Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Inspirational Architect: Katie Hutchison

A few months ago, Terry from Architecture Tourist forwarded a wonderful online magazine to me, called 'House Enthusiast'. It is written by an architect from Massachusetts, the state where I was born and where I returned for a few years when my husband was attending graduate school. As much as I love living in the South, there is a part of me that is drawn to New England, and I was thrilled to learn about Katie and her inspirational work. On Katie's site, she writes 'Inspired by the simplicity of New England vernacular buildings and landscapes, Katie Hutchison Studio composes, promotes, and photographs meaningful architecture and design'. What a creative life, and what a wonderful subject for my 'Inspirational Architecture' series.


Katie Hutchison - architect, writer, and photographer

How did you decide to pursue a career in architecture?

I’m not one of those people who discovered while playing blocks as a child that I wanted to become an architect, and only an architect. I have at different times wanted to be any number of things. Three interests have persisted more, though, than the others, so it’s those three that I pursue today. They are architecture, writing, and photography. In fact, I have three bachelor degrees: a B.A., B. Arch., and B.F.A. I’m a licensed architect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; a writer for shelter magazines: both those produced by others and the online magazine House Enthusiast (http://www.katiehutchison.com/house-enthusiast/) which I produce; and I’m a fine art photographer. I practice all three disciplines via Katie Hutchison Studio (www.katiehutchison.com) in Salem, Mass. Each discipline allows me to explore the physical world in a different way: designing it, commenting on it, and reframing it. I believe each contributes to the other, a philosophy I first considered while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. I enjoy the variety, overlap, and synergy of the three. It’s a creative life that suits me.


A beautiful new home in Martha's Vineyard, with architectural design by Katie Hutchison and her colleagues. The shingle style is so quintessentially New England to me.

What type of projects do you work on?

As a residential architect, I enjoy placemaking. I seek projects, whether they involve new construction, renovations, adaptive reuse, or additions, which allow me to shape unique environments, rooted to their sites and context, where everyday living is embraced indoors and out. In general, my preference is to design smaller homes, rather than large. For one, it’s a matter of sustainability, and for another; I actually find it a more satisfying design challenge to accomplish more with less.


A garage/garden room designed by Katie epitomizes an incredible use of space: in the winter, it is a garage, but in the spring through fall the 12'x18' space serves as an outdoor living space. On the side facing the driveway are a pair of garage style doors that swing open.


Another view of the living space; on the side that faces the garden are sliding doors that slide open for easy access to the yard.

From where do you draw inspiration?

It sounds banal, but beautiful things and places inspire me.

I have an old, wooden, hand-made, 36-inch measuring stick with a flush, brass pivot hinge and two inset butt hinges that fold the stick into four. I found it at an antique store. I picked it up the moment I saw it and ran my fingers across the carved measuring lines, worn more smoothly on the outside face then the inside. It’s beautiful. It’s practical, while elegant. Exquisitely crafted, but not fussy. It invites touch and wonder. It’s a tool made for a person by a person who clearly loves tools. These are the same qualities and realities I aspire to convey in the homes, outbuildings, additions, and renovations I design.


Katie's cherished antique measuring stick.

I grew up mostly in New England and live here today. I’m endlessly fascinated by its historic fabric, rustic farmlands, and weathered seascapes. I take great pleasure in day trips to explore small villages, urban pocket neighborhoods, remote barns, and coastal constructs: boats, sheds, and cottages. The language of New England is second nature to me. Many say that you’re fluent in a foreign language, when you begin to dream in it; I dream in the language of New England, when I’m daydreaming about a project. It infuses and informs my design.


New England beach house, photography by Katie Hutchison.


A photo from a house addition that Katie designed. Photography by Katie. I love this scene - it is here that you can see the wonderful eye of the fine art photographer.

Do you have a particular style you favor?

I talk about architectural style in a letter on my website. To quote myself:

I steer clear of reproducing formulaic styles such as “Georgian,” “Arts and Crafts,” “Modern”, etc. Such styles were developed in specific time periods in response to a specific set of circumstances, be they cultural, material, or political.

Instead, I believe in determining what it is about a certain style that a client would like to express in a project. Is it the delicate proportion, the craftsmanship, the massing, the materiality, the openness? The answers to such questions then inform my design which is further driven by the nature of the site and client program.

Of course, I have my own aesthetic proclivities too. I enjoy reinterpreting the regional vernacular for today's lifestyles. I’m particularly inspired by the charm and simplicity of New England vernacular folk and work buildings: like fisherman cottages, farm houses, barns, sheds, and boat houses. I delight in the way that traditional Japanese architecture engages the landscape and modulates levels of enclosure. I appreciate lush, sustainable materials: warm woods, dry-laid stone, glass tiles, natural fiber rugs, tactile fabrics. I have a fondness for colors found in nature. I’m influenced by the creative arts. I bring these preferences with me to the drawing board. It’s part of who I am.


New England village, photography by Katie Hutchison.

What are your favorite exposures for quality of light?

Effectively harnessing natural daylight is an architect’s great joy. I believe in orienting a house to capture low morning light, while shielding harsher afternoon sun with overhangs, pergolas, or even deciduous trees. Where possible, I invite indirect daylight, reflected off surfaces, too. Unless seeking to light an artist studio, I usually limit windows on the north side in order to keep the chill out in the winter. I’ve lived in and visited homes in the northeast that are oriented toward the north, and found them dark and uninviting. Instead, I generally try to orient a house to the south, so its long axis runs northeast/southwest, if the site allows.


