topSarah Susanka's Not So Big Minazine

February 2012
Issue: 4
An Opportunity to Experience
A Not So Big House Firsthand  

Sarah Susanka

Over the past year I've been working on a project that is the realization of a dream I've had since writing my first book, 14 years ago. It's a Not So Big Showhouse that's open to the public for an extended period -- a full 3D walk-through demonstration of all the principles I've described in my books.  The Showhouse is located in Libertyville, Illinois, and it is open every weekend until May 20th, 2012, Sat 9-4, and Sun 1-4. So far over 4,500 people have visited, and I'm thrilled by those numbers.  But I want to make sure that everyone who has always wanted to try on a Not So Big House, and everyone who is interested in experiencing a better floor plan for the way we really live, hears about this opportunity.  If you are one of those people, I hope you will visit the Showhouse. I also hope you will share this information with anyone you think would be interested.


The Not So Big Showhouse
The Not So Big Showhouse
In this special edition of the Not So Big Minazine, I will introduce you to the Showhouse in pictures, videos, and articles that will give you a taste of what it's all about. Designed for a family with two kids, this particular house is intended to completely model the new blueprint proposed in the Not So Big House series. It is about 2,450 sf, is highly energy efficient, and is designed to allow its residents not only to raise their children here, but also to age gracefully in place if they want to.

Showhouse living room cove lightingPlease keep in mind that Not So Big doesn't mean small -- it means not as big as you thought you needed and with dollars reallocated out of rarely used square footage and into quality and character.  This house is designed as an alternative to the standard family home, which almost always has a formal living room and formal dining room, and tends to turn its back to the street.  It's also a prototype for a mainstream alternative to the typical process required to obtain an architecturally designed house.  


In Creating the Not So Big House, I suggest that there's a middle ground between the standard suburban Creating the Not So Big House development house, which typically has no input from an architect, and the completely custom design process in which the homeowner purchases land, selects an architect, and has a house designed for them from scratch. In a few years, I believe that in much the same way that we now purchase designer label clothing when we want something that has style, elegance, and fit, we'll have the option to purchase our homes from signature architectural labels that offer quality, beauty, and functionality, so that many more people can benefit from the skills of an architect, without having to hire them directly.


The Not So Big Showhouse living room

That's my vision, and this Not So Big Showhouse in Libertyville is the first of what I hope will be a wide selection of signature house designs from various architects.  These new designs will help introduce into the marketplace some fresh solutions for the house of the future, at many different scales and price points.


In addition to the articles about the Showhouse, I'm glad to introduce two guest articles from people not directly involved with Susanka Studios who were inspired by the project and house.  Enjoy!

*Showhouse exterior and living room photos by Barry Rustin
The Not So Big Showhouse:
A Virtual Tour

Showhouse Beginnings

School Street view looking East
SchoolStreet in Libertyville

When John McLinden, a developer and longtime resident of Libertyville, Illinois, approached me about designing a house for his new SchoolStreet project, I told him that I would be very interested in doing so if the house I designed could also be a showhouse that would be open to the public for several months.  John agreed, and so began the realization of my dream for a full scale Not So Big Showhouse to give visitors a live demo of what my books can only point toward. Although I've done showhouses before, they've never been designed with this explicit objective, and those that I have done previously have been at Builders Shows, and so have only been open to the professionals attending the shows.


As much as builders might find these ideas interesting and even sensible, I realized long ago that it's the desires and requests from homeowners that change the way we design and build.  Read more 

Return to top 
An Attainable Model for Energy Efficiency

Energy Star Partner In order to make the Not So Big Showhouse an excellent example of what's possible for the mainstream marketplace, it was important to me to make affordable and effective energy efficiency a key feature. After some research into the different programs and certifications available in the marketplace today, we chose to use the Energy Star rating system because its name is so well recognized and the program is free and easy to use. It's also a program in which each house is evaluated based on a variety of performance and/or prescriptive criteria, so the homeowner benefits from knowing that their house will have superior comfort, indoor air quality and durability.  We then went beyond the current standards and designed a showhouse to meet the more stringent standards of Energy Star 3.0, which the EPA has scheduled to go into effect by the middle of 2012.  This means that the showhouse is more than 15% more energy efficient than a home built to 2009 International Energy conservation Code requirements. 


Under the attentive eye of Robert Schildgen of Priority Energy, the showhouse was designed with the following features...Read more

Return to top 


Guest Article
The Prepared Environment:

A Montessori Method for Architecture
By Judith Pieprz

From Sarah: Judith Pieprz is a longtime fan of my books and someone who is steeped in the effects of environments upon their users. She was so delighted by her visit to the Not So Big Showhouse that she wrote this article without prompting, and submitted it to me saying, "Please use this however you'd like." I found her observations about the correlations between Maria Montessori's Prepared Environment concept and Not So Big to be particularly insightful. I hope Judith's enthusiasm encourages others to make the journey to see the showhouse as she did.


Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori
Approximately 100 years ago, a woman named Maria
Montessori pioneered a revolution in education. She prescribed several changes to the traditional classroom including mixed age classrooms; large blocks of uninterrupted, self-directed work time; and a model of learning where students work with Montessori-specific materials to directly and practically intuit information rather than simply being told facts.


