No, no, come back! It’s ok, I promise. And, yeah, I know I promised the second part would be good times and it wasn’t, not entirely, but this one is totally a barefoot walk through soft grass and sweet-smelling wildflowers. Or whatever personal equivalent makes your day. When you get through all the flaming circus hoops (these aren’t in a field of flowers, that would be a fire hazard), the rest is a blast. It’s picking out just that right shade of [insert specific thing you want here] and being really, really picky about the kind of message your home says about you.
Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond
Good things come in small packages. You hear this randomly throughout life, mostly from guys, short people and cheapskates. But in some cases, it really is true, especially when it concerns houses. And today we’re going to go over some of the best examples.
Now, this is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list. It’s not even meant to be all that detailed. It’s simply meant to show that dream homes don’t have to be castles or gigantic, sprawling mansions and some of the coolest, most famous people in history agree with this philosophy. Architects, queens, samurai, presidents, etc. Not a single cheapskate in that list, is there?
Take Frank Lloyd Wright’s home of Taliesin. Nevermind the fact that it’s situated at the peak of a hill, in a beautiful valley and the property also includes his large architecture studio and a school. The part of the house that was actually the living quarters was just a simple, if beautiful, home, built in Wright’s unique Prairie Style. It burned down twice, though and had to be rebuilt. Frank lived a pretty crazy life.
Or perhaps the home of Isamu Noguchi, the famous Japanese American sculptor, who had a 200-year old samurai home moved to the village of Mure and restored. And while the property later turned into a well-appointed compound with all manner of areas for art and reflection, the house itself was a clean, simple, traditional Japanese home. If Apple started designing houses, I feel like they’d look like these historical Japanese houses. They have such a simple, modern feel, despite being so old.
Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello, might be pushing the upper limits of “small home,” but when put up against what is typically considered a mansion, I think it fits, if just barely. Jefferson, who was an avid architect, made sure his home was in a constant state of redesign, but mostly kept it within Neoclassical boundaries. But when he saw an element he liked, or had an idea, it didn’t stop him from experimenting. What resulted is one of the most famous houses in America.
A house in California, owned by Gisela Bennati and built by Rudolf Schindler, started off as a rustic, mountainside home, but because of local regulations had to, for whatever reason, be changed to a more formal Normandy style home. Zagging when most might zig, Schindler preempted a lot of design elements that would later become extremely popular: expansive windows, locally obtained materials, exposed rafters and large, open living areas. It was also one of the first a-frame houses. It’s also incredibly beautiful.
But, really, why stop at a single building when you could just as easily (not really as easily) build an entire little town for yourself. Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet, for our non French reading audience), was just such a place. Ms. Antoinette, unhappy with her posh lifestyle, decided to build a hamlet so she could pretend every once in awhile that she was actually just an average citizen. There was a dairy, a farmhouse, a mill, a barn, some other buildings, then about five or so buildings designed for the Queen’s comfort. All constructed in such a way as to make them look rundown and rustic, to the point that she requested the builders put in imitation cracks and fissures, rotting timbers and moss. If you want to pretend you’re a peasant, I guess the best way to do so is to construct an entire little city built around your comfort and delusions. Rich people confuse me.
We’ve looked at just a handful of houses, all of them famous in one way or another, but the point is… there are countless small, amazing homes owned by less-than-famous people all over the world. And you can be one of them. Call us, we’ll hook you up.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the history of housing, where it originated, the path it took through the centuries and where it is, more or less, today. It’s been a long, bumpy ride with many cool discoveries (like indoor plumbing, that was neat), but the houses being built now, some of them on the very edge of new technology, are the craziest things yet.
But before we get into that, how about a look at slightly more regular improvements with today’s houses. Sustainable and zero energy houses are becoming more and more popular, with systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Energy Star in place to rate how effective they are.
The most used process is good insulation, or building in a way that maximizes surrounding features to hold onto or shed heat faster, such as wind currents, positioning of the sun and shade and building layout that either increases or minimizes surface area. Past that, though, is energy reclamation, passive and active solar power, wind turbines and heat pumps among other things.
