Sarah Susanka cover

My guest today is like a secret rock star of the tiny house world. I'm sure that she has inspired many of the well-known tiny house designers and thinkers that you know of today. Sarah Susanka published her world-changing book, The Not So Big House, in 1998 and I can't stress enough how inspiring this book was to me when I was designing my tiny house. I think that this conversation will give you a taste of the wisdom and insights that you will gain from Sarah through her book that has now become an entire franchise.

In This Episode:

  • The ‘Not So Big House' isn't exactly about size
  • About Sarah's tiny house experience
  • Thinking about space differently because it's in short supply
  • Who really works with architects and what can they do for you?
  • Reflections on the growth of the tiny house movement
  • The evolution of social and utilitarian spaces
  • Things you can do to “hack” your house without major renovations
  • Can ceiling height affect your perception of a space?

Links and Resources:

Guest Bio:

Sarah Susanka

Sarah Susanka

Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” message has become a launchpad for a new dimension of understanding—not just about how we inhabit our homes, but also about how we inhabit our planet and even our day-to-day lives. As a cultural visionary with an incredible ability to understand the underlying structure of the American lifestyle, Susanka is providing the language and tools that are redefining how we live.







This Week's Sponsor:

Tiny House Decisions Cover

Tiny House Decisions

Tiny House Decisions is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. And it comes in three different packages to help you on your unique tiny house journey. If you're struggling to figure out the systems for your tiny house, how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, what you're going to build it out, then tiny house decisions will take you through the process systematically and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for podcast listeners. Head over to and use the coupon code tiny at checkout!


More Photos:

The “Not So Big House” is about 1/3 smaller than you think you need

You think differently about your spaces when space is in short supply

Before and after photos of Sarah's own house


A view of the outdoors can make the smallest spaces feel cozy

An outdoor space can be a POYO

Sarah designed these window seats with fellow architect, Tina Govan


Sarah Susanka 0:00

Personally, I wouldn't choose to live that way forever. But I am super glad that I had the experience because after that, you know that you can survive on much less than in our society we normally ever imagined.

Ethan Waldman 0:14

My guest today is like a secret rock star in the tiny house world. I am sure that she has inspired many of the well known tiny house designers and thinkers that you know of today. Sarah Susanka published her world changing book, I'm just gonna say it, the Not So Big House in 1998. And I can't stress enough how inspiring this book was to me when I was designing my tiny house. And I think that this conversation will give you just a taste of the wisdom and insights that you will gain from Sarah, through her book that has now become an entire franchise of Not So Big House, Not So Big Life. It's just all very inspiring. And I do hope you stick around.

I want to tell you about something that I think will be super helpful as you plan, design and build your tiny house. Tiny House Decisions is a guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. It comes in three different packages to help you on your unique tiny house journey. And if you're struggling to just figure out the systems for your tiny house, you know, like how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, you know, what construction technique Are you going to use like sips or stick framing or steel framing. Tiny House Decisions will take you through all these processes systematically, and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for listeners of the show, you can head over to To learn more, and use the coupon code tiny at checkout for 20% off any package. Again, that's to and use the coupon code tiny for 20% off.

All right, I am here with Sarah Susanka. Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big" message has become a launchpad for a new dimension of understanding not just about how we inhabit our homes, but also about how we inhabit a planet and even our day to day lives. As a cultural visionary, with an incredible ability to understand the underlying structure of the American lifestyle. Sarah Ssanka is providing the language and tools that are redefining how we live there. Sarah Susanka, welcome to the show.

Sarah Susanka 2:45

Oh, thank you so much, Ethan, great to be here.

Ethan Waldman 2:47

Great to have, you know, I built my tiny house on wheels, way back in 2012, which is like, considered early to the tiny house movement. But of course, tiny houses have existed for a very long time. And, and the Not So Big House was published in 1998. Many, you know, almost a full decade before tiny houses really became even on the blip of of people's consciousness here. Yeah, how long? Actually, let's just start with you know, what is? What is the Not So Big House? I know you have an entire book about what it is. But how do you explain it when somebody says Well, what's that?

Sarah Susanka 3:32

Yeah, actually a whole series of books at this point. But but the I'm going to give you a little bit of history so that I can explain what "Not So Big" means. So I was a residential architect working in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where I used to live. And every client that would come in, would be asking for more square footage than they could afford, given the budget that they were showing me and the pictures they were showing me. And so I realized that each time I met with a client, I had to explain that actually, they didn't probably need all those rooms. Because the real estate agent was telling them they needed him for resale. That wasn't a good enough reason for building them if they wanted a house that really fit them. So I started to help people to see that if you dropped off the rooms you rarely used like the formal living room and the formal dining room and a guest bedroom which most people don't use but once a year, and then use the dollars for the house that you actually live in, you're going to end up with a better house. So this kind of house and Not So Big House is about a third smaller than you thought you needed. But you are able to live in every square foot every day. And so, paradoxically, it's not about size. So it fits the tiny house movement and it fits people who are building houses bigger than you I would ever imagine. But there's still a way of thinking about it, where it's going to fit you, so that you live in every square foot every day.

