Home Designing Service, Ltd

Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond

Tiny Homes: Part 2

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So you’re back. You traversed the abyss of “Deciding Whether or Not You Really Want a Tiny House” and came out the other side, scarred but stronger. I salute you, weary traveler. Now pull up a chair, make yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable. We’re going to tackle the Sisyphean challenge of zoning, permits and loans.

No, honestly, it’s not nearly that impossible. It’s more like… what was that Greek myth where the bird came around and pecked out the guy’s liver, which regenerated so the bird could do it again the next day? The labyrinth of legal craziness is more like that. Annoying, painful maybe, but ultimately not deadly.

The problem almost entirely lies in the fact that the whole tiny house “thing” is relatively new and exploded with such speed that the legal and banking systems hasn’t been able to keep up. So while some people try to tell you that you can slap wheels on your tiny home and call it an RV and others will say it works just like a regular home, the truth is that neither is true. It’s something in-between both.

Given the quickly shifting nature of all the rules, regulations, procedures, guidelines, ordinances, (just going down this list of words in the Thesaurus), edicts, laws, etc, the suggestions in this post are going to be more starting points than a bullet-list of steps to follow.

First off, there’s a reason I used that whole “if it has wheels, it’s an RV” thing above. It’s the biggest misconception and quite a few of the shadier builders will try to quash your worries by telling you you’re fine if you have wheels. To even be classified as an RV, you need it constructed by a certified RV manufacturer. And for those who think they’re gonna build it themselves, that certification costs thousands of dollars, requires business licenses and then the structures has to pass a 500+ point test. All very doable, but not quickly or easily.

Then there’s the “I’ll just say I’m camping” or “It’s small enough to not need a permit.” And, yeah, both of those will work. Good job. But neither will hold for very long. The camping one is a solid excuse, and provided you’re on land that’s already ok to have campers, you’ll be fine. But most states only allow that kind of thing for a certain amount of time, sometimes 30 days, sometimes only a few. You’d have to pick up and move regularly. And that “small enough” one is only true of sheds. Once you switch the lawnmower out for a couch, or start sleeping in it, it’s a house.

There’s also a lot of laws in place to protect people from slum lords. Unfortunately, a lot of those codes also work against tiny homes, which gives them the right to deny you utilities, condemn the house and arrest you when you enter, or just fine the pants off you until you go away.

Loans are also an issue. Because banks don’t see tiny houses as having much in the way of resale value, they often don’t see them as worth the collateral of the loan. If you have an extra child or kidney, depending on the bank, sometimes you can trade it for the loan, but it doesn’t always work and you didn’t hear it from me.

But fret not, my concerned readers. Day by day, with the realization that tiny homes are not just a quick fad, everything’s getting easier. Many states have designated areas where a tiny home can be built, outright zoning clauses for them, or make it very easy to get a variance on an existing zone. Sometimes it boils down to them letting you do whatever you want, as long as you’re not a bother to anyone else, but that’s not exactly a guarantee for anything. And if American television has taught me anything, it’s that if government officials get something over you, they’ll make you sell State secrets to Russia. So better to go the legal route.

Again, this seems like a lot of scare tactics on my part, but it isn’t. These are all problems, but they’re problems with solutions. Chances are, provided you’re not paying your uncle’s best-friend’s son’s old juvie buddy to build your tiny home, they’re going to have a lot of this stuff either taken care of or will at least know where you can go or call for specific help. If that’s not the case, then call your local planning and zoning office for yourself. It’s literally their job to help you.

Banks, too, are starting to catch on. A few have specialized loans just for tiny houses. Call them. Ask. Don’t assume. Honestly, decent life advice, not limited to tiny houses.