Existing homes can be modified to function at or near sustainable levels, but zero energy or energy-plus houses depart significantly from traditional construction practice, so must be created new. Zero energy homes use all the features previously mentioned but to a higher degree and contain superinsulation techniques. Energy-plus homes are actually constructed in such a way that they generate more energy than they use, benefitting the local community.
But who cares about all that, right? Bring on the high-tech gadgets. Like that $13 million home in Telluride where you can control temp and humidity, multi-room audio-visual systems, alarms and outdoor video monitoring from an iPad. Or the house in Portugal that makes the most out of its smaller space by being able to actually move its walls and produce hideaway flatscreen tvs with a touch of a button. Better yet is a Los Angeles home that incorporates the iPad control from the first home with the ability to also use it to change the colors of interior and exterior walls.
And let’s not leave out the possibility of living off-earth. In a few years, maybe the cutting edge of housing includes geodesic domes on the moon or Mars, maybe they’re little space stations orbiting Earth or large ships making use of breakthroughs in physics to seek out other planets like ours. Seems pretty hard to believe, but fifty years ago, changing the colors of all the walls in your house with a magic sheet of metal and plastic probably seemed far-fetched too.
So if you’re looking for something, whether it’s a well-appointed tent in up-state New York or a gigantic mansion that runs on classified technology and doubles as a generator for the surrounding city, Home Designing Service is where it’s at. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we are no longer able to design space ships. We offer our sincere apologies.
Last week, we visited the beginning of time. Or whatever you call the vague, detail-deficient thing I wrote last week. But I’m not a historian, which we’ve gone over. And that period of time is pretty light on facts anyway, which we’ve also gone over. So I’m not to be blame.
So this week, to continue the series on houses, where they came from and where they’re going, we’ll move forward a bit in time. The date: 3500 BC, the place: Finland. There is snow. Lots and lots of snow. In fact, there is nothing but snow and trees for as far as you can imagine. And what do you do when all you have is snow and trees? Naturally, you build log cabin saunas. True story.
The log cabins the Finns were making, saunas included, were way ahead of their time. Using a pretty advanced form of double-notched jointing, the buildings were more resistant to weather and the extreme winters, and infinitely more stable. And some of them were saunas. This point can’t be emphasized enough. The only reason the Finns didn’t use their genius to conquer the world is that the first manifestation of their brilliance was a sauna. They were too mellow afterwards to do much of anything.
There were log cabins in Russia and Scandinavia too, but they didn’t have saunas, so they’re not worth mentioning. Around 300 BC, though, Chinese architecture came to Japan and saved their homes from the rains there, by creating log cabins on stilts. So that’s kind of neat. Japanese architecture wouldn’t become fun until much later. Check in next week for that.
So last week, we went from sleeping under trees to tents. This week, it’s all about walls. The end of this period, at least in my eyes (remember, not a historian) is the early Greek/Roman domus. It sort of perfected the wall part and just started edging out into decorative extravagance. Sure there were gigantic villas at that time, but the majority of housing was in the domus. It is one of the earliest forms of our now traditional houses.
Courtyards and bedrooms, dining rooms and storerooms, the domus was a huge step in the right direction. Although mostly available only to the wealthy, it began a trend for demanding more from a place of shelter than just protection. Comfort, convenience, something to be proud of. It had walls, a roof and was heated mostly from a central hearth, but it also had gardens, frescos, rooms to entertain guests. Family life had grabbed a gigantic flag and staked a claim. And it wasn’t going anywhere.
Next week we’ll go over the direction housing took from here. The spread across Europe and each country’s translation on different themes. Italy, France, Europe and eventually America will all be making an appearance. Oh, and that fun Japanese architecture I promised earlier.
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you have a home. You may not have a house, per se, but you have a place where you go to be warm, to sleep, to take your clothes off without risk of being jailed for public indecency. A structure you can, in one way or another, call your own. If you do not fit into this category, if you are, in fact, homeless, then you should stop reading. I believe in visualizing your goals, but reading a blog about home designing in the hopes that you will someday get a home is, perhaps, putting the cart before the horse. So to speak.
