Last November, SchoolStreet Development announced that Sarah Susanka, renowned architect and author of the Not So Big House series, would design a showhouse for its 26-home project in Libertyville. On Saturday, the home opened to the public, drawing 515 attendees.
“When I lived in the city, I lived in a little coach house, and I received her book as a gift,” said opening guest Ellen Coury of Libertyville. “I have been reading about her in the paper since the project started, and I was so excited to see the culmination of all of her ideas.”
Coury, like many others, was eager to see Susanka’s concepts come to life in the 2,450-square-foot home on one of the development’s long, narrow lots.
“I know people get some of it from the books,” Susanka said on a tour last week. “But there’s just absolutely no substitute for feeling it. No number of words will ever let you know what it feels like to go from here, to here.”
“Here, to here” referred to moving from one area of the master bedroom with an 8-foot ceiling to another area with a 7-foot-6-inch ceiling.
“There’s a big story about ceiling heights in this house that I’ve been trying to tell with my books,” she said. “And I realized that the best way to explain it is to actually build a full-scale version that people can walk through. A photograph can only take you so far.”
Open to Public Until May 2012
Susanka said that when she agreed to build the Not So Big Showhouse in the SchoolStreet Development, part of the agreement included keeping the home open to the public for six months after completion.
Susanka has been writing about her Not So Big ideas in a collection of nine books covering new houses, home remodels, and living. One of her ideas, “a light to walk toward” is seen in the show house, with each hallway ending in a well-lit decorative wall inset or window. She saves on space by creating multitasking rooms and areas, including an “away room” that works as a sitting area, home office, or a guest bedroom with the addition of a special, imported guest bed that folds out of the wall. On the second floor, a laundry room can double as a second home office or a craft area.
“There’s a lot of variation in what you can do as times goes on,” said Mary Boyle, who traveled from New Lenox, Ill. to see the Susanka house and get ideas for her own house. “We have three kids and they’re going to have grandkids, and there’s going to be a lot of people over for dinner.”
Susanka’s dining room, off the kitchen, uses a banquette. For larger dinners, she designed the house to transform. By moving livingroom furniture, the house can accommodate many more people at one table.
Her “not so big” ideas marry function and beauty, and she showcases it in camouflaged dishwasher and garbage receptacles, two operable windows with disappearing screens, a well-designed mudroom, and a staircase with a light shaft that cascades natural light down to the main floor.
Many children enjoyed Susanka’s hidden or secret area, a loft above the home staircase filled with bright windows.
“I call it a place of your own,” Susanka said.
House Part of Front-Porch Community
The house, 138 School St., blends in among the homes on SchoolStreet, which developers intended to be a front-porch community built in the design of New Urbanism. Susanka used materials like Wood Mode cabinets, granite, and bamboo flooring, the same materials used in the other SchoolStreet homes.
“It fits very comfortably in our lineup, from the exterior standpoint as well as the interior,” said developer John McLinden, who worked to bring Susanka on board with the project.
“I think that I’m a pretty big dreamer, but this is beyond my expectations,” McLinden said. “She knocked it out of the ballpark. The way the house unfolds, and the details, and the experience when people walk through. It’s phenomenal. It’s not just about one thing. It’s the cumulative effect of this house.”
The house will go on the market in January, at which time the listing price will be announced. It also will remain open to the public on the weekends until May. SchoolStreet is also reconstructing the historic Central School, creating urban lofts, duplexes, and penthouses. The first show loft is expected to open to the public in December.
Susanka and SchoolStreet are considering taking on more projects together in Libertyville, the Chicago area, and Boston. More information about SchoolStreet Homes and Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House can be found at www.NotSoBigHouse.com or www.SchoolStreetLibertyville.com.