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By Shay Solomon.
(The Lyons Press. 265 pages, $19.95)

A good indication of the robust nature of the ecological building movement is the huge number of books it is putting out. In less than 20 years, a thin collection of booklets and technical bulletins has grown to a whole section in the local bookstore. As one might expect of a movement getting started in our culture, these books have focused on (1) how it’s done, and then (2) how attractive the completed buildings are. The level of popular interest is great news to us all. But I have been eager for the next level in our work, in which we don’t simply decry the aspects of our culture that inhibit sane and healthy building, but address them directly. This is far more challenging work, as one is no longer preaching to the choir; but out on the sidewalk, trying to be heard against the tremendous hustle of popular culture.

Shay Solomon is addressing the cultural precept that a bigger house is better. But she goes far beyond the notion of “Not So Big” and makes the case for living in radically downsized spaces, about the size of our garages. She recognizes that in making such a conceptual shift, the pressing need is not for rational arguments, nor design tricks, but for reassurance. The reader needs reassurance that bucking the norm so dramatically will give them not less, but more of the life they are after.

The feeling while reading the book is not of listening to a brilliant set of arguments in favor of small houses (although she gives lots of them), nor of being taken on a whirlwind tour of small houses (although there are dozens of house descriptions, with plans and other useful details). Instead, the book has the quality of a conversation with a friend at the kitchen table, discussing options, describing novel alternatives, showcasing ordinary people who happily live small, and encouraging, simply and earnestly, “You can do this, too.”

This is mostly a cultural challenge, after all, so the most significant changes take place between your ears. The focus is on how this change works for people. Less house, more options. Less stress, more life.
Reviewed by Bob Theis