Ethan Waldman 5:08

So for some people that could be 2500 square feet, and for some people that could be 800 square feet,

Sarah Susanka 5:15

you've got it exactly. And it's really about quality rather than quantity. So it's really looking at what makes a house into a home. And that works, whether we're talking about little teeny houses or apartments, or, you know, a house that could be acres and acres of space. But if we just reapportioned that we can make it feel much more comfortable and livable.

Ethan Waldman 5:37

Absolutely. Yeah. And in in Not So Big House, you, you talk about how our informal lifestyle has has kind of put us out of sync with houses that were designed for a different time.

Sarah Susanka 5:53

Absolutely, we've added rooms on. Yeah, we've added rooms. So the formal living room in the formal dining room stayed, but then we added a family room, and then everybody lived in the family room, or the great room. And these little appendages of old atrophying functions, still were there. And so, you know, at West, when I was doing a lot of remodeling would walk into somebody's house. And there's the furniture that nobody would ever sit in, because it's uncomfortable in the formal living room. And as soon as people decided that I was a friendly human being, they said, well, let's go and sit in the kitchen where it's more comfortable. Like, it's, we're designing these rooms for people that we would really rather not have in our houses. And we are living in the other part. So it doesn't make sense to build the space we don't use, but very rare.

Ethan Waldman 6:43

Absolutely. And that's that's definitely something that has been taken up by the tiny house movement. To a bit of an extreme, I would say, or, or to just, you know, further shrinking things down to the constraints of fitting on top of a trailer.

Sarah Susanka 7:01

That's right, exactly, exactly. Yeah. I don't know if you are interested in this, but I actually was, was learned a lot from living in my own tiny house when I was in college very much. So it was actually on the back of a flatbed truck. And it was it was beautiful. Back in the 70s. We call them wood Butcher's trailers. Okay. And I lived in one pool, and it was, you know, it was completely self sufficient. You know, I didn't have there was not a square or cubic inch of space that was wasted. How about how big was it? Was 96 square feet? Okay. Yeah. And it had, you know, the closet on the main level, and then a bed loft above it, and the wood stove and a little sink, and we hung the Christmas tree off of the gable, in the center, upside down.

Ethan Waldman 7:54

How long? How long did you live there?

Sarah Susanka 7:57

I was only for probably about 18 months. Okay, but it taught me so much. It was just such an exercise in learning. What one doesn't need. Yeah, really, and how beautifully one can live in a very, very compact space?

Ethan Waldman 8:15

What, what's one or two of the things that you maybe learned that you didn't need through that experience?

Sarah Susanka 8:22

Oh, my goodness, it was it was so much it was really, it was like a tide change for me in my mindset when I lived there, because I discovered that the outdoor space, we were we were in a fairly wooded area. So the outdoor space became like an extension of the home even though I was living in Oregon at the time, so it was not warm all year round. But it but that beauty of the long distance views became really quite important. And then the coziness of that little space was was I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, you know, just it's like a little nest and I love that.

Ethan Waldman 9:08

Yeah, that's that's a great way of describing it. And it's, it can be really difficult for for people to envision living in 96 or 150 square feet. When you know they do some simple math in their head and they're like, Oh wow, 96 square feet. That's that's nine feet by 10 feet. That's like the size of a very small bedroom or, or a

Sarah Susanka 9:36

large walk in closet. That's right, exactly. And it's it said we had everything did double duty. So the closet door had a fold down table and the chairs on either side could fold so that we could have more floor space if we needed it but actually never did that. Right? Right. Yeah, it's

Ethan Waldman 9:58

it is really, really interesting when you boil down the house to the spaces that you really really need, which is somewhere to sleep somewhere to prepare food and somewhere to hang out. That's right. Exactly. And and maybe go maybe go to the bathroom in the house although Yeah, we

Sarah Susanka 10:15

had to we had the bathroom outside. Exactly. Yeah, no, it's it's uh personally I wouldn't choose to live that way forever but I am super glad that I had the experience because after that, you know that you can survive on much less Yeah, then in our society we normally ever imagined. Yeah, and that's,

Ethan Waldman 10:41

that's an a great segue because you know, I don't live full time in my tiny house anymore either. Though, I do still own it. And it's more of a place that my wife and I go to be more in nature and just enjoy being together in in a really cozy space that that I built so it's just so different than where we live most of the time. Because everything is so personal. And it seems like the the Not So Big House is maybe almost like you could grow out of a tiny house. Because you know, for us, we live in Vermont. We love to recreate here. There are different types of bicycles, different kinds of skis, you know, I've gotten really into kiteboarding, which is a wonderful wind score on the lake and it's just like, all of these activities come with things to own and things to store but you know, it's it's what is important to us. And it's what why we live here what's, you know, Why else do you want to suffer through the eight month winter, and then to go play in the snow. So it's just like, I could see a Not So Big House for us really incorporating a lot of storage, like places where our trailer

Sarah Susanka 11:59

lives. Creative storage is what I call it in the Not So Big House, it's like, you know, you place for everything and everything in its place, much like a boat, you know, that's beautifully designed, you've got to think about space differently when it's in short supply. Yeah. And Not So Big House is really designed with that. Not that you're trying to make space in short supply, but you're trying to utilize every part of the house really effectively.

