Big—or, in Sarah Susanka's case, not so big—matters. But just as important, says the architect/author famous for her "build better, not bigger" philosophy: Beauty matters.
"If something is beautiful," she told us in a recent phone interview from her two-story home in Raleigh, N.C., "people will look after it. And if people look after something, it can be sustainable."
Sustainability, of course, is a good thing when it comes to concern for our earth and perfectly in sync when it comes to Susanka's "Not So Big" books—all seven of them (see notsobig.com). Her eighth, "Not So Big Remodeling: A Better House for the Way You Really Live," is due out in early March.
In addition to guidance on bringing sustainability and beauty to remodeling projects, Susanka's latest book will offer chances for snooping in on her home, a fairly classic 1977 Cape Cod that underwent some "not so big remodeling" of its own. "I really like the character of a Cape Cod in large part because I really enjoy the front porch ... the house sort of welcomes you before you enter the front door."
When Susanka and her husband bought it in 2001, the house had three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, but they have since converted and added on to one of the bedrooms to create her office. (And, yes, we know you're wondering: The house now is less than 2,500 square feet.)
The bedroom-to-office transformation "completely transformed my feeling about the house," she said. "This space has a wonderful curved eyebrow window that looks out over our backyard. ... We inherited a garden that had a lot of good plant material and not a lot of shape."
Together, Susanka and her husband turned the yard into a flower-filled meditation garden.
They also splashed colors from Susanka's favorite palette on the walls inside—terra cotta, teal green, "deep, deep maroon"—and showcased her collections (all of which seem to be shadowed by intriguing little secrets).
If you can't wait for her book for a snoop, come on and get a sneak peek with us.
One thing on your nightstand: A lamp I bought, I think, at Pier 1 Imports. It's like a shoji lamp. I just think it's really pretty. And I don't want lots of down comforters, so I have a shawl that I keep on my nightstand in case I get cold.
One thing on a wall in your living room: We went to Kauai two years ago. My husband had seen this bowl in the window in the store below the restaurant we were eating in. ... Well, we went home and he kept talking about it. So I called the store and I had it shipped here. It's a pinky-red color and almost looks like a heart, with a mustardy-yellow lip to it.
One thing you have in your house from your childhood: I collect things from my past because they inform my future. ... This is from my first or second year I was in this country (Susanka is a native Brit and moved to the States in 1971 when she was 14). I was the editor of our high school literary magazine, Satori [and] I did this drawing for the cover that I always thought was really beautiful. ... I took the drawing and I framed it and it's on a shelf in my office. When you pay attention to your childhood, there's like a theme that plays through your life.
Three things we'd find in your medicine cabinet: Little bars of soap. I love scents. But I also don't like wearing perfume. I find it's too much. But I like sniffing these things ... so when I go to hotels, I'm a soap collector.
What is the biggest collection in your home? I have a collection of Japanese tea cups—the ones that have no handles. I also have a collection of very small boxes—wood-turned boxes, glass, cloisonne. And all of these things now have a lovely shelf where they're all displayed. ... I created a place that I call the tea room. It took me creating a place like this to realize that I never drink tea. I like the idea of drinking tea. I write about clients doing silly things. This is my silly thing.
What reading material would we find in your bathroom? I subscribe to several magazines and I rarely open them. I don't have time. I put them hopefully in the bathroom but the problem is I don't read in the bathroom. So other people go in and read and tell me all about what they've just read for me.
Most embarrassing thing in your home that you hide when guests come over: I have this habit of creating piles. Things that I'm going to do when I have time. ... I never get to those piles. It's this idea of free time that I'll never have in my life. If I had it, going through a pile is not one of the things I'm going to do. The piles get put under my desk—thinking that I'll take them up after. Rarely do they get exhumed. ... They'll finally get chucked [when] I have photographers coming over.
What CD or artist would we find in your player (or on your iPod)? I actually listen to a lot of Rumi poetry. He lived in the 13th Century [in then-Persia] and a contemporary poet, Coleman Barks, has liberated his poetry for the present day. ... One of my favorites is "What Was Said to the Rose."
Do you hang your toilet paper with the paper hanging over the front or down the back? It's always with paper out. I'm so obsessed that I'll go in and turn the paper around.
Do you do any snooping of your own when visiting friends? I don't snoop in other people's houses. But I do love to take walks at dusk—because I can see [in on] how other people are living.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun