So Many Not So Big Books–
Which One Should You Buy?

Every year during the holiday season, I get emails from readers who are interested in purchasing one of my books for a friend or relative, but are not sure which one to pick. This year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to describe the differences, so you can decide for yourself.

If there are people on your gift list who are thinking about building or remodeling, or who are interested in architecture, or in residential design in particular, The Not So Big House series books are almost always a hit. The books teach the reader about basic design principles, and were written for the layman who wants to know more about how to make their home both more livable and comfortable. A number of my books are even used by architecture and design professors to help their students learn what makes people respond positively to the spaces they inhabit, so would be a good choice for the aspiring architect as well.


The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live

This is the first book in the series, which I wrote to introduce homeowners to a different way of thinking about the home of their dreams. I suggested that, rather than imagining that Bigger somehow makes a house Better, we instead look at how to make a house both beautiful and highly functional, with spaces designed to do double duty, and with every space in use every day.

This was the book that got me onto the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the one that really started the Not So Big Movement. It’s a great book to introduce someone to the whole concept, and is written to be quick and easy to read. (It wouldn’t have been that way without the adept assistance of Taunton Press editor Peter Chapman and freelance writer Kira Obolensky, both of whom taught me how to write a book, as I was definitely a novice when I began this journey.) I’ve been told by many readers that they couldn’t put it down once they’d started, and that the next day, they wanted to get to work implementing the things they’d learned.

Note: Peter Chapman has in fact worked on all but one of my Not So Big House books, and he’s been the editor for a large number of other house design books as well in his 30 years at The Taunton Press. If you are not familiar with Taunton by name, I encourage you to take a look. Their company’s mission is to provide excellent information to enthusiasts of a wide variety of crafts and disciplines, and many of their books would be excellent gifts for anyone interested in subjects from home improvement to cooking.


Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home

Creating the Not So Big Life BookThe second book in the series was written to give a number of examples of really well-designed Not So Big houses from architects around the country. Each chapter is dedicated to one house, explaining the design principles being used by the architect to make the house just right. (One chapter, entitled “A Cottage Community,” features the work of fellow architect Ross Chapin, whose book, Pocket Neighborhoods, also makes an excellent gift for someone interested in the subject of smaller homes and communities.)

Creating the NSBH is a highly accessible illustrated course in residential design, so is appealing to people who really love to read, and to those who would enjoy learning more about house design.



Home By Design: The Language of the Not So Big House

Home By Design BookThis book is the visual dictionary for the whole Not So Big House series. The original subtitle (“Transforming Your House Into Home”) didn’t include the words “Not So Big House,” which we quickly realized meant that readers didn’t recognize it as one of the Not So Big series, so the later editions have the subtitle above.

This is the book that is most commonly used as a design textbook in schools and universities, and is great for anyone who’s a frustrated architect at heart (meaning they didn’t become an architect but really wish they HAD—everybody knows one of these!).

Each Not So Big design principle is explained, and is accompanied by a series of applications of that principle. Home By Design is the kind of book that you can dip into, rather than read from start to finish. And for those who are familiar with the 1975 book, A Pattern Language, this book uses a similar approach by identifying the organizing principles underlying good design.


Inside the Not So Big House: Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life

Inside the Not So Big House BookIf you have anyone on your holiday shopping list who loves the small, built-in interior details and features that make a house into Home, this book should definitely be a strong contender for first place. The book illustrates what architects refer to as “details,” but I learned early on in the process of writing this book that the colloquial meaning of “details” has more to do with what you bring into a room after it’s done. This book is NOT about that kind of detailing.

This book is about the kinds of details that are built right in. If you were able to pick up the house and shake it, this stuff doesn’t come off! Any aspiring architects and interior designers will love this book. The quality and character of the homes represented are luscious, and make for a delightful coffee table book, quite apart from all that you can learn by reading it from cover to cover.

(Note that this was the first book I collaborated on with Marc Vassallo, who has gone on to write some wonderful books of his own.)


Outside the Not So Big House: Creating the Landscape of Home

Written collaboratively with Landscape Designer Julie Moir Messervy, this book is quite unique in terms of the house and landscape design genres. Something that has always bothered me is that when we design the landscaping around a house, we almost always forget to consider where it will be seen from—namely, from within the house.