Next time, we get to talk about all the fun stuff. Building materials, fancy power options, weird toilets. You know, the classics. Till then…

Tiny Homes: Part 1

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They say good things come in small packages. And, barring vulgar humor, that tends to be the way of things. Everything seems to be getting smaller and smaller as we advance technologically. The computer I’m writing this on is an entire warehouse smaller than the first one designed. Next to me, there’s a phone the size of my hand and about as thick as a travel brochure. There isn’t much I can’t do on that phone. In fact, if it wasn’t for these occasional blogs and my need for a keyboard, I could probably get rid of the laptop and be just fine. Perhaps not as convenient, but cheaper. Simpler.

Did you see my clever segue? Did you?

I suppose, in a way, tiny houses have been around since the beginning. Except, in the beginning, before greed, pride, wealth or whatever engendered the desire or ability to create mansions and palaces, tiny houses were just called houses. That’s all there was. But then the people who could make money did and those capable of building such structures started using words like “convenience” and “quality of life” and “property value” and, well… I’m sure you’ve been to Greenwich.

And that really is the crux of the whole tiny house thing, or movement, as they’re calling it. Of all the hoops someone who intends to own/live in/what have you in a tiny house, and thereare hoops, whether you can or can’t live without a certain level of convenience is what everything boils down to. Which isn’t to say tiny houses aren’t comfortable, or modern, or even downright fancy, because not only can they be, they usually are.

We’ll get to the more technical hoops (read: permits) later. This first entry covers the issue I talked about in the paragraph above. And to do that, we’re gonna play a little game of “C.I.B.H.W.M.T.S.I.M.H.” Or, Could I Be Happy Without Most of the Stuff In My House. The title’s a work in progress.

Look around the room you’re in. Now add a mini-fridge, a small dresser, a sink and a toilet. Remove the rest of your house. Imagine living in what amounts to a single room. You can hear when your spouse or kids go to the bathroom because it’s close enough to hit with a couch pillow, not that you’ll have a couch, in the traditional sense. Imagine heading to the grocery maybe a few times a week because there’s no room for a full size refrigerator or a freezer chest. Imagine never going to an antique store, because there’s literally no room in your house for a knick-knack, let alone a Victorian armoire. Can you be happy without a collection of items to call your own? Do you require a library of every book you’ve owned or hope to read? Do you quantify success by the accumulation of things, like the rings of a tree or the strata of a mountain? You have to go through all these questions and before you look at a single legal document or talk to a loved one, or try to pawn off your rather extensive collection of porcelain cats, they need answers.

And they seem harsh, I imagine. It might seem like I’m trying to talk you out of even thinking about the notion of a tiny house. But on the flip side of all those rough questions, you can ask yourself the following as well. Do you like to be creative with the design of your home? Does the thought of paying little to nothing on electricity excite you? Do artisanal things make you happy? Does the thought of having more time for other things in your life make you happy?

Tiny homes tend to focus your life down to what’s important. Not just the possessions or the space, but what you do, how you do it. Nearly every religion talks at least one time or another about the simplification of life. Living only within your means. Not collecting debt or treasures or whatever. For those who already have all that, they usually suggest to give it away and follow on the path of whichever religion’s doing the talking. And that’s not to say you have to be religious to have a tiny house, only that without the distractions of debt and treasures, you’ll have more time to pursue whatever path your feet are on.

The next parts of this are way more technical. Design options, permits, regulations, etc. I promise the existentialism stays here in part one. So take a breather, answer these questions and think about your life. I’ll see you next time.

IRC 2009 Revision: Air Sealing and You

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So it’s that time again. IRC revision time. Woooo! Break out the booze and the confetti, it’s gonna be a party. And, by “booze,” I mean air seals and, by “confetti,” I mean wind bracing. Of course. What else would I have meant?

You probably know what the IRC is, but maybe you don’t. It stands for International Residential Code, and it governs how one- and two-family houses should be put together. It basically makes sure designers and contractors are keeping up with current practices and the people who employ them are getting the best for their buck. Every few years, things get changed, everyone has a couple years to freak out and pretend there’s absolutely no way they can build a house under the tyrannical new guidelines. Then the changes go into effect, everyone settles down and it’s repeated a few years down the road. We builders are an exciting lot.

