By Kevin Greer, Lakeside Communications Manager

For nearly two decades, Sarah Susanka has been presenting her “Not So Big” messages that led to her hitting the big time. Susanka rose to acclaim in the early 2000s with the first of her nine books in the “Not So Big” series about how to make the most out of the space in single-family homes for middle-class families. They became so popular, that interview requests came rolling in from Oprah Winfrey, “Good Morning America” and CNN, along with several other TV shows, networks, newspapers, and magazines.

The accomplished architect and author will lecture in Hoover Auditorium on Thursday, Aug.11 at 7:30 p.m, her first public speaking event in nearly two years. While at Lakeside, she will discuss the “Not So Big” series and one topic that isn’t in any of her books.

“An avenue I haven’t written about, but I talk about a lot in my public presentations is what I call ‘Not So Big Community,’” Susanka said.

“Lakeside is exactly what I’m talking about. So, both ‘Not SoBig House’ and ‘Not So Big Community’ and how those really work together to create something far beyond what most people even would recognize until they stepped into a place.”

Susanka grew up in Kent, England, and moved to Los Angeles at age 14. She earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Oregon and later a master’s in architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1983.

She was one of the founders of Mulfinger, Susanka, Mahady & Partners in Minneapolis. The firm focused on the architecture of single-family residential homes, which was unusual at the time.

“We didn’t do the fancy, massive, you know,‘knock-the-socks-off-the-neighbors’ kind of houses, but houses that fit like a well-worn shoe that feel really comfortable to be in,” Susanka said. “We had a huge number of clients, and we were really quite an anomaly in the country.”

After working as a residential architect for more than a decade, Susanka had what she calls “an epiphany” one day while driving through the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa. She kept seeing large, “bland” homes and it made her realize when something that isn’t being said and isn’t being understood, it requires a good communicator to get the message across. So, she decided to write a book about house design for middle-class Americans.

“All of the ‘more and more and more’ rooms, bigger rooms, higher ceilings, left me asking, ‘Is that what we really want?’” Susanka said. “The vast majority of clients who used to come to our office didn’t want that. When the book came out, I thought I was writing it primarily for my firm’s clients and maybe some other residential architects around the country. It changed my life entirely.”

The book quickly made Susanka a preeminent figure in the field. However, she admits the popularity became overwhelming. She eventually resigned from her role as managing partner of the firm and shifted her focus toward public speaking and writing. Susanka said the biggest problem with the larger homes is unused space. She said people request a formal dining room and living room for their home, yet rarely use them. She used that case in point when she was trying to get a banker to lend her money to build a house, which was a prototype for a model she was recommending. He told her that he couldn’t lend her the money because the plan didn’t have a formal living room and a formal dining room. That’s when she turned up the sales pitch.

“The living room becomes the no living room,” Susanka said. “I asked him how often he used his formal living room and dining room. You could just see his body language change after I asked him that. Then he said, ‘I never use my formal living room.’ I told him ‘that’s why I’m writing the book and I can use you as an example.’ He became my biggest advocate.”

Susanka said the best way to utilize the seldom-used space is to repurpose it to something you need, like an in-home office or a music room. Another name for it is an “away room.”

“It just means a place where you can go to isolate either to have a business call or if your kids are playing on the computer they can be there and not have their noise permeate everything in the house, ”Susanka said. “It’s more of an acoustical separation, rather than an idea of a formal sitting function.”

This will be Susanka’s second visit to Lakeside. Lakesider Frank Baker gave her a drive-through tour around 15 years ago, but it was a brief visit.

“I could tell that I wanted to come back,” Susanka said.

Susanka will be available for a meet and greet at the open cottage tour of Frank and Brenda Baker’s “Green Cottage” at 174 Vine Street from 1-4 p.m. on Thursday, prior to her evening lecture. The cottage was rebuilt as a model of energy efficiency after being damaged by a tree in 2009.

Susanka will also have a book signing following her lecture.

Susanka currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is still designing homes all over the U.S., but not as much as when she was in the firm. She just finished a house in New Jersey and is working on one in Utah. She also hasn’t written off the idea of another book.

“I do still keep my toe in the water,” Susanka said. “I always have a few books floating around in my head. I haven’t written one for a few years. But yes, there are more books in the future.”