Mom and I have always had “issues” with our houses. I always kept thinking I wasn’t content with what I had because every house I lived in has never worked for me and I was always trying to think of ways to get it to work better. I keep trying to make due with what I have and am always frustrated! Everyone kept saying that I needed less stuff but I use a good portion of the stuff I have so why should I get rid of it? I have a horrible time keeping clutter under control but that’s only because I have no where to put things. (meaning no storage cabinets or closets)
Mom and I have real issues with modern houses too. We will go to these open houses for brand new “family” homes and think things like:
Why do they have a laundry room so small that you can barely turn around in it and then you have to fold clothes on the couch?
Why is the teeny tiny laundry “room” on the way from the garage into the house and you have to step over everything to get out the door? Why is it in the middle of the hallway or kitchen? Why is it downstairs and all the bedrooms upstairs?
Why is there no mud room and shoes and backpacks are dumped by the front door?
Why is it that you can’t even open your car door in a 2 car garage and easily get out the kids and groceries?
Why do you have to hike across half the house to haul the groceries?
Why is there no linen or storage closets? Where do you put things like family games, holiday decorations etc.? Where do you store the vacuum and the broom and mop?
Right now Mike and I are looking for a new house and with EVERY house I have to think “can I change this bedroom into a laundry room?” “Can I move the patio doors so the eat in kitchen won’t have a chair knocking the glass door at each meal?” “Where can I add more cabinets for storage space?” etc.
Well, mom found this article by Lydia Sherman at Home Living and it expressed EVERYTHING we have been feeling! (I almost fell over when I read the last paragraphs, it was like she read my mind!) She very kindly allowed us to re-print it on our site for you. I hope you will enjoy it and please head over to Home Living and read her comments on designing a house after you are done! ! It’s a long read but if you have always had problems with your house then if it’s the only thing you read this week please read this!!!!! Tawra (who is going to going to the house construction business!)
The Effect of Architecture on Home Living
by Lydia Sherman
Americans wonder why their houses lack charm…charm is dependent on connectedness, on continuities, on the relation of one thing to another..”
“Houses have become utterly charmless, lacking in the capacity to inspire…”
“The finest Gothic dwellings were sheer enchantments, passports to another place and time.” (The above quotes are also included in the next to last chapter of Linda Lichter’s book on Victorian life, “Simple Social Graces” or “The Benevolence of Manners.” Both titles are the same text)
I will begin by saying that I never felt as isolated, restless, trapped or jailed in the log home built by my father and mother in the wilderness (you can see photographs of it in my book, “Just Breathing the Air.”) My parents, with no architectural training, knew what they wanted in a house that would be a home and they managed to put it there using their instincts. I never felt so lonely, and I never felt overwhelmed with housework and storage space (even in a family of 9) in that simple two story house, as I did thereafter when I began living in the modern neighborhoods. After my son in law began to uncover the schemes behind modern architecture, both my daughter and I began to understand why these houses had such a debilitating effect on our lives. Here, I will attempt to explain.
The homestead, as isolated and primitive as it was, was humming with activity and life. It was a real home, with windows overlooking the scenery. We slept upstairs where the heat collected from the wood stove, and where we felt safe from intrusion. You can see diagrams of the floor plan in my book. It had no matching appliances but there was always a feeling in it that I could never produce in the modern tract home. There was always someone coming down the home road to see us, whether it was the mail delivery with a package, or a neighbor. Even a bill collector got invited in for a cup of coffee. There seemed to be never a dull moment and even the quiet times were fulfilling.
In comparison, my experience in modern housing was quite the opposite. At first I was excited, after so far away for so long. I thought I would be around people and that there would be more interaction, but I did not see people. Instead, I saw the back of their cars as they left their houses. If I did have company, I had to be careful that visitors did not park in neighbor areas and that we did not disturb the neighborhood in any way. Neighbors were not neighborly and everything was impersonal. I woke up to bleakness I’d never known before, and many other homemakers said the same thing. Part of this was due to the modern architectural planning of houses and neighborhoods. The homemakers eventually went to work, as the isolation of these neighborhoods was just too much for them. The neighborhoods and houses seemed to be designed to make people want to leave home.
I want to congratulate the 20th and 21st century homemakers who really made homes and conducted good family lives inside these limited houses. They overcame the worst odds and embellished them, sometimes adding gates, dormers, porches, columns, window boxes, shutters, gardens and windows, and other architectural salvage, in order to transform them with life and beauty. They created doorways and arches and all kinds of things to make the house memorable, and even inspire artists. All over the web I see these make-overs and I have to say to the modern architect who embraced these (what I call “prison designs”) styles, that these women overcame the limitations and did a greater job than the Victorian women even had to, in order to make the homes livable. The women who make these “shabby shacks,” which had no architectural advantages, into livable homes are to be congratulated. In this respect, they had more fortitude and determination than any Victorian woman ever had to have.
The 20th century “progressives” (often referred to as modernists) sought to throw off authority and restraint and basic principles in just about everything. They rebelled against the manners and the sensibilities of their Victorian parents and grandparents, and attempted to make it fashionable to strip everything of its outer facade. They ended up with buildings minus entry ways and embellishments, clothing without structure, art without beauty, music and poetry without rhythm, meter or even sense, literature laced with despair, and religion without good foundations.
One such person happened to be the granddaughter of Catherine Beecher. Catherine herself, of whom I have previously written of in this blog, was a Victorian, who thought homes should be light and airy and friendly to the home maker. Her granddaughter, a twentieth century modernist, wrote in her rebellion, ” We are, after all, just animals. All we need is stalls to live in.”