This book helps homeowners to look at the design of their outside spaces by carefully considering not only how to make outdoor spaces that actually work, but also how to create beautiful views that can be enjoyed from inside the house, no matter the season. Anyone with a green thumb and/or a love of the garden will fall in love with this book, and in the process will learn a lot that they can apply within their own home. Julie has written several other books and I love all of them.


Not So Big Solutions for Your Home

For several years in the early 2000s, I wrote a column for Taunton Press’s Fine Homebuilding Magazine called “Drawing Board.” By popular demand, these articles were adapted into a book that’s chock full of valuable information about everything from site selection for a new home, to how to design a window seat.

This is definitely a book for readers, but it is also fascinating for people with a penchant for problem-solving. I’ve been told by a number of my fans that this book and its sequel (see below) are the best Not So Big bang for the buck. They really are a repository of much of what I learned while practicing residential architecture.




More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home

Where the first Solutions book contains the columns that appeared in Fine Homebuilding, this second in the Solutions series contains the columns I wrote for another Taunton publication, Inspired House (which sadly went out of publication in 2006). The book is a compendium of those articles, and is equally filled with information and design solutions to thorny issues that beset homeowners in their attempts to make their homes fit them better—things like what makes an open floor plan work, and how to squeeze in a half-bath, as well as more challenging issues like how to design for living with extended family. Again, this book is for readers who love problem-solving using clever design.

(A quick aside: I did all the illustrations—something I loved doing—for both Solutions books. When I was an English schoolgirl, I was known for illustrating all my assignments, although this was rarely, if ever, required. But to me, that’s what made doing homework fun. That practice came in very handy with these two books!)


Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live

This book contains a wealth of knowledge gained over the decades, as I worked with remodeling clients of all stripes to make their homes more livable. It’s another that I wrote in collaboration with Marc Vassallo, and is focused on how to remodel your existing home without adding more space than you actually need—a common mistake. When you know how to look at the space you already have, you may actually be able to redistribute to achieve your ends without adding on at all, or only adding just a little.

So, this book is perfect for any homeowner who wants to make good use of both their space and their budget to improve their home, making it a good bet for almost anyone on your holiday gift list. For those who love to be prepared before hiring a professional to help them, this book has everything they could wish for, but even if a remodeling is only a dream, the book is written to help you think through all the possibilities for making small changes that can have a big impact.


The Not So Big Life:  Making Room for What Really Matters

The Not So Big Life bookIn this year of turbulence and social distancing, you may also have people on your list who would appreciate a Not So Big book of a different stripe—one that helps them look at how to remodel their lives, rather than their houses.

I wrote this book to help anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and the ways in which they get stuck in patterns of behavior that, although useful when originally adopted (usually before they were five years old), tend to significantly inhibit one at a riper age! We all have these habitual patterns, and in the situations we’re presented with this year, a book that helps us look at some of these in a new way—a way that allows some respite from the thought loops that keep us stuck and frustrated, or worse—is just what’s needed.

The audience for this book ranges from early twenties to late nineties and everything in between. If the person you are shopping for is needing some inspiration for self-improvement and self-observation, look no further. You can read the Introduction to help give you a sense of the book’s context.  And to see a TED-X talk I gave on the subject a few years ago, click here.


More Book Recomendations

Do you and all your loved ones already have all the Not So Big books you need? If you’re looking for more gift ideas in the architecture and home design genre, be sure to visit my Not So Big House Recommended Readings page.

And if it’s a Not So Big Life fan you’re shopping for, you’ll find plenty of great ideas on the Not So Big Life Recommended Readings page.


Best wishes for happy holidays

If you haven’t already done so, I’d like to encourage you to explore my website. The home page gives a synopsis of the whole Not So Big movement, and the featured videos halfway down the page will give you an overview of my work with both House and Life, in case you are interested in learning more.

Most of all, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. Although the holidays during the pandemic are very different from any that most of us can remember, it is my hope that by sharing a little inspiration with each other, the next few months will be just a little bit brighter and more enjoyable.


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