Posts Tagged ‘curb appeal’


“…where relevance is irrelevant,”

January 9, 2013

House in Hiyoshi’ by EANA, Kanagawa, Japan
image © koichi torimura
all images courtesy of EANA

I always look longingly at projects like this one in Kanagawa, Japan.  What could be more relevant for today’s life styles than a Modernist Box squeezed onto a tiny infill lot, positioned to take advantage of hillside views, and exactly the right size for commuting residents of first ring suburbs in metropolitan areas.  Unfortunately, getting a project like this past US building and zoning departments, where relevance is irrelevant, is usually a major challenge.  There are many architects that can do it, though.  One only needs to ask?


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.”


Shades of Modern

August 29, 2012

I find it interesting that readers are reluctant to publicly share their thoughts in the comments section of this blog, choosing instead to send me emails.  I was told in one such note that I should make more of an effort to explain my ideas to those wanting to improve things but not artistically trained or astute enough to know how.  My position has been, hire and architect.  Problem solved.  I have, nevertheless, taken the comment to heart and hope, going forward, to show more fully how improvements might be made, starting with the two modern houses here.

Modern House, Randallstown, MD, MLS/Web ID: BC7755382

Even an untrained eye can tell that the house above is not quite right.  Built in 2005, the water stains under the windows, the vinyl siding, the off the shelf colonial garage door and brick wall combine in a way that makes the place look more like a homemade remodel than a fairly new modern style house.  The lesson is that materials matter.

Modern Style House, Austin, TX

By adding a bit of wood the same horizontal siding looks better on this house.  Imagine the improvement had the pink bump out and garage door on the house in the photo above been wood and the wall and foundation matched the concrete stairs, not an expensive way of providing a huge fix.


“Frito Bandito” House

August 22, 2012

MLS/Web ID:     2926658

Frito Bandito House,  Sorry for another bad doodle.

One might want to consider the emerging imagery before too literally duplicating each side to form a duplex.  That way at least the eyeballs can be exactly the same size and set far enough apart so that they are not crossed.  Also the addition of a nose would make the house easy to find, allowing residents to tell their friends that they live  in the “Frito Bandito  House.”   Gotta love those micro managers!

Frito Bandito, Creative Commons


More Points of Architecture.

July 27, 2012

Japanese House by Naf Architect and Design Inc., Tokyo

Suburban New Jersey House

These two examples, though geographically and culturally far apart, may have more in common than would first appear.  If considered independently, they each look “weird.”  In context we see a highly designed Japanese house (top) set on an urban infill lot, and a home made remodel job (bottom) in a New Jersey suburb, both standing out by dint of contrast with their surroundings;  resulting mainly  from the strong visual statement made by another example of the here often discussed pointed roof. Then imagine the New Jersey house without the gable and the arched windows.  Does it start to appear a bit cool, more like its Japanese counterpart?  Now think what would happen if they were switched;  if we send the Japanese house to the suburban location or vise versa?  This scenario actually showed up in a previous post as well.

Finally, consider the houses as they appear in the photos here?  Does not the NJ house start to look a little less strange?  Clearly setting them next to each other here has a moderating affect, demonstrating the point, sorry for the pun, of this discussion which must be the importance of context.  Extremes in architecture are not easy to pull off.  They often show up in high design and high design “wana a bees.”  The difference between them is often contextual.


Rethinking what a house ought to be.

July 19, 2012

Heating, Cooling and Day Lighting in a House by Nakae Architects, Kanaishi, Japan

If we were really energy and environmentally conscious, newly built American suburbs would consist of house that looked more like this one, and I don’t mean stylistically.  Many architects wait patiently to be handed a project with energy efficient heating, cooling and day lighting as main programmatic drivers, often cringing when asked to design with the likes of expansive south facing glass in a Texas development or rows of houses with rooms over unheated garages in a New Jersey subdivision.  Instead our housing markets are too often driven by the likes of granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and revivals of the revival of some historic style, and that does not even begin to mention too rigid building codes.

Is it possible that the current drop in home values is the result of more than failures in government and banking.  Is is possible that we have hit the saturation point;  that we are tired of the poor performing money pits that take more from our quality of life that they give?  If so, there is an army of architects out there waiting to help home owners rethink what exactly a house ought to be.


Channeling Leoanardo

July 6, 2012

Ćlos Luce – Entrance

I thought I had exhausted discussion about how to finish this house (lower right), now under construction (upper right).  Then, as often happens to those of us who carry images around in our heads, I happened upon a reference to Clos-Lucé, final home in Amboise, France, of Leonardo da Vinci.  Suddenly the “French Chateau” I was envisioning jump out of the pages of history to express my idea about this design problem.  The brick volumes of the Chateau are framed by  smooth tufa stone rustication that has been installed in an elaborate crenelated pattern.  If there is any change in material, it is only to define and entire volume, as the rectangular box of the entryway.

Even considering the stylistically eclectic macrocosm comprising today’s building, this is a historically strong image that is likely to, on some level,  attach itself to the house under construction.   Any design, therefore, that involves horizontally breaking the volumes is bound to look contrived.  Likewise, matching horizontal elements, i.e. foundation and roof, might appear puerile in the context of a potentially sophisticated project.

To  follow the entire thread see:
 “The Last Resort”
“Taming the Tower”
Clos Lucé – Entrance | Flickr – Photo Sharing!