She advocated plain houses with no view and no furniture and no embellishments or color. Her rebellious writings made me wonder if she was just trying to get out of keeping house.
I have discussed at length in previous articles at the Lady Lydia Speaks column at LAF, the effect of the rejection of responsible moral principles on art, showing an example of art from the 19th century which was easily recognizable, and comparing it to a piece from the 20th century with only black scribbles on it. Today I would like to compare the 20th century architecture that we had to live in, with the homes of our Victorian parents and grandparents.
Have a look at the old Victorian neighborhoods. You can take a drive around the streets of almost any town and see the years go by: Victorian, 1920’s bungalows, 1930’s and 40’s wartime homes, 1950’s homes, and then the 60’s and 70’s….you can identify them by their style. Usually there are several streets that begin in the 1800’s and then after a few blocks you can see the next century. One thing that stands out supreme in the Victorian neighborhoods, even in the crowded row houses of some towns, is that each “Victorian” is different in style and color, making it very interesting. As I said, Victorian wasn’t really a style of its own. It borrowed from many different styles, has many different roofs, porches, gables, pillars and columns, verandas and porches, steps. Each house is different. This explains somewhat why letters could just be addressed to the family, with no number on the street. You could find the house because you knew the Jones or the Smiths lived in the blue Queen Anne next to the yellow Georgian. Compare this to the modern tract homes (the homes built by contractors, squeezed onto a plot of land), are so similar in color and style that it is not easy to identify your friend’s house. I have old post cards that have only the name of the person and the town they live in. I realize the population has grown, which entails a new address system with numbers on the houses, but I do think the tract homes lack that identifying charm that says “this is our HOME. I think it really shows spunk in the 21st century men and women to paint these houses they are stuck with, an identifying color, and add trim and porches to them.
The Victorians architects were people like Alexander Jackson Davis, and Andrew Jackson Downing. You can tell their mothers admired one of the presidents of the time, Andrew Jackson. I will mention other architects of the time, later on, but these are two that I want to focus on, who had in their minds, cozy homes for families of the 19th century.
You can read about Alexander Jackson Davis and see some of his designs here
A few months ago I found a free online printable book by Davis and Downing, full of lovely family homes, in which he describes how they can be lived in, adding remarks like, “Just plant an apple tree on the side…etc.” I cannot find that book at this time, but it is there, somewhere.
A.J. Downing, with whom Davis collaborated on a book of houses for common people, said, “There must be nooks and crannies about it, where one would love to linger…cozy rooms where all domestic fireside joys are invited to dwell.” I felt this on the homestead in various corners of the “big house” as we called it. I did not feel it in the modern tract houses.
The Victorians built up, instead of out. The modernist created the ranch or the “rambler,” which was aptly named, for in it, the homemaker finds herself walking what seems like the length of a ranch, and literally “rambling” all day from one end of the house to the other. What she needs is usually at the end of the house where she is not, and once she gets there she has to walk all the way back, to use it. These houses, though they have ample expanse, have never had the kind of storage spaces women needed in order to keep their homes uncluttered.
Building out also meant that bedrooms were on the ground level. In my opinion this invited prowlers, and then fear of prowlers caused us to install extra precautions, such as bars on the windows and hedges to block out all scenery. On the ground level, people in bedrooms hear every single noise, from the door rattling in the wind, to a creak in a window at night. In order to escape this uneasy feeling at night, children in those kinds of homes will often forgo the “privilege” of having a room of their own apiece, and choose their parents’ room to sleep in at night.
The Victorian (which consisted of several popular styles, including Greek Revival, Gothic, Italiante, Farmhouse, Cottage, and more) custom of building UP, did a lot for the property. We complain about there being only breathing space between houses in modern neighborhoods, and that they are little more than glorified apartments when they are so close to the next house. The Victorian homes being built UP meant more out-lying property surrounding the house. In other words, they were not “rambling” all over the place. This meant they were able to use their imagination to create wonderful gardens, like extra “rooms” to sit in, walk in, muse in, pray in, and look on with appreciation.
Victorian homes were built by husbands and fathers or hired to be built by them, for their beloved wives and daughters and family members. These homes were so loved and valued that they were often handed down through the generations until they literally wore out. It takes a lot of living and a lot of abuse and a century to ruin the Victorian houses, but the modern tract home takes only a few months to destroy with careless living. That is something to think about.
The modern home was built for quick access. The gardens were not emphasized because the property was created to accommodate what I call in this fast-food era, “fast families,” which will enable them to drive up quickly in their car, alight into the kitchen from the garage, eat, take a shower, and then get ready to go “somewhere else,” paying little attention to the layout and the gardens or anything else in the home. They wouldn’t need to spend much time in it so they wouldn’t notice that there were no architectural interest. After all, it was just for resale value, not a home to be passed to the next generation.
Lacking porches or balconies, families have no special places to go, so they just want to get out and go somewhere else. It keeps society moving around daily, nightly and yearly, looking for some place they can feel comfortable. Many modern houses are poorly lit, and inadequately heated or cooled. Sometimes they feel more like institutional buildings than homes.
The architecture of the homes of the 19th century inspires tours of these great houses that have been saved and restored. I wonder how much touring the next generation will do of the modern tract home. I can just hear the guide, saying, “Notice the easy access to this house. They didn’t have to walk down a walkway, and there were no gardens to bother with. The 20th century citizen had all these embellishments removed, including porches and gazebos, so he could concentrate on intellectual things, making money, climbing the career ladder… the doors were hollow, in order to save expense, the roofs were not pitched, because that was an unnecessary affectation. Of course, there was some leakage from the ceiling, but modern water-proofing took care of that. You could just spray it on and eliminate the holes.” Again, I say, with the obviously quick access to the entry of these new houses, I wonder that the architect even bothered with a door. Perhaps it would have been more “efficient” to have the passenger suctioned from the car down a tube straight into a chair in the kitchen, where food would be automatically served.
