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Architect Michaela Mahady could feel the gabled home speaking to her whenever she approached it.

"It seemed like it had a personality," she said about the wooded Minnetrista residence she had designed and referred to as the Maple Forest House. "I could imagine it being happy to see me."

She wasn't the only one who liked it. The spec home, one of Mahady's first solo design projects for the local firm SALA Architects in 1994, got plenty of response.

"I knew I had done something right because people would talk about how much they felt drawn to that house," she said. "I designed other similar houses because I had many requests to do it."

Not until years later, when Mahady was researching her new book, "Welcoming Home" (Gibbs Smith, $40), did she realize that the Maple Forest House sparked childhood memories of her grandmother's 1930s house in Austria.

In "Welcoming Home," Mahady draws from her experiences designing several hundred homes and renovations, from a charming "green" cottage in New York state to a 7,000-square-foot Colorado mountain retreat. The book includes the expected color photos and floor plans, but it also has reflective exercises to help readers build, renovate or buy a home that's "just right" for them.

We talked to Mahady about old vs. new, the kitchen's starring role and her own Stillwater Craftsman home.

Q Why did you decide to write this book?

A I was approached by publisher Gibbs Smith, who was drawn to one of my houses in Cottage Living magazine. He asked me to write about what was meaningful to me when I'm in the process of creating house designs. I'd always been interested in the way a house and architectural forms draw an emotional response in people.

Q There are scores of books on residential architecture. How is this one different?

A Many books have specific tips about designing a house. Mine does, too, but it also encourages readers to discover and reflect on what kinds of places are the most comforting and nurturing to them personally.

Q Your former colleague, architect Sarah Susanka, has written several books, including the groundbreaking "Not So Big House." Were you influenced by her design principles?

A I agree with Sarah's premise that a smaller home can be more responsive to our needs than an overly large one. And I think both Sarah and I are influenced by the work of Christopher Alexander, author of "A Pattern Language." I rely on my own experiences, my own personal "patterns" and those of my clients, to create satisfying environments.

Q Why do you think we respond strongly to certain homes?

A Children's first drawings of houses have a pointed gable, two windows on the second floor and a front door. The house is symmetrical and reminds us of our own faces. That kind of anthropomorphic design is used by architects, products designers and in advertising. If we feel a positive emotional response to a house, we are more likely to feel "at one" with it.

Q What are some exterior elements that make a home feel welcoming?

A A front-facing gabled roof reaches out to greet you. You're invited to enter a home by plantings along a pathway, a front porch or just a sheltering roof over an entry. Large windows not only connect us to the outdoors but offer a glimpse into life within the home. It's intriguing to walk around a neighborhood in the evening and look into other people's homes.

Q On the flip side, what makes a home feel cold?

A The lack of a clear entry -- it becomes puzzling, not inviting. Blank walls with very few windows, so you can't sense what's inside. Walls that go straight up to the ceiling don't offer definition or any sense of coherent detail. In our climate, very cool colors can make a house feel like an extension of the cold winter landscape.

Q What's your "just right" home?

A Our 1920s house in Stillwater spoke to me and my husband immediately. It's a simple Craftsman four-square with a big sheltering roof and a side-facing gable. The wide, welcoming porch sits above the sidewalk, so it feels part of the community but is pleasantly private. A Mission-style home I lived in when I was 4 years old and my grandmother's home influenced my emotional connection to the Stillwater house. I grew up in a 1950s rambler, but it didn't speak to me.

Q Why do many people seem to like older homes better than new?

A Sometimes it's the woodwork and details, or it's what they experienced growing up. From my personal experience, older homes inspire people, but it's better to learn from the past than replicate it.

Q Why do you often use open floor plans in your designs?

A It works better for the way people live now. A limiting aspect of older homes is the separate rooms, which responded to the way people lived in the past. The kitchen was a submissive, hidden part of the house. Now it has a starring role and is the glue that holds all the public rooms together. With two working parents, the kitchen is an interactive space where the whole family gathers because family time is limited.

Q What advice have you gleaned from your 20-plus years of designing?

A Don't respond to the hottest tips and trends and don't just focus on the practical aspects. Dig deep and discover what qualities in a house are the most meaningful to you.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619


What: Reading and book signing by Michaela Mahady, architect and author of "Welcoming Home."

When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27, SALA Architects, 326 E. Hennepin Av., Minneapolis. Reserve a spot at or call 612-379-3037.