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They have to admit, as shallow as it seems, they were first attracted to the house solely by its surface looks. A cute little vintage cottage in Ukiah, it had great curb appeal, sitting coyly behind its white picket fence.

Victoria Golden and Alfred White were both in their 50s and their kids were grown. They didn?t need a ton of space. But still, the 1,000-square-foot Victorian cottage didn?t live up to its potential inside.

That?s when Mark Parry stepped in. The Santa Rosa architect has long been involved in the ?Not So Big House? movement, ignited 11 years ago by Sarah Susanka, a British-born architect who was among the first to openly question the ?bigger is better? mindset overtaking America?s housing industry.

Parry, like Susanka, believes that small homes can be as or even more comfortable than large homes if they?re carefully designed to make the best use of space without sacrificing beauty.

Golden?s house is included in Susanka?s newest book, ?Not So Big Remodeling? (Taunton Press; 2009), which shows how to make do with the square footage you have ? resorting to minimal, if any, add-ons.

?All I wanted was a kitchen remodel. But he started describing things that we could do and it just opened our eyes to a whole new concept of this house ... I just wanted a little place and it ended up being my dream house,? Golden says.

Parry maximized thesquare footage by opening up the living room to the kitchen, moving the fireplace and creating a multipurpose entryway that doubles as a library with attractive shelving for Golden?s many books.

?What you want to do is tailor the house around the way you want to live. Think about how you can multitask and group uses and custom design spaces to meet your needs,? says Parry, whose clever innovations included making the den also serve as a guest bedroom thanks to a bump-out window that contains not a window seat but a double bed, freeing floor space.

Susanka said people have been asking her to apply her space efficiency philosophy to remodeling ever since she came out with ?The Not So Big House? in 1998.

?But to teach people what I know about how to remodel always seemed like a daunting task,? she said by phone from the vintage house in Raleigh, N.C., that she and her husband remodeled into a functional space in which both could maintain home offices.

?With a new house it?s a wide open canvas. You can brainstorm more. It?s a different mindset when you?re working with someone on an existing home.?

In addition to projects from other architects, Susanka wound up drawing on her own home to showcase strategies for making an existing home appear bigger, and to ?find space? within the existing footprint before adding on.

The timing is spot on, with a depressed economy, tightening credit and shrunken home equities prompting many people to stay put or downsize their dreams.

?Flow? is important when it comes to making a small home feel more spacious.

Parry says for the Ukiah cottage, he created multiple paths to the same location, creating an easier circulation through the house. He found misused space and re-appropriated it. For instance, the old layout had an outsize pantry and laundry room, with a dark, narrow kitchen. The old pantry became a new laundry room and the space that had been the utility room was annexed into the kitchen.

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The remodeled kitchen opens across an island, offering a diagonal view into the small living room. This is one of the tricks to creating the illusion of more space ? taking advantage of the longest views.

Susanka said people still cling to traditional home layouts and room designations even when they no longer fit their lifestyle or needs. For her own home, she wound up converting the formal living room and dining room into office space for her husband, who needed access for the occasional client.

To create a spacious office for herself, she punched out a wall and combined two bedrooms.

The existing family room was sufficient for their more communal living space. To make it more appealing, she removed ?frumpy old things? like fake beams and spray-textured ceiling and grass cloth wallpaper. She tore out dark paneling surrounding the hearth and assembled on both sides nice IKEA cabinets that matched the cabinets in the kitchen, a trick that helps unify the two spaces.

Seemingly small improvements can also make a huge difference in how a space feels.

Susanka shows how she transformed an ?ugly as sin? upstairs hallway, poorly lit and littered with mechanical and electrical necessities like the furnace return-air grill, the attic hatch and smoke detector.

She couldn?t very well jettison those things. So she came up with a new layout that wove them together ?in a composition that looked as though each placement was intentional.? She also added simple trim pieces and painted the ceiling sections between them to emphasize the new composition rather than what she calls ?the ceiling acne.?

In the bedroom, she created a dramatic, framed alcove for the bed to balance out a sloped ceiling that made the room seem off-kilter. It also created a focal point for the room.

Susanka is full of strategies, large and small, like putting a window at the end of a descending stairway to create a feeling of light and spaciousness.

?There is something about going down into darkness that is really a turnoff,? she said.

Mainly, she?s hoping more people will realize that the point of home improvement is ?not to knock the socks off our neighbors but make a nice place to live.?

More than a decade after ?The Not So Big House? ignited a national conversation about home architecture, Susanka said she thinks consciousness is finally starting to change, fueled in part by the green movement. But people are also realizing that more can really mean less.

When homeowners express concern to her about making their dollar stretch, she counsels them not to build rooms they don?t use.

?The common word now is ?right-sizing,? creating homes that are appropriate to what we really need,? she says. ?It?s not that I?m trying to shoehorn people into tiny houses. I?m just trying to get people to experience the quality and get the homes they long for, by using their money most effectively.?

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.</em>

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