Windows of the modern homes I’ve lived in were, more often than not, too high to look out of. Many children grew up without window seats or the pleasure of sitting near a window and just looking outside. The huge plate-glass windows often used in the living rooms, were sometimes a magnate for hot sun, making it impossible to sit in that room in the summer. Breaks in plate glass entails expensive replacements. They paned windows of the Victorian designs were easy to replace, and should one pane be cracked, you could at least tape it up or put a piece of paper in that one pane until it could be replaced. Modern homes do not have enough over-hang of the roofs to create the shade that is needed to shield the home from intense heat and light.
I once lived in an older home and noticed how thoughtful the design seemed to be. It was as though the architect said, “I know the lady of the house will be writing letters in the morning, and reading her mail, therefore, her desk will go with this window to capture the morning light,” or “if there is an artist in the house, this northern room will be perfect for a little studio.” In the kitchen, a woman could easily step out a door into a little garden to get fresh herbs and vegetables for a soup. In a modern tract home, we often have to walk around to an awkward area and don’t even get there in time to chase away the neighbor’s cat.
Kitchens in modern homes seem to be merely alley-ways between two points in the house. Someone is always walking through with laundry to put in the laundry room, or coming in from the side door on their way to some other room. This kind of traffic creates more housekeeping, and also more traffic jams. The so-called “efficiency kitchen,” which was designed to reach over and open the fridge, use the stove, and turn on the faucet, in one or two steps, are not efficient when it comes to serving a meal, or working together as a family. The farmhouse kitchens were also the eating areas and provided much more room and made much more sense. Homemakers will understand, I am sure!
There is much more I can say about the modern home and I will briefly cover some of the other problems. For one, the children’s bedrooms are on the outer areas of the house, which I do not believe is safe. Sometimes they even face the street, and have a street light pouring into the room at night. The Victorian bedrooms were usually upstairs. In upper rooms, it would be more difficult for passers-by to be seen in the window, or for anyone to peek in unless they took a great deal of trouble to get a ladder and risk their neck doing so. Upstairs will collect more heat in winter, as heat rises, and keep the children’s room warmer. Upstairs, you hear fewer noises than when you sleep downstairs, and can rest better. Bathrooms are often put in even stranger areas with no windows for fresh air. Pity the poor person in the tub when the electric current goes off, in one of those modern bathrooms.
Now let me move on to the neighborhoods that these poor homes were relegated to. It is interesting to see the diabolical design behind “suburbia.” I don’t know if anyone ever has felt, especially if you were born in the 40’s or 50’s, that they don’t feel like they belong to their town, or that their town or neighborhood is no longer like home, or that they just don’t feel it is even their country anymore…well, you are not going crazy. It has something to do with the way houses and neighborhoods of the 20th century were designed.
First of all, houses had no porches, verandas, steps, walkways, court yards entry ways, parlors,
or over-hang from the roofs. You arrived at the house and you were suddenly “in.” You have no breathing space, no time for thought, no time for recollection. You are transported rapidly from the train or the car to the inside of the house. Without an entry way to even cause a pause in your breath, there you are, right in the living room, with nowhere to put your hat or coat or bag. I wonder that the architects even took the trouble to put a front door on these houses, since no one uses it. They usually come in through the side door from within the garage. Is it any wonder that people suffer from claustrophobia, panic attacks, depression, and general disturbance of the heart?
Some of the older homes of the 19th century may look a little bleak at first, but you can imagine that they were once busy places where children had something to do, with spaces that meant something to them. The modern tract home seems to lack this feeling of belonging. At least, many of the homes of the previous generations were actually owned by the occupants. Today, many women express this common sentiment: I would rather have a run down old house and own it outright than have all these modern things and have to pay so much interest and never get out of debt.
I learned that these neighborhoods were deliberately designed to shut out your neighbors. Without front porches, we no longer sat on the them and observed the comings and goings and the behavior our our own and the neighbor’s children. We were unable to see when a crime was committed. We could not observe anything that was going on. With the windows facing our neighbor’s house, we could not look out without our neighbor thinking we were peering into his house, so we shut the drapes and retreated to the privacy of the back yard.
If one attempts to go for a walk in their neighborhood, they must pass within very close proximity of their neighbor’s front windows, and feel self-conscious that they are intruding on private property. Even the barrier of a side walk does not remove that feeling. The whole design makes us all more suspicious of our neighbor rather than loving of our neighbor.
There is much more behind the scenes scheming in the development of modern architecture. Whereas most architects of the past felt responsible to lift up mankind to acknowledge the presence of God, and to ennoble his soul through beauty and design that glorified God, the moderns of the 20th century stripped architecture of any embellishment or beauty, reasoning that it was “primitive, ” or ” conceited,” and lacking in “meaning.” They substituted it with their own “interpretation,” which involved the belief that man had evolved and was more closely related to animals. He only needed a stall to live in and a place to eat. He could live without ornaments of beauty or gardens or flowers or windows to look out of.
Many women in modern homes with all the amenities and conveniences and appliances they could wish for, have expressed the most fantastic sentiments, that would make the designers of these neighborhoods cringe. For example,
“I would rather live in a tent and own it outright, and have a great deal more nature to look at.”
“I could actually do more with an older, broken down home, to make it livable and beautiful, than in this new house.”
“I’d rather live in the house I grew up in…it seemed so much more like a real home.”
