April 6, 2003: Headlines: COS - Peru: Home Design: The Columbian: Peru RPCV Marlis Rufener designs houses that create less waste and give people a sense of community

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Peace Corps Peru: The Peace Corps in Peru: April 6, 2003: Headlines: COS - Peru: Home Design: The Columbian: Peru RPCV Marlis Rufener designs houses that create less waste and give people a sense of community

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Peru RPCV Marlis Rufener designs houses that create less waste and give people a sense of community

Peru RPCV Marlis Rufener designs houses that create less waste and give people a sense of community

Pushing the efficiency envelope: Home designer makes the most of every square foot to make houses 'fit' with owners, create less waste and give people a sense of community

Sunday, April 6, 2003
By NICOLE GRESS, Columbian staff writer

When home designer Marlis Rufener lived in Peru while working for the Peace Corps, she didn't have running water, a refrigerator or a stove. The bathroom was a hole dug in the ground. Her dwelling was enclosed by a dirt wall with glass shards on top, and she had to drop a rope and bucket into a well to get water.

The experience, combined with her other travels in Europe, Mexico and Independent Samoa, taught her how to make do in small spaces, cut down on waste and promote community -- knowledge she eventually applied to her home design skills.

"I look at the very large houses being built today and despair about many trends they encourage: waste of materials, extra time and money necessary to clean and spend on maintenance, tying the owners to the house," Rufener said. "This can encourage an almost anti- social tendency to 'hole-up' in the house, rather than to become an active part of the community and neighborhood. Within the house, it also increases the distance between family members, allowing them to avoid one another when desired."

One of Rufener's basic philosophies is to create versatile spaces that help minimize square-footage, thereby cutting building costs and house-cleaning time. She said to start by thinking about how you use a space and what your minimal needs are.

An example of this is the occasional guest room that also can be used every day as a nook, office or library.

"When people say to me, 'I want a three-bedroom house' for two people, I say 'why don't we build one bedroom, one study that has a guest bed and one space for a music room or library?'" Rufener said. "Why build a separate bedroom that will only be used a few times a year?"

The point is this: don't have any spaces in the house that don't get used.

"Family rooms can ... be a creative hub for the family. Save that unused living room for quiet, clean activities such as reading, visiting, heart-to- hearts. Perhaps the formal dining room becomes a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves," Rufener added.

Rufener said another trick to conserve space, while giving the illusion of openness, is to create vertical space using interesting materials and angles.

Sandy Hayslip did just that with her kitchen cabinets when she built her 1,500-square-foot home 10 months ago in the Hudson's Bay neighborhood.

The cabinets are different heights -- set at varying heights next to each other -- as opposed to completely horizontal. This draws the eye up and gives the illusion of a higher ceiling.

Hayslip, 56, didn't want a large house because she lives by herself. So she designed her 1920's-style home to suit her needs and brought Rufener in to make problem areas fit.

"When people hear 1,500 square feet, they don't usually think it's that big. But you could have more than one person here easily, probably a family of three," Hayslip said.

One of Hayslip's priorities was having a downstairs office, but she also wanted the option of converting it into a bedroom -- to enhance the home's resale value -- or to use herself as she gets older. Hayslip said someday she may not be able to climb the stairs to get to her current master bath and bedroom.

To solve the problem, Hayslip put closets in the office. She hides the closets with bookshelves that she can remove. And the nearby guest bathroom doesn't have a shower, but it's plumbed for one if needed someday.

"I make use of every nook and cranny. There's no wasted space" Hayslip said, pointing to an area at the bottom of the staircase.

She uses the 80 square feet, which is closed off with a door, to store her vacuum and Christmas decorations.

Rufener also likes to use windows to make homes more comfortable and efficient.

Lots of windows or wide doors can create a pleasing outdoorlike area that encourages family and guests to flow throughout the spaces.

Placement of windows can also help keep homes cool, reducing air- conditioning costs.

"A well-designed house doesn't need air conditioning. In this climate, you only use it a few months out of the year," Rufener said.

Instead, she likes to create cross-ventilation by putting windows at varying heights on different sides of houses. When the windows are open, they draw outside air in throughout the house, creating a cool breeze.

"In Samoa, in a place with closed windows you got hot immediately. When you walked outside, you got cool," Rufener added.

She also avoids windows in west-facing locations, which are subject to the effect of late-afternoon sun.

When it comes to entrances, Rufener doesn't like walking through utility rooms to get inside a house.

When utility rooms are used for entry, it creates a traffic pattern so the room must be larger and limits how you can use the space or arrange furniture.

"I like to use the front door ... and put the utility off to the side," Rufener said.

Hallways can also be unused space. Rufener prefers a "hub" area that has entrances to all rooms.

If you must have a hallway, be creative, Rufener adds. Make the walls wider, taller or only have partial walls on one side to open up the space. You can also hang artwork along the walls so the area doubles as a gallery.

"Our assumptions are we have to have all the things and be the consumers we are ... but there's comfort in small," Rufener said. "You get into large spaces and you lose the human scale."

Marlis Rufener

Home designer Marlis Rufener of Vancouver graduated from the University of Washington with a teaching certificate and degrees in architecture and fine arts in interior design. She's been designing space-efficient homes since the early 1970s.

To contact Rufener at FormScapes, call 360-696-3377.


How to make and use creative spaces around the home:

* Magazines: Fine Homebuilding, Fine Gardening, Dwell, Metropolis.

* Books: The "Not So Big" house books by Sarah Susanka (Taunton Publishing); "Small House Designs" (Storey Books); "Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and the Architecture of Decency" by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean (Princeton Architectural Press); "Making the Most of Small Spaces" by Anoop Parikh (Rizzoli); and "The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community" by Peter Katz (McGraw-Hill Professional).

* On the Web: For recycled and environmentally sensible building materials, check out Environmental Building Supplies at www.ecohaus.com; for more about Samuel Mockbee, visit www.ruralstudio.com.

How to get the most out of a new house or remodel

Designing a home is a collaborative effort involving the owner and several other participants, including an architect/designer, builder, interior designer and landscape architect. It's important for the owner to feel totally involved in the design process.

To get the most home for your money, think about these things when considering what to do with space: hobbies, entertaining, pets, children (and/or how future children will affect your lifestyle), physical limitations and length of time you'll be living in the house. Examine the way you live now. Where and how do you spend your time? What spaces in your home or in others' homes do you like the most? Try to understand the characteristics that appeal to you and your family and friends.

Then enlist the help of a qualified architect or designer whose work you like and who you can work with. Listen to that person and be open to all possibilities and suggestions.

Don't forget to do lots of research. Check out interesting magazines and books and keep a notebook of articles and photos that inspire you. Be willing to spend time to get it right. The design process is the critical part of creating a dwelling that you will be happy with.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Columbian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Peru; Home Design



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