Architect Russell Versaci in his Round Hill Va colonial cottage.  © Susana Raab 2010
Susana Raab Architect Russell Versaci in his Round Hill Va colonial cottage. © Susana Raab 2010

For much of his career, architect Russell Versaci has been trying to nudge his fraternity, and the builders they serve, out of their comfort zones. His books Creating a New Old House and Roots of Home have championed the return of residential design and construction to their classical and traditional foundations. “We should no longer be building anything resembling the old McMansion model,” he states. “Home buyers are looking for smaller, more practical, manageable, affordable, and sustainable homes.” Versaci has long been a leading proponent of modular fabrication. He designed his Pennywise collection of farmhouses, cottages, and outbuildings for factory construction. A graduate of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, Versaci has operated his own architectural design firm in Virginia since 1985.

Q: You have been vocal about how builders are wasting money by concentrating on the wrong things.

A: The current builder model has many flaws. Perhaps the worst is the inability to recognize that the marketplace has changed irreversibly. Frugality and living within one’s means are the new watchwords.

Q: Your book, Roots of Home, focuses on classic house styles. Are these practical for builders with budget constraints and buyers who think price first?

A: The direct answer is yes. An authentic traditional house is a picture of simplicity—a classic design suited to its climate and building site, with simple roof forms and modest room sizes, built with sustainable materials. Now there is a viable answer to the price-point question: modular factory fabrication. Think of the modular factory as one mega-subcontractor that delivers 80 percent of the job complete, handles all of the labor hassles, and carries the bulk of the liability. This frees the builder to do what he does best: project management, customer relations, sales, and fulfillment.

Q:Has the recession altered architects’ attitudes about design?

A: Some architects on the fringes (including me) are starting to wrap our arms around the new reality. We are creating a traditional design renaissance, and designing consumer-based rather than patron-based homes. In short, many of us are ready to think of homes as products rather than artworks.