There is a distinct lack of sense in most new home developments, and it seems to be getting worse. The plethora of poorly thought and poorly wrought detailing sometimes reaches the absurd. I realize that price is king to the tract builder, but if just a wee bit more thought (and yes dollars) went into these houses, well they would just be more pleasing.
The ancient greeks and egyptians figured out that columns should taper slightly to be more appealing to the eye. Today we have huge "L" shaped "columns" that are arrow straight and covered in yards of stucco. Roll in the six panel front door with its plain rectangular transom on the ground level; but arch top windows on the second floor. Throw in the little bit of stone below and all too similar color brick above and the result is the standard mix of nothing working together. Our eye knows something isn't quite right.
Imagine this house with the following: columns that taper less, the gable over the garage removed, and additional railings on the porch. Substitute a nice brick for the fake stone, use one wide garage door. Better? Sure it is, and it's really not that difficult.
Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a unique heritage community which covers the history of four centuries and generations of immigrants transforming into American citizens. The majority of the buildings sit on their original sites but some have been moved here to be saved from demolition. In some cases a single building may show restorations from different centuries for comparison. It is fascinating to walk into an 18th century home with a garden of the time period and then visit a World War II era grocery store on the same block. The museum's archaeology department has an interesting blog discussing current events and finds from the ongoing digs in the area.
A trip to New England would not be complete without a visit to Boston, MA. A small city rich in history, the downtown is a contrast of beautiful historic buildings and contemporary structures. Many of its most interesting buildings were also at the centre of the American Revolution, such as Paul Revere house, The Old State House and Faneuil Hall which now houses a great marketplace. The most impressive building to us was The Boston Public Library McKim Building with its classic elegance beautifully restored. Every inch is a spectacle, John Singer Sargent paintings; bronze doors; walls, floors and vaulted ceilings of marble; murals by Edwin Austin Abbey and twin marble lions on pedestals.
Finally, an American holiday for house geeks can not be complete without a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the mix. We found this example of Wright's usonian house design, The Zimmerman House in Manchester, NH. Being the consummate control freak, Wright designed the house, the interiors, all of the furniture and the gardens. The house is owned by the Currier Museum of Art and still houses the Zimmermans' personal collection of modern art, pottery and sculpture.
The crisp and colourful delights of October remind me of our driving tour of New England two autumns ago. We are house geeks and our holidays generally consist of viewing architecture, taking home tours, visiting art galleries and enjoying local foods. This visit to the eastern seaboard was no exception.
Providence, RI is the home of one of the country's best design schools, The Rhode Island School of Design, so it was a must to visit. The RISD Museum of art is high on my list of best design museums in the world. Their collection covers from decorative art to contemporary art to textiles. Serendipitously, we arrived during the annual RISD alumni fall art sale and purchased a lovely vase from this lovely guy (which included ten days of fretting about its safe return home).
In Newport, RI, we took a day to tour the infamous Newport Mansions. The most well-known, The Breakers, was a summer cottage of the Vanderbilts at the turn of the century. The 70 room, Italian Renaissance-style palazzo is a National Historic Landmark. The decoration of the rooms is grandiose and extravagant but the highlight is the children's playhouse on the grounds.
Our favourite of the mansions, is a humble, shingle-style residence, The Isaac Bell House. Designed by New York architectural firm, McKim, Mead and White, it was an early example of the influence of arts and crafts design in America and the mesh of European and Japanese influence. As a work in progress, it was fascinating to witness the detective work which went into the reconstruction of the interior.
And, we are also diner geeks. Our search for a decent breakfast at a reasonable price in downtown Newport brought us to Gary's Handy Lunch, where 70 years plus, Gary, still makes fresh oatmeal every day.
Stay tuned for part two: New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
It pains me to see exterior woodwork repairs done improperly. Exposed bare pine left for weeks in the elements with no protection. All exterior woodwork must be primed and first coated to have any chance of standing up to the weather in the long term, and ideally separated from concrete and soil by an air gap. If you can use one of the synthetic substitutes even better, but good old wood can do the job if it's given a fighting chance.
This repair was carried out by the "no name on our truck" gang - perhaps they are clever enough to have formulated a business plan around doing work that will have to be replaced in a few years?
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.
William Morris' philosophy should guide your life and sanity. For most, the race is to fill one's home with stuff to make it feel homey. Foreign goods made of inelegant materials that have little personal meaning or value but fill the space are pushed at us from every decor magazine or mindless HGTV interior decorating program. Just a reminder, the origins of media revolve around making sales, so the design specialists who are pushing the trend of the moment are really just selling you more stuff that you don't need.
Better to live with an interior which reflects the vintage of your home and acquiring possessions which are accumulated over time with love and sensitivity. If you really need something to brighten up your home, a colourful bunch of flowers will do the trick in the meantime.
Another way to reflect your personality in your home is original artwork. Leave the Homesense and IKEA mass produced knick knacks and prints behind (although both of these stores are valuable for storage solutions to house all the stuff) and take advantage of the plethora of local artists and their wares.
