Monday, January 27, 2014

The Wall Street Journal and This New Old House

An article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal by design editor Dale Hrabi caught my attention.  Titled “This New Old House”, the article’s lead claims that:

“Americans fed up with over-sized, over-designed McMansions are finding saner shelter in dwellings inspired by historic models on the outside – but full of walk-in closets and modern kitchens within.”

Whenever I read about trends in fashion, food or architecture I often wonder if they will turn out to be fads that will quickly pass from memory.  Anyone recall brass fixtures and hardware, sconces, floral wallpaper borders or the crystal chandelier in the foyer?   It seems the mavens of style are often more interested in expressing a desire for novelty rather than an appreciation for long-held ideas about form, proportion, color or taste.  While I believe I can appreciate innovation, fashion and new cultural phenomena, I also appreciate those timeless principles of design, aesthetics and proportion which distinguish the beautiful from the banal.  It seems to me that the rush to create things that are “now and wow” often neglects proven principles that can leads to questionable expressions in architecture, fashion and art.  In domestic architecture this has resulted in the McMansion.

The McMansion.  Proportion? Taste? Style?  Who cares!!!  It is big and expensive!!!

As I read this article I wondered if this interest in traditional design might be another fleeting trend or if it represents a real shift in the way architects design, builders build and people appreciate their homes.  The fact that this article needed to be written suggests that principles of design remain poorly appreciated and that this new trend might be an expression of nostalgia rather than a fundamental change in the way people look at design. Hrabi quotes architectural designer Linda Connor of Connor Homes in Middlebury, VT , who says:

“People think it’s all about molding and detailing, but the most important thing is scale and proportion.  If you get that right the rest falls into place.”

To which I say “Well, no kidding!!!!”  I would hope this would be apparent to anyone who has thought about architecture and design.  However, the fact that we have been building McMansions for years while remaining oblivious to such a fundamental concept makes me question whether people are indeed interested traditional design or simply affected by another trend.  If so, I wonder if this trend will lead to a new understanding of design or will prove to be a passing fad for nostalgia which will result in pastiche rather than thoughtful design.

I must admit I can be a bit of a cynic.  However, I can be an optimistic too.  Let's hope this trend does represent a new way of thinking about how we design our homes!   

1 comment:

A R Dotson said...

My big complaint about new construction is the design. So much wasted space! I do, however, envy the walk-in closets. :)