A Castle Where Less is More:
How I interpret the Sarah Susanka “Not So Big House” philosophy
I’m a believer in architect Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” philosophy. The conversation with my clients starts: Let’s figure out what your anticipated use of the space may be … and design enough of it, not too much, not too little. Approaching the spaces thoughtfully, we make it simple and beautiful.
Clients tend to come prepared with pictures of homes that they find appealing. I keep that in the background, but remind them that function drives aesthetic. Spaces can be designed and reconfigured to fit that function. You should be able to take an exterior photo any home and understand how those forms work together. If you choose, on the other hand, to try and fit the spaces you need into a plain box of a building, you’re hamstrung, forcing an unnatural relationship. Awkward ‘solutions’ are common as are wasted space and contrived pathways. Aesthetically, it’s not very elegant. To avoid this mistake, you can harness your relationship with the space.
Consider your lifestyle, the possible layered spaces that can build an experience. When we reach that point, it’s a lot easier to follow the old adage: “Form follows function.”
Adults and children alike want their own castle. I try to strike a balance with my clients. I remember one who visited a friend’s house with a two-story gaudy foyer. “Wow, it’s so dramatic,” she told me. Yet I think you can get even more drama in thoughtful design, in which less is more. A lot of times people say, “I want that,” but offer an alternative, toward something ‘like that’, only better.
I want your home to be your castle, and I also know that castles come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a home will have hidden gems, design opportunities, that just need to be mined for their value. One such home with a turret, we created a Princess Suite for the little girl of the family. It’s her own castle in the attic, a hideaway where she can dream up her own stories.
Many times, someone’s renovating a house and discovers even more gems. I take the time to refine them, in order to create special experiences for families.
Family dynamics come into play often. I designed a new home for a blended family, kind of a Brady Bunch situation. The parents shared with me how much it troubled them that their kids retreated to their bedrooms after school. “We want our kids to study together,” they said. So the design responds to their lifestyle change. The kid’s bedrooms are centered around a study room, used in common. Everyone passes through it on the way to their bedrooms; it fosters a culture of shared teaching and learning.
There’s psychology in every project. The materials in many of my projects evoke emotion. For example, the Burr Ridge contemporary home presents a stark and strong brick facade. It feels a little bit stern, as the front line of the house where guests are greeted. Then one is welcomed through this imposing “castle gate,” and the materials soften.. The texture and warmth of the wood siding produce a blend of materials that interact with each other. While we experience a stark monochromatic expression on the facade, we soon move to a varied and engaging palette of metal roofing, bark siding and glass.
Yet even with this attention to detail, less is more. The real trick is to curate spaces like these so that they come together harmoniously. The total is greater than the sum of their parts. Every home is individually considered in order to create a uniquely personal living environment.
To learn more about Sarah Susanka and the ‘Not So Big House’, visit www.notsobighouse.com There you will find books, articles, and a list of Not So Big professionals (myself among them.)