“I have trouble adjusting to this house. Why should we “adjust” to a house? Shouldn’t houses be things we are drawn to and enjoy, without having to agonize over all the problems they have?”
“Drapery is too expensive in these modern homes. That is why I use a blanket over the window.”
I can relate to all these problems. The older homes did not seem to have so many things to adjust to. Alexander Jackson Davis, said, “A house should have nooks and crannies about, where one would love to linger…” In a modern home I was always wanting to take out walls and make more space, but in older homes, I loved the little spaces that existed. They seemed to be designed with a purpose and the contentment we felt in those kinds of houses was much more than in a modern structure.
One French architect that my s.i.l. had to study, claimed that all we needed was houses designed as cars. Another architect of dubious character and a questionable home life, claimed all you had to do was ask a brick what it wanted to be. “I said to the brick, ‘brick, what do you want to be? It answered me, ‘I want to be an arch.’ ” Today this man’s structures sit in modern decay, begging for money to resurrect them. One of these architects created a structure with airplane wings for the roof. The professor proudly told my son-in-law that this designer wanted to make the world a better place, and this piece was an expression of that. My son in law, older now, and more wise to the ways of modernists, said, “Just a minute. Please explain to us how that structure makes the world a better place.” The teacher fell over his own words trying to get out of explaining it because the challenge startled him and he was not prepared to explain it.
To emphasize how a home can either be conducive to family life and family love, or be erosive, I found this quote by famed 20th century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright:
“A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. “
He also knew that architecture had a strong effect on the human mind, for he said that he could design a house that could cause a divorce in a matter of weeks.
I believe we should hold designers and architects responsible for what they do. In a free market system, every architect and designer should have to go back to the houses they created and ask the dwellers how they are getting along. It would be interesting to see if there are more family quarrels, more stress, less efficiency, less relaxation, or more family cohesiveness in the homes they live in. If the family expressed dissatisfaction, the designers would get a bad grade. Architecture schools would thrive only based on the reputation of the students they produced with their curriculums–whether or not that person’s work was good and lasting, and whether o not the homes were desirable. Surveys would have to be produced that included how much crime was committed in those neighborhoods, divorce, family quarrels, and general discontent. That is not to say that human problems are the the entire fault of architecture, but just to show how bad architecture does contribute to some problems.
I was unable to find paintings of modern homes to include here, as artists do not seem to be inclined to paint sentimental pictures of them, for some reason. Thomas Kinkade’s paintings are now being adapted into actual building blueprints for homes.
For more about Andrew Jackson Downing, check here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson_Downing
(A design by A.J. Downing in the 1800’s)
“Every house must have something in its aspect which the heart an fasten upon and become attached to…” A.J. Downing
Online book of Alexander Jackson Davis house plans http://books.google.com/books?id=KuWL9UnyEWQC&dq=alexander+jackson+davis&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=iYnm5gk9wO&sig=JocedDS0ePT6QV6oeCABoZignFU
Addition (Oct. 1, 2007): My son in law has asked me to ask readers to post their observations of the effect of architecture on their moods and their daily life for some research he is doing while in architecture school. Things like traffic flow, interference, inconvenience, lack of beauty, isolation, uneasiness, etc….please post your thoughts and I’ll send it all to him. Its okay to post anonymously but it also is okay to send pictures to describe the problems.
Also, I want to emphasis a point that one woman brought up in the comments. I commented on it but want to add it here: With any radical change that “they” (those who foist it upon us) want to present, comes the knowledge of just how much we will tolerate. Like bad legislation, they will often tack on an advantage that we just can’t live without or that adds to our comfort, whether it be refrigeration or nice formica in the kitchen, to distract us from the other problems that we would object to. Then we end up living in houses that have terrible architecture–architecture that somehow makes us feel nervous or discontent, but we think, “I should be grateful, because I at least have running water and I’m not living in a tent.”
Well with some of these designs, I could have been happier in a tent or a motor home.The house made you want to scream.
I’ve talked to other women about this and they said the same thing, “I thought it was just me. I thought I was being ungrateful.” It isn’t just you. There were efforts after major wars to change housing so that people would feel like animals. Modernists were educated to believe in evolution, and evolution plays a part in modern architecture.
Christians, especially, will be so polite and so tolerant because they don’t want to seem ungrateful, that these elitist designers will change our cities, add things to our water, and create all kinds of problems for us, knowing it will take years for anyone to notice to the point of objecting. Architecture is the same way.
They create terrible looking buildings even in the country: barns that look like ammunition storage sheds, etc. taking away the beauty and sentimentality of the farms and creating horrid scenery for us to look at across the field. It is revolting. It took a hundred years to made the old Victorian houses break down and turn into haunted houses, but it only takes a few days to make you feel like screeching in shock at some of the newer places you have to live in, due to the bad architecture.
One major differences in the houses of the 19th century and the Victorian era is this: the houses were almost always built for someone, and rarely were two exactly alike, whereas the homes of the last couple of decades were built for sale. That makes a big difference in their comfort and design. It makes a big difference in their dignity. It makes a big difference in the family relationship.
Below: a design by Alexander Jackson Davis, early American architect. These houses were designed to delight a family and glorify God.
