Keys to the Just Right House

Marianne Cusato has the goods on getting the house that's right for you. See her at the Better Living Show March 23.

By Kristin Belz March 11, 2013


An example of a "Katrina Cottage," the alternative to FEMA trailers that architect Marianne Cusato designed in 2005. The 300 (or so) square foot homes are available as house plans and kits to buy and DIY.

You may not know Marianne Cusato’s name, but you’ve probably heard of and even seen pictures of her most famous work: the Katrina Cottages. In 2005, she was part of a team brought in by New Urbanism crusader Andres Duany (at the request of Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi) to design alternatives to the standard FEMA trailers people were supposed to live in after Katrina.

What she came up with was a “little yellow house” with a gable roof and a porch. It was simple, vernacular, southern-accented American architecture, and it caught on. Lowe’s now sells Katrina Cottage home kits. Sizing up at about 300 square feet, they’re also perfect entries into the small house movement that has been gaining popularity in recent years.

Cusato is an architect trained at Notre Dame, which has a notably (and unusually) classical-focused design curriculum. She's learned the basics, and knows that it's good to know the rules before you set out to break them. She’s already authored a few books (with such classically-minded luminaries as theorist Leon Krier). Now Cusato has a new book, The Just Right Home: Buying, Renting, Moving – or Just Dreaming – Find Your Perfect Match, which will be out in April from Workman. She'll be in Portland for a presentation and book signing at the Better Living Show March 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. (The show is free and runs from March 22-24 at the Portland Expo Center.)

Interestingly, her classical, traditional principles could just as easily apply to Northwest Regional Modernism (which At Home has been fairly obsessed with recently): she purports to be a “champion of traditional architectural principles: structural common sense, aesthetics of form, appropriateness to a neighborhood, and sustainability.” If this is her core philosophy, she'll likely be preaching to the choir here in Portland. Which is a not necessarily a bad thing.

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