In the mid-1990s, when I’d been working as a residential architect for more than a decade, I had an epiphany one day while driving though the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa. I had started noticing that new houses were getting extremely large, and decidedly unattractive. For miles and miles, all I could see were these “starter castles” marching across the prairies, looking self-important and soulless. At that point, I was spending most of my time designing homes that were better, not bigger; homes that fit the way my clients really lived, rather than a formal lifestyle that few people ever lived anymore.
As I drove past bland house after bland house, I realized that most homeowners did not know there was another option. They were only being shown the giant columns, windowless walls, and cathedral ceilings. If they only had access to the design principles that I used every day, we’d start seeing fewer McMansions and more high-quality homes with character, perfectly suited to the lives of their inhabitants.
The inspiration for what became a best-selling book series was born that day, and in 1998, the first in that series—The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live—was published, to almost immediate acclaim. Within a few months of its release, I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which catapulted me out of my architectural practice and into the life of a celebrated writer and public speaker.
To this day, The Not So Big House is still one of the best-selling residential architecture books of all time. Written for a lay audience, it and the books that followed have helped millions of homeowners tailor their homes to fit them to a tee.
There are eight books in the series, and on the Not So Big House page of this website, you’ll find information about the principles included in the books, along with the resources needed to make your own home “Not So Big.”
But this book series could not have been written if I hadn’t also been simultaneously remodeling my own life. Beginning in 1991, I became deeply interested in my own inner journey. I wanted to understand how I was wired, and why it was that I was persistently too busy—a pattern that caused me a lot of suffering. By working with a series of teachers in the art of living more consciously, I came to see that so much of my busyness was a subconscious avoidance of what I really wanted to be doing—namely, writing!
I had always loved writing, but once I graduated from college, I had seldom made the time for it. My life was so jam-packed with obligations that I felt almost suffocated. Without some intentional shifting of priorities on my part, I realized that this would be how things would continue to the end of my days. I decided to build into my week some time to write, and scheduled myself into my own calendar as I would a meeting with a client.
So began my Tuesday and Thursday morning meetings with myself and with my computer, and not long after that, The Not So Big House was published, and the others in the series followed in short order.
With the writing of my books came the desire to give homeowners and professionals an opportunity to experience firsthand the Not So Big principles they were reading about, and in 2004, I was able to make this dream come true with the first of my showhouses—the Home By Design Showhouse in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This was followed in 2005 with the Orlando Not So Big Showhouse, and in 2011, with the Libertyville Not So Big Showhouse north of Chicago. Thousands of visitors were able to tour these showhouses before they were sold to private owners. Today, you can tour them by way of the pictures on the Not So Big Showhouses page.
After I had written several books in The Not So Big House series, a new book was borne out of a desire to share the process that allowed me to remodel my own life; The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters was released in 2007. Through the metaphor of remodeling a house, it describes how each one of us can remodel our lives by clearing away the obstacles to following our bliss. You’ll find much more about this subject on the Not So Big Life page of this website, including resources to help you begin to live your own life this way. There’s a lot to this work, so if you are interested, take some time on this site to explore it for yourself.
The Not So Big House changed many lives, and today, The Not So Big Life is doing the same. I now teach The Not So Big Life principles via regular workshops and one-on-one sessions with students, and I also continue to give public presentations on both House and Life topics.
I also still occasionally design houses for private clients, when my schedule allows. When I do, my clients agree to make their plans available for sale, so that others can build their version of the design. Although selling plans is still uncommon in the architectural profession, it is something I strongly believe in. It never made sense to me that architects pour so much energy into the design of a single house, only to have that design be put away forever afterward, unavailable to a larger audience.
So, on the Not So Big House Plans page of this site, you’ll find not only plans designed by me, but also plans by other architects whose work is of particularly high quality, and is in line with the Not So Big principles.
So that’s what this site is all about. From house design to life design, you’ll learn that Home is an internal state of being, and that whether we are designing our outer worlds, or we are remodeling our inner worlds, there is always a way to find peace and beauty, no matter the state of the rest of the universe. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the site, and that you’ll share some of your own Not So Big experiences on my Facebook page.
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