Anyway, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to give you another. This won’t be a philosophical discussion on the difference between House and Home. Just assume that if I use either of those words, unless I say otherwise or context leans heavily in the other direction, what I mean is a building or something like it.
What this article will be about, however, is the house itself. Where it came from, where it is now, where it’s going. And like other great stories, I’ll start at the beginning. Or as near the beginning as is possible. The introduction of housing isn’t exactly a known occurrence to historians. Obviously being sheltered from the elements was as important then as it is now, we just don’t know when people started thinking about it officially.
With that ambiguity in mind, most of these early examples will be lacking in hard dates and solid facts. Some of it is historical conjecture, based on a look at the society as a whole, not necessarily archaeological findings.
Earliest forms of housing were likely as simple as trees with dense foliage or caves, especially in warmer climates. Provided those living outdoors like that didn’t have to contend with hostile animals or nasty weather, they worked fine. But in those early years, farming wasn’t really what it is today, and to survive, people needed to be close to animals. Unless trees and caves underwent a serious evolution lately, they were as immovable then as they are now.
So it wasn’t a gigantic leap of logic that brought people to the idea of tents. Small, light structures comprised of a frame of wooden poles and animal skins, they went up fast, they kept out the rain and they were easy to travel with. This allowed early humans to protect themselves as they followed migrating herds of animals. This was also the beginning of the concept of architecture.
It might not seem like much, but it wasn’t long before people were trying to make their tents bigger, trying to understand how to structure the frame in a way that it would accept a heavier load, etc. Within a handful of years, those tents started looking a lot like what we would consider houses, with multiple rooms, some of them even had multiple stories. Yet they were still easy enough to break down if everyone needed to pick up and move. And, as such, there was a definite lack of permanence. But that would change.
The start to housing was, I think we can all agree, pretty boring. I mean, there’s really only so much interior decorating you can do with a tent. There are no Victorian inspired tents, or Tudor Revival tents. But next week, we’ll get into where REAL houses started to take off, with walls and roofs and everything.
For those interested in Home Designing Service-created tents, I regret to inform you that a recent stampede of angry pickles destroyed the warehouse where we kept them. We can, however, whip up one of those fancy houses for you, if you want. I might even throw in a drawing of a tent. These deals don’t come along every day. Call now.
Ancient Egypt. Sand blows mercilessly outside in the dark of night. Men in robes stand over the body of their dead Pharaoh, performing the rites of mummification. The night stretches on and the men become tired, hungry. One of them takes a break and prepares some food on a nearby slab. The other men have him killed for desecrating the sacred rite, but later, are so impressed with the idea, they copy the it down in Hieroglyphics.
A thousand or so years later, a wealthy family is holding a dinner party. The husband, a famous archaeologist, has just uncovered the stone tablet detailing the incident, and with the thought on his mind, he decides to entertain in his kitchen, with servants folding clothes nearby. The idea is not a hit and, in fact, scandalizes the guests, causing the ruin of the archaeologist’s family.
But the idea lives on. Passed through rumor and underground intelligence, these multi-purpose rooms pop up in scattered clumps. Under fear of persecution by the Roman-Catholic Inquisition, which places the use of such rooms directly below Witchcraft in terms of heresy, these people create secret doors for all the storage and appliances in the room, so they can be hidden within a moment’s notice. Unable to trust even their friends, the spread of these rooms is stunted. However, a prominent member of the English court of Henry VIII is shown one by a friend of a friend and carries the idea back to his king.
The famous rift between England under Henry VIII and the Catholic Church, though allegedly because of his stance on marriage and his desire to divorce his wife, was actually due to the inclusion of some of these rooms within newly built manor houses. The church wanted them out, the King wanted them in, they parted company. But after years of fiddling around with the rooms, the King grew bored and they fell out of favor.
But today, a need arises…
Ok, so… maybe parts of that history aren’t true. But they seem like they should be, even if they aren’t. And really, that’s what matters most, right?
