By Design. If you have a spare $3.8 mil hanging around gathering dust, by all means, use it to fulfill all the tenets in this book using the pictured mansions therein as examples.

SS never claimed that her principles were cheap to follow; quite the opposite, in fact. But the homes in HbD are so outlandishly outside the realm of the average person buying this book that it serves very little in demonstrating her ideas and of very little use to the average home-owner.

Buy The Not So Big House, Creating the Not So Big House, and Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language. That's enough to get you going. You won't find HbD as anything but a fantasy picture book (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous)...unless you have the forementioned millions at your disposal.
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on May 12, 2004
Who edited this book? Does Sarah Susanka really believe that a photograph which measures 1.5" x 1.5" is useful? I am a young person with 20/20 vision, and could not focus on these pictures. Susanka explains good design in a way that is original and refreshing; when a room looks good, she tells you why - and this is deeply informative. But the art of design is VISUAL, end of story. A blind person does not care if the alcove has wainscoting! Why then, would a designer of her calibre allow puny, useless, annoying photos in a book that costs $35.US??
All throughout, there they are: tiny little pictures that would have been stunning examples of well-placed design ideas, but instead serve to leave the reader frustrated and disappointed.
For example, under the heading "Art Glass Focus" is a picture of a remarkable stained-glass window panel. But the photo measures 2.25 x 3 inches. There is no context in a picture this small!
If you aren't bothered by pictures so small that you need a magnifying glass, then by all means buy the book. If you only care about interesting text - buy the book. But if you love interior design and get a thrill from a picture of a truly great room, then do yourself a favour and buy the New Decorating Book from Better Homes & Gardens. I waited two months on a waiting list at the library for this book and I am so glad that I didn't buy it - I would be furious.
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