Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and contributing writer and editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designing on a Human Scale
Sarah Susanka's newly-constructed 'not so big house' in Libertyville, Ill., provides smart ideas for comfortable living in fewer square feet.
December 1, 2011
The house of the future — at least the immediate future — probably won’t look anything like what we saw watching “The Jetsons” as kids. But it may very well look like acclaimed architect and author Sarah Susanka’s “not so big” home that’s making its premiere just outside of Chicago.
Susanka designed the show-home for the new SchoolStreet development in Libertyville, Ill., and it’s the first time she’s created a home that is available in the mass market. In partnership with developer John McLinden, Susanka has created a home that integrates technology of the present with the comforts of the past. It’s based on an architectural concept — smarter construction in a smaller footprint — that Susanka has nurtured at least since the 1998 publication of her book, The Not So Big House: A Blueprint For the Way We Really Live.
The SchoolStreet house isn’t small; it’s more than 2,500 square feet. But as a show house, it offers numerous ideas for adapting existing space.
“People are looking not just for a smaller house, but for a better house,” says Susanka. “You can make less square footage feel like more if it’s well designed.”
According to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders, by 2015 homes are expected to average 2,152 square feet, which is 10.5 percent smaller than the average single-family home built during 2010 (that, in turn, is down from the peak of 2,520 square feet in 2007 and 2008). Susanka’s home embodies the trend toward living well on a smaller scale by incorporating an open floor plan with ceiling accents that define the space, several multipurpose rooms, energy-efficient features, and outdoor entertainment areas. Smart organizational built-ins blend seamlessly, such as a cabinet just the right size for extra toilet paper in the home’s bathrooms and a murphy bed in a first-floor room.
“SchoolStreet houses are designed to align with a cultural shift in how home owners truly want to live — more soulful designs, filled with detail, that are sensitive to the environment and connected to a pedestrian-friendly, vital community,” McLinden said. “For decades, Sarah has been espousing the benefit of such houses. Few people have had as great an influence on the American home and lifestyle as Sarah.”
The SchoolStreet project serves as a beacon of success in today’s housing market and new-home construction. The location was previously home to a luxury townhome development that went into foreclosure. When McLinden purchased the property, he went back to the drawing board to create smaller, high-quality, cutting-edge bungalows, and slashed the prices in half, with homes now starting at $500,000. He also converted Libertyville’s neighboring historic Central School building into 15 loft condominiums. As of early December, 21 of the 26 homes and 5 of the 15 lofts had been purchased.
“I’ve been a REALTOR® since 1978, and in all those years I’ve seen many different developments, but this concept and [Susanka’s] home is the most exciting thing I’ve been a part of,” says Sue Carey, SCRP, GMS, vice president of relocation and corporate services at Century 21 Kreuser & Seiler in Libertyville, which has selling rights to the development.
The SchoolStreet homes feature a new urbanist character, with porches set close to the front sidewalk to make more of a community connection. The 26 homes and 15 lofts are located close to the Libertyville’s vibrant downtown main street and within walking distance of many amenities. The urban lifestyle, Susanka says, is attracting an array of consumers, from downsizers to first-time buyers, from professional couples to growing families.
“From my perspective as an architect and an author, what I hear is people are refocusing on their homes not so much as an investment, but as a wonderful place to live,” Susanka says. “For real estate agents, I think it’s really important to see what people are looking for today. They have been shifted by the economy and by all the uncertainty that’s been coloring our world for the last few years.”
Susanka’s show-home has given both real estate professionals and buyers an example of how to live in a more organized and thoughtful manner, Carey says. “It’s a way of living and a way of readjusting your life so that it has more tranquility to it.”
The show-home is open for tours now through May 20, 2012, after which it will be sold. Visit www.schoolstreetlibertyville.com for more information.