I agree with much of this article. I grew up living in an old farm house. We had walk-in closets with our bedrooms. Mine had a window in the closet and I fondly remember sitting on top of a trunk in front of that window reading and dreaming. I loved it. There were three bedrooms upstairs for the kids and 1 bedroom downstairs for our parents. We had a bay window in the living room and I loved sitting in a chair in the bay reading and dreaming too. The main level of our house had the bedroom, living room, pantry, wash room (where the wringer washer was kept), and kitchen with a big dinner table. I’d love to have a pantry like my mom had, although she didn’t have much for kitchen storage as I remember it. The biggest drawback was that we had to use an outhouse. We had cold water available inside, but it drained down into a bucket that we had to go throw outside. Because of this, we had to warm water in a kettle on the stove and then use a wash dish to give ourselves sponge baths and to wash our hair at the sink. I wouldn’t want to go back to not having hot and cold running water, showers, toilets, and washers & driers, but I did love all the nooks and crannies and character that our house had. Our family spent much more time together when I was growing up than we do in my current home. We have a family room and a living room. Why do we need both? Some of us spend our time in the one room while the others are in the other room. It doesn’t make for as much togetherness. We don’t have walk-in closets. The biggest nook or cranny we have is some little hide-away in our wall that we don’t quite now what to do with. I think that the old architecture styles probably do lend to more creativity as you have the little nooks to sit and dream in. Sorry for rambling on, but this really got me thinking about why I think back so fondly on my old family home. Thanks for sharing it.
The modern houses are designed by men. And these men only want to sell houses, not live in them. Much less, raise families…
In this “post-modern” society we live in (historians say the post-modern age began about 1965), God and Family and Country are not the main things in life anymore. Very sad. We need to get back to the important things in life.
WOW!!! Great article. It explains so much about houses and architecture in general, and puts into words things that I felt in my heart, but couldn’t explain to anyone. I’m going to print this out. Thanks for putting it on your website, Tawra. I love the pictures too. Makes me want a house like that. SO Thomas Kinkade like.
I live in a house that is about 80 years old. I love that the rooms are very large and a huge front porch but it does have a few drawbacks. The only access to the outside back yard is down the basement steps and out. Our washer/dryer is in the basement while the bedrooms are on the second floor. When I was younger, this was not a big deal but now that I have a “little” arthritis, it is more tedious. Also, the kitchen is oddly shaped and the wall to open up the kitchen is a load bearing wall. Our fridge is in the pantry but we will be changing that when we get a new fridge and actually put the door back on the pantry and use it as such again. I love the size of the pantry. Alas, our closets are miniscule and there is no storage space for towels and linens. But we live in a great neighborhood with wonderful, friendly neighbors and the house is unique. It has wonderful windows and a great tiny backporch (no access to the backyard) that is perfect for an afternoon of iced tea and a good book. I love my house and could really relate to the article about “modern” houses. Our house has nooks and crannies, creaks and groans, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. My husband, the gardener has made the backyard an oasis and it is a quiet place away from the hecticness of the rest of our lives. Thanks for letting me share a little of our life. Didn’t mean to write a book, though.
Thank you for sharing this. Made me think of my grandparents’ wonderful homes. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences in house plans. Right now we live in an apartment and I can see the missing things (nooks and crannies, kitchen storage), but we are also very blessed with balconies, ample windows, french doors, and a large open living/dining room. This is actually one of the best lay-outs I’ve lived in, so amazingly, sometimes you can get decent architecture in an apartment.
I grew up in a mid-century modern tract home. Every third house was just like ours. It was 3 bedroom, 1 bath, galley kitchen. Total living space just under 1000 sq ft. The garage was attached and the washer dryer were in the garage. We never parked our car there. You had to get to the back yard, by going through the garage or out the front and around to the fence.
My parents grew up in the historical parts of the city. Their homes were large with large yards and porches and neighbors…
The upside of living in this mid-cent modern home? My parents carefully chose the lot where we lived. It was in a cul-de-sac. We had a large yard, front and back. The windows faced North and South…always cross breezes. Our back yard backed up to a farm…you could hear the cows and the coyotes at night!
I felt sorry for the other kids in the neighborhood barely room to play. They always ended up at our house.
My favorite book as a child was: ‘Mr. Pine’s Purple House’
What a Great article, explains a lot why modern “neighborhoods” don’t feel like a neighborhood. We currently live in a small town in a house that is 75 years old and has the typical issues for an old house. Closets very small, washer/dryer in basement but the property 6/5 acres is great and the house has “character” No, it is not perfect but it is interesting and fun since most people in our community know someone who lived here over the years!
Well this is interesting but I disagree with some of your conclusions. I think that the problem with the design of modern houses is that they are created by architects who are young, male, city dwellers. Men who have no experience running a household, have never needed to produce 3 dozen cupcakes for school the next day or actually do a load or laundry, let alone 2 or 3 loads a day. Modern houses are full of wasted space, such as large, impressive, useless entryways that take up one third of the floor space, large lofts which leave little tiny bedrooms. So odd. It’s all for the Wow factor, not practicality. I’ll take an old house anytime.
You make lots of good points, Debbie. I, too, often wonder who is designing modern homes. For a period of time, in the 90’s I believe, it seemed like the kitchens in large “Mcmansions” were inadequate. I also don’t like the fact that everything is so “open”, with no zoned heating.
We live on a tract house that we purchased new 2 years ago. We very carefully chose a floorplan that has a front porch, large covered back porch on a dead-end street that backs a 100 foot utility easement. I also picked a lot that would put the backyard in shade in the afternoons/evenings since that is when we’re home to enjoy the space (since there are no trees large enough for shade). It’s over 2,000 sq.ft. but we don’t use all the space (and there are 5 of us). I would LOVE an old house but my husband isn’t handy or patient with repairs!! :)
I grew up in military base housing…
Thanks for sharing this article!
This article spoke to me. I too have wondered why I grew up thinking I never had a “homeplace.” I believed it was because I was a military brat and traveled, then later being a military member. I spend a lot of time taking long walks through neighborhoods, many of which have expensive houses, but most do not seem like “homes”.