Ethan Waldman 12:27

How, in what ways Have you seen and I know that you also practice what you what you preach, for lack of a better word I live in the "Not So Big" house reminds me this all the time. How have you seen "Not So Big", living improve quality of life?

Sarah Susanka 12:44

Oh, it's, it's, I wish I could transport people to conversations I have with my clients after I've finished a house for them. And, you know, when something's designed just for you, you may have had this experience even in just making your tiny house, but when something's designed and crafted around your particular life, and lifestyle, there's something that's not workable, but you can feel it. Sometimes when you go into someone's house when it's just right. It's tailored to them. Yeah, there's an ineffable something that is, is there and I've had so many of my clients tell me that when they move in, it fits them just so and you know, they don't ever want to ever want to leave right actually did a house a few years ago when you did your tiny house actually, for a couple who we designed it just just right for them. They they used to travel all over the place. They said we don't do it anymore. We'd love it here. We don't want to go Yeah, yeah,

Ethan Waldman 13:49

no reason. Kind of just, it's nice. What I just out of curiosity, if you know off the top of your head, what's the smallest? Not So Big House you've designed? And and also what's the largest? Like, what's the what's the range?

Sarah Susanka 14:09

It's a big range. Because I've worked with people you know, architects are. And I suspect this may surprise your listeners. Architects serve all kinds of different needs and people and so I've done probably the smallest I've done is about 600 square feet. Yeah. Apart from my own little tiny, tiny house. Yeah, but the the larger ones, I've done a 7000 square foot house. Wow. You know, and I stopped for some architects they say oh my god, I would never do that. But there's this process of thinking about space differently, is appropriate for everyone. And I prefer not to get into the state of trying to judge somebody for should they or shouldn't be, right. I know how to make a space really feel like home. And that's But I want to be able to, you know, participate in and share. I love that. And I also will will echo what you what you said about architects and design is that it's, you know, when you walk into a space it, someone might say, oh I don't need I don't need a professional designer, I

Ethan Waldman 15:21

don't need an architect or I don't need somebody who's good with design to help me. But they I'm sure when you walk into a space that wasn't well designed, that's I feel like when you can really, if you can feel that sooner and quicker and more sharply then when a space is designed.

Sarah Susanka 15:39

That's right. And a lot of people don't realize that the pictures they love, whether it's in magazines, or online, or my favorite source these days house calm, you know, you don't realize that those things that they're responding to are actually designed most frequently by architects. It's we don't have a label that says this was designed by an architect, but our eyes know, it's got something.

Ethan Waldman 16:05

Yeah. And I think that there is a there's maybe a misconception that, you know, working with an architect is only for rich people.

Sarah Susanka 16:18

Yes, actually, that's what I wrote my books for, because I was realizing, I used to do. In my early days, I had a booth at the Home and Garden Show in Minneapolis. And people would come up and they'd look at our pictures and they go, Oh, wow, these are so beautiful. I wish I could afford an architect and and I said, Well, you know, what's your budget? And the, you know, they would tell me a budget that was higher than all the pictures on the wall. And I'd say you can, this is what we do, right? That's what I realized is that most people had no idea that we were seen as something for some elite, super wealthy part of the population. And I knew we could help everybody. So we really started a movement at my old firm to help people grasp that everyone can work with an architect. And so nowadays, there's a lot more residential architects available and visible. Yeah, that wasn't true in the 90s. Yeah, and also, you know, we

Ethan Waldman 17:20

we ended up working with the same designer a second time when we remodeled the kitchen in this fairly tiny condo we live in. And it just, we didn't have a big budget. And what we were able to do was instead of having them do all of the work, we had them over, basically got some design ideas. And then I did the I did the layout in IKEA in using IKEA tool, and, you know, bounce ideas off of them back and forth. And, you know, when when the architect when the design firm wasn't drawing all the plans and doing that work, it saved us some money, but we still had the outcome of a kitchen that just feels incredible to be in and just so many ideas that we never would have considered, like turning the whole thing 90 degrees so that the view the person who's cooking the food can see the view.

