Marianne Cusato, known for her Katrina Cottages and recent books on home design.
I braved a mist of light spring rain last
week to visit the National Building Museum, where Marianne Cusato was
giving a talk. The designer, best known for her work on the Katrina
Cottages, has co-written a new book called The Just Right Home (Workman
Publishing, $12.95). Her lecture was entitled “The American Dream Home:
Past, Present, and Future”--which seemed like a pretty big topic to
encompass in an hour and a half.
Ultimately, though, I was
impressed at how much ground Cusato managed to cover. She engagingly
explored the trajectory of popular American house types from Cape Cods
to ranch houses to split levels, ending up at the much-derided
McMansion. All of them “address issues, but not the heart of the issue,”
she said, positing that each house type tries to make up for the
previous type’s problems. For example, she noted, the excessive gabling
of the McMansion represents an overcorrection to the lack of detailing
on ranches and split levels.
Cusato often consults with big
builders on residential design issues, so her insights into upcoming
mass housing trends are valuable. “I think we’re returning to a future
where the home knits into the community,” she said. “I think we’ve swung
back. We can’t add any more. We have to pare down.” She hastened to add
that she doesn’t mean everyone should live in a small space; just that
people are starting to think more carefully about how their spaces
function. And she pointed out that repetition on a streetscape is not
necessarily a bad thing, showing images of San Francisco’s famous
Painted Ladies. Architectural style wasn't a big focus of Cusato's
talk, but she did say she believed that clean lines within familiar
forms are going to appeal to more and more people. “The form will be
more traditional, but the articulation will be more modern,” she said.
“The architecture will always be of its time.”