Living large (in a small space)

  • Article by: CONNIE NELSON , Home+Garden Editor
  • Updated: March 21, 2008 - 3:45 PM
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Sarah Nettleton in one her favorite rooms her office in her home.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Sarah Nettleton walks her talk. The architect and author, who joined the battle for simplicity with her book "The Simple Home," lives in a modestly sized, "Leave It to Beaver"-style house in Minneapolis. We talked with Nettleton about throwing big parties in a small house, her concept of the luxury of enough and borrowing dogs.

Q How do you describe your house?

A I call it the "Leave It to Beaver" house. It's such a cute little white house with green shutters. It's not architecturally significant, but it's a delightful house to live in.

Q What attracted you to this house?

A The neighborhood was the starting point, but I liked the fact that the house is small [1,500 square feet] and it has a huge back yard. I'm a gardener. My garden is an urban oasis.

Q Does its modest size make entertaining a challenge?

A Oh, no. I love to entertain in this house. It's not about having a single big room, it's about using the whole house.

I usually entertain in the summer and you might be sitting on the screen porch or in the living room or on the deck or out in the garden. It's not a stand up and shriek party where you're all mashed in one room.

Q Do you prefer not-so-big houses?

A I grew up in a 10,000-square-foot modern house. Now I live in what one of my friends calls a grandma house. But I like the petite scale of this house. It can live small or big. It can hold 40 people or be cozy and intimate for one. And, as you can see, I'm a petite family of one. In this house, I'm connected to my yard, to my neighbors, to my community. I have the intimacy of enjoying what life is all about.

Q You talk about that in your book, don't you?

A Yes. What I call the luxury of enough is really about enjoying the simple pleasures in your life rather than the ooo-oooh cool things.

Here's an example: I did a landscape design for a really, really big house. There were eight terraces and decks. In asking the family, they said they never used any of the spaces because none of them were particularly pleasant. We should be thinking about making a pleasant place rather than making a lot.

Q What room in your house do you consider particularly pleasant?

A I migrate around the house according to the seasons. In the winter, I hang out in the office because it's warm up here. In summer, I hang out on the screen porch. I live in all the rooms in the house. And every room is multipurpose.

Q You're obviously a collector. What do you cherish most?

A My Buddhas. They're my buddies.

Q Do you have something in your house that you've had since you were a kid?

A The bureaus in the bedroom. They were mine as a child. They were my father's when he was a child. This rug was in my grandfather's study. I enjoy the patina, the memories, the associations. I'm amazed when people buy all new furniture every 10 years.

Q If these walls could talk, what would they say?

A They'd say "I miss the dog." My dog, Casey, died two years ago. I've just ordered a new puppy, but it's not here yet so I was going to borrow a dog for the photo shoot. Darn! I can't believe I forgot.

Q You have an office in St. Paul and an office at home. But, as the principal in your own firm, how do you get away from work?

A I don't. My work is a part of me.

Q What parting advice do you have for people who are thinking about remodeling or building?

A Look at how you really live in your house. What's the function of the space? Do you need an eat-in kitchen as well as a dining room or just a place to perch?

It's not a deprivation not to have three places to sit down with a plate of eggs. There's the high counter with the stool in the kitchen and the table in the breakfast room and then there's a dining room. My gosh, that's a lot of choices. Do you really want all that?

Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087

  • IF YOU GO

    What: "Good Design Makes a Difference": Sarah Nettleton will speak and sign copies of her book, "The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough" (Tauton, $40), as part of a design conference sponsored by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota and the Star Tribune.

    When: 5-7 p.m. Tues.

    Where: Suite 54, International Market Square, 275 Market St., Minneapolis.

    Admission: $15.

    Register: www.aia-mn.org/hotm/register.cfm or 612-338-6763.

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