Posts Tagged ‘colonial houses’

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“… three, two, one, lift off house.”

February 27, 2017

Authors note:  Original article is written for and posted in  Aspire Design and Home.  You might want to check them out, or just read it here.

houserocketfarm-townstreet-facade

Rocket Launch – Since I am already on the subject of houses on hilltops, I might as well take a look at this one.  Something strange happens to ones perception of space when approaching a tall house, up a hill, with pointy gables.   It starts to feel like one is approaching a rocket launch.  The flat facade of the building adds to the effect because there is no intervening element to catch the viewers attention and stop the upward motion.  This is reinforced by the driveway wall which also points, behaving like a one point perspective, drawing the viewer’s eye toward some infinite point on the horizon.

Single Visual Element – A bit of academic analysis clearly gives us to understand that, from a design standpoint, the house in the photo really starts at the street.  It is one with the driveway; a single visual element, dominated by an extremely strong profile, defined by vertical lines which terminate in arrows pointing skyward.  Have you ever driven through a farm town and seen the silos next to a railway?  The only thing missing from the photo of the house under consideration is the train.

Transformation by Decoration – Also worth considering is that rows of tall flat facades, springing directly up from sidewalks, show up in residential buildings in places like Paris, Vienna and New York.  These buildings are transformed, by dint of decoration.  Variations in the size, placement and celebration of openings, add complexity to the extent that one barely realizes they are tall, which begins to suggest that height might be something to cultivate rather than disdain, as I was at first inclined to do.

Why so Awkward – Likewise I am led to ask, if not the height, then why so awkward.  The answer, of course, is that on some level most of us understand that the unity of form and purpose evident in the row house, the silo, and even the rocket is missing in the suburban residence.  We end up with what I call a “fusion tract house,” sporting a garage door, a couple of gables, and the arched part of a “Palladian” window,  all forced into a shape that does not suit.

Architectural Form – If this home owner were my client I would, without going too far into value judgements, simply ask if this tall silhouette is one that he/she would choose to put in a typical suburban neighborhood in “any-town” USA.   If the answer was yes, then I would advise that the homeowner embrace the concept by loosing the “home depot” doors, windows, and finishes in favor of a stark functional version, organized to reinforce the architecture.  If, on the other hand, the answer was “not so much,” I would recommend either a different site or a different architectural form.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED Accredited Professionnal practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.  She has many years experience working for well known architects, developers and retailers.  In 2011 she started Gaddis Architect an independent practice in Alexandria, VA.  In addition, Ms. Gaddis has an interest in residential projects and is the author of “Real People Don’t Hire Architects,” a blog about houses.

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Vertical Siding Makes a House Look “Modern”

August 3, 2016

If I told you that these two houses were essentially the same house, what would you think?  Would you say “no way!”  They don’t look anything alike.  One is quite pretty and contemporary.  The other is dated and very ordinary.  Anyone can see that they are very different.

Are they not stick built boxes with low pitched roofs and asymmetrical street elevations?  Do they not have two stories with horizontal siding on the upper level and garrison style colonial shapes?  Are they not about the same size and maybe even construction quality?  Are they not basically the same?

What makes them look so different? Why does the green house appear modern and relevant and the blue one look like a 1965 colonial tract house that has seen better days.  The answer is more simple than one might think, which is encouraging because it means that there is a fix.  It is about the finishes.  Before going there, let me say that I have no idea about the origin or remodeling history of these two houses.  Whether the finishes are newly added or original matters not at all, as it is about the materials that were used and how they were applied.

If we make a single list of materials that are different on the  street elevation of both of these houses we end up with some vertical siding, white shutters and paint.  Really, that’s all!  Can such a small kit of parts be applied with such divergent results?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Consider, for the sake of discussion, what would happen to the blue house if we threw out the shutters, added a contrasting color to the “pop out” dormer and  and reversed the first floor siding so that it was vertical instead of horizontal.  Anyone brave enough to undertake it, could end up with an amazing update.

Oversimplification?  Perhaps! It does, though, drive home the main reason for this discussion, which is that vertical siding makes a house look modern.  Most architects will say, when used with care, it confers a stylistically modern persona and reinforces an up to date image.

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De-Shuttering Our World

March 21, 2016
I can't look!

I can’t look!

I really wonder if I missed some important rule of architecture when I was in school, or maybe there is something in the building code, some new requirement, or could it be something in the culture, or maybe technology?  That’s it, they must be functional?  I doubt it though.  Not anymore.

No and no!

No and no!

What does that leave?  Is it honestly possible that consumer preference has demanded that every mediocre house built in the US since 1950 must have at least one set of shutters, functional or mostly not, on a window that is visible from the street?  Sometimes it seems that way.

Do you want to know something about shutters, about function, types, sizes, history?  It is stuff I am not going to talk about here because it has already been done, many, many times, so check out the Old House Guy.  Shutters, we are told, are a great way to beautify a home because they provide lots of visual impact for not much cost.  They can also, he continues, very easily ruin (and usually do) its entire appearance, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Yup

Yup

 

Not so you say?  Look at this cute little house.  Think how it would look without the bright shutters and notice how nicely they are tied in by the use of equally bright accents at the door.  Bye the way, the variegated roof doesn’t hurt either.

Could be a yes!

This is a yes!

 

What about this house?  These shutters are adding design to an otherwise very ordinary house.  They set up visual rhythm, add order and interest.  I want to go inside and find all of the windows equally spaced and lined up in the same room.