Sarah Susanka 18:21

Right? Yes, some simple stuff. Yeah, and I'll tell you a secret that that there's a layer of what architects do, which often doesn't get discovered, because people don't go far enough in the process with the architect, yeah, you can have an architect, at least not every architect will do this, but some who do what I would do called kitchen table consults, come and just give some suggestions. Once you've got your plan sorted out, they can add a little bit, especially related to the third dimension, the heights of thing, because that shapes the space in a way that most people are completely unaware. That's what a lot of my books are really about is how to make the most of the heights of things. And I'm not talking about tall, taller and tallest. I'm talking about making things that make some spaces feel cozy, so that the taller spaces have some contrast from one to the other. That makes an enormous difference. And most people are completely unaware of it.

Ethan Waldman 19:27

Yeah, spaces with really high ceilings aren't as comfortable, you know, it's

Sarah Susanka 19:32

not it's like sitting in an elevator. You know, it's like, Yeah, sure. No, I don't think I want to do

Ethan Waldman 19:38

though. Not So Big House was published in 1998. And I'm curious, what, what have been your impressions of, of the tiny house movement, you know, early on and now you know, as its continued and become bigger for lack of a better word.

Sarah Susanka 19:58

Yes. Right. Right. Well, it's been an interesting process. And, and I'm sure in the tiny house house movement, people are very much aware of this. But depending upon what's happening culturally, for example, in 2008, the market is terribly depressed. Suddenly, everyone was interviewing me about tiny houses. I had one article even told said that I was the mother of the tiny house movement, which I'm absolutely not. You know, instead, they that became the thing I got quoted about, because it was the latest, very small version of a "Not So Big" outright, but that, but the thing that's happened is that, I think people it went from being sort of like a fascinating oddity to now, one alternative in the options available for people who are thinking about what kind of house do we want? And I think it's a very valuable addition, because most of the house forms that we've had in, in this society, or at least the last 50 years have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. And they really need to be some smaller option. Yeah, because not everybody wants three bedrooms up.

Ethan Waldman 21:15

You know, of course, ironically, tiny houses have also gotten bigger and bigger and bigger.

Sarah Susanka 21:20

Yes, we have that pensions in this suite. Really do

Ethan Waldman 21:25

I mean, and, and, you know, I picked up a copy of Not So Big House, way back when I was working on the design for mine, and, you know, hadn't read it. And, you know, after that process, it sat on the shelf, and I kind of revisited it, you know, for in preparing for the interview, and I was kind of thinking to myself, I wonder if the ways that that we've been building tiny houses bigger is actually contributing to the quality of the space? Or is that just? Yeah, is it just adding things that we think that we want, you know, so for example, tiny houses, when I built mine, it was rare that you would put like a full size a kitchen with full size appliances in it, and and don't get me wrong, right? Very nice to cook on full size appliances. But a lot of tiny house welders don't necessarily do a lot of cooking in their houses anyway, and then just eating up, you know, that's 30 4050 square feet with a bigger kitchen.

Sarah Susanka 22:34

You know, this mentality that you're describing, and the and the, what I call project creep, okay, that's where things get bigger, because we think, well, maybe someday I'm going to need this. An awful lot of our decision making is based on an idea about a projected circumstance where we might need that. But that one time out of a five year period. Is that really sensible? I'll give you my classic example. I had one client who decided that she needed to powder rooms on the main level. And I was asking her, Well, why two? He said, Well, my kids, you know, when they come in from the yard, they're messy, and they'll mess up the powder room. And if I have a guest over, then it's gonna be all right. So I asked her, so how many times you have guests over? Like, three or four times a year? Just trying to help her see? So what are the chances that your children are going to have just used the powder room? And the guest is there? And is that worth six to $10,000? Right? It's it's that kind of, we project a world and then we think we have to design for it. And I try to help people do the opposite. And look at what do I really need, right? And it's, and when I'm talking to tiny house people, I know there are people in your audience who this is already their penchant for thinking about what they don't need. Yeah. So if it makes make it makes sense for you, it's got to be comfortable. It's got to enhance your life. But to if it's overboard, then see if you can pull back a little bit.

Ethan Waldman 24:17

Yeah. Well, there are there are absolutely a lot of people in my audience who are kicking the tires, or they're kind of, they're fascinated by the tiny house movement. And they might they're somewhere on the stage the scale of I think that's really cool, but I could never do it or I would really love to do that once. You know, once my kids are out of the house, or once I retire, you know, all the way up to Okay, I'm doing this this is happening.

Sarah Susanka 24:47

Right? Right. Right. And trying it is an immensely valuable experience. Even if you just do it for a year. Yes.

Ethan Waldman 24:56

Yeah, he really can learn a lot from Living in a small space or living small in a different way?

Sarah Susanka 25:05

That's right. That's right. And the same is true with people who've lived in larger houses, just moving to 2400 square feet or exam, right? It's also, it's the contrast that makes you learn about your life in a different way than you could any other one. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 25:22

And it's all it's all relative, as you've made the point. It's no like, going from 5000 square feet to 2500. It might be all tiny.