Take a day trip to one of the many art and craft shows which fill our Ontario summer weekends. The Toronto Outdoor Art exhibition takes place at Nathan Phillips Square on the July 4th weekend. It attracts some of the best painters, potters, glassmakers, jewellers and other artisans in the area. Other favourite shows are Artfest at the Distillery, Guelph Art on the Street and our own Stratford Art in the Park. These only touch on the many options available to add art to your home. Spend a short time on the internet and you will discover galleries, open studio tours, online shops like Etsy, and artist's guilds. Challenge yourself to thoughtfully decorate and resist the urge to fill your home with objects of the moment and you will be richer in so many ways.
Build's Spring 2014 newsletter is hot off the inter-press! Catch up on what we have been doing and what will be coming up next.
What we do is expensive. Good materials, thoughtful design and detailing, not to mention the labour costs in completing a job properly all adds up. Anything that can be done to increase the life span of the work we do just makes good sense over the life of a house.
Following are a few found examples of what not to do:
Doesn't look too bad, but the flat edge on the top of the base blocks, and the opening vertical mitre is a tip off that water is getting in.
Removed the baseblocks and found that the pressure treated 4x4 was set directly on the pine porch floor boards – it has been wicking up water for some time and turned to mush. The pine post claddings were carrying the structural load. It is important to never set the end grain of wood on a surface that can be wet.
These posts have been "repaired" at least once before but not properly detailed, so they will fail again prematurely. To get these details right costs little more – slope horizontal surfaces, separate end grain from water, inspect and touch up caulking and paint once a year and exterior woodwork will last a long time. I finished taking these photos and looked across the street to see another contractor rebuilding a porch with unpainted knotty pine and similarly poor detailing. Perhaps I will be featuring it here in the not so distant future.
This tudor revival / arts & crafts home has so many great features – original art glass windows, symmetry, pleasing proportions, and one of its greatest attributes is thoughtful owners who are doing all they can to take it back to its original glory. Build has been fortunate to be involved in a number of projects with them on this heritage home.
A new cedar roof, copper gutters and proper wooden storm windows have all come about due to the desire for originality.
The color and texture of the traditional rug brick, cedar weathering to perfection and copper all work together – natural, traditional materials in harmony with each other.
This street houses some of the biggest and most elaborate homes in the area but this tidy bungalow, by my definition of what makes a house great, has it all.
From the owners of this great home, Craig and Beth Martin:
Many thanks Rory for posting photos of our house on your blog including the well written descriptions.
We appreciate working with someone who shares the same values as we have and along with your staff takes the time and care to "Build" it right. Our hope is that others will get the message and take the time and effort it requires to restore and respect the architecture of their home.
I always watch with interest the changes to buildings around me, and marvel at how some so called design / build firms can carry out such misdirected "improvements":
Fake stone has come a long way in the past few years. But it looks faker than fake when you do something like this – put a thin veneer of cultured stone on the face of a wall that cantilevers out from the wall below. Children know that stone is heavy. Stone has to bear on something that can carry its weight – this swath of stone hangs in mid area, defying logic. Lose the stripe of fake stone and this would instantly look a bit better.
Same house, more mistakes. The contractor replaced this window with one that does not match the angle of the roof. Would most people notice? Perhaps not, but add up all the little mistakes and to anyone's eye the entire package just looks off. Using fake stone and fake shaker shingles to fake traditional materials on a contemporary designed house is erroneous design.
A better approach would be to take cues from existing mid-century architecture by embracing a linear, graphic aesthetic rather than the average subdivision build overload of texture that doesn't suit the style. Perhaps, a vertical siding in a broader spacing and a structured pattern of brick (a material readily used in that period) would highlight the minimalism of the existing architecture and create a cohesive appearance.
For the past 40 years each May, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust celebrates the architect's groundbreaking career by holding a Wright Housewalk Tour in Oak Park, Illinois.
In 2013, we were excited to attend the tour in connection with a trip to Chicago. The tour consisted of eight private homes designed by FLW and his contemporaries, plus access to a number of landmark buildings, including his home and studio in Oak Park and the outstanding Robie House of Chicago (one of PBS TV's Ten Buildings That Changed America). The walk was long and the tours were quick but overall it was a fantastic day to experience his interpretation of Victorian style architecture and the dawning Prairie style.
An infamous Wright house which wasn't on the tour but can be seen in Oak Park is the Edwin H. Cheney House. The lady of the house, Mamah Borthwick had a love affair with Wright which eventually led to her horrific demise in Taliesin. A fictional account, Loving Frank, shares the story of this relationship from Mamah's perspective, a juicy read if you are stuck in a line up on the Oak Park tour.
This year is the 125th Anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. To celebrate the FLW Trust has chosen an All Wright 2014 Housewalk with a selection of homes exclusively designed by Wright. These are private homes not normally open to the public, and architectural fans travel from all over the world to experience them. If you are a fan of American architecture this tour is a great segue to a weekend in Chicago.