September 18, 2008

Not So Big

Years ago, I came across a design book by architect Sarah Susanka called The Not So Big House.


Susanka put into words what I had been thinking for years. She believes in designing homes “that favor the quality of its space over the quantity” not "the notion that houses should be designed to impress rather than nurture.” www.notsobighouse.com

I’ve always loved small spaces. The home we lived in for almost 18 years was a cottage built in 1925.


840 square feet on the main floor. I loved the intimacy it provided.

When we decided to move to the desert, we knew we wanted another house with a small footprint. We looked at house after house for almost 10 months. Half-way through the process, we realized moving to the most expensive part of Oregon, wanting acreage, a house, and no mortgage was going to be a problem. We had to compromise somewhere.

With much grinding of teeth, we began looking at mobile homes on acreage. My husband asked me, “Can interior decorators really live in mobile homes?”

Living in a trailer, with fake paneling, plastic cupboards, shag carpeting, vinyl flooring, aluminum siding and metal slider windows held absolutely no appeal to me.

But after watching our formerly quiet country road in Silverton, sprout 200+ McMansions over the last 10 years, we knew we wanted the peace and quiet acreage would provide.

We bought 5 acres with views of the Three Sisters (3 - 10,000'+ mountains) in Central Oregon’s High Desert.


We have 300+ days of sunshine a year, along with so much privacy I’ve yet to meet any neighbors....and we have a double-wide trailer. Which all makes me realize, life's funny, isn’t it?


There was no beauty in this home. None.

This project has been my biggest design challenge to date. We gutted the entire inside…salvaging and donating items to the Habitat for Humanity resale shop, recycling wood and scrap metal as we went along. We tore out the cardboard and plastic ceilings, rewired and re-plumbed where necessary. We hired a crew to sheetrock over the existing paneling and then we coated the walls and ceiling with both low VOC (Devine) and zero VOC (Yolo) paints. We ripped out the germ-riddled plush carpeting and laid Eco-Timber solid bamboo flooring (using a non-toxic glue) throughout the entire house. We tore out (and recycled) aluminum slider windows, replacing them with energy efficient ones. We repurposed antique furniture into a vanity sink cabinet and linen closets rather than buying new pieces. The kitchen cabinets were purchased from a company who offered a green line of cabinetry. Paperstone (countertops made using 100% recycled paper and a non-toxic resin) was installed in the kitchen. Ten of the light fixtures we installed were found at second hand stores or purchased off Craigslist. We salvaged, reused and repurposed many items making our remodel as green as we could afford, and as beautiful as possible....and we paid cash.

Before and after photos here

27 comments:

DancingMooney said...

Charmaine, I so admire your way of thinking, and love that you make the most of small spaces... I too don't really want or need a big home, just enough space to be comfortable...

The more we think about it, the more we are growing on that little blue house I posted on my blog the other day... the floor plan could use a little work, but it's got such great character, it really might be worth it!

Anyhow, i'm off to check out that link you posted...
Hope your days are filled with much love and laughter...
Hugs.

Janell

Auntie Joy said...

as I've said before..never say never...
JOY!

Cicada Studio said...

Sometimes you gotta bend- and you didn't have to bend too much because you'll make it what you want to be eventually. Home is where the heart is, and I believe you have lots of heart for this little home.

A Cuban In London said...

Life's funny and it seems to me that you made the right choice. Judging by the photos you have uploaded on the blog you have beautiful views and tranquility, two elements I treasure immensely. Saying that, though, I must add that as a city boy I do love being in contact with other human beings regularly, so maybe that isolation would work for me for a week or two whilst on holidays, before I turn into Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' :-)

Greetings from London.

Angelika@ Purple Sage Designz said...

I love the view and seclusion in your pics. You can always build, remodel or expand the living space, but nothing will replace acreage, either you got it or you don't. Consider yourself lucky:)

Claire, said...

We had a wonderful house swap in Ashland last summer, it is beautiful up there.
We stayed in the beautiful home of LA times style editor.

Rosebud Collection said...

I am with you..Once this home is gone, it will be small for us..I don't want anything..just a plain life..Hope I can have my wish..
Love your home..looks great..

fly tie said...

y'all have a really nice set up there. land, beautiful view, lovely home, privacy. sounds great to me.

those before and after pics are lovely. totally transformed.

i want that cottage house so badly. :-D how cute.

