Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Living Not So Big

I recently read a book (which was recommended in another book that I may discuss sometime): The Not So Big House, by Sarah Susanka. The author is a British architect who was amazed when she came to America at the size of houses we live in, particularly at all the wasted space in the rooms we never use . . . the formal dining room, the formal living room, etc.

The book is about designing your house to fit the way you actually live and to reflect the person you actually are. She talks about how we build houses based on who we think we want to be. Liiiike, having the "chef-ready" kitchen with double ovens and a huge pantry because we WANT to be a fabulous cook who prepares a gourmet dinner for our family every night . . . but reality is, we usually bring home fast food or heat up a frozen entree.

Ooorrrr, having the grand step-up jacuzzi tub in the bathroom with the candles and incense around it because we WANT to be that woman who lets Calgon take her away every evening after the kids are down and then comes to her husband at bedtime refreshed and smelling like lavendar and ready for romance . . . when the reality is, we're lucky to have time and energy for a quick shower, much less hot tubs and leisurely romance.

Yeah, we think if we have that jacuzzi tub handy, we'll use it. We don't. Changing our outside environment doesn't necessarily change the way we live. Changing our inside environment does. (That's what Susanka's book The Not So Big Life is about -- but that's for another day.)

I have considered these things before, in my daydreams. If I were to design my ideal house, what would it look like? One thing I would love to have: a library. A room set aside for me to read, write, study, think . . . lots of bookshelves with all my books . . . windows for sunlight to stream in, with a view of green nature . . . big, soft, cushiony seats with good back support, a place for my legs to go up, a nearby plug in for my laptop charger, and a flat surface to place a drink on . . . oh, yeah. I want that.

And I would use it, too. I've started making a point of making time to read and write and think, because I realize I'm much more relaxed and content with life when I'm feeding that side of me. Some people need gardening, some people need social time, some people need to run . . . I need to think alone.

This potential move brings up the opportunity to evaluate our living quarters, our outside environment, and find a place that reflects our inside environments. Someplace not so big. Problem is, we're not likely to find such a place -- we'll have to make it.


Robin Shreeves said...

A few years ago, I had an older and wiser friend tell me to make my house fit the way we live 99% of the time. We were talking about renovating because we wanted a guest room, separate rooms for the boys, and a bigger kitchen, but the economy kept us from committing to the renovation.

So we shook our house up instead of renovating. We had a formal dining room that we said we needed because of Thanksgiving and a small cozy room that we were using as the boys' homework room off the kitchen. We turned the small room into a cozy dining space (and rented an outdoor tent this past Thanksgiving to fit everyone). We turned the larger formal dining room into my office and the boys homework space. This opened up a room upstairs so the boys could each have their own bedroom.

We put a queen bed in the older boys room so that if we have guests, they can use his room. He can bunk with his younger brother for a few days or sleep in the basement.

We made our existing house function for the way we live in it 99% of the time, and figured out how to accommodate the 1% (Thanksgiving, guests) within how we live instead of dedicating entire empty rooms for that 1% of the time.

We've started talking about renovating again, but this time to truly accommodate the 99% of the time. With my job as a food writer and our commitment to cooking real, healthy food for the family, my really old, small kitchen is not ideal. There's a lot of discussion about "needs" and "wants" going on, and scarily enough, we're also having the "in ten years the boys will be out of the house and we might want to sell, what should be doing now to make that easier."

GJK said...

Yes, Robin! That's exactly what she talks about in this book. You'd like it. Way to go!