How-To-Build-Community poster

Why is it that shortly after you a learn a new word, you bump into that new word everywhere -- in conversation, on the radio, on T.V.? Or say you discover a new actor, next you notice that actor hiding in plain sight on the cast of shows or movies you've watched a number of times. Well, I've recently been focused on community -- not just virtual community, but brick-and-mortar community -- and now I'm realizing many other folks are focused on all aspects of community, too. I suppose my heightened awareness of community is, in part, due to the fact that I'm living in a community that's new to me. Like a new word or newly recognized actor, notions of community have migrated from my subconscious to my conscious mind.

Yesterday, at my new-to-me local coffee shop, The Coffee Depot, I dashed off to the restroom before continuing on with my Saturday, and noticed an unusual poster affixed to the restroom wall. Not an all-employees-must-wash-their-hands kind of poster (though there may have been one of those), but a poster titled How To Build Community published by Syracuse Cultural Workers.

It lists forty-four simple actions you or anyone can take to build community. 

Here's what it says:

"Turn off your TV*Leave your house
Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking
Greet people*Sit on your stoop
Plant Flowers
Use your library*Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Garden Together
Support Neighborhood Schools
Fix it even if you didn't break it
Have Pot Lucks*Honor Elders
Pick Up Litter* Read Stories Aloud
Dance in the Street
Talk to the Mail Carrier
Listen to the Birds* Put up a Swing
Help Carry Something Heavy
Barter For Your Goods
Start A Tradition*Ask A Question
Hire Young People for Odd Jobs
Organize a Block Party
Bake Extra and Share
Ask For Help When You Need It
Open Your Shades*Sing Together
Share Your Skills
Take Back the Night
Turn Up The Music
Turn Down The Music
Listen Before You react To Anger
Mediate A Conflict
Seek To Understand
Learn From New And
Uncomfortable Angles
Know That No One is Silent
Though Many Are Not Heard
Work To Change This"

It's common sense. It's wise. It's worth doing.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Moonrise Kingdom sets and sections

Spartanette trailer coach home to Willis' Captain Sharp in Moonrise KingdomI think I may have missed my calling. My inner set-designer is dying to work with Wes Anderson on a project. Have you seen his latest: Moonrise Kingdom? Like many of his other films – Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- the sets and production values/details of Moonrise Kingdom are exquisite. Anderson has a real knack for what we architects call the building section. It’s more than a knack, really; I think he has a crush on the building section. 

A building section is a drawing device which slices or cuts through a space (usually vertically). Architects use the building section to communicate building component relationships. Wes Anderson uses a movie-set interpretation of the building section (adjacent rooms/spaces filmed from the vantage point of the missing fourth wall) to communicate character relationships to each other and to the spaces they inhabit. In his hands, the section implies a somewhat magical world, not unlike a dollhouse, in which the audience peeks into the adjacent inner realms of his characters. Anderson pans across and up and down the set sections he and his collaborators create, setting the movie in literal motion while unabashedly revealing that this is a not the real world, it’s something alternative, dreamy, and enhanced. He’s quoted on NPR’s Fresh Air program as describing the fictional setting of Moonrise Kingdom as “a memory of a fantasy”.  Or a fantasy of a memory.  This could be said, perhaps, of most of his films. 

Moonrise Kingdom is the story of an innocent first summer love, set in 1965 on New Penzance, a fictional island off the east coast. New Panzance reminded me of Bustins Island on Maine, a summer escape which is of a similar size and appearance, and also has only a single emergency vehicle (or two) circling its dirt roads. However, much of the movie was shot in Newport, RI, while the interior sets were created in a nearby empty Linens ‘n’ Things. Anyway, the lead characters Sam and Suzy are misfit twelve-year olds who realize they fit each other. They decide to runaway together, which causes various semi-dysfunctional adults (played by Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton) to search for them on the island. It’s a quirky, highly stylized delight.

It opens, as I recall or at least as I choose to recall, panning across the section of Suzy Bishop’s summer home on the Summer’s End portion of the island. I read that Anderson and production designer Adam Stockhausen’s concept for the Bishop family home was inspired by Clingstone in Jamestown, RI and a converted lighthouse from the 1800s. The Island look was also influenced by Ten Chimneys in Wisconsin and a house in the Thousand Islands area at the Canadian/US border.

The 1948ish Spartanette trailer coach home for bachelor Captain Sharp, the Bruce Willis character, was particularly inspired. It, too, was filmed with its fourth wall removed. I have a thing for the warm finishes and cozy interiors in such industrial-seeming vehicles. Spartanettes were the down-market line of trailers made by the Spartan Aircraft Company in Tulsa, OK. As KHS Facebookers and House Enthusiast’s may recall, I’m a fan of domesticated vehicles like the “short bus” that architect Will Winkelman redesigned and the tear-drop campers in the movie Kitchen Stories. Someday, I aim to own and outfit my own retro coach trailer/bus, but that’s another story.

To experience a sublime, alternative, nostalgic, fantastic, island community, look no further than Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, where building sections reign.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Not-so-big houses by Katie Hutchison Studio

Manchester Garage/Garden Room

A prospective client who's a fan of the The Not So Big House book series by Sarah Susanka recently emailed me and asked if I could fill him in on my experience designing and building with not-so-big design concepts. I thought I'd share with you a lightly edited version of my response to him.

I wrote:

I have long endorsed the not-so-big design philosophy which prioritizes quality and livability over quantity. Here are some links to a few of my projects which I believe exemplify not-so-big design. 

The first is the Manchester Garage/Garden Room which is a small out-building I designed to accommodate outdoor living three-seasons of the year and a car in the winter. Multi-purpose design is a fundamental principle of the not-so-big canon. Design that maximizes versatility, comfort and fun is not-so big.

The Reading Kitchen & Bath Renovation/Addition reconceives how space is used, to better apportion it and appropriately augment it. Re-imagining flow and use to enhance livability is essential to not-so-big design. This project involved relocating the kitchen to a new addition and changing entry points and room function to support the new kitchen location, such that the owners could better access and enjoy natural light and their wooded, rear yard.

The Salem Antique: Kitchen Renovation maximizes a small space's potential while maintaining a spacious, coherent feel. Incorporating boat-like efficiency to make the most out of limited space is a hallmark of not-so-big design. 

Not-so-big doesn't necessarily mean small; it means smaller. The West Tisbury House is designed to reduce its scale, such that it reads as an assemblage of elements, as if it evolved over time. Incorporating wrapping single-story features helps to ground it and minimize its visual impact on the site. From the interior, the collection of gathered spaces offer spatial differentiation, with some spaces feeling more open and others more nestled. Thoughtful massing and spatial differentiation can reduce apparent scale, while encouraging livability. 

I could probably continue to reference the not-so-big design ideas behind most of the projects in my portfolio, but I'll stop there for now.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast.