Marianne Cusato's New Book: The Just Right Home

By Dan Gregory

This excellent book by Katrina Cottage designer Marianne Cusato

Marianne Cusato is known for developing the Katrina Cottages as a dignified and permanent alternative to the temporary FEMA trailers. For example, here's Katrina Cottage Floor Plan 514-5. 

But Marianne is also an adjunct professor in the University of Notre Dame Department of Architecture and author of the recent best seller The Just Right Home, written with Daniel DiClerico. The book is ostensibly about how to buy or rent the house that's right for you, but is equally applicable for anyone browsing house floor plans and thinking about building a new home. 

The book is organized in three parts: Preparing, which includes setting your budget and understanding your preferences; Searching, including selecting the region, city, and neighborhood, before you select your home; Deciding and Moving In, i.e. understanding the condition of the home, its energy use, and how you can improve the design of the home over time. What I found most useful is the way the book helps you balance practicality and function with the inevitably romantic hope for a dream home. At the heart of the book is the following excellent advice, which applies to anyone looking at floor plan layouts:

Design Elements To Use and Avoid

"Front Door...There are two common front-door conditions to avoid. The first is the hidden front door. This common on homes where the garage dominates the front of the house. It can be unnerving to approach a home with a door hidden behind a corner or down a dark path...The second condition to watch out for is the other extreme, the soaring double-height entrance.Rather than welcoming visitors, these rocket-ship entries look like they might take flight from the home....They're meant to call attention to door. If this much effort is needed to focus attention on the door, it is usally an indication that the overal design of the house is chaotic, both inside and out. And it is a hint that you'll be faced with high utility bills down the road, as these areas are hard to heat and cool. Keep the entrance modest but visible...At the most practical level, ask yourslef if the outside entrance could protect your waiting guests from rain."

"Garage Location...In an ideal design, the house itself will dominate the home's facade and the garage will feel like an added element.If the garage is facing the street, look for one that is pushed back behind the front face of the home. The ideal depth is eighteen feet or so from the facade so that it's shielded from view and cars parked in the driveway will be less conspicuous. but setting the garage back even three or five feet will make a difference."

"The Sides...A home has at least four sides and lives best when the architectural design includes windows and other design elements on all four of these sides. Not only will this make the house look better on the outside, but it will greatly increase the quality of life inside by providing more natural light and natural cross ventilation."

"Windows...The power of a window as a design tool is incredible. A small number of well placed and proportioned windows can transform a space, whereas a dozen awkward windows in the same home could result in dark and gloomy rooms...Look for windows that have a vertical sense of proportion -- typically two times tall as they are wide. This enhances the look and feel of a house, the same way vertical lines in fashion help the human body appear tall and trim..."

"Roofline...There are four unintended consequences of galloping gables on your roof. First, the harder a design tries to differentiate, the more alike everything tends to look...Second, a crazy roofline is a red flag the the floor plan inside is a bit crazy as well. Third, the more ins, outs, ups, and downs, the more opportunity for a leak. And fourth, though these homes look large and spacious, often these extra roofs do not yield any extra living space -- just extra attic space (and higher utility bills). Keep the rooflines simple..." 

Cusato's book is an essential guide for how to look at houses -- it will help you figure out what home design will work for the way you want to live. Don't miss the fascinating appendix on the rise of the McMansion and why these bloated houses are bad design as well as energy hogs: she makes a very compelling case!
To browse our Katrina Cottage floor plans click here.

October 29, 2014



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