“Compact homes, compact living”

"Houses should be designed from the inside out, island architect Bernie Baker says. But with most of them, it's absolutely backward.The impetus is to design for curb appeal, that is, the way the house looks from the street, Baker said. The real issue is, how it flows from the inside out.And in saying design should start with what is inside, he doesn't just mean the inside of the house. He's talking about what's inside the people who will live there.The house has to respond to the lives of its owners, Baker said.Baker's thinking parallels that of Minnesota architect Sarah Susanka, whose recent book The Not So Big House became an influential best-seller. Susanka's follow-up volume, called Creating The Not So Big House, features a Baker-designed remodel on Mercer Island.They liked the spot, but not the house, Baker said of his clients. The design made it possible to have their house transformed into a dream. "

  • Wednesday, October 18, 2000 3:00pm
  • News

“Houses should be designed from the inside out, island architect Bernie Baker says. But with most of them, it’s absolutely backward.The impetus is to design for curb appeal, that is, the way the house looks from the street, Baker said. The real issue is, how it flows from the inside out.And in saying design should start with what is inside, he doesn’t just mean the inside of the house. He’s talking about what’s inside the people who will live there.The house has to respond to the lives of its owners, Baker said.Baker’s thinking parallels that of Minnesota architect Sarah Susanka, whose recent book The Not So Big House became an influential best-seller. Susanka’s follow-up volume, called Creating The Not So Big House, features a Baker-designed remodel on Mercer Island.They liked the spot, but not the house, Baker said of his clients. The design made it possible to have their house transformed into a dream. They got a new house without destroying the old house.The key, Baker said, is not to focus on rooms or square footage, which most home design does, but on the way people live.You have to think about how you want to live, and maximize what you really want, he said.Susanka’s first book pointed out that in most homes, the least-used room in the house is the formal living room. Although people think they will use that room to entertain, party guests shun the too-formal space and congregate in the kitchen – a room in which people actually live. Baker has had the same experience.I’ve never had a client that really wanted a living room, he said. They may think they do at first, but you don’t really even have to talk them out of it.What you have to look at is how the owners live, where they are in life. The things that really define people are their hobbies – how they actually spend their time.The not so big approach concentrates on spaces, not rooms – a window seat instead of a sitting area, for example – and a composition of spaces formed by things other than just walls.His own home is a three-building compound in the New Sweden area that he and wife Linda have built and remodeled during their 15 years on the island.The building adjacent to the street is the office, where Baker and his three on-campus employees work. There is also a guest house in addition to the remodeled farm house.I like to do multiple small buildings when I can instead of one larger structure, Baker said. You can create much more complex and interesting outdoor spaces and better privacy.He also thinks the multi-building campus approach responds to the way people are living today.People can have vibrant businesses at home, he said. But it works better if it’s in a separate building. It’s a big psychological difference to go outside.Originally from Pennsylvania, Baker backed into architecture. He graduated from the Pittsburgh School of Design as a fine artist, then went to work designing industrial exhibits.But that seemed too narrow, he said, so he went back to school to learn architecture. After 10 years apprenticing at a private firm and some time in Westinghouse’s corporate design center, he and Linda moved to Seattle.There is this mystique about the West, he said.And it’s also a good market. It’s a good economy in the Northwest, and people want custom houses, he said. He attributed that to the relatively youthful population, and the fact that the area itself is relatively new.In the East, maybe one person in a hundred uses an architect to design a home, he said. Here, maybe it’s one in 10.Bainbridge Island in particular is a hotbed of artistic talent, Baker said.We have the highest number of architects per capita in the country, he said. That energy is a plus for all of us.Baker’s clientele is regional and national, and he said that to grow, he thought he might have to move the business to Seattle.We scotched that idea, he said. Our practice is like our houses – small, but just the way we want it. “

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