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.