“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

― E.F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

Guest house entry

This post is a bit of construction advisory and a personal witness, rolled into one.

Here I affirm:

  • less is more

  • to live simply (so that others can simply live)

  • small is beautiful 

                                                                                                                                                     Whatever happened to the expression “welcome to my humble abode?”

    As a professional carpenter with a background in energy efficiency, recently I heard about a retiring couple building a 5000 square foot home. That’s a sizable structure  – expensive to heat or cool, let alone build and maintain. And especially for two people! A price tag of a million dollars was bandied about.

    In the past few decades mega-houses have become more the norm, and not just for the Hollywood crowd. To quote Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn – “The trouble with normal it always get worse.”

    Gamble House - Pasadena California

    An example from a century ago is the Gamble House in Pasadena, California. At 8,200 square feet this residence is an outstanding (albeit colossal) example of American Arts and Crafts style architecture. Designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company, it has a stunning and intricate interior.

    In 1973 the economist E.F. Schumacher wrote: “What I wish to emphasize is the duality of the human requirement when it comes to the question of size: there is no single answer. For his (or her) different purposes, (hu)man(s) need many different structures, both small ones and large ones . . . Today, we we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of gigantism. It is therefore necessary to insist on the virtue of smallness, where this applies.” (pg. 54 Small is Beautiful)

    Well used books

       Architect Frank Lloyd Wright stated in 1954: “Simplicity – with a capital “S” – is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms, in simple times or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple, a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.” (pg. 188 A Natural House)                                                                                                                                              Thankfully, in many urban centers and rural countryside’s throughout the world, the alternative vision to bigger is better is being humbly and whole heartedly embraced.            Here is a North American segment of that story:

  • Guest house beach facade


    Recently I replaced a deteriorating window of a clients bathroom . . .


    Bathroom window replacement   Window replacement

    Window replacement 2



    Main dwelling



    The couples beach home is 1000 square feet. Frequently entertaining out of town guests, they had difficulty accommodating them. 6 years ago they approached me to build a guest cabin.








    Cross Section A-A Guest Cabin





    They suggested an intimate size of 16’ x 20’. I advised that this was too small and recommended a minimum of 16’ x24’







    Plan View of Guest Cabin

    After my clients joked that guests would overstay their visit if they became too comfortable, we came up with a workable compromise:

    16’ x 22’on the main floor, a cozy sleep loft that includes two additional beds and a 6’ x16’covered deck .












    At 352 square feet, the final price was about $70,000 or about $200 per square foot.


    Guest Cabin Costing






















    It would have cost less if not for the tiled Mexican shower . . .

    Guest cabin tiled shower   


    I laid in the concrete base and the glass block, and did all other construction work except for electrical. The tiling was contracted out.


    Main floor framing


    Construction phase

     Notice my truck loaded with evergreen tree limbs, pruned off to allow more daylight into the site.

    Guest cabin under construction







    Rough roads heading home

    Heading home after a hard day at the office . . . 

    “Examine each question in terms of what it ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.”  Aldo Leopold



    Guest cabin interior near completion 

    Part 2 of Small is Beautiful will feature the ocean views and finished interior details.



    Upper loft  ready for beds


    You’ll see how well designed small spaces can really work – with form, function & economy.

    Best regards – Bruce

    17 thoughts on “SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – Part 1

    1. Pingback: Inside: Small is Beautiful, the Guest Cabin – Part 2 | through the luminary lens

      • Your welcome Neil. I do enjoy the opportunity to share in such a manner. Even though I’m quite new to we-b-logs, I really am coming to believe it is a way people can contribute to creating a new story for the earth – one of sharing, compassion and love. I feel good to know about your suprsie and enjoyment. Thank you & keep up your good work , in the field of psychology and counselling.

    2. You do really great work!! People are lucky to have you working on projects for them, especially with your wise philosophy on architecture and life in general!

      • Thanks for the thumbs up, Tanya. And I appreciate your re cyling of this via a re-blog. Gee – it’s getting a little late, so I’d better hit the hay, as the old saying goes,

      • Look closely at the cross section to notice the shelving unit located between the bedroom and the kitchen. Better yet – the last photo on the left shows the interior, as I was completing the job. That is a custom built shelving unit about 4’6 tall x 5′ long x 2′ wide, with shelving on both sides. It holds quite a few books. To answer your question, the library is both the kitchen and the bedroom combined. In small spaces, you need to duplicate functions of rooms wherever possible. More about this was in my comment to Jeff, above.

    3. Well constructed post, like your cabin! Trouble is modern folk have become accustomed to having lots of space. My father was one of ten children plus Mum & Dad who lived in a single small Irish cottage – and that was pretty normal.

      • Yes – I myself was the youngest of 6 siblings and grew up in a small bungalow, though we moved into a storey and a half dwelling in my youth. In that house there were 4 boys in one bedroom and my 3 sisters in the other. In regards to the cabin I feature in this post, the owners and their guests are very happy with the end result. I’ll expand on it (lol) in Part 2. Thanks for your comment Roy.

      • Thanks Lisa. The owners and their visitors have really enjoyed it. I recently saw the guest book and it turns out they are finding it quite comfortable indeed. By the way – I hope your landscape job is going well. We had our first rain fall in a month last night – I hope in northwest Washington rain didn’t mess up your work.

        • How nice to go back to the site and see the guest book! Our project is going well and fortunately the rain hasn’t been a problem. We have had just enough to keep some of the dust down but not enough to cause any problems with the newly cleared soil. Thanks for asking.

    4. Interesting article. My wife is interested in micro houses, we both want to simplify. Ideally have more outside property than indoors. Great post and designs, Bruce.

      • Thanks Jeff. Glad that your wife is thinking of sustainable housing. Your idea of more outdoors than indoors is sound. A story and a half has a smaller footprint while adding 50 or 60% more floor space. Also a few well designed outside decks add inexpensive “outdoor rooms” making a small home feel way bigger than it actually is.

        Some couples work on downsizing as their children begin to leave home, but of course everyone needs to look at their own needs and requirements. Work with a realistic budget, avoid expensive finishes, design with zero wasted space. Rooms are best used in dual functions whenever possible. For example, my wife does all her writing and paperwork from the kitchen table.

        Use natural methods of heating and cooling whenver possible and only use energy star appliances and lighting. A good architect is important, but not all architects and designers are created equal 🙂 Enough for now – more in part 2.

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