Sarah Susanka 25:29

Yeah, it does to those people that have a lot of stuff because they've got to deal with the amount of stuff they have, and then reduce that on. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 25:39

I'd like to tell you a little bit more about Tiny House Decisions, my signature guide, and the resource that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house, it starts with the big decisions, which is, you know, should you build a tiny house yourself or with help is a is a prebuilt. Shell a good idea is a house on wheels better than on the ground and what works better for you deciding on the overall size, deciding on whether you should use custom plans or pre made plans, different types of trailers and more. Then in part two, we get into the systems, so heat, water showers, hot water, toilets, electrical refrigeration, ventilation, and we're only two thirds of the way through the bug at this point. From systems we go into construction decisions, talking about nails versus screws, SIPs versus stick framed versus advanced framing versus metal framing, we talked about how to construct a sub floor sheathing, roofing materials, insulation, windows flooring kitchen, I know I'm just reading off the table of contents. But I just want to give you a sense of how comprehensive Tiny House Decisions is. It's a total of 170 pages. It contains tons of full color drawings, diagrams and resources. And it really is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions, using the coupon code tiny, when you head over to That's THD for Tiny House Decisions. Again, that's coupon code tiny when you check out at

So in the house that I grew up in, which was an old carriage house that was converted into a residence was really was really cool house. We sometime around when I was maybe 12 or 13. We took the kitchen table out of the kitchen and replaced it with a couch. Because right dinner was always eaten at the counter anyway. Yeah. And it just made hanging out in the kitchen so much easier, which is what we all did anyway. Right? And you dedicate a lot you dedicate a good amount of space in the book to talking about, you know, kitchens. Yes. And I'm curious. Why do people? Why is it that everybody likes to hang out in the kitchen, because the same thing happens. Basically everywhere. Everybody just goes to the kitchen and hangs

Sarah Susanka 28:16

out there? Yeah, but it used not to be this way. That's the interesting part. It because there's, if you look back at the history of basically domestic design, yeah, it used to be that a kitchen was a really messy, smelly place. And almost thought of in the same way that one might think of a bathroom. This seems impossible to us, okay, dinner today, but that was the mentality. A lot of the summer kitchens were actually outside because of that fact. So now with the when when the cooktop codes were were developed, and suddenly we were able to extract the smelly stuff, then it became part of a living environment. I grew up in England, where at the time that I left in the 1970s, which dates me there was there was not a lot of open kitchen plan. And then I moved to California, where everywhere was open. So that was a real discovery for me that you could have an open plan and a kitchen that was open to living space. And then I started to notice how valuable that was because people could have multiple activities happening in the same place. Mom or Dad, whoever is cooking is not excluded from the family gathering. And I think the reason the kitchen became such a focus is because we're social creatures, and we spend a lot of time cooking and preparing food and so that became the natural home for a lot of that family activity. There's another thing that happens in parties Incidentally, which is that when we're standing up We want to lean on something. counters are perfect leaning place.

Ethan Waldman 30:05

There's no place to put your elbow.

Sarah Susanka 30:07

That's why when you've got a small house, and everybody is packed into the kitchen, it's because they've got a place to lean place to put their drink a place. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it feels sort of cozy. Yeah. Yeah, it was kind of naturally forced together. And that feels good. Absolutely. Well,

Ethan Waldman 30:27

I was curious, you know, I feel like, you know, just acknowledging that your kitchen is a social hub and saying, We don't need at this table Anyway, let's put a couch in it is almost like I wrote down, Not So Big House hacks, like how can you without having to renovate or build a new home? Do you have any other other examples of things that people do to kind of retrofit their existing spaces?

Sarah Susanka 30:57

Yeah, there's, there's a lot of little things in there. Some of them are really obvious, but most people don't think about, okay, so I'm going to just say a couple of them these, when we have a room, that's called dining room, we assume you're supposed to dine in it. But most people in this country no longer use the dining rooms for dining. So back, when I wrote the note, two big life, we used to get gobs and gobs of mail through us mail because we weren't getting email at the time. And so tables became the repositories of all of that mail. Nowadays, it's just the piles of stuff that that are accumulated over the course of our everyday living, but it's still not really a dining. So just taking the word dining off it and see extra room extra, really simple, and then you can start thinking about it differently. Same thing with formal living room, if you've got a family room, then that living room can become an art studio, or an in home office or a playroom for the kids or music space. You know, you It takes your lid off your imagination that allows you to start thinking about it

Ethan Waldman 32:15

differently. Music Room,

Sarah Susanka 32:16

that's that's for me. Yeah, yeah, that's right.

Ethan Waldman 32:20

I love those suggestions. Yeah.

Sarah Susanka 32:22

And there's one other related to the spare room, you know, an extra bedroom. Yeah, that room, if you've got one. And I realized with tiny houses probably isn't an issue, but you probably have some listeners for sure. At room sits either empty or full of boxes, because it's a place where you can store the things you don't have room for. If you make that room do double duty as an in home office. It's, it's then used all the time rather than very occasional. Yeah. So there's a bunch of things like that be an extra could be a TV room, I call this an away room, place that you can go and be away from the rest of the family if you want to for a quiet phone call or to watch TV or listen to music or you know something where you're out of the way.