Today while driving out and about I noticed several old houses. Each had character and you just wanted to know more about it. It was kind of like going through an old cemetery and wondering what the people were like who were now gone. I also noticed the nice new homes with no character and no stories behind them. I told my husband that I would rather have one of the older homes than any of the newly built ones. One of the best homes I have lived in was an old bungalow with think windows, wide porch and lots of charm. We live in a nice modern house that just doesn’t give me the feelings I had when we lived in the bungalow.
That explains the creepy feeling I get just driving to my sister’s house, which was just a cornfield not long ago. These neighborhoods have street names like “Wistful Vista” and “Jordan Crossing”. I call these places “vanilla”. Not only are they all “vanilla” in color, but there seems to be a detachment to a feeling of community. My family and I, on the otherhand, live in a brick home built in 1917. We love (mostly) the creaks, the character and the uniqueness of our home. It speaks and flashes it’s own special flair. We know our neighbors well based on the composition and layout of the neighborhood and also as a necessity to help one another maintain these jems. When I married my husband, I made him promise me that we would never call Wistful Vista our home. I happy to say he has kept his promise.
Wow! The last paragraph just “got to me” now, as we are preparing to auction off my grandma’s home this Saturday. She died last summer at the age of 101, and had lived in the house since my grandad (and a friend) built it shortly after they were married. While the house is not as intriguing as those described in the story, it was built FOR SOMEONE….my grandad’s new bride…and it holds many special memories for me. THANK YOU for this article–it could not have come at a more perfect time for me.
We bought our 110 year old victorian 3 years ago. We paid cash, Only $5000. It needed and needs alot of work. We do little things here and there when we can. But we have no house payment and that makes it completely worth it. I love this house and will love it even more when it is restored. Huge huge closets upstairs with the bedrooms, Big enough to play in. Large kitchen I can do everything I want in. My garden in the backyard. Love it Love it Love it. Would never own anything young or make a payment again!!! Michelle
Interesting article. I also love “old homes” because they are cozy. The “McMansions” or those “garages with a house attached” are horrible. You walk/drive up and see the garage long before you find the front door.
As an American living in England, I have learned a lot about Georgian and Victorian architecture.
For example, the Georgians were the first to build homes not knowing exactly for whom they were being built (simply the kind of family). Specifically, the Royal Crescent in Bath (depicted in my Jane Austen inspired movies and books) was built before they knew who would live there. It was really ahead of it’s time. It is among the most beautiful buildings in the world (see the picture at the bottom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Crescent) Thus, building houses without knowing who will buy them is not new (in fact, started in the 1760s).
I live a small city of historic importance. We have several streets of Victorian homes. These were designed so the garden (yard in the US) was in the back. Interestingly, in the front, the pavement/sidewalk goes right up to the front door (the pavement is about 4ft wide. So, the feeling of having to peek on the neighbors and/or living in a fishbowl is quite strong. Thus, this feeling is not new to US suburbia. Georgian homes are also close to the street, but about 8ft away (there are stairs up to the door, which start after the 4ft wide pavement–these were included so that the well-off could avoid stepping onto the pavement, which in the days of horse-drawn carriages could be messy).
Ever since I read this article here, I’ve looked at architecture differently. Even in office buildings things could be built better. I think since God is so downplayed in our society, much wisdom and beauty has gone away. In art, literature, music, tv programs and movies. I love older things. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong time period. I would have liked the later 1800’s or early 1900’s, BUT I MUST TRUST that God knew best. It can be hard though.
I’m the same way!! I keep moving old windows, doors, sinks, crates, lamps etc. Mike just sees more stuff to move but I see treasures from the last century! :-)
You forgot to mention pieces of picket fencing, buckets, benches and chairs without seats in them. :) Mum
Ahhh… I thought I was crazy! Or unspiritual and a malcontent. I always wanted a beeline to the yard to collect herbs, garden, let the children out and watch them while I cook. I thought I was crazy for missing a window over the kitchen sink. I always wonder why there are no foyers, mudr-rooms, linen closets, coat closets, places to hold Christmas decorations and closets for board games. I lament the lack of storage and thought I was the problem having too much stuff. (I’m a military mom of 4 children who are with me all day as I homeschool-I also get rid of lots of stuff, but we have lots of people and we actually LIVE in our house) Wondering why we live in the middle of Kansas and homes have no basements for storm safety. Wondering where should you fold laundry. Hated that the houses have the children’s rooms far apart from the master bed room. Wondering who in the world can cook in these little kitchens!!!
Also…growing up I always begged my parents to move into the Victorian neighborhoods, but they always said there was ‘too much work to put into’ the old houses! (which I know is true) I always hated the new houses and their lack of ‘neat little spaces’. wow, now I know it’s not just me
thanks for an insightful article.
HA! We are in Wichita and I know I what you mean about these Kansas houses!! We live in one with no basement, we do have a tornado shelter though (a cement safe room), but yes, no basement is nuts here! :-) Tawra
Love the article! We have only owned older homes. In fact of our three homes the “youngest” was built in the 1920’s. We always had space for storage, for sitting, or for just being home. I am always shocked at the lack of charm of new homes and the lack of livable room. I have friends who, instead of creating charm in their home, go looking for it. Only to become deeper in debt for a larger (and not always more charming) home. I don’t think they know what they are looking for- the feeling of being home.
Currently we are remodeling our kitchen with not only an island in the middle for storage, but also a seperate bench seat with woodburner off to one side. A space to just chill (cold WV winters)that offers a view into the woods behind our home. Our society would save thousands of dollars on vacations if we created more retreats in our own homes.