But honestly, as crazy as it can get when stuff gets technically more difficult, by the time a change is made, it’s often after that change has become common practice anyway and the technology is already there to facilitate an easy transition. It also shakes off those amateur crazies who are more interested in swindling customers than making a functional house. We here at Home Designing Service are not too keen on swindling, so we’re going to go ahead and talk about some of these IRC changes.

One of the biggies, and the subject of today’s post revolves around air sealing. Arguably more important than insulation, air sealing is a huge hurdle to jump when finishing off a house. Making sure there aren’t huge gaping holes in the walls is one thing, but keeping the air out from tiny cracks around windows and doors, or from pouring into the attic and then into the house, those are entirely different matters. For the IRC 2009, the magic number you’re looking for is 7.

End of blog. Everyone go home.

Seriously, though. Air sealing is more than drywall or the vapor barrier. It’s more than making sure the windows are in and closed. We’re talking more than fiberglass batts for insulation. And air sealing should be tested at several points during the construction of the house, because, basically, once the insulation’s in, doing a proper sealing becomes much more difficult. For Energy Star ratings, there’s a LEED checklist that needs to be gone through before drywall is even up. This gives builders a chance to find leaks before fixing them requires that a wall be ripped into. They can go around and do targeted air sealing on pipes and wires, corners where stuff might not be entirely lined up, etc. Then when everything’s mostly together, they do a blower door test. And they hope for that 7 I mentioned earlier.

So, this blower door. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a door. With a blower in it. It depressurizes your house and then, using the kind of math where there are almost no numbers and it’s all funny symbols and letters, they determine how many times the fan and suction of the vacuum was able to replace the atmosphere within the house in an hour. Seven ACH, or air changes per hour, is the max. It’s also kind of a big number. Quality builders who trip and accidentally make a house are going to hit a 5, a 3 if they actually try a little. California’s code requires a 3. Energy Star Canada wants a 2-2.5. And then there’s PassivHaus. PassivHaus is, if the name didn’t tip you off, primarily a Swedish and German company, although they’ve been seeing a recent popularity surge internationally. PassivHaus requires a 0.6. Which basically means when you turn the blower door on, your house crushes like a tin can because there are no leaks. I’m pretty sure they use ancient technology dredged up from lost Atlantis to make this possible.

Joking aside, air sealing covers a wide range of needs. Want to stay warmer and have less/no drafts? Want to save money? Want to reduce your carbon foot print, use less energy and help save the planet? I mean, we’re not exactly in “For just 50 cents a day, you can save a child in Africa” territory, but we’re pretty close. We at Home Designing Service know our stuff. Give us a call, come in, email, whatever you like, and there’ll be a specialist here to go over all your air sealing and non-air sealing needs. We might even let you flip the switch on the blower door.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

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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.

Heating in the winter must be fun.

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.

Pointy

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.

When in doubt of whether or not you’re out of touch with the problems of your impoverished subjects, build a little city for yourself so you know what they’re going through.

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.

Evolution of the House: Part 4 – Where No Walls Have Gone Before

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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.

Neat!

First LEED Platinum class house in East Asia. Completely self sufficient.

 

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.

Space Ship

Welcome mat not included.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution of the House: Part 3 – When Walls Were Nice

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As you could see toward the end of last week’s blog post, the idea of class played a big part in where you lived. Obviously, this is a concept that has always been – even when people were fighting over trees and caves, the stronger or smarter would have prevailed. But as the level of talent surrounding architecture rose, the distinction of class became more and more apparent.

Class was the difference between living in a townhouse or a hovel. A villa or a hut. But even as the gulf between social tiers widened, the living conditions of everyone rose collectively. As it, in general, became easier to make houses, it also became cheaper, which allowed more and more people to jump on the bandwagon. So to speak.