Ethan Waldman 33:14

Yeah, and, and I love that concept of the away room. And I've seen, I've seen it done in in tiny houses, either with kind of a second loft that's at the other end of the right, the tiny house that just has like beanbag chairs, or just comfortable seating and a place to read a book or play the guitar.

Sarah Susanka 33:35

Right. Right. And when you have a small space, it doesn't make it less desirable, you know, that you have you almost need it more that I call it a place of your own a place to go and be by yourself sometimes. That's hard, the smaller the house.

Ethan Waldman 33:53

Yes. Fabulous. And then I but I've always thought, you know, okay, if I was going to make a go of living in my tiny house full time with with my wife, who doesn't work from home? Yeah, I would still I think I would probably build a shed and create an office, you know, essentially an even tinier smaller space. That is just a place that I can go to

Sarah Susanka 34:22

work. That's right. That's right. Absolutely. In fact, I know several people who have tiny houses that are serving that function. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ethan Waldman 34:32

It can be nice to separate your work if you do work from home to have that be able to be isolated from the rest of your house because for me, I, you know, it's too tempting to check email again in the evening or to just hop onto the computer.

Sarah Susanka 34:52

An awful lot of this says psychologic if we don't know that we're going to work then our home life and our world. Life meld to such a degree that we don't there's no distinction. And then if you're workaholic, for example, you never are off work. And I think a lot of people today have that struggle just because we've got devices that are on 24. Seven, and our emails being delivered 24 seven, and so we don't have a way of creating boundaries. So we, we have to kind of do that without physical space. So that it's clear. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 35:27

Well, there are some other "Not So Big" principles that that you talked about in the book, and I was hoping we could kind of cover a few of them. Yeah, we've talked about the away room, which was great, because that was the first one I wrote down. Right. The other one, and maybe similar. Related is is pojo. Place of your own.

Sarah Susanka 35:47

Yeah, right? That's right. Yeah, it's, so it's actually worth mentioning the distinction, okay, in a in a tiny house, they probably would be the same space. But in a slightly larger house, the away room is the spot where you can go and do something like the one, the example I often have is, you know, if kids are playing some sort of noisy game, they can go to the away room, you can close the doors, they're still close enough that you can monitor what's going on. But they are not interrupting everything else. So and so that's one function of the way. Another one is, you can go to watch television, while other stuff is happening in another room. So you might have two TVs, you might have one in the in the living room or family room, one in the away room, but it gives you the option of being one place or the other without both having to be doing the same thing. It's basically a spot with acoustical privacy. Got it? That's what it's really doing. But it's not taking you so far away, that you feel isolated. Yes, that's the away room. The place of your own pee Oh, why oh, that's for you is, is really a spot to go and be by yourself. There are a lot of introverts in this world. And this was really where this idea came from, by being one of them. But once you're married, suddenly everything is going property, and there's no place to just go. You know, a lot of guys still go to that garages. The old sewing room really doesn't happen anymore in the world of the female world. And so we need something our roles have sort of melded together, but we still have this human need for some privacy. Yeah. And so it can be very small. It doesn't need to be a big space at all. But just a place where you can go paint, go meditate, read, journal, listen to music, whatever your particular love is. But that is an enormous benefit. It's almost as valuable as for people that are nature lovers going for a walk, because it gives you that sense of recharge regeneration.

Ethan Waldman 38:10

Yeah, and both of these things, it just makes so much more sense when you're if you're designing a house from scratch, rather than saying, okay, where's the dining room? Where's the living room? Yes? Doesn't it just like these are so much more useful?

Sarah Susanka 38:24

That's right. One way you can design actually, is to drop every room name. And instead, make a list of activities. And then design your house based on the places for activities, and that will shift so much. Yeah, yeah. Totally. Yeah. Another

Ethan Waldman 38:49

principle. And you've already you touched on this a little bit talking about that third dimension, but is his ceiling height variety?

Sarah Susanka 38:57

Yes, yeah, this is really important. It's that, you know, when we look at a floor plan, we assume we're going to know what that house is going to feel like. But in fact, the information that tells you how it's going to feel isn't on the floor plan. The floor plan is like a map of a city. It shows you how to get your feet from place to place and it shows you whether your couch will fit. But it tells you nothing about the heights of things. And if you just walk through some of your favorite buildings, and be a house real library, look at pictures online, you'll see that there's another dimension that's really affecting your experience of the space. And that has to do with height. So for example, when you have a kitchen table, if you've got a load ceiling over that kitchen table, it's going I call this shelter around activity. It's literally it's a shelter, from which you can look out at the rest of the world. So it's it's, it's that word that I used earlier, you feel in a cozy sort of nest like space, but not constricted, because your view is to an adjacent larger space. And it's the, it's the contrast between the ceiling heights, though allows that to really work, right? In a tiny house, this can be even more important, because you can make less square footage feel like much more by changing ceiling height, this is completely paradoxical, we would think, my goodness, if you're taking cubic footage out by dropping a ceiling isn't going to feel smaller. It doesn't it feels the opposite. Because you're then reading multiple rooms, essentially, because the ceiling height changes. Yep. So it's very clever.