Another major change that Montessori enacted was in the physical environment of the classroom itself. Read more 

Guest Article
Redfields and the Beta Housing Model


By David P. Pollard, AIA LEED AP

From Sarah: Architect Dave Pollard originally attended one of my presentations in Libertyville early on in the showhouse design process. He wrote a blog post about the effect that the meeting had on him that so impressed John McLinden, developer of the SchoolStreet project, that he offered Dave a job. A few months later, as his involvement in the project increased, Dave wrote an article on the subject of redfields and something he terms the Beta housing model. The term "redfield" refers to all those abandoned developments that now sit empty and heartless, waiting to be turned into something more than a reminder of our crawling economy. The "beta housing model" I'll leave for Dave to explain, but the short version is that it offers tremendous opportunity for architects who envision house design alternatives that better fit today's lifestyles. It's a thought-provoking piece that I share here to get other creative imaginations thinking.


Foreclosure signOver the past three years, continued downturns in the real estate market have led to a large number of foreclosed, short-sold, and bank owned development properties, now called "redfields." You may have heard the term "brownfields" used for environmentally tainted properties, and the term "greenfields" for park/forest preserves. "Redfield" is a term used to describe financially damaged properties that need creative planning, financing, and design to bring them back to financial stability.
Most redfields are properties that were originally slated for Alpha Type developments -- the old slam-dunk, previously low-risk model of mass homebuilding. Read more

Return to top

The People Who Made It Happen

The Showhouse crew
The Showhouse crew 
The Not So Big Showhouse never would have come into being were it not for the many people and companies involved along the way.  There are so many product suppliers who deserve recognition that we've put a sponsors page together on the Not So Big Showhouse website  and have encouraged the suppliers to tell their stories and the part they played.  I've included a few key players in the photos to the right of this article as well, and you'll find others in the sidebars of other articles in this Minazine.  From the whole house of furnishings provided by Room & Board (my favorite company for furnishings that fit Not So Big Houses), to the Marvin window in the Library Alcove which I originally designed for their MyMarvin Dream Window Project a couple of years ago, to the amazing disappearing bed in the Away Room from Resource Furniture, to the spectacular green roof above the garage from Hursthouse -- every feature has a story, along with someone behind that story that made it not just good but exceptional.  Read more


The New Blueprint

Sarah SusankaAfter you've looked through this minazine or if you have the opportunity to visit the showhouse in person, I hope you'll share your thoughts with others on the Showhouse forum of the Not So Big House Community Bulletin Board. I'm also quite active on my Facebook page these days, so you can post any comments or questions there as well.
I hope you'll share this minazine with others you think may find it interesting or who might want to make the trip to see the showhouse in person. You may recall that the subtitle of The Not So Big House is "A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live." As I look at what's happening in the marketplace today, I firmly believe that the time for that blueprint to come on line is NOW.  
Smaller and cheaper holds little appeal for anyone -- even in tough economic times -- but smarter and better is something that will work not only for the current era, but for decades, and maybe centuries, to come.  It's time for the Not So Big house to go mainstream.  I hope you'll join me in helping to make this happen.




Return to top
In This Issue
The Not So Big Showhouse: A Virtual Tour
An Attainable Model for Energy Efficiency
Guest Article: The Prepared Environment
Guest Article: Redfields and the Beta Housing Model
The People Who Made it Happen
The New Blueprint

Quick Links

Not So Big Showhouse front entry

Showhouse gallery
of professional photos by Barry Rustin  
Video walk-throughs
A complete tour of the showhouse in four parts, plus floor plans

Media Center
where you can see all of the amazing press the house has received over the past months

Slide show
from the Century 21 Kreuser and Seiler website

Facebook gallery of photos taken by Sarah,
with comments and questions from fans, and responses from Sarah

Facebook gallery of professional photos by Barry Rustin, with comments and questions from fans, and responses from Sarah

Thoroughly entertaining video of the creation of the rooftop garden, by Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors  

MarketWatch video about SchoolStreet and the Showhouse 

Ready to
  Move In?

The showhouse is for sale!
Deal Estate: Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House in Libertyville
Check out
Dennis Rodkin's article for to see a great video walk-through and to view sales information.

Interested buyers can also visit the Showhouse listing on the Century 21 Kreuser and Seiler website




The Not So Big Showhouse

Saturdays 9am - 4pm
 Sundays 1pm - 4pm 
May 20th, 2012 

Libertyville is a charming community with a vibrant downtown, just 45 minutes from downtown Chicago on the express train on Metra's Milwaukee North line

SchoolStreet Homes

For more information about SchoolStreet Homes, please visit their

Facebook has become my favorite way to converse with fans.  I hope you'll join me there or on Twitter, which connects to my Facebook page.

Like us on Facebook   Follow us on Twitter

NSBH Community Bulletin Board 
Join the discussion
and tell others about your own experiences of Not So Big houses, books, and the Not So Big Showhouse 

Sarah's Websites

The Not So Big House website

Sarah Susanka website


Sarah giving a talk at the St. Catherine Forum on Women in Leadership
Interested in attending a talk by Sarah or having her speak at your next event? 
for more information.




Share the News







If you would like to continue to receive Sarah's newsflashes and minazines and you're not already on the e-mail list, go to
  and sign up there.

Want to read past issues of the minazine? 

Not So Big Minazines button

Click the button to go to the minazines page on the website.