Architect Sarah Susanka has become well-known for her idea of the “Not So Big House.” One of her homes has just been built in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville:
The showcase home, located at the 26-site SchoolStreet Homes development under construction a block east of downtown, is open for weekend tours until May 20. It and the rest of the homes, which are not open to the public, are Susanka’s and developer John McLinden’s take on new urbanism: smaller homes close together, with front porches, a sense of community and walking distance to shops, restaurants and services.
Don’t be fooled, though. When Susanka says not so big, she doesn’t mean small or cheap. The Libertyville home, at 2,450 square feet, won’t be priced until next year when it is put on the market, but other non-Susanka single-family homes on the block start at more than $500,000.
“A lot of builders are building smaller but cheaper,” Susanka said, standing in the furnished home just before it was opened to the public this month. “I believe people are ready for something that is smaller but better.”…
McLinden read Susanka’s books when they were first published and originally invited her to work on one of the houses as a marketing strategy to draw attention to the project. Now they are planning additional collaborations and have been contacted by three other communities about doing similar projects.
In an era where the McMansion is said to be dead and “tiny houses” are growing in popularity, Susanka’s houses stand out for two reasons I’ve noticed before and are also cited in this article. First, these houses are not small. On the spectrum between mansions and tiny houses, Susanka’s houses are very near the national average for the square footage of a new home. As she has said before, the article cites Susanka as saying the homes aren’t small but the space is used well and not wasted. Second, such homes may not be cheap. Perhaps the prices in this story are primarily being driven by being in Libertyville (with a median household income just over $100,000) but then again, Not So Big houses are likely to be built in communities like these.
The emphasis in Susanka’s homes are on two things beyond size and price: quality and fit with the homeowners. Neither of these things are cheap as the homes are not meant to be mass-produced (then they might fall perilously close to tract home or McMansion territory) and the features are customized to the activities and tastes of those who live there. Apparently, there is a market for this.
This could lead to an interesting question: are these primarily homes for educated, wealthy people who appreciate the design features and can afford the prices? Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising as architects do need to make money and wealthier clients (and higher-end builders) could certainly help. Could Susanka help market her homes even further if she could create and market a smaller version that could be affordable (or in terms more palatable for many suburban communities, “workforce”) housing? Would she want to produce a lot of these homes or would these reduce the appeal of status of these architect-designed homes?