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updated: 12/7/2011 10:58 AM

Wasted living space expelled from SchoolStreet design

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  • Sarah Susanka designed the window in the library for Marvin Windows.

    Sarah Susanka designed the window in the library for Marvin Windows.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • The living room in Libertyville's "Not So Big House" shows many of the features Sarah Susanka likes to incorporate in homes.

    The living room in Libertyville's "Not So Big House" shows many of the features Sarah Susanka likes to incorporate in homes.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • The mud room helps with home organization.

    The mud room helps with home organization.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • The kitchen is at the front of the house off the living room.

    The kitchen is at the front of the house off the living room.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • Most of Sarah Susanka's fans tend to have a lot of books and can use a library, the architect said.

    Most of Sarah Susanka's fans tend to have a lot of books and can use a library, the architect said.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • The home designed by Sarah Susanka, left, fits on the streetscape with other houses in the SchoolStreet development in Libertyville.

    The home designed by Sarah Susanka, left, fits on the streetscape with other houses in the SchoolStreet development in Libertyville.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

  • The tile detail is a focal point in the kitchen.

    The tile detail is a focal point in the kitchen.
    Barry Rustin/Sarah Susanka

 
 

Sarah Susanka delivers. For more than a decade the architect has been designing "Not So Big Houses" and writing books about them.

Fans have studied the pictures, reread the texts and tried to imagine exactly what she had in mind.

For people in the Chicago suburbs, the wait is over. The first "tract" house designed by Susanka is built, decorated and open for tours.

OK, Susanka's home at SchoolStreet in downtown Libertyville is at least semi-custom, not really tract. And when it's sold it will probably cost close to $800,000.

But its 2,450 square feet on a lot that's 29 feet wide has the features the guru espouses.

Remember, Susanka says houses should be the right size, not necessarily small.

The idea is "getting rid of the spaces we rarely use. Every space is usable every day," she said during a recent walk-through.

The home shows the Susanka signature features:

• Different ceiling heights achieved with wooden trellises and soffits.

• Vistas -- internal views toward lighted niches or windows, not to mention attention to all kinds of lighting.

• An Away Room when private time is needed in the open floor plan

Here's what you will find in the home:

Visitors enter the living room from the side of the house. While there is no formal entry, straight ahead is one of the lighted niches, now showing an Ikebana arrangement of yellow chrysanthemums.

As are all the niches, this is a wine color. Susanka also used green and brown as accents with most of the walls white with gray tones and the trim a glossy white. The living room is one place where Susanka demonstrates the power of different levels of ceilings, achieved throughout with aids like soffits and wooden trellises.

"The living room is defined by the ceilings," she said. "It's 9 feet at the center, the tallest part. The dropped ceilings are 7-foot-6-inches." And LED lights hidden behind the trim cast interesting designs.

This theme continues in the wide white trim that runs around the home above doors and windows. The bottom of the band is 7 feet off the ground, the top 7-foot-6 inches.

Check out the long Eastern wall of the house. It has no windows, and rather than leave it a flat behemoth, the architect created a double wall, filling it with built-in cabinets, niches and bookcases to create depth and interest. Two small mirrors set on either side of the fireplace add to the sense of depth.

The staircase, placed closer to the rear of the house to bring light to the home's interior, is separated from the living room by a simple vertical screen in place of a handrail. It goes up three floors to a band of windows and a hidden loft.

Back in the living room, guests or a youngster working on homework sitting at a small counter between the living room and kitchen can enjoy one of the nicest vistas in the house by turning to gaze diagonally at the library.

"Multiple things happen simultaneously in this space," said Susanka. "Families can really engage with one another without having to do the same thing. In the past, we all went to separate rooms to do our own thing."

The eat-in kitchen is at the front of house, reached by the visitor who turns to the right after entering the side door and the living room.

"If you want the front porch to be used, you've got to put the living space used most frequently up front," said Susanka. "The family can spill out on the porch, and other people can stop and talk to you."

A banquette is behind the table, and a raised countertop hides the working part of the kitchen from the guests.

A wooden trellis on the ceiling also helps create a sense of dividing the working area from the seating. The ceiling is 8-foot-4 inches, and the trellis is set at 7-foot-6 inches. Susanka also made a wider soffit above the cooktop and adjacent counter to hold task lighting.

"It provides a sense of shelter when working at the counter," said the woman who is the sworn enemy of McMansions and big box houses.

Susanka does not believe in dedicated dining rooms, but for the occasional formal dinner the kitchen table can be moved to stretch from the living room into the library, which is really an alcove or extension of the living room. Its ceiling is 7-foot-6-inches with bookcases on either side.

"Because of the contrast with the living room ceiling height it feels very comfortable," said the architect. "It is designed to make you sit down like Japanese architecture."

This room features a stunning, large circular window with beveled glass. Susanka drew it for Marvin Windows when the company asked architects and artists to design their dream windows. Eventually it will look into the home's narrow side garden.

The Away Room with pocket doors is designed for the family member with louder media or gaming tastes or alternatively someone who needs quiet to work, study, read or make a phone call.

Only 9-by-10 feet, this is also a guest room with a bed and couch together from Resource Furniture. The bed folds up into the wall when the couch is used, and the there's no need to move the sofa to use the bed.

This room could also be a bedroom if someone in the family needs to live on one level.

At the back of the house is the generous mud room, but guests looking that way from the living room see a painting in a lighted niche.

"It's a long view and light to walk toward," said Susanka. "It makes the house look bigger."

The second floor, besides a ladder to the loft, also has shows off a "back yard" or roof garden over the attached garage.

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