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Three Of A Kind, Part 2

Mountain Life

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Sarah Susanka’s home is the subject of her book, The Not So Big House. She built it in 1996 in St. Paul, Minn., about 15 miles from Afton Alps ski area, to illustrate the ideas she would present in her book.

It wasn’t cheap: $340,000 for only 2,400 square feet. But in Susanka’s worldview, size isn’t the issue. “When you say, let’s put more dollars into quality and less into quantity, a light bulb goes off and people say, ‘That’s what I want to live in.'”

Big houses aren’t, Susanka says, designed for the way we live. “Frank Lloyd Wright was talking about this at the turn of the last century,” she explains, noting that Americans are locked into designs that reflect the way our grandparents lived. “I think we have no means by which to let our houses metamorphose.”

In her book, Susanka writes, “After designing homes for 15 years, I have come to an inevitable conclusion: We are all searching for home, but we are trying to find it by building more rooms and more space. Instead of thinking about the quality of the spaces we live in, we tend to focus on the quantity. But a house is so much more than its size and volume, neither of which has anything to do with comfort.”

Susanka undertook a number of design innovations to make a small area functional, warm and inviting. Her formal dining area is open to the kitchen but separated from it by different lighting.

“My clients start by identifying what rooms they currently use in their own homes,” she says of her design strategy. “Which most frequently, which least frequently, and what are the issues we’re facing in our homes now that were not issues 50 years ago. One example is a mail-sorting place if you have a home office.” Her own office is well-lighted and welcoming; otherwise, she says, she wouldn’t want to spend time there.

Noting that formal entries are fancy but rarely used, Susanka designed a foyer that serves not only as the front door but also as the entryway leading from the garage-the one the family usually uses.

Her ceilings are surprisingly low; the highest is 8 feet, and some are lowered to 7 feet through soffits and latticework. “We have this love affair today with high ceilings,” she says. “It can be dramatic but it isn’t always comfortable. It’s the variation in ceiling heights that makes the ceiling feel tailored to the lives within.”

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