after a couple of years in the house, Doug and Dana started spending evenings poring over remodeling books at Borders, and Doug ordered dozens of narrow-lot house plans online to see how they might configure an addition. Things started looking up when they stumbled upon The Not So Big House, by architect Sarah Susanka, the landmark architecture book that celebrates the smaller, well-crafted house over gargantuan McMansions. It wasn't long before they were on the phone with the architectural firm that the author cofounded, SALA Architects in Minneapolis.

When architect Paul Hannan arrived in Chicago, the couple were talking redo; by the time he left the next day, they were committed to building a new home. "There were fewer compromises if they started over," says Hannan, who said the cost of their transformation would approach that of a new house. To begin, he gave the couple a 30-page questionnaire that would help him understand their wants, needs, and lifestyle, asking everything from "Where are you on a Saturday morning?" to "Where do you put the Christmas tree?" Hannan quickly learned that his clients wanted a casual home with an open floor plan. Dana, a stay-at-home mom and a passionate cook, needed a kitchen suited to cooking and entertaining, since the family also socializes regularly with the neighbors. And they were in desperate need of an alternative to beach chairs set up in the driveway as a way to accommodate guests.

In a town where 20 percent of the houses have become teardowns, the couple also emphasized that their new home should fit in. "We didn't want people to be able to drive by and say, That's the new house!'" says Doug.

"I had a hard time with the knockdown," says Dana, remembering how she dreaded that day. "But it came down so easilythere was no insulation in the wallsand, in the process, we found out that the electrical was bad. It was almost a relief when it went because we knew we were going to build and live in something high-quality." Luckily, the family was able to rent a house located just behind their own for the duration of the nine-month construction period.
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