Ethan Waldman 40:48

Absolutely. And that's, that's something that I love in my tiny house that even though there's a sleeping loft at one end, when you walk in the front door, you are underneath a very shallow loft that has some books and a plant and other like a blanket up there. But it gives you the sense of opening, you know, first from this smaller space into the great room.

Sarah Susanka 41:15

Exactly. That's right. You know, we're very fortunate in this country. And we have a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that are open to the public. He loved playing with ceiling height. So if you want to ever have a just test test drive a house with a lot of ceiling height variety, go visit one and you'll see what I mean. Well,

Ethan Waldman 41:35

another one that that I think could be related to these different spaces, and also probably useful in a tiny house is the concept of of implied walls.

Sarah Susanka 41:46

Yeah, that's right, absolutely. So let's just talk about what that means first, and then I'll give you an example. So when, when you're in a small space, and you want to still have a little bit of privacy, you can be visual privacy or acoustical privacy, we normally think of a solid wall. But a solid wall then makes everything feel a lot smaller, because you've suddenly divided the space into two or three pieces. So when when space is already small, if you create an implied wall that can be with a lattice, where you can see through it, it can be with bookshelves that are open on both sides. It can even be a Venetian blinds that you bring down from the ceiling, and you can open it or close it, we think of them as for Windows, but you can make a beautiful room divider just using a Venetian blind that is an implied wall. It's telling you I there's something here that divides this from that, but it's permeable so that you have the choice of it in the in the Venetian blind example it's all the way up and it's not there at all or it's down but it's open then you can see through or it's closed and then you have visual separation obviously not acoustical in that case but it's it's a way of giving a sense of more space because you've got multiple functions with their own definition nice

Ethan Waldman 43:18

why there are so many principles i'd love I don't I don't think we have time to go through them all but there there's one that is a staple of the tiny house world which is his double duty.

Sarah Susanka 43:28

Yes, absolutely. We have to do double duty yes with any time you've got a smaller area if you can make one thing do two things or three things it's going to be a more useful space and so just like I was talking about a little bit ago with the In Home Office comm guest bedroom there are millions of ways we can do this and there's some incredible inventions of furniture that transforms into a from coffee table to you know the end of a bed that folds down and the bed folds on top of it etc just wonderful stuff.

Ethan Waldman 44:06

Yeah, there's a lot of really cool transforming furniture and there was there was a time kind of early early in the tiny house movement where it seemed like everyone it was like not a tiny house unless you had it was called the IKEA nawbo table. It was just a very simple birch drop with that you mounted to the wall and it's just can be

Sarah Susanka 44:30

up or down. Yes, that's right. Exactly.

Ethan Waldman 44:34

And I yeah, I was planning to build one myself and then I like it was obviously at the end of the project. And the IKEA one is like so inexpensive and works exactly the way that it needs to and I like I'm just gonna Yeah, exactly.

Sarah Susanka 44:51

Yeah, that's right. And you know, I think one of the things about small spaces is that it really encourages invention. And you know, you've seen some of these amazing little apartments in places like Hong Kong, where they're just, yes, they've used everything so cleverly,

Ethan Waldman 45:11

it's a cabinet makers dream or nightmare.

Sarah Susanka 45:14

Absolutely. You got

Ethan Waldman 45:18

one more that I think that speaks to maybe why tiny spaces feel good? Which is the the sense of shelter?

Sarah Susanka 45:30

Absolutely, that we, you know, one of the things that's really at the root of all of my books, and these design principles that we're talking about right now, is that our human bodies were developed in caveman days, where we needed to feel a sense of safety and security in our environments. And so we tend to pick things that make us feel secure. Yeah. And a smaller space. Although, in our present day world, a lot of people would say, Well, I don't want to be confined, when you actually try it, when you actually live in that cozier, smaller space. There's something incredibly satisfying to that part of us that's, that knows that it's not always a friendly world. And so that, that is what I think the tiny house movement has really touched into. And for those of us that have tried it, we know that it works. Yeah, I feel really, really good and protected. Yeah, absolutely. And I'm,

Ethan Waldman 46:30

I'm always struck by how much kids love my tiny house, like, absolutely leave the loft, because it's like, they get to climb up a ladder and then be in this room. That is like, they can't even stand up in. But it's just this like,

Sarah Susanka 46:52

that's right. I often say you know, if you want to find out what's most interesting space in your house, release a five year old for five minutes, they will be in it. I like that.

