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Big Ideas in Design From <i>Sunset</i> Magazine: Our Favorites, and Why We Need Them

From this group of stunning homes emerge big, bold ideas that change the way we see home building and the way we craft our living spaces to reflect the world we live in. Here are three of my favorite major themes.
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For 14 years, Sunset magazine has annually chosen an "Idea House" to showcase to the world. From the latest in green technology and beautiful design to exquisite uses of tiny spaces, these homes represent the very latest and most breathtaking that can be found anywhere. This year, I am so thrilled that Sunset has chosen to partner with Blu Homes to bring an updated Sunset Breezehouse, first introduced in 2005, back as the Idea House for 2012. With its clean lines, elegant design, and extraordinary green elements, I think it's a great choice to be next in line (but then I'm biased).


And it's got some serious acts to follow. From this group of stunning (and truly "makes-you-think") homes emerge big, bold ideas that change the way we see home building and the way we craft our living spaces to reflect the world we live in. Here are three of my favorite major themes from the Idea Houses of the past and why they're so important today.

The outdoors-indoors: Blurring the line

In the homes most of us grew up in, inside and out were totally separate, save an occasional porch. But Sunset has been talking about indoor/outdoor living and how to achieve it for the last 115 years! They have continued to find new ways to evolve this simple -- but brilliant! -- concept every year since, and the Breezehouse is the latest example. Bringing light, air, and space into the structure of the home as never before, the Breezehouse boasts features like an open "Breezespace" that connects the home, and the incorporation of huge floor-to-ceiling walls of glass. Suddenly, where inside ends and the natural world begins is blissfully a little harder to define.


Why we need it: More than ever, it seems we're all looking for ways to incorporate our man-made structures into the natural world in a harmonious way. And with good reason: the more we learn about the environmental impacts of our behaviors and lifestyles, the more we grow to value the natural world. In other words, we're learning to truly appreciate what we have left of this beautiful planet.

Less is more: Making small and efficient feel big and livable

Fourteen hundred square feet is not much to work with (think back to your first apartment... a size challenge, to say the least). You can't make something this size as livable as something bigger, can you? With a 90-year-old, outdated bungalow, Sunset's Dream Remodel project took a less-is-more approach to the extreme, opening up a small space and making it warm and inviting. This took some clever use of architectural elements like varying ceiling heights, and windows that provide long views out over the landscape. Multifunctional pieces of furniture (like funky benches that sneakily act as both statement living pieces and storage) also open up the space and keep clutter at bay. Soon, 1,400 square-feet felt easily as inviting as any "McMansion," and certainly less guilt-inducing for the eco-conscious.


Photo courtesy of Sunset Magazine

Why we need it: Post McMansion era, downsizing isn't optional for many of us. The cost to a family of four of buying and maintaining a home fit for twenty no longer feels reasonable. It's time to start reducing waste in a big way. But thanks to recent designs that make small feel big and emphasize creative use of space, embracing "small is beautiful" is as much a personal lifestyle and aesthetic choice as it is a financial one. Sure, size matters... but choosing small is cool again -- especially when it doesn't feel like a sacrifice.

High-tech green that's accessible

Once upon a time, it was the movie stars and those with exclusive access to the most cutting-edge technology that could afford to bring high-tech green elements into their homes (I'm looking at you, Ed Begley Jr.). But thankfully, that's changing. For example the tiny "Cargotecture" home, which was unveiled at Sunset's 2011 Celebration Weekend, is solar-powered and features a dual-flush toilet. Additionally, Sunset's 2011 Smart Homes featured efficient elements like induction cooktops, an "eco-glam" urban design filled with Energy-Star rated appliances, and a covetable home automation system to maximize all the systems in the house for ultra-efficiency, convenience, and cool-factor. More and more, these are accessible, affordable options.


Photo courtesy of Sunset Magazine

Why we need it: What good is cutting-edge thinking and design if it isn't widely available? Lifestyle-altering pieces of high-tech and green-minded technology are more accessible than ever, making it easier for all of us to keep up with the latest options for our homes and our daily lives. Look for home designs that are solar-ready, feature the latest in water conservation and recycling technology, and whose footprints reflect smart choices about usage of space and light. (And for one example of the marriage between accessible high-tech and green in homebuilding and design, check out the 3D walk-through of our new Breezehouse, here).


Blu's latest contribution to this high-tech, less-is more, indoor-outdoor world of design is the updated Breezehouse, which will arrive on a standard sized flatbed truck and, using proprietary 3D modeling technology, will unfold like origami onto its site. It will feature solar panels, siting to make optimal use of natural resources like the sun and natural breezes, and the highest-grade eco-friendly materials. Most importantly, these features are no longer the stuff of unattainable dreams for conscientious homebuyers. And thank goodness for that.