I believe this is the book she is referring to by Davis and Downing – the second edition
Seems like an interesting read
I love this article and expresses my sentiments exactly. Over 32 years of marriage we have bought older homes and remodeled them to suit our tastes but they never quite fit. One especially never felt right – even after 14 years!! I now live in a custom built home that was many years in the planning. I clipped articles, made notes when visiting friend’s homes, looking at Open Houses, etc. When the time came to build I was ready! Fortunately I had an excellent architect to work with . . . and live with, my husband. At first I was intimidated by his expertise and he felt like I wouldn’t know exactly what I wanted or we needed and he would need to “guide me” through the decision making! Turns out we were more on the same page than we thought and it was a pleasure designing and building our home. The one point of contention was he did not agree with my desire for a sitting area in the kitchen. (two wingback chairs around a 2 sided fireplace) He talked cost, waste of space, etc, but I stood firm. I wanted a place the two of us (children were in college at the time and only home for short periods) could feel cozy and interact without getting lost. Our kitchen is the room friends rave about and the heart of our home, and WE spend the majority of our time there. I wanted a large utility room with washer, dryer, sewing area, freezer, sink and lots of storage. I was blessed to get that and it is now the “household command center,” according to our builder. Bottom line is that homes should be designed for how they are to be used – form follows function – and not everyone is the same. We are homebodies who enjoy having family and friends around and our home reflects that. We enjoy our neighbors and the two porches make it easy to sit and chat and watch the world go by. I am hoping that our home will remain in the family a long time!
Your house sounds just like the one I want! I have a huge list of wants for the next house. A huge laundry room and kitchen are at the top of the list!
Laura I am so glad you stood firm on having your sitting area. I have always longed for a sitting area in my kitchen. A nice comfy chair for one or two people to sit in and chat to me. I found out how important this was when my kids were teens. I had to spend a lot of time ironing. I noticed my kids would come in to talk often but had no place to sit or be comfortable. One day I drug a comfy chair and set it across from my ironing board and from that time on when I was in that room someone was almost always sitting in there talking to me. Even my kids friends would plop down and visit. It was the most amazing thing so I have always longed for the same thing in my kitchen.
I would love your laundry room too. I saw a brand new million dollar home on TV the other day. For all that money though it only had 3 not very large bedrooms and a very tiny tiny laundry room but it did have one of the biggest range hoods known to man. This hood dominated the whole kitchen and was probably thousands of dollars. The builders were so proud of this expensive monster. I’m thinking what a waste of money and since when has an old stove hood became an architectural feature for a home? Wouldn’t the thousands of dollars have been better spent on an extra bedroom, bathroom or bigger laundry room? I’m sorry it is one of those days where I think has all common sense gone down the toilet.
I live in a small home…about 1040 square feet, 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms. The one thing I love about it is that the eat-in kitchen is almost completely open to the living room. When I am cooking/cleaning in the kitchen, I can see my hubby sitting on the loveseat and my two kids sitting in recliners or lying on the floor watching tv or playing. I can converse with them without raising my voice at all. I can also watch/listen to the tv. It creates a lot of extra family time that wouldn’t be possible if I were stuck in a ‘closed’ kitchen.
We are trying to move so my husband can be closer to his job. He drives an hour one way to work, plus works up to 65 hours a week and we want to move within 10 – 15 minutes of his job. I’m looking for a job there…and we are trying to pay off some debt so I can stay home. So whichever comes first, new job or debt free…we will be looking for new home.
I want a larger home this time…more storage room and all of that. It’s odd though, I feel a little apprehensive about moving into a larger home. I’m afraid that the family closeness we have now would be greatly reduced or nonexistent in a larger home. You know the saying…’love grows best in little houses’. At the very least though, I will want the open floor plan again with the living room/kitchen and possibly dining room. I like being able to be a part of what they are doing even when I’m working in the kitchen.
the house of my dreams now that there is just Don and I will have no laundry room. just a closet with washer and drier one on top of the other. That way clothes go from the drier into drawers or closets.
Forget the living room or TV room. Well maybe a small one for a place for little ones to let off steam when they come.
One huge kitchen with garages for appliances a big wall of open shelves and spots to hang pots and pan. A built in dishwasher and a huge sink. Lots of counter space.
A large really large room for computers with sort of a cubby hole type area for mine. That way Don and I can be in the same room while we connect with the world but not be sitting on top of each other. With a love seat and a rocker for comfortable sitting when we just want to talk and enjoy ourselves. Lots of shelves for books in there. It would be our living room. Wine fridge, liquor cabinet with a place for glasses.
Bedrooms 3 large one with a big bed and a sitting area with fantastic lights.
2 fairly large bedrooms for family to have a place they can call their own when they visit.
3 bathrooms. we have only ever had 1 and sometimes it would be nice to have a couple more.
Dream location. a cliff overlooking some form of moving body of water. Lake Superior would be ideal love the storms but any moving water will be accepted.
Far away from neighbours.
My husband and I purchased our first home 2 years ago. Its 3 bedroom 1 bath and 1024 sq ft. It was built in 1904 and my common lament is “If our house is so old why doesn’t it have any cool architecture”. Our house is one story with the smallest basement I have ever seen (just big enough for the furnace and water heater) that is accessed through a trapdoor in the pantry. The kitchen was obviously not designed with appliances in mind, I can see where the breakfast nook should have been but that unfortunately is the only place where the fridge fits. I can see there was probably a nice place in front of the pantry by the back door for a bench to sit and take off your shoes but that is unfortunately the only place where the washer/dryer fit making it so you can only open the pantry door halfway. There are rooms in the house where the electrical was added afterward and the conduits running along the base of the wall is anything but charming. The entryway is completely dominated by a HUGE closet that has one dowel to hang coats and such that is so high I can stand comfortably underneath it (I am 5’5″). I don’t know if this house was always devoid of charm or if everything that once made it charming was stripped out of here. I have plans to make things fit a little better and add character but short of adding onto the house I can’t figure out how to turn the kitchen into a kitchen instead of a hallway with appliances and to get my laundry room out of the kitchen. I guess my point is I have an old house but in this case the fact that it is so old is more of a hindrance than a help. I am constantly telling myself to be grateful that I own my own home so early in life (we closed when I was 23) and that I will have plenty of time to fix it up when it is paid off. I read this article and feel all these laments that are supposed be associated with new homes and mine is over 100 years old. The conclusion I have come to is the things that made the old houses so wonderful is they were built for who lived in them. I am sure my house was wonderful for whoever it was built for but it is a nightmare now.