Jenn said...

I remember reading this back in January and marveling at your former small space. Life is funny, you never really know what is going to happen until it does :) Your home is so beautiful and who can beat that view? Looks like a fine choice to me, neighbors or not!

Lisa B. said...

After looking at the Airstreams on the Summer Kitchen Journal...I've actually been dreaming of moving into one of those! I've also been known to daydream about living in a vintage mobile home! I like small too...and there certainly are a lot of pros to it.

Love your view of the 3 sisters!!

littlebrownpen said...

I share your affinity for small houses, and have too many books to mention on the subject. My husband and I deliberately live small and live simple, and it's refreshing and zen-like. Have you ever been to moderncabana.com?

T.Allen-Mercado said...

Joe and I have always lived simply-even in NYC. As long as there is space to cook, burn incense and read books-we're good. We live among homes that make ours look like a garage and have never second guessed it! Now if we could just get everyone around us to move away!

Ann said...

Small spaces can be stunning spaces. Plus a small space can be maintained easily and the people living there tend to bump in each other more likely therefore giving them no reason not to be close to one another. I like the comfort and coziness that small spaces brings.

Mrs.French said...

the transformation is amazing...and the mountains? well you know how perfect they are!

M.Kate said...

Dearest Charmaine, I always enjoy looking at your home again and again..We live in a double storey terrace with approx 2500 sqf of indoor space, even that my husband wants to move on to a larger home which I objected because in years to come, the children's gone and there's only 2 of us..and we dont need all those space.Not to mention I have no interest to be a slave to the home...which I am now am anyway haha..happy weekend

Hey Harriet said...

I love what you've done to your house. You've transformed it into a beautiful home! The bonus of living in a small space is that there is less space to keep tidy & clean! And you're less likely to lose things! This doesn't seem to apply to me though ;)

Karine said...

I love what you have done with your "double wide" It doesn't look like a trailer anymore!

There is nothing like having space around you. We are lucky to have it now, too.

GrayEyedScorpio said...

Small is the way to go! 1200 square feet is ample space for our family of three. No McMansions for us!

Marie Louise said...

I have this book too and have always loved it. Your before and after pics are quite impressive. What a lovely spot - your view is incredible!

amy said...

"favor the quality of its space over the quantity” That is a great way of thinking. Also, if you have a bigger house, you have to buy more things to fill it. Of course you have to pay more to heat it or air condition it too. So many perks of quality over quantity.

Bonbon Oiseau said...

what a fabulous job you've done--seems so worth it and how happy you seem...you're living my dream i think!!

Fiber Focus said...

It's absolutely amazing what you did to that place! I hadn't seen the before pictures until now. What a gift!

the little red hen said...

We have two of Susan's books. We are using them as reference as we remodel our 100 year old small farmhouse.
I like the cozy feel of a small house.

littlebird said...

sounds like you worked hard, were prepared to compromise but still remain true to your beliefs and you got everything you deserved. well done .
(i am quite envious of your 300 days of sunshine a year, i'd settle for 30 days of sunshine here in Scotland ; )

Yoli said...

I live in a very small space and I enjoy it. It forces you to live with the essentials and be creative in use of space. I love where you live but like my fellow Cuban in London I cannot take isolation for long. My ideal place would actually be a tiny apartment in either NYC or Tokyo. I find peace getting lost in crowds.

Teri said...

I have been wandering around your blog since finding it this week and it makes me long to return to Oregon, and the 850 sq ft bungalow I rented for 18 years. Your double wide is a wonderful mirror of you I think. You have made it very cottagey and cozy and I love the colors and the metalwork vines. I used to date a blacksmith that did wonderful things with vines and leaves. Seeing your things brings back some of those memories that are Oregon to me, too. Part of my gnashing and carping with my current situation is how big this house is and how much time it takes to keep it up. With 850 sq ft, I could clean the house from top to bottom in a day, and still have the weekends free! I will get back to simpler things sometime...that's the plan.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance

Merisi said...

You found a wonderful solution for the way of life you want to lead!

I bought two books by Sarah Susanka, just before moving to Europe. I lived in a big house in the US, which served us well with four little kids, but now I dream of a Susanka-style house (which, after all are not so small, come to think of it).