Ethan Waldman 47:06

Release the five year olds.

Sarah Susanka 47:11

Yeah, I mean, children have an innate understanding of what it is that really we're talking about here. Yeah, it's just we still have that programming. Yeah, we just as adults, forget, like a little disconnected from it. Yeah. Well, you,

Ethan Waldman 47:28

as you've mentioned, "Not So Big" has has become a concept that has gone beyond just houses. Right. And another one of your books is is "Not So Big" life.

Sarah Susanka 47:42

That's right, which That's right, is

Ethan Waldman 47:46

ironically, many people who are thinking about living in a tiny house, probably that one should really come first before the Not So Big House.

Sarah Susanka 47:55

Yeah, I mean, it's it takes things to a whole different level, I wrote the "Not So Big" life, after, let's see what it would have been nine years after the Not So Big House for first came out. But what I say in the "Not So Big" life is I couldn't have started writing these books, if it hadn't been for starting to pay attention to my own patterns of living. And so the"Not So Big" life is really a way of looking at how to remodel your life. To make room for what really matters, where the house design books were all about how to make room for what really matters, right? But it's a completely different view. except we're looking at the process of that we do with construction or with remodeling. But look at how do we do this with our own lives? And it's, there's a lot there. And I have a feeling that a lot of people who are attracted to the tiny house would probably find that lots of big life really valuable.

Ethan Waldman 48:55

Yeah, certainly. And that because that is a big challenge for for everyone, even if they're completely sold on living in 200 square feet. That is, you know, it is difficult to get rid of your stuff and to let go of certain. Yeah, things that you own that in your mind, you say I need this in case I'm going to do that

Sarah Susanka 49:20

after the habit. That's right. Right. But one of the things that I talked about in the "Not So Big" life, at least in my point towards this is that this is all in a in a way a game. We can do. We can play. We can try something. Yeah, that's what I was saying, you know, tries pry a tiny house for a year. Allow yourself to play because you learn things that you couldn't possibly know until you try it. And so really a lot about a lot of the nuts a big life is having you let go of the things that you believe to be true or say absolutely. I have to have just tried try playing and you will find that things are much much more flexible than you've ever conceived.

Ethan Waldman 50:09

Yeah it's it's beautiful It's kind of like getting curious in Not So Big House you talked about getting curious about spaces and carrying a tape measure even in measuring them Yes. Right and then it's almost like doing the same thing but just in your own life

Sarah Susanka 50:26

your life that's right it's exactly what it is and it'll give you that book if you really engage it will take you on quite a journey. Cool

Ethan Waldman 50:35

Are you Are there any new "Not So Big" books in the works right now?

Sarah Susanka 50:41

You know, I haven't been writing any recently but I do a lot of workshops these days on the not too big life material. Nice. And so that's where my my a lot of my writing happens in blogs and things like that these days. Right there will be more but I don't know if they'll have "Not So Big" in the tight Okay.

Ethan Waldman 51:01

Okay. Well one thing that I like to ask all my guests is, are there any books or other resources that that have inspired you lately that you'd like to share with with the listeners?

Sarah Susanka 51:16

Oh, boy, let's think um I'll tell you this isn't so much recently but for people who are interested in tiny houses, I would encourage you to take a look at a not very well known author but his name is Azby Brown. He's lived in Japan for he's American but he's lived in Japan for a lot of his life. And he has a couple of books on small spaces and they are spectacular in helping you to think through how to use less space and make it feel like more so he's really been he's learned so much from the Japanese and their use of space in very clever ways and doing double duty Yeah, and they're beautiful books and for those that are really hard for about you know, just the sustainability of the whole picture he's also got a book called Just Enough which is actually about a his period in Japanese history where they had to make do with almost nothing and the abundance that came out of that process is what the book in parts it's one of my favorite books of all time. Wow,

Ethan Waldman 52:28

that's a that's a strong recommendation. I will check that out.

Sarah Susanka 52:31

Yeah, yeah. And most people don't know they exist I I'm the only person I've ever heard talk about.

Ethan Waldman 52:37

Well, now a few more people hopefully will.

Sarah Susanka 52:42


Ethan Waldman 52:43

Sarah Susanka. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.

Sarah Susanka 52:48

Absolutely. And if any your guests are interested, for finding architects, we have a home professionals directory on my website, And lots and lots of resources that will help people to make their own houses not too big. Or even tiny.

Ethan Waldman 53:05

Wonderful. Okay, thank you. That's that's great to know. And after, after this interview ends, people will hear me say where they can go and I will post links to your website, your books. Anything else that you send me will be on the show notes page for people to kind of get all in one place.

Sarah Susanka 53:23

Fantastic. That's wonderful. Thank you very much.

Ethan Waldman 53:27

Thank you so much to Sarah Susanka for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes from today's episode, including a complete transcript and links to all of Sarah Susanka has wonderful books at Again, that's that Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman. And I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.

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