I have built and restored many houses. At my age, I expect this present house to be my last project. It is an organic project with changes constantly occurring. I must say that this particular house reflects my personality more than any of my past homes.

I am blessed to have this particular property, which is really a gentleman’s farm. The land is so beautiful that I thought the house would take a secondary role to its surroundings. I bought back an older home that had been originally part of the farm, which allowed me to unite it with the original property lines of the farm.

This is where the story of the house gets interesting.

My wife assumed I had bought the house as an investment property. I, on the other hand, thought of this purchase as my final rehabilitation project. Where my wife saw fallen-down garage doors, I saw a timber-frame entry way with natural stone floors. I must admit that I bought the house quickly – sight unseen, actually, because it adjoined the farm property. So my wife, in her first walk through the house, had tears welling up in her eyes as she exclaimed, “I am not living here!”

Of course I was stunned by her response, not understanding why she could not see the beautiful home in my mind.

I pushed on through the sale and, months later, started on the remodeling of the house. I researched many books on style and architecture. Two things stood out to myself and my wife, who with great resistance agreed that it can’t be the typical suburban home, and we wanted to bring nature inside.

I read several books by Sarah Susanka. She wrote a wonderful book called The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live. Her concepts have changed the way many people build and design homes. The concept is simple – don’t build for others or curb appeal. Susanka stresses that the waste of space in big houses with enormous entryways, formal dining rooms and other spaces that owners never use are a waste of money. The money saved in conserving space can then be spent on a better quality of home.

Keeping with Susanka’s concepts, my wife and I thought of what we really wanted in a house, which includes having views of the outside with exposure to the south and into the woods; penning the house from one end to the other with limited hallways, creating a good flow for casual meetings, good conversation in groups and access to the kitchen; having a home office and study/TV room above the garage with and adjoining gym/yoga room; only two bedrooms with foldout furniture in both the gym and study area above the gym; and a large garage for vehicles and work space.

One of the first things we did was increase the windows and sliding doors on the south side of the house. We then opened almost the entire house on the first floor – living room, kitchen, library room and conservation nook are all central and open. There is also, on the north side of the house, a large screened-in porch that opens to all of the adjoining rooms. This allows us to entertain a large group in a relatively small space of about 1,800 square feet.

In short, we made the house a shelter from the weather but also an observatory for the surrounding beauty of the fields and woods. The house reflects our daily active lifestyle while, at the same time, giving us our secluded areas for solitude and meditation.

Even though the house is informal, it gives a feeling of elegance and a diverse reflection of our two personalities. Old and new blend together, telling a story of our journey through life.

My wife calls the house “Casa de Compromisos.” It’s true, many high-pitched discussions went into the remodeling of the house, but in the end, the house is us. All I know is when people come to our house, they feel at home and want to stay.

For more information on the “not-so-big house” concept, visit

Graham Hetrick

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