How Not So Big Got So Big
"Most people assume space means square footage," she said. "They think it's what you bring into the room, rather than how you shape the room, that personalizes a house. But for an architect, space means how you create quality and character. Light is the great animator of space. Order gives rhythm to space."
Many of the principles discussed in Susanka's latest book are evident in the new addition on her Raleigh home, which comprises a home office with built-in desks for the author and an assistant, and an "inner" office for writing. Sandwiched between are a reading alcove, a file room and an acoustically insulated space for frequent radio interviews.
Throughout is what the architect calls "ceiling-height variety," a key ingredient to making a small house feel not so small: Instead of separating various functions with walls, she raised and lowered the ceilings, and covered them in different materials to define activities while maintaining openness.
"The wood ceiling in my main office space gives the impression that the room is cozier than it would be if I'd used lighter-colored drywall," she said. "The ceiling at the back is lowered with dropped soffits on either side to define a passageway."
Light is introduced in the reading alcove by a skylight abutting a wall. "This is the concept of reflecting surfaces," said the author. "The wall is bathed in daylight, which is then reflected into the room."
Windows in the office, inset with stained glass purchased from an art center, reflect the idea of "view and non-view": "The muntins and the stained glass draw your attention to the surface of the glass, as well as to the view beyond," said Susanka. "They break the view into bite-size pieces."
Wood trim above and below the windows illustrate "differentiation of parts" in providing "headband" and "beltline" for contrasting paint colors -- mossy green, terra-cotta orange, dark plum. The strong colors -- another manifestation of what the architect calls "visual weight" -- section off the work area.
Principles of order, including "pattern and geometry" and "theme and variations" discussed in Susanka's new book, are expressed in the office by repeated rectangular shapes of window muntins, cherry wall trim, bookshelves and bulletin board.
Strips of maple, which repeat the window muntins, are even used to disguise the off-center attic hatch door. Such a consistent visual pattern, she explains, provides a sense of con- nectedness and harmony in a house.
Susanka's interest in architecture was planted early in childhood. "I used to draw house plans a lot," she said.
Born Sarah Hills in Knockholt, England, a village south of London, she grew up in a "standard 1960s brick house" and moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 14. "My whole world turned upside down. Compared to England, people lived in a much less formal way. They didn't use their living or dining rooms."
After graduating from the University of Oregon, Susanka, who still uses her name from an earlier marriage, settled in Minneapolis. She worked for several firms while earning a master's degree in architecture from the University of Minnesota. Her thesis there formed the kernel of her latest book, and she and her thesis adviser started an architecture firm, which eventually grew into Mulfinger, Susanka, Mahady & Partners.
After publishing "The Not So Big House," Susanka and her partners were invited to design Life magazine's 1999 Dream House.
"It had a lot of what I was talking about in the book -- no formal dining room and the living room, kitchen and eating room were part of one space." A retreat space called an "away room" doubled as a guest room.
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