St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Manageable mansion

Architect Sarah Susanka has created a $1-million home where the money is invested in details and sensible space, not in soaring ceilings and unused rooms.

Published August 6, 2005

[Photos courtesy of the Not So Big Showhouse
LIVING AREA The elevated hearth and built-in bookcases define the living area. A raised ceiling sets the space apart from the adjacent kitchen. The handmade tiles and mix of textures are examples of architect Sarah Susanka’s belief that homeowners should spend money on details that enrich the house, not on vast square footage.

EXTERIOR The metal roof and energy-efficient construction features mean the house costs little to heat and cool. Its bungalow styling blends with the neighborhood. The porch welcomes visitors and leads into a vestibule, a transition space where guests can drop umbrellas, coats and packages and prepare to enter the rest of the house. The house has three bedrooms, 21/2 baths and two offices in 2,660 square feet.
DINING ROOM Louvered panels between the dining room and the stairs open the room to light and air and provide a connection from one part of the house to another, so rooms don’t feel closed off and boxy. The trim line just above the windows, which Susanka calls a “headband,” with a darker color paint below, makes the ceiling appear higher than it is. That allows the room to retain its human dimensions, she says, while giving it a spacious feel.
NOOK/KITCHEN/LIVING The raised ceiling and the cherry accents in the prefinished maple floor set the living area and breakfast nook apart from the kitchen without the use of walls. The rooms overlook the garden, pool deck, breezeway and garage. There is no formal living room, which architect Sarah Susanka thinks is a little-used space.
SCREENED PORCH The screened porch provides a not-so-big yet comfortable outdoor room, which overlooks a garden and pool. A breezeway connects the house to the two-story garage, which includes a hurricane “safe room.”
BEDROOM The dropped octagon ceiling provides a sense of shelter and coziness for the bedroom. Light pouring in through the window seat alcove is focused and amplified to brighten the bedroom. The soffit reflects light from the small window by the bed.

Since 1998, architect Sarah Susanka has been winning admirers for her "not so big" theory of home design.

Forget about the echoey great rooms, two-story foyers and cold formal spaces we never use, she says. Rather than spend money on bigger, spend it on better: on space you can use, she says, on details and quality.

Susanka has spelled out her ideas in several bestselling books, including The Not So Big House and her latest, Home by Design: Transforming Your House into Home (Taunton Press, $35).

Now her ideas are on display in a show home near Orlando that is open to the public. The Craftsman-style home with a distinctive green metal roof has three bedrooms, 21/2 baths and two home offices.

"Every room - indeed, every square foot . . . has been designed as everyday living space," Susanka says on the show house's Web site, "and the money saved by reducing the volume of space has been invested instead in tailoring to fit its owners to a T: on beautiful design and craftsmanship, on healthy and resource-efficient materials, and on better building practices."

At 2,660 square feet of air-conditioned space, this not-so-big house is not so little. (Indeed, it exceeds the average size of a new home these days, which is 2,349 square feet.) There's another 1,757 square feet of space that isn't air-conditioned: screened porch, gazebo, breezeway.

At every turn are the hallmarks of Susanka's design theories about space, light and order:

A mudroom at the back of the house offers places to hang up coats, store shoes and backpacks, drop mail, newspapers and briefcases, charge cell phones, handle household paperwork.

Louvered shutters set into the interior walls of the dining room allow light and air to penetrate.

Her signature "away room" - a space away from the public gathering areas - is arranged here as a home office. Away rooms allow someone to engage in a quiet pursuit like reading while remaining within sight of the rest of the household, or to do something noisy, like listen to loud music, in an area where French doors make it acoustically separate.

Changing ceiling heights play selected areas up or down. In the master bedroom, a slightly dropped ceiling above the bed makes that a cozy, intimate area. In the dining room, horizontal trim around the base of the soffits, with darker wall color below, make the ceiling appear higher than it is.

Window seats, built-in storage, cubbies, bookcases, and cabinets abound.

Fine details are everywhere: inlaid wood floors, handmade tiles, handwoven upholstery fabrics, mahogany entry doors.

The house was built as a showcase home for the International Builders Show in January, and therefore is loaded with building products, fixtures and appliances donated by vendors and manufacturers. So you'll see high-style Kohler sinks, Velux skylights, Marvin windows, Zodiaq counter tops, Hunter Douglas window treatments and a DuPont storm room built into the garage.

Since Susanka is as interested in sustainability and energy-efficiency as in good design and effective use of space, the house is a showcase for building techniques as well. It was constructed with Structural Insulated Panels that provide a sky-high insulation value of R-24 and withstand winds of up to 195 mph. Also featured are solar hot-water heat; heat pumps with a SEER energy rating of 16 (the code minimum is 10); tankless hot water heaters; and electrochromic windows that automatically darken to keep out bright sun. The house is expected to cost $173 a year to cool and $14 a year to heat. The house, built by Bradford Building Corp. of Orlando, is for sale for $1-million and will remain open as a showcase home until it is sold.

Visiting the Not So Big Showhouse

What: The Not So Big Showhouse, designed by architect Sarah Susanka according to her principles of well-proportioned space, sustainability and energy-efficiency, is open daily.

Where: NorthLake Park at Lake Nona, a subdivision southeast of Orlando.

Directions: From Interstate 4, take Exit 72 (in the Disney/SeaWorld area) onto State Road 528, the Bee Line Expressway, traveling east toward Orlando International Airport. There are two 75-cent tolls. Pass the airport. Take Exit 11 and turn right onto Narcoosee Road/County Road 15S. Travel about 2 miles on Narcoosee and turn right onto Dowden Road. Take the first left onto Pine Lily Street. The house is just ahead at 9601 Pine Lily, at Sweetleaf Street. Park on the street.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. Monday.

Information: 407 852-1900;

[Last modified August 5, 2005, 19:59:29]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters