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Kent Chilcott of Kent Chilcott Studio in Santa Rosa, CA, talks about a project very close to home: his own residence in the Sonoma County hills, which delivers a big design impact in a footprint of less than 800 square feet. Chilcott’s design was selected as a winner in the 2011 myMarvin Architect’s Challenge.

You advocate thinking in cubic feet, not square feet. Is that something new?

Good architects have always thought that way. The great buildings in history have always been volumetric studies.

But is this a growing trend in the residential market?

I hope so. We’ve just exited an era where square footage was a status indicator. I’m hoping that’s over. There’s a growing market of people who want a pleasing home with more daylighting, versus having an overly large home. Cubic footage is an experience, whereas square footage is just a line item on a sales sheet.

How does this play out in the design of a home?

To make a smaller home have the feeling of a big experience, you have to go vertical, you have to go cubic. If you want to have a 1,400-square-foot home seem bigger, the ceilings have got to go taller than 8 feet.

What about energy efficiency – heating and cooling that taller area?

Passive solar is all about putting your windows where you want them for maximum efficiency. You’re trying to gather heat when you want it, and keep it out when you don’t. And a tall wall of glass actually does a better job of that than a short wall. In this house, we get a 5-degree surge of heat on a sunny winter morning. In the summer, our overhangs cast a shadow that keeps the sun from coming in that way.

So smart use of windows is a key to the cubic-footage approach?

Nothing works better than south glazing and an overhang. The overriding point is, windows can be your friend if you use them right.

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