A Castle Where Less is More: How I implement the Sarah Susanka ‘Not So Big House’ philosophy

Sarah Susanka ‘Not So Big House’ philosophy

I’m a believer in architect Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” philosophy. The conversation with my clients starts: Let’s figure out what your anticipated use of the space may be … and design enough of it, not too much, not too little. Approaching the spaces thoughtfully, we make it simple and beautiful.

Clients tend to come prepared with pictures of homes that they find appealing. I keep that in the background, but remind them that function drives aesthetic. Spaces can be designed and reconfigured to fit that function. You should be able to take an exterior photo any home and understand how those forms work together. If you choose, on the other hand, to try and fit the spaces you need into a plain box of a building, you’re hamstrung, forcing an unnatural relationship. Awkward ‘solutions’ are common as are wasted space and contrived pathways. Aesthetically, it’s not very elegant. To avoid this mistake, you can harness your relationship with the space.

Consider your lifestyle, the possible layered spaces that can build an experience. When we reach that point, it’s a lot easier to follow the old adage: “Form follows function.”

Castle #1

Adults and children alike want their own castle. I try to strike a balance with my clients. I remember one who visited a friend’s house with a two-story gaudy foyer. “Wow, it’s so dramatic,” she told me. Yet I think you can get even more drama in thoughtful design, in which less is more. A lot of times people say, “I want that,” but offer an alternative, toward something ‘like that’, only better.

I want your home to be your castle, and I also know that castles come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a home will have hidden gems, design opportunities, that just need to be mined for their value. One such home with a turret, we created a Princess Suite for the little girl of the family. It’s her own castle in the attic, a hideaway where she can dream up her own stories.

Many times, someone’s renovating a house and discovers even more gems. I take the time to refine them, in order to create special experiences for families.

This article was written by Mark Benner of Mark Eric Benner Architects (MEBA). Read more here: http://www.mebarchitect.com/sarah-susanka-not-so-big-house-philosophy/

About the author

Mark Benner

Architect Mark Benner loves a puzzle and he solves one with every luxury residential project he completes in the Chicago area. Whether how best to use the site, retrofit sustainable features to an older home or ensure a new home will meet the needs of the people who live there, each custom home project presents its share of challenges. Mark welcomes them. He opened his firm, Mark Eric Benner - Architects, in 2007 and brings 25 years of experience designing high-end homes from the ground up. The firm is the natural next step in a career that started with carpentry and included groundbreaking work in 3D Design software. He has his degree in architecture from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. An outdoorsman, Mark has a particular interest in sustainability and helps clients incorporate “green” features into their new or existing homes. Because of working for two firms that combined construction and design services (know as “design build”) under construction-minded leadership, Mark concluded that an architect-led design process is better for the client. He designed his firm to be the intersection of the best in the artistic process and the latest in digital design capabilities. Because a puzzle is easier to assemble together with others, the firm makes extensive use of 3D Design renderings so that it becomes easy for clients to envision what their home will look like. As Mark says, “The process of designing a home is better when it’s open and shared.”


Leave a comment: