Not So Big Remodeling: How to Achieve Big Results on a Small Remodeling Budget

These simple but clever ideas can help transform your ho-hum residence into a place of delight.

| May/June 2009

  • Excerpted with permission from Not So Big Remodeling by Sarah Susanka
    Photo Courtesy Taunton Press
  • AFTER: Lowering the ceiling height inside the door and adding human-scaled detail creates a more welcoming entry and helps differentiate it from the main living spaces.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • BEFORE: An entry that's too tall can feel intimidating.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • AFETR: These homeowners refinished the original wood floors with nontoxic materials and painted the walls and ceiling with white, low-VOC paint to reflect more natural light.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • BEFORE: Paint would liven up this dull space.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • AFETR: Vivid colors and new columns brightened up this space.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • BEFORE: Greening this little house also provided an opportunity to improve its looks. What appears to be wood siding is actually 4-by-8-foot fiber-cement panels with caulked joints concealed by battens made from wood fiber and recycled plastic.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • AFTER: The view from the front entry foyer to the backyard was enhanced with fresh paint and a darker floor tile, which lends visual weight. Lowering the hall ceiling to 7 feet created a transition area between the foyer and kitchen.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke
  • BEFORE: Lowering the hall ceiling is the first step in a Not So Big Remodel.
    Photography By Randy O'Rourke

I’ve spent the last 10 years traveling the country, describing to eager audiences the attributes and benefits of a Not So Big House—one that’s about a third smaller than you thought you needed but that’s filled with the personalized details that give it that feeling of “home.” Not So Big emphasizes quality over quantity and is designed to fit the way we really live. Everywhere I go, people sit in rapt attention as they come to the startlingly simple realization that a house doesn’t have to be bigger to be better.

After my presentation, I’m often asked questions like, “What if we don’t want to build new or do a big transformation?” and “What can we do if we only have a small budget?” The Not So Big philosophy applies well to remodeling and can help achieve big results on a small budget.

The basics

There are three options for remodeling your home in a Not So Big way.

1. Work within the existing footprint. When people think about remodeling, they often begin in the wrong place. They immediately assume they have to add on and that it will cost more than they can afford. But there are literally thousands of small alterations you can make to your house or apartment as it is, without having to change the original footprint. Removing or opening up a wall, adding storage, or rearranging the way you move through a room can solve all sorts of spatial problems without resorting to added square footage.

2. Bump-out. If you’ve considered every possible change within the existing structure and can’t accommodate your needs, consider a bump-out or two. Any time you alter your home’s exterior envelope, you’re likely looking at a bigger investment of remodeling dollars. This is because the exterior surface is the weather barrier—the home’s raincoat—and it consists of an intricate combination of components that usually make it significantly more challenging to remodel than an interior space. But extending a space just a couple of feet can make a big difference to a room’s utility and aesthetics, so it is important to understand where a minimal modification to the existing footprint is worthwhile.

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