PRECONDITIONS AND INTIMATIONS
When Basak and I start a new design, the possibilities seem endless. Before us lies that sheet of blank paper, presented free of constraint, another chance to achieve that perfect design. But unless one was born yesterday, freedom from preconditions is impossible. We bring our past with us. Our passions are rooted within our own experiences.
We often hear this type of thing: “On our vacation to France we saw Monet’s kitchen at Giverny. If our new kitchen is yellow and blue, we’ll think of that great vacation every day. I want our kitchen to be yellow and blue…” Or: “My grandmother’s farmhouse had a fantastic mudroom. So bright and clean, and actually functional. I want a mud room like that.” Basak and I pay close attention to client’s preconditions. Then, perhaps slipping in a few funky ideas here and there, we find a solution that satisfies preconditions while offering something new, unexpected and better.
Speaking of funky, it can be intimidating for an architect to present certain design ideas. And speaking also of preconceptions, every idea Basak and I offer carries with it something of ourselves. We expose ourselves to critique, judged by other’s standards. ‘Here’s an idea for you” we might say, “…and we can paint it blue and yellow…”. You never know how these things will go over.
That’s how new things come about, via a mix of thoughts from all sides. The goal is to meet all preconceptions in terms of “It’s just as I’d hoped, couldn’t be better”, but add to that: “Yes, it was better…”
IMPORTANCE OF LOCATION
Unique and lasting homes are always carefully tailored for their location. The design bylaws of one particular community favor architectures that reinforce the town’s agrarian traditions, so we naturally featured rural characteristics in the structures. As we worked through ideas, prominent materials began to acquire narrative responsibilities. Stone told the story of old world traditions, cedar clad walls represented the charms of California farm structures while exposed steel and large glass walls brought the concept into the 21st century.
When I was a child my family lived on a farm. I remember certain afternoons when sunlight filtered through gaps between the barn’s wood planks, creating a three dimensional volume of parallel light rays. Dust particles would float through the air like stardust, as mesmerizing as any modern day laser art show.
The house we designed had beautiful views across a neighboring meadow. It was the perfect opportunity to employ this type of effect. Without the dust, of course.
VALUE OF TRADITION
Most fresh graduates of architecture school have a strong interest in contemporary design. I did too, but after several years living in a 1906 Colonial Revival house, a deeper appreciation of old things has taken hold. In the design of many houses from this period, creativity was not the driving factor. Floor plans and fittings were selected from pattern books, but room proportions were comfortable and standard materials were refined. Windows and doors were not adventurous, but they were well built and didn’t leak. Views were important, but views alone didn’t dominate practical considerations.
But 1906 was a long time ago, and today we don’t want many compromises. A new home can be fitted with qualities made possible from decades of technological advancement. Obviously, there’s a lot to like about new architecture, but some of the things being pursued, regardless of vintage are those things that are comfortable, familiar, and trusted - sunlight in a quiet wallpapered alcove or lamp glow across your grandmother’s quilt.
As a young architect I spent some time working in Kevin Roche’s studio, the successor office of Eero Saarinen. It was a difficult place to work if you didn’t love contemporary design. Some of the world’s most adventurously contemporary buildings were designed there. Yet it seemed curious that the primary building was in an old Jacobian mansion.
Many years later, and many years in a Colonial Revival house, and still with a strong attraction to contemporary design, I always look forward to resolving a design that contains a somewhat equal measure of tradition and newness. There has to be a way to make grandmother’s quilt look at home everywhere.