 

The problem is that for every thoughtful application of shutters there are 50 that miss, or never attempt to hit, the design mark.  The materials of Mid-American single family housing, stick built in mass after the WW II, and continuing today in miles of new urbanest town houses, have remained the same.  Only the planning has changed.  There is a very unpleasant visual tension between the very old fashioned, historic kit of parts and the contemporary form of the whole.  Nowhere is that tension more evident than in the application of decoration, the most obvious being shutters.  The pervasive wood clapboarding, shingles, brick, pre-manufactured windows, doors, architectural elements and trim used everywhere today might better fit on a wing of Monticello than on a new apartment in a builder development.

This appears of little concern to much of the purchasing public, who are perhaps too uniformed to ask for better.  I would suggest that visually pleasing results may be achieved when the parts support the whole,  when the clapboarding becomes a horizontal element reinforcing the shape of a wide low ranch, when the a decorative element completes one side of a partially open gable, when a change of finish material turns a short window into a vertical element, maybe even when a shutter signals a message.  Here are a few ideas offered as inspiration in my effort to de-shutter our world.

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Images in bottom gallery are from http://www.flickr.com and used under creative commons.  Please contact us for links.

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Post Modern Wild West

December 17, 2013

vernacular post modern

I am often attracted to architectural projects that cross artlessly over the line between stylistic and strange, which they mostly do by crossing imaginary lines between style and style.  Strange is a holistic sort of term, like hot or big.  No one ever thinks to ask why a thing is big.  They just know that it is.  It is like that with strange, which the house in the photo most certainly is.

Once defined in such terms, a thing tends to acquire value based on the degree of bigness, hotness, strangeness, etc. that it demonstrates.  This house, for example, probably falls somewhere in the middle on the strangeness meter.  I expect that it could be a hard sell to an intellectual or sophisticated buyer, not so much to someone looking for features and even less so to an eccentric with a special agenda.

My interest is to discover whether analyzing the design has the ability to change our perception of it.  Without question the flat blue facade with the angled square window conjures up “postmodern” contraptions the likes of which Michael Graves may forever lament.  It collides with the not so subtle reference to rustic Western towns set in rugged terrain, consisting  of unpainted wooden buildings in rows made rigid by flat facades, and counterfeit by perfectly aligning parapets.  Not to be overlooked is the fact that what we really have is a two story colonial box with dated modern style windows.  Ok!  I take it back.  Analysis only makes it more strange!

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What has teeth but doesn’t chew?

September 19, 2012

Southern US Federal Style House with Picket Fence

Post War Suburban Cottage with Picket Fence

If I had to design a logo for the ideal middle class suburban lifestyle it would include a white picket fence.  There is an entire body of lore formulated around them.  They adorn small town cottages, schmaltzy valentines, fuchsia covered front porches, and bed & breakfasts abiding in the land of quaint.  They connect with pergolas, gazebos and all manner of outdoor ornament.  We find them enhancing everything from rabbit cages to mobile homes and no small town florist is without a picket fence theme among their best selling arrangements.  There is a gift shop and a TV series named “Picket Fences,” alas movies, even the lyrics to a song reference the image.  I guess it can stand up to a bit of analysis.

Visually, a fence is attached to and extends the image of a house it surrounds, meaning it dilutes the view;  so if a home owner, as per the top photo, wants his residence to be a focal point, as in the grand manor house at the end of a path, then he would be ill advised to enclose it, especially with a prominent and matching fence.  If a fence must be used in such a scenario, make it match the landscape or better yet, disappear.  On the other hand, as per the bottom photo, a fence installed around a tiny house makes it appear bigger by implying that the yard is living space, as was often the condition in post war US suburbia, and the de facto source of our continuing romantic visions.

Graphically, and independent of context, a picket fence presents anything but a sweet, banal picture.  The image is actually rather threatening.  Just ask any kid impaled by one while climbing over.  Understandably, an anti picket cult has developed, including images of picket fences as weapons, teeth and references to “death by picket fences.”

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Reporducing an amazing body of work.

July 13, 2012

Moravian Pottery & and Tile Works Museum, Doylestown, PA, USA

This is a piece of Americana from “the Mercer Mile” consisting of  three early examples of site cast concrete building.  Ironically these building were engineering innovations by American Henry Chapman Mercer who thought that industrialization was damaging American society.  The Mercer Museum, Fonthill, his home, and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, house collections of American turn of the century decorative arts, especially ceramics and tile work, influenced by the “Arts & Crafts” movement. I plan to make a visit soon.

I have a more compelling reason for offering this post, though.  The tile in the photo immediately caught my attention for its artistic quality, which is what lead me to examine its source.  I found that it is barely a scratch in the surface of an amazing body of work that is actually being reproduced in the still functioning tile works.  These tiles can be purchased for installation in modern building projects.  I am not one to believe in a bucket list,  but the possibility of installing some of these tiles in a yet to be designed residential project is going a long way toward changing my mind.

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Moderation lost?

May 10, 2012

MLS/Web ID: 2870780

Not so long ago, home builders of every elk understood that employing a few fool proof tricks of the design trade could actually create enduring architecture,  serving both resident and neighbor for many, many years to come.  Symmetrical elevations and plans work, even if the individual elements are anything but classical.  Vestibules work, especially when a graceful visual presence is provided by a single story gable, glass panel walls, and matching double doors.  Arts & Crafts shed type dormers work when reinforcing a symmetrical elevation.  Multiple windows in a row work when mirrored side to side and up and down.

These elements can be read like a book.  They say this house has a living room on one side and a formal dining room with kitchen behind on the other.  Upstairs there are likely 3 bedrooms, two of them being the same in width.  The main rooms in the house are light, all having at least one wall of windows.  The house is modest, its perception grand.   I am left wondering how we have come to prefer suburban mansions, or rows and rows of urban density?  Has moderation been forever lost?