Saturday, November 19, 2005

Designing Woman

I'm still digesting the very long Montaigne essay I read for today and will post about it tomorrow. In the meantime, let's talk about the dangers of decorating books. My Bookman brought home a copy of Inside the Not So Big House: Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life by Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo. Susanka made it big a number of years ago with The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live. She's a local architect so made a big splash here in the Twin Cities. I read The Not so Big House before my Bookman and I stared house hunting and it changed the way we approached choosing our home. The book is about the way people actually live and how there is so much wasted space in the huge suburban homes. It's about designing a smaller space that suits your needs and effectively using the space you have. Instead of buying a sprawling house in the burbs, we went for a smaller house in the city. Our 1952 house has some odd things--like a bathroom the size of a sardine can--but we like its quirks and are very glad not to have a bigger house with cathedral ceilings to heat in the winter. Susanka's new book is about the details of a house, how shelves and windows and flooring and a myriad of other things can change the way a house looks and feels. The houses in this book are not huge and most of the projects were re-models. They are all beautiful. They are houses that make me want to live in them, unlike the ones in magazines like House Beautiful that look like museums. To have a Susanka-style house though, it helps to have a lot of money. Her houses are about craftsmanship not about pre-fab plywood. Her furniture is custom made, not screwed together from an Ikea box. That doesn't keep this from being a dangerous book for people on a budget. In fact, I spent the afternoon doing some imaginative remodeling. I think I made my beloved tired with all of my ideas--if we knock this wall down here, if we turn these stairs into floating stairs, if we put up wainscoting there, new kitchen cabinets and countertop, a different window there, and on and on. When I started imagining rebuilding the deck on the back of the house as a solarium with greenhouse style glass and windows, I knew it was time to stop. I'm going to win the lottery when, exactly? I doubt that my house will ever have a solarium, but there are still plenty of ideas in the book that are doable for very little--it's amazing what the right paint and trim can do. While her houses are not affordable by the likes of me, Susanka's philosophy, rooted in detail and quality, is something to aspire to.