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Sunday, February 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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'Not So Big' author's new book explains how a house can make a heart sing

By Elizabeth Rhodes
Seattle Times staff reporter

Leaded-glass windows in this California pool house echo the owners' love of Arts and Crafts-style architecture.
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Excerpts from 'Home by Design'
Tudor, Craftsman, nouveau chateau. Big windows, built-in bookcases, beamed ceilings. If you love houses, you probably know what you like. But do you know why you like?

That seemingly ephemeral sense that a house "just feels right" doesn't need to be ephemeral, says architect Sarah Susanka. Also a best-selling author, she's made a lucrative career out of tilting architectural windmills and bringing residential design knowledge to the public.

Susanka is at it again with her fourth book, "Home by Design." Subtitled "Transforming Your House Into Home," it explains in words and pictures the major architectural concepts that go into the making of well-designed residences.

That book will bring Susanka to Seattle March 12, where she'll be the keynote speaker at the annual Seattle Times/American Institute of Architects Home of the Year gala.

Besides announcing the Home of the Year winner (to be selected from the Seattle Times/AIA 2003 open houses), the event honors the 50th anniversary of the unique partnership between the newspaper and the Seattle chapter of the architects' organization. Since 1954, it's resulted in approximately 600 architect-designed homes, chosen for publication by AIA architects, appearing on the pages of The Times.

Ticket information

Tickets for the annual Seattle Times/AIA Home of the Year awards program are on sale. The 7:30 p.m. event will be held March 12 in Kane Hall Roethke Auditorium on the University of Washington campus.

The program will include several features. Best-selling author and architect Sarah Susanka will speak. She also will join a local panel to offer commentary on residential design spanning the last 50 years of the Seattle Times/AIA Open House program, with special emphasis on the homes featured last year. One of the open houses of 2003 will be announced as Home of the Year. Following the event, Susanka will sign copies of her latest book, "Home by Design," in partnership with University Book Store.

The event also will highlight the AIA's Residential Design Forum, a series of professional seminars targeting residential-design practice, to be held March 12-13.

General admission tickets are $18 in advance, $22 after March 10. Student rates are $10 in advance, $15 after March 10. Tickets are available online at or in person at AIA Seattle's office, 1911 First Ave. For more information call 206-448-4938. For more on Sarah Susanka, visit her Web site:

A graduate of the University of Oregon's architecture program, British-born Susanka lives in Raleigh, N.C. She first burst onto the public stage in 1998 with the publication of "The Not So Big House." It argued that smaller, more carefully designed homes are preferable to today's "McMansions," which she says fail their owners because they're designed to impress rather than nurture.

That book sold more than 350,000 copies. It and two sequels, "Creating the Not So Big House" and "Not So Big Solutions for Your Home," have propelled her to best-seller status with total sales of about 750,000. All are published by The Taunton Press, as is "Home by Design."

"Sarah Susanka is the best-selling author of interior-design books we have," reports University Book Store's Maurine Tritch. "We always get a good response to her appearances here. She tends to be very inspirational."

March 12 will mark Susanka's third AIA-sponsored Seattle appearance in the last four years and the second time she's been the Home of the Year keynote speaker. As before, University Book Store will host a book signing afterward.

Speaking from her North Carolina home, Susanka said she's looking forward to her upcoming visit. "Seattle is one of my favorite cities. Unlike a lot of parts of the country, residential architecture is already well-received. You've got a lot of very good architects in the area."

Pools of light on the living-room floor draw inhabitants into the bright space from the more subdued library hallway.
She's validated that opinion by including the work of several local practitioners in her books, among them Lane Williams, Bernie Baker, Ross Chapin and Geoffrey Prentiss.

Susanka's original idea of living in a smaller house hit a chord with people, says Prentiss, a former Seattle Times/AIA Home of the Year winner. He describes her books as "very accessible" and says their effect on his clients can be felt. "Yes, because the books have helped educate the public as to going for smaller options. It's about giving people permission," he says.

Her latest book, "Home by Design," hits bookstores next month with an initial printing of 150,000 copies priced at $35 each. Susanka says it's the book she's always wanted to write.

"What I'm basically doing in this book is explaining how you can make any house — it doesn't have to be big or small, and it's not about a floor plan per se — feel like home. Each of the principles is one of the tools in what I call the architect's tool box.

"You peel away the style of any particular house, whether it's Tudor or Prairie, and these are what make you engaged about a house. They're all the things we respond to physiologically that most people don't even know exist."

The connecting view through the middle of this house reveals its three-dimensional composition.
All the principles fall into three categories: space, light and order. Within these, she presents 30 key concepts, explaining them both in words and photos, by showing 28 of what she considers the best-designed homes in the country.

"Ceiling height variety is a principle; walk toward light is another principle. I've used those words in other books. Now each one of these principles has a chapter. It tells you why it works, how it works and gives some applications you can use in your own home," Susanka says. "People are really going to get a sense of why to do something and then how to do it."

They're principles she says anyone can use, whether building a new home, remodeling a current one or simply making a few minor tweaks to it.

Susanka and her husband moved from Minnesota to North Carolina only recently. "When the 'Not So Big' book took off, I realized it was a passport out of a cold climate," she says, laughing. But that meant leaving a custom-designed home for one that's not, "which is a bummer. I now realize how nice it is to live in a house that's tailored to you. You really understand what architecture does for you when you had a house that does it and you're now in a house that's fairly basic."

Good design is about composition, or how such elements as windows, doors, rooflines and other elements all relate to each other, writes author Sarah Susanka.
Of course, being an architect, she can remodel her Raleigh home, which she's done to some extent.

She also has a luxurious two acres of land on which to practice her green thumb.

That, no doubt, will help with the writing of her next book. Due out in the winter of 2006, she's calling it "Outside the Not So Big House." The basic premise: "It's not just the home. It's the home and the property and how they connect."

Also in the works is "Inside the Not So Big House." It will zero in on "the interior details that really make the interior look good," she says.

Elizabeth Rhodes:


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