A kitchen renovation by Katie Hutchison Studio; I thought the quality of light in this room was beautiful.


A view of the newly renovated space, a place created with family life in mind.


A Katie Hutchison Studio renovation of a condo within an old house that used to belong to a sea captain. I love the location of the breakfast nook, in a corner with light on two sides.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently brainstorming the design of three or more homes to sell as design and/or construction sets available to any and all who might wish to purchase them. They will be small, ranging from approximately 1000, to 1400, to 1800 square feet. I envision each design springing from a vernacular type, reimagined for today. Since only a fraction of the population can afford to retain an architect for a custom design, I hope that my drawings will enable a larger audience to own an architect-designed home. Since no site or homeowner is alike, I plan to include a range of extra services to assist with customizing the drawings to suit a specific situation. Since it’s still early in the planning stage for the three designs, I’d be interested to learn from your readers what attributes they might like to see in the three homes.


Katie and her colleagues designed a new two car garage with studio and full bath above it, built to work with the slope of the site. The location is Martha's Vineyard.

What’s something you shouldn’t skimp on when designing your home?

Architectural services. Really. Time invested in planning, designing, and implementing the design of your home to suit your specific site and program is invaluable. Far too often, in the interest in forging ahead quickly, before resolving or thoroughly investigating options, design opportunities are regrettably lost. A home built today should last generations; it should reflect and enhance your lifestyle; it may be your single largest investment. Making the right and best decisions for your home prior to construction are imperative. You know the expression: “Measure twice; cut once.” It’s good advice. Plan. Plan. Build.


A renovation project on Martha's Vineyard, in which a new dormer was added to increase the room and quality of light in a bedroom, and add space for a new bathroom and closet.


Inside the house, in the space expanded by the dormer. I love the unique character of rooms created out of dormers.

A fad you hope to never see again?

I’m not a big fan of fads in general. I believe in timeless design. Fads are by definition short-lived. I prefer spaces and environments that adapt over time to the lifestyles of those inhabiting them. To me, a good home design speaks to many folks, across time, like a work of fine art or book might. If it’s a meaningful design, through the years, it will reflect something elemental about human nature and our capacity for home.


I encourage anyone with a love for architecture, homes, and gardens to visit Katie's online magazine 'House Enthusiast', and her website, www.katiehutchison.com. On the sidebar are helpful links to recommended 'House Enthusiast' posts. If you have any questions for Katie, please leave them in the comments. In particular, Katie is interested in hearing about features that my readers might like to see in the small home plans that she is working on.


  1. Thank you for featuring Ms. Hutchinson who has a keen eye and instructive pen. She's helped me notice details that make my architecture touring more fun. And she makes the case for the value of professional architects: "Making the right and best decisions for your home prior to construction are imperative." She really has a thing for properly designed dormers and she's helped be develop my eye for them. Nose around her website and make sure to read her "Primer" which helped me understand why (for me anyway) some houses are love at first sight.

  2. Love that garage/sun room. Dual uses of space are a great way to make a small house. That would be my input for Ms. Hutchison for her small house project - rooms that have many uses, so no space goes unused.

  3. Love this post! I really appreciate what Katie said about specific architectural styles - not reproducing them, but listening to what her client wants to express in the project.I also love that she inspired by the vernacular architecture surrounding her. Thanks for sharing her with us!

  4. I lived in Maine when I was a girl, it is nice to see the shingle style architecture on this post.

    Katie, one thing I dislike in a small house are a lot of halls. I think halls break up a house, especially a small one. I like it when rooms flow into each other, and the rooms themselves are used as passageways. I would eliminate halls in your small house designs.

  5. Sometimes I think the word "charming" was invented to describe New England cottages.

    What a wonderful interview, TTI. I look forward to reading through Katie's website and magazine.

  6. The garage /sun room is a perfect idea for the historical neighborhoods of Kansas City. This one is darling! I will visit Katie's site right away.

  7. Really enjoyed your post today!


  8. I want her measuring stick! Loved that white kitchen too! Great interview!

  9. Katie, is so talented. I know the exact location of the home in Nantucket...About 5 pages down. It is across the street from "The Three Sisters" homes. As an interior designer...I will keep Katie in mind for future projects. Great post!!

  10. I love the kitchen she did. Really like the painted floors.

  11. Great post full of great ideas. I don't like fads when it comes to the home either.

  12. Her talent is especially featured in the condo. The small space seems simple and elegant.


  13. wow, do I love that garage with the red doors turned oasis!

  14. I'm not sure why I have such a connection to this type of architecture. I think it is the combination of the simplicity and the wonderful proportions of New England homes.
    Thank you for the introduction to Katie Hutchison. I have the utmost respect for her talent and her passion for New England architecture.


  15. I loved her comment about fads! And how she describes "meaningful design". I will remember that! And her! Thank your for sharing!

  16. I love her advice... plan, plan, build. great post!


  17. Thank you Things That Inspire and your many readers for the kind remarks and helpful suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you again should you have "Ask Katie" questions or design comments for me to consider.

  18. I 'm a little late here, just catching up reading - what a wonderful post! I love this! She is so talented. YOu always showcase the best there is!!!!!

  19. How cool are those red doors on the garage? Brainstorming of ways to do the same (sans garage).

  20. I live in New England..., and I'm glad I learned about Katie Hutchison!


Thank you for your comments! I strive to make my blog positive in tone, and appreciate the same courtesy when comments are made. Thank you!


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