During the medieval era of architecture, timber framing became a thing. And, by thing, I mean it had been around almost since forever, but was finally coupled with a level of skill that made it easy to produce. Early houses during this period were basically just big communal rooms and a few side rooms. Even the manor houses of the more affluent weren’t very intricate. Cross the class gap, however, and you were up against castles and whatnot.

Swiss homes in particular had a very interesting design. Two story, cabin-like homes, home owners housed the animals on the lower level and lived in the upper. It seems pretty rustic by our standards today, but at the time, they had separate rooms for cooking, dining and enjoying each other’s company, which was a pretty big deal. These Swiss homes universally used the timber design, but also used brick and stone for the lower levels.

Fast forward a few (hundred) years and you’re smack dab in the middle of the Romanesque period, and while this moment in architectural history is most known for the construction of castles and abbeys, it also was a time of improvement of inner-city living. The tower house and town house entered the scene, both under heavy constraints of space due to the packed nature of walled cities of that time.

Tower cities rose like, well, like towers, often only having a single, small room for each floor. Town houses, in contrast, allowed the fairly rich a place to stay close to all the action in the city. Unlike the sprawling domus of Rome, town houses looked like proper houses. Two story, stone or half-timber, etc. Despite being primarily for the well-to-do, they were a statement for what would come.

What followed over the next handful of (again, hundreds) years, were a collection of “Revival” styles. It’s like how 80s clothes are becoming popular again, except for houses. As architectural techniques began to solidify, older styles were revisited and given a new treatment. Classical and gothic elements were introduced into domestic homes, homes that were steadily becoming affordable to the very people who had to fight for a thatch-roofed hovel in previous eras. These styles have been highlighted in previous articles, so I won’t bother going into them.

A standout style, however, was found in Japan, during a little period of change. Much like the European countries, Japanese homes were becoming more and more decadent. I wouldn’t put it as equal to the Victorian-era houses, but for the Japanese, it was becoming a serious problem. When the Zen masters introduced the Tea Ceremony, the resultant Tea Houses changed residential styles to a more modest, simple design. The interesting part of Japanese housing is the changeable nature. Walls were made of sliding panels, which could be changed with ease. So rooms could be joined for entertaining a large number of guests, or closed for privacy. Nevermind the fact that they had to practically set themselves on fire to stay warm in the winter, you can’t really put a price on that kind of convenience.

Then the Americas happened and ugly little colonial buildings became the norm for awhile. Without the infrastructure of an established country like England, the American colonies just weren’t capable of producing bigger, more intricate houses. But within a short time, they would catch up and even invent a few styles of their own, as evidenced in the Frank Lloyd Wright post.

Housing has come a long way from trees, caves and tents. A lot of styles have come and gone, but the concepts of style, protection and comfort have been around since the beginning. We’ve taken a brief look at where we came from. Stay tuned next week and we’ll discuss where we’re going.

 

 

Evolution of the House: Part 2 – When Walls Were Walls

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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.

 

Invention of peace.

The only reason we speak American and not whatever language they speak in Finland. I’m gonna assume Finnish.

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.

 

Domus

Looks more like a compound than a house, but it’s house. Just go with it.

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.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

To Do or not to Do? ~Henry VIII

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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.

 

Incognito

Wait for it…

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.

 

Boom!

Boom! Everyone else just get goosebumps, or just me?

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.

If Rainman designed houses and had affairs instead of counting toothpicks and stuttering

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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.

 

It’s like getting Christian Bale to star in the Batman reboot, but for houses.

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.

 

[Insert obligatory Bat Cave reference here]

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.

 

This is like getting Christian Bale to star in the reboot of the Brady Bunch, but for houses.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Pope Hates Pumpkin Pie, Here’s Why!

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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.

Square!

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.

The roof reminds me of those funny hats they used to wear.

 

Coincidence? I think not.

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.

Look at all the room you’ll have for activities!

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.

Clever.

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.

 

 

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