The truth of these rooms, known as “Do” Rooms, is that, in concept, they’ve been around since forever. Obviously I’m not a historian, but it’s likely that families have always had rooms that have pulled double-duty in the purpose department. But only recently have they been perfected and been the kind of room you can show off to friends. Functionality not replaced, but hidden, behind form. Which is to say it’s pretty AND useful.
A sitting room, maybe a tv or radio for maximum amounts of “chilling.” But hidden behind stylish walls are shelves and bins, washers and dryers, desks and others, differently shaped desks. Work can be done, then closed off. The future is now.
The “Do” Room defines what it means to be an average (maybe even above average) American. Of course we do laundry and have hobbies and need to store things around the house, but we also like to entertain. To have a room where all these things can be done at the same time, without embarrassment, well… I think that just might be the American Dream, as described by William Shakespeare (citation needed).
You need one of these rooms. It’s not a question, it’s a fact. So schedule a remodel and have us draw up some plans for you. Or if you’re one of our many current clients, have us add in one of these awesome, schizophrenic rooms. Don’t let Henry VIII’s sacrifice be in vain.
Imagine a docile guy, soft spoken but driven. Loyal to friends, superiors, co-workers and family. A great father, a loving husband. A private man, living a life without scandal, secret or serious offense. Got a good image in your head? Ok, now imagine the exact opposite and make this man a genius, prodigy architect that defines truly American building design. This is Frank Lloyd Wright.
I’d like to say, for the record, that this is NOT an article about Frank Lloyd Wright. 90% of what ends up being written will be about him, but the star of this particular blog post is his portfolio of structures, which somehow managed to stay true to his original principles, yet fundamentally evolve over the 60-ish years he worked as an architect.
It’s difficult to grab just one house and say, “Here, this is what he did and what they all symbolized.” We’ve been able to do that, more or less, for past blog posts, but Frank Lloyd Wright very much defies such simple categorization. That’s not going to stop me from trying, though.
This is the Nathan G. Moore House, and if Mr. Wright were alive and cared enough, he’d probably send someone to beat me up for posting this house first, because he hated it. He spent his entire life attempting to distance himself from the architectural traditions that, even in America, tended to draw exclusively from European influences, even going so far as to totally remove attics and basements from later designs, but when he first started, he needed the business enough that he’d cater to his client’s wishes.
But even with the obvious Tudor Revival influences, you can tell from the particular massing, the long, horizontal line of the porch and the severe cantileverization, that Frank (I felt Mr. Wright was too formal and I can’t be bothered to write out his full name each time) was developing a reserve of brilliance that would manifest very quickly and zig-zag through several style changes.
I give you Fallingwater, one of Frank’s signature designs. Here we get to see his honest, organic style at its full potential. Obviously not Tudor Revival, but you can definitely see the similarities. There’s a density to the structure that melds perfectly with those horizontal sweeps of the balconies. And above it all, you see how Frank believed buildings should seem natural – as if they had grown there all by themselves. Somehow simple and inhumanly complex all at once.
His work’s evolution culminated in what were called his Usonian homes. The word, an Esperanto name for the United States, was taken on by Frank to signify a design of homes that was, stylistically, solely American. I find it funny that he’d use a foreign name to do this, but whatever. He built just 60 or so of these homes, but also used the motif in city planning.
The Rosenbaum House, widely noted as the greatest example of Frank’s Usonian works. You can still see that horizontal line and cantileverization he was so fond of, the natural look and clean design. The roof acted as a source of passive solar heating, the wide overhang helped cool the interior in the summer. It had a carport, a word Frank himself coined. According to Frank, this style defined what it was to be American and to own a home without centuries worth of European baggage.
Frank Lloyd Wright was named “the greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. Two sons (one of who invented Lincoln Logs) and a grandson are all architects of note. And he lived a life full of dramatic craziness. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say, it involved betrayal, 3 marriage and one long-term affair, escaping to foreign countries, drug abuse, human trafficking, fire, murder and suicide.
But beyond all that, he is the definition of early American architecture and one of the biggest proponents of leaving European influences behind in an effort to be true to our own style. His houses were advanced for their time and still amazing today. If you want a home designed with any of his many styles, we’re more than able to help.
