The Right Size House

After many meetings, Parie came up with a modern design that fits my lifestyle, taste and budget. I didn’t want to build a monstrous three-story home. I really like the idea in Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House , which my friend Bruce gave me. Susanka began with “So many houses, so big with so little soul” to emphasize that it is the quality of the space, not quantity that defines comfort. Susanka also advocates having rooms serving double duties. How many of us have been to houses where there are formal rooms that are not used at all? Having grown up in a 200 square feet government flat in Hong Kong I understand the theory behind The Not So Big House. My father built in our flat a U-shape sitting area that had four storage compartments. It was an entertainment area where we listened to the radio or watched TV. With a portable table top and a pedestal we converted it into a dining area where ate meals and did homework. At night, planks with beddings fitted across the seats and it became my brother’s bed. I know most Americans cannot relate because we have the means to have more and live better…but is it better to have more?

In 1950 US the average size of a singe family home is 983 square feet. It was the norm to have one bathroom and children share rooms. The houses nowadays have more than double or triple in size. My friend Maggie’s house in Atlanta had seven-bedrooms which she shared with her daughter and sister. Maggie’s bedroom alone was the size of a small apartment in Manhattan, complete with TV, a large sofa-chair, walk-in closet and a spa-like bathroom. NO, there was no kitchen. At night she enjoyed sitting in her room, relaxed in her chair and watched TV. Her sister did the same…in her own room.

When I first arrived in Seattle in 2005, after living overseas for four years, I had a list of must have’s on my house-hunting list. The list dwindled because it was the height of the market and because I had too much stuff. I had things in storage in DC where I last lived in the states. I had a container full of goods being shipped from Hong Kong where I last worked. The realtor showed me places I liked but I could not commit because what I could afford would not hold everything I owned. I was trapped with all the stuff! I am hoping the new house, besides being energy efficient, will inspire me to live efficiently, not be surrounded with so many things that has no meaning in my life.

Rendering of the house.

Final drawing of the house!

Parie’s design is an open floor plan with rooms I would use daily. I wanted solar panels on the roof so she increased the height on the south side to allow more sun exposure. The final drawing is a non-intersecting shed roof with clerestory windows. A modern design that is light filled and airy; a house that has the same foot print as the existing house but reconfigured; a house that is just the right size.

Ted and his crew began work on November 12. Historically, November has been the wettest month for Seattle. True to the NW climate, it rained heavily for days. When all the interior walls were removed I was pleasantly surprised to find how spacious the house became.

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

Ted and Parie had decided that removing three walls and using Structural Insulated panels (SIPs) would save money and time.

The panels have a core of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two oriented strand boards (OSB).

SIPs with 4-inch foam core sandwiched between OSBs.

SIPs with 4-inch foam core sandwiched between OSBs.

Supposedly it is one of the most environmentally responsible building systems available that also provides a super strong and tight envelope. The envelope is the key in an energy efficient home.

Ted gave me “homeoworks” each night to get rid of stuff – carpet, stove, windows, showers. All the stuff Second Use or Habitat would not take. Craigslist became a nightly ritual. I learned the joy of giving away things to people who truly needed them. I also learned that there are professional Craigslisters…

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