Architect presents new ideas

By Jessica Schuh

Sarah Susanka, architect and best-selling author, spoke about the architecture and design ideas she presents in her books including The Not So Big House and her new book, Home by Design: Transforming Your House into a Home.

“She is a nationally recognized architect on the design of small and meaningful spaces,” said Thomas Kamm, professor of architecture.

Susanka, who opened an architecture firm in Minneapolis in the early 1980s, said she realized there was a need for a different kind of architecture for her clientele. She also realized that architects need to connect with their clients better and speak with them in a way they could understand.

“We discovered that there were a lot of people out there who were dissatisfied with what was in the marketplace,” she said.

Susanka sees a problem with the kind of houses being built in most areas. She called them “starter castles,” which are usually much bigger than people need – a great deal of space inside the home is not used.

“Something’s amiss with the American home, and we need to rethink it,” she said.

One problem Susanka noticed about these large homes is that they have formal living rooms and dining rooms which are rarely or never used. She said home designs that include formal spaces are not designed to fit the way most people live today.

“Our firm started to build small, well-designed houses,” she said.

When Dani Rogers, president of the registered student organization Women in Architecture, learned about Susanka’s ideas of creating small homes of better quality before she attended the lecture, she said she thought the concepts sounded interesting.

“I think it’s a shame that they’re building these huge monstrosities of houses,” said Rogers, graduate student in FAA.

Susanka also stressed the importance of putting the rooms that families use most in the places with the best light and views. In many homes, the formal rooms – or “not living” rooms, as she jokingly referred to them – get the best location in the home.

“You can create spaces, if they’re well designed, that allow you to do both formal and informal activities in the same space,” she said.

She also said there are some rooms that are not in traditional homes but can add a lot to the design.

One idea was to design a family room with French doors that separate it from other rooms but allow for visibility. This can either block out the noise of TV or video games or create a quiet place set off from the rest of the house.

A mailroom is a necessity in many homes to sort mail, magazines and other papers that often pile up on dining room tables, Susanka said.

An office and a room that acts as “a space of your own” are other rooms that are a good addition to some home designs.

“It doesn’t take a lot of money to make these kind of spaces, and, really, they are designs needed in the American home,” she said.

Susanka said many people who are building new homes are told not to add things like decorations because they will not be able to take them along when they sell their home tiles or “different” design elements because they will hurt the resale value.

“It’s OK to make it your own,” she said.

In her new book, Home By Design: Transforming Your House into a Home, Susanka said she introduces parts of architecture such as contrast, space and light in a way non-architects can understand. One principle at a time, she explains the elements that create a well-designed home which make the homeowner comfortable, she said.

“Architecture is a lot like medicine,” Susanka said. “When you are surrounded by good design, it creates a feeling of well-being.”