Henry VIII, the king of England during the 1500s, was a jolly chap. Amidst all the divorces, beheadings, forcing his subjects to have public displays of happiness and double-dealings between countries, he also found some time to spar with Rome, namely the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, which exercised all sorts of authority, even over kings, at that time, displeased Henry. So he kicked them out of England.
Not in so many words, actually, but the effect was about the same. Henry dissolved the monasteries, chopping the land up to make manor houses for his lords. On that land, a housing boom occurred, tenant farms popping up all over the place, each with the precursor to what we know as the English Colonial. Years later, because of their simple design and ease to build, they would be the go-to house in the early American colonies.
Now, when the word “colonial” is thrown around regarding houses, it’s pretty much understood to mean English Colonial, a universally square house with a steep roof and centrally located door, small windows but a large amount of them, and a great central chimney. But there were a lot of colonies in America and, despite popular belief, they weren’t all from England, and even the ones that were had some notable variations. Which I’ll now describe for your reading pleasure. You’re welcome.
Dutch colonial houses originally were found in what is now known as New York, but was then known as New Netherlands. They were made mostly with brick, which were transported by ship as ballast. They were fond of the split doors, which could open half on the top or bottom. Overhangs were added to protect the mostly mud mortar used in the stone walls and foundations. The distinct characteristic we know today, that of the flared eaves, was not adopted until 20-30 years after settling in America.
French colonies settled in little dots around the Mississippi, notably in Louisiana. They started with very steeply pitched roofs, a necessary habit in France, where thatched roofs would collapse under snow or rain if they couldn’t shed them fast enough. They quickly adopted a double-pitched roof, basically a small colonial house surrounded by a roofed porch, or gallery, to survive the hot summer climates. I imagine these would be good for parties, if having friends and doing things with them is up your alley.
Of the English Colonial designs, two styles became fairly popular, for entirely different reasons. The Cape Cod cottage, sprouted up around, you guessed it, Cape Cod. It was a smaller house with a steeply pitched roof to shed the snows of harsh New England winters, and shutters that were actually functional, instead of today’s purely aesthetic ones. They faced south to maximize sun exposure as an additional source of heat, and because of fluctuating temperatures around Cape Cod, which would introduce moisture inside interior walls, they used wainscoting, something still popular today.
The most hilarious design variation of the colonial is the Saltbox. Imagine a one-story house with a two-story house behind it that has a severely sloping roof to cover the two. That’s a Saltbox home. Not that taxes now aren’t crazy, but early English ones were really out there, and a viable tax shelter came in the form of the Saltbox design. They would put the one-story side facing the street, and, by doing so, because the roof came all the way down to that first floor, they evaded a two-story house tax. Pretty clever, those early Colonial folks.
There are so many other nationalities I could put in here, like Spanish and German, and probably countless variations. This is just a tiny slice of the gigantic colonial pie (I’d like to think of it as a pumpkin pie, but that’s just me) that make up our history. If you’re interested in a colonially inspired home, be sure to contact us.
I’m going to get this out of the way right now, because I know more than a few of you were wondering. I love ranch dressing. Like, an unhealthy amount. As in, sometimes, when no one’s looking, I pull out the little bottle I keep in my pocket and take a sip. And by sip, I mean mouthful.
So now you know.
I think we can all agree that we think of ranch houses when we see ranch dressing, or visa versa. What with the aforementioned ranch dressing flask I keep with me at all times, I think it goes without saying that ranches are on my mind a lot, both the houses and the dressing. And let me tell you right now – it is a weird state of mind to be in.
But you know what isn’t weird? Ranch houses. They’re quite the opposite, actually. They define simple. Last week there was a post from April about bungalows, and how they became popular for the lower middle class right after WWI. Well, ranch houses were popular for a lot of the same reasons, at the same time, but for the middle class. They were the upgrade to bungalows.
Ranches went through a couple evolutions, but the style essentially remained the same. Single story, long and low, attached garage, simple/open floor plans, sliding glass door leading to a patio, large windows, simple/rustic interior and exterior. You might have noticed I used the word “simple” twice in the description. Not a mistake.
