Lodge Life Design Philosophy

During the past ten years, we experienced an up welling of interest in “the estate” as the preferred home style for those seeking to live in the Bay Area. Exclusive areas such as Marin County were under siege by developers who wanted to cash in on the “new” money coming here from the Peninsula, Southern California and the rest of the US. The resulting flood of new millionaires and their dearth of mega-homes came under wide criticism in the local press, as the building boom threatened the fabric and texture of our established communities. We all feared that without severe restrictions, areas of Marin might soon look like the Oakland Hills, tragically over-built after the ’93 fire.

Less visible was the quite exodus of established Marin-ites who found their property values to be high, but commute pressures and quality of life to be increasingly degraded and unacceptable. Historically diverse, multi-cultural and bohemian, some of these homeowners cashed in on the escalating land values and sought refuge in the rural fringes on country property. In their new setting, their traditional willingness to think “outside the box” began to translate to a re-interpretation of home design. One historic living pattern of interest to this group has been the adaptation of the traditional country lodge as a new residential style, which could serve an even wider segment of the population as a re-interpreted basis for contemporary family and community life.

“When your home is a lodge,
all who reside there are guests”

To be a guest in our own home or to be the innkeeper for your family? These ideas conjure up immediate feelings of gracious hospitality, and for many, remind us of a lost sense of family connections and experiences. Thinking of your home as a lodge may not come easily, especially if you are living in a home that was designed with a traditional layout. Gracious hospitality seems to motivate most home design, if we take a closer look and compare two distinct variations of this pattern, the estate and the lodge, we will see some real differences. Common design themes find quite different modes of expression in these two examples.

the estate


a statement about the owner
control of access, circulation, and activities

concealing activities of staff
about consumption

fixed life-style patterns

design specific to particular family

isolated from community

often pretentious


fancy, highly-finished materials
on the land

the lodge


a statement about the guest

freedom of access, circulation, and activities

acknowledging activities of staff

about preservation

flexible life-style patterns

design general to evolving family

creating community

often diminutive


natural materials

of the land

Once we let go of our need to hold on to imposed patterns for family life, we give ourselves the freedom to see our contemporary needs in a new light.

Homes that support core family experiences do not
require “professional” kitchens.
They do not require oversized and underused (often
unused) formal living and dining rooms.
They do not require “media rooms” with
“entertainment centers”
They do not require space for catered parties with a
hundred guests.
They do not require a spa or a gymnasium.

The market’s recent fascination with these “estate” amenities only follows one possible set of design alternatives in an attempt to suggest an answer a desire for more gracious living.

Lodge design offers a different alternative by suggesting that we think of the home as a place created for the “guests” who reside there, be they parent, child or visiting friend/relative. Lodge-design focuses on providing two kinds of spaces: (1) the gathering spaces for eating and entertaining and (2) individual spaces for the “guests”. The individual spaces must include the separation and privacy necessary to insure that all “guests” feel respected and acknowledged by the design. In the context of lodge-design, the lodge kitchen can be designed to provide for professional cooking, and catering with functional design, appliances and an extensive pantry. The great “gathering” rooms can include spaces for eating, and all forms of entertainment from cinema to music to games to dance and theater. Traditional Lodges often include several buildings, and their plans provide for their guests in two ways, by combining guest rooms and suites grouped upstairs above the common areas, or in attached “wings” or by providing more separate facilities in detached guest-houses and cabins. The privacy afforded by detached rooms is what can give the lodge-based design its unique flexibility over the “estate” model.

Imagine one lodge-home accommodating all of the following living scenarios: (1) home-owner creating the first element of his lodge-home before having children: a few common areas, an attached “inn-keeper’s” suite, a few guest rooms upstairs for their friends. (2) Children come along and with the au pair, occupy the guest rooms; a detached guest cabin is added. (3) As the children grow and become more independent, the parents move out to the cabin. (4) When the children go off to college, the home-owners return to the attached suite, and the cabin is again used for guests. (5) When the elderly parents need care, they are offered the suite or a cabin and their care-giver occupies a guest room. (6) When the home owners want to spend a “year in Province”, they find a caretaker who lives in the cottage, and rent out the lodge. (7) When the kids come home from college to live or visit with new families, additional cabins are built. (8) Home-owners retire and offer rooms to a series of close friends who come and visit each summer. The possibilities are endless.

Lodge Life is a new semi-rural lifestyle that is best accommodated and expressed through innovative lodge-design. Good lodge design provides the property owner with flexible spaces to meet a variety of living patterns and needs. It incorporates informality of style with respect for individual living needs, which give it great potential to meet the needs of family and community in our changing world. The physical separation of primary design elements in barn-like and cabin-like structures, decreases the overall need for space and provides higher quality living at a lower cost. With good lodge design, less space, cost and impact on the land can definitely give a family more freedom and flexibily of lifestyle.

From “Lodge Life” to “Not-so-big” a change of scale
At the turning of the millennium, we are finding our image of HOME is changing. This American symbol of family and building block of community is being impacted by the changing dynamics of new and evolving family relationships, the cost of land and of construction, pressures of commuting and the patterns of where, when and just how much we (think) we must work. Home as symbol of the American Dream is less and less accessible to the middle class. It has been isolated from needed changes by our reluctance as a culture to let go of past traditions. It has also been damaged by the narrow-minded bottom line thinking of tract developers and, at the other end of the scale, by our communities illusion that changes in style and size of homes can be controlled through the arbitrary use of planning, design and development restrictions. The unique character of neighborhoods and communities have given way to a headlong rush to mediocrity, resulting in the artificial perpetuation of outdated styles, and unaffordable, outmoded thinking.

This is because we haven’t been thinking carefully enough about how our homes work for us as a tool for creating personalized and diverse living styles, raising functional families and creating a true sense of community. The commercial forces in our society are continuing to sell us on “more and bigger is better”, feeding a misguided cultural desire to acquire things as an expression of self-worth and a path toward happiness. This seemingly endless expansionism has created stressful lives for homeowners who find they can only spend small amounts of meaningful time in the homes they work so hard to create and support. The bigger-is-better pressure has resulted in community tragedies such as the gross overbuilding of the Oakland hills after the ’93 fire, and it has spawned newspaper articles bemoaning the spread of mega-homes as the latest chapter in our mis-guided search for family and community in a consumption-based value system. As architects we find we are more often than not being asked to design for “market forces” rather than individual needs.

At a time when the dearth of “mega-homes” deserves front-page criticism in our local newspapers, a few progressive-thinking architect and clients are choosing to question our cultural compulsion for “more-and-bigger-is-better” thinking. One noted author who has written several books on this topic is architect Sarah Suzanka and her “Not-so-big-house” books. Her most recent addition to the series is a self-help book called “The-not-so-big-life” in which she describes her own personal journey toward a “remodeled” life that allowed her to become an author. In addition, we have new trade magazines such as Simple life, and coffee-table design books such as “The Simple Home” by architect Sarah Nettleton. All point to evidence that patterns are shifting, and a wide range of new possibilities is emerging.