My husband and I recently purchased a new home. We saw countless new homes in our town, and didn’t like most of them. However, this one in particular was a diamond in the rough. We were in the model home (our home is currently being built) and as we walked throughout the house, we quickly decided this was the one. It has a large eat in kitchen built more for entertaining and comfort than for efficiency (yet has tons of counter space and cabinet space so it’ll be the easiest kitchen I’ve worked in since back when I lived with my parents). I always hated the tiny kitchens of townhouses and apartment homes, where you were forced to put the dining area in the living room and more than one person couldn’t cook in the kitchen at the same time without stepping on each other, and there was never enough counterspace for baking or making complex meals. It was like these kitchens were designed to FORCE their occupants to go get fast food or a pizza.
Where nearly every home I’ve seen has the front door open straight into the living room, this home has a little hallway as an entryway with a coat closet, you can bring your groceries in through the front door OR the garage, and the kitchen is right there.
The kitchen overlooks the living room, but the space is clearly divided by countertops and a “bar” area where you can put stools to talk to guests while you cook. It’s set up perfectly for entertaining guests or family. The back door to the yard has a large covered patio with a great view of the mountains and a big open park (we are on a corner lot), the front door has a smaller covered patio big enough for a couple of rocking chairs probably. Most importantly, the back door is in an open space area in the living room. We have two dogs, and in our current rental the back door is in the tiny dining area and there is a dining chair up against the back door. The dogs are constantly having to dodge it. In this home, there is such a good flow that myself, my husband, and our dogs can all move around freely without stepping on each other or running into things.
One thing I don’t like is that the home is a one story. I’ve always had that same feeling of worry when sleeping in a ground floor bedroom. But luckily the master bedroom windows are facing our rock-walled backyard, and that beautiful mountain view. The extra bedrooms that will someday be our childrens’ rooms are not near a door to the outside, so they feel pretty safe. There is no wasted space on a hallway, it’s more like a big open nook where people don’t have to run into each other, with five doors- a linen closet, the large laundry room with plenty of space for hampers and storage, both extra bedrooms, and a full bath.
The master suite is my second favorite part of the house (the kitchen being my favorite). It’s just a large simple room with two big windows, and a big luxury bathroom with a big closet, a two sink vanity, a beautifully tiled shower, a separate toilet area with a door that can close, and a tub that is actually big enough for an adult to fit in! (A rare find in this day and age when people just take a quick shower in between running everywhere. Most bathtubs these days are too small for even older children!)
I was pretty happy to find a newer home with some classic touches. My husband and I instantly agreed that this was the home for us, which is strange because our tastes tend to be different in other areas. The point is, most modern homes are designed wrong, but when you look, you might be surprised to find a diamond in the rough! Some homebuilders are reverting to more classic styles, not quite so much where I live, but in areas where I lived previously. Hopefully they trend will be that they stop building “houses” and go back to building HOMES.
WOW! WOW! WOW! I have just flitted through some of the above article and it has just freed my mind from the guilt I have from being unable to manage my tiny terraced bare box of a house.There is six children and myself in my house no storage no separate laundry room etc.One bedroom was previously a tiny bathroom.Downstairs is open plan with sitting room dining room (sort of) and kitchen all noises combined e.g. drier washing machine t.v. six kids five of them have ADHD. My home is rented from our local authority so we are not in a position to move I swear no matter how much I try to organise my place it is so stressful not enough room to put up cabinets or more shelves or more wardrobes. It is so true why should I get rid of stuff that I do actually use and need its not realistic.Thank you so much for sharing this article!!!
I thought it was just me. I have lived in old houses since 1989. All the “remodeling’ drives me crazy. it doesnt fit with house. the houses were small but had character. the remodeling only removed the character, it made no sense. I currently live in a bungalow circa 1916. Much is still as it was. but they raised the kitchen counters without raising the wall mounted cabinets above it. the counter is all but unusable. the bathroom needs to be gutted because the supposed storage doesnt work- it only frustrates. why do they put the ‘new’ – circa 1950s bathtub under the window? there is no entryway, no place to store coats and boots. and then they removed the columns that separated the front room from the dining room. If i owned the place i would undo the remodeling in a heart beat!- and open up the front porch- but then where would put our coats and shoes? where did people put there outerwear back in 1916 in these houses? I love my old houses but the ‘remodeling” is driving me nuts.
There is a big difference in livability between the Post WWII West Coast ranch styles & the Midwest or Eastern styles.
Most of the Western ones, in addition to the actual yard spaces, had the backyard with courtyards or garden patios as extensions of the interior spaces for living for many months during the year. They rarely had large front porches because people don’t consider entertaining friends to be the public business of just anyone who drives down the streets.
Another big difference is that for decades, middle class Westerners had benefited from the influence of Sunset Magazine, which ran features on food, gardens, scenic attractions & improving interior rooms or remodels…