But as we learned last week, simple houses definitely aren’t a bad thing. I remember April using words like “cozy” and “intimate” and probably “cozy” again. Ranch style homes took the good points of bungalows and just sort of stretched them out a bit. They focused on large living areas and bedrooms, eat-in kitchens and good-sized yards. Between ranches and bungalows, almost the entire image of a family at that time was defined.
Around the 70s, however, neo-eclectic homes had become the home of choice after elements of the style had spent a few years diluting the simpler ranch designs. At that time, land prices were rising, so it became less practical to build the single-story ranch. Traditional houses, fusing the grandeur of older Victorian homes with the modern appeal of ranches, became the go-to design.
During the late 90s, though, ranches saw a bit of a revival, mostly through a process called gentrification. Basically, gentrification is the process of the rich purchasing houses that may be considered beneath their normal buying level, then upgrading them. These upgrades increase the value of the home and surrounding property, making it difficult for the current level of income families to stay in the area. They move away, the rich move in. Gentrification.
Anyway, late 90s and ranches were going through gentrification mostly, but they were also catching the eyes of both young home buyers attracted by the low price and simple (that word again) design, and also older couples who needed a house they could easily navigate as they aged. They don’t enjoy quite the popularity they had in earlier decades, but are still a desired style for many people.
So if you’re interested in coziness and intimacy and coziness again, with some room to move around in, we’re the clear choice. Call us and we’ll design you a ranch house. We can discuss the plans over an ice-cold glass of Hidden Valley.
There are few buildings that have the romanticized image of an artistic retreat than that of the bungalow. Perhaps a New York City loft, but my money’s still on the bungalow. Small and dense, rooms wrapped around each other like a protective cocoon to allow the occupant the time and safety to express his (or her) innermost secrets in the form of art.
If you’re not an artist, you’re not allowed to own a bungalow. In certain cultures, you’re not even allowed to be in the same neighborhood as a bungalow without being able to present a portfolio of passable works or they’ll make you do the Truffle Shuffle (from the Goonies) in public.
But seriously, bungalows will always have a special feel for me, personally. They’re so much more intimate than the large Victorian-era houses we’ve been talking about up to this point. And for a time, you couldn’t read modern literature without the main character struggling to find themselves while living in a cozy, dark bungalow packed with artifacts of years gone by.
Well, that’s enough of me waxing poetic. Bungalows have been around since the 1600s, where they were used to describe the little hovels English sailors of the East India Company used while in India. They were pretty horrible, hence the word “hovel.” They’ve been elsewhere since, usually denoting the type of cottages we’re used to seeing, or as tourist housing.
They were ridiculously popular here in the States, right after World War I. The lower middle class were moving out of apartments in literal droves, out to private houses. And these bungalows could be built for the small price of $3500 (amounts to about $38,000 now). The design was spread by mail-order plans and the buildings could actually be purchased precut from some firms. They were practically DIY.
There are a handful of variations of the standard bungalow, but they all essentially boil down to the same collection of traits. One to one-and-a-half stories, long, low roofs that top the squat little buildings, and either a gable or an attic vent that mimics one. Usually wood or stucco (or siding, if that’s your thing), with some brick being common. And the ubiquitous porch. Always a porch. If it doesn’t have a porch, it ain’t a bungalow.
As I said before, the interiors were a study in coziness. Usually hitting the living room directly from the front door, there would sometimes be a large opening from it to a dining room. The ceilings were low, and for some bungalows, because of the surrounding porch, the interiors were dark, even during the day. The upper floor, if there was one, usually contained a bedroom or two.
For some, I don’t know, maybe this seems like a dark prison. But for others, a lot of others, this was or is the definition of home. Bungalows were so popular for the 20 or so years right after WWI that most cities have what’s called a “Bungalow Belt,” where almost every building for miles is one of these great, if small, homes.
If you’re interested in one of these plans, we’d be more than happy to accommodate you. And if you’re not an artist, that’s ok. We won’t tell the Bungalow Police. Contact us at:
Home Designing Service, Ltd
25 Meadows Rd.
Windsor, Connecticut 06095