12/31/2008

It's Time To Stop The 'Ugly House' Syndrome

There are lots of topics I could cover this evening, this being the last post of 2008. I could list my New Year's resolutions, but that will wait until New Year's Day. I could write about 2008's biggest stories, but that topic has been beaten to death by the print and electronic media, so why go there?

Instead, I will go in a different direction and cover a subject near and dear to my heart: ugly houses.

Obviously this isn't an original subject, seeing as I linked to a post over at Sippican Cottage about the subject. But it is one that seriously needs to be addressed considering how many homes built over the past ten years or so I've seen that never should have seen the light of day. I'm not the only one.

Here's a house for sale in the town I grew up in.

Everyone looks around and sees houses like this. They pass unremarked now. After a while, if it doesn't look like this, people are going to think a house looks strange. And it's wrong, wrong, wrong. The situations where a house nailed on the ass end of a garage are appropriate are so few there's no use talking about them. Never do this.

There's Postmodern evil afoot here. Everything is boiled down to a pastiche, and you put all these disconnected totems into a blender and put the mixed up parts on a concrete rectangle. It's making us all crazy in a very subtle but profound way.

There has been a concerted effort to dismantle all standards of right and wrong and beauty and truth. If ever truthiness was put into sticks and bricks, this house is it. When you rebel against standard things, sooner or later you run out of ways to be original, and all that is left is to do the exact opposite of good. It's the only permutation of new that's left to you after a while. The American house is becoming that perfect distillation of bad ideas. Everything exactly at cross-purposes with its stated purpose.

Indeed. I have seen far too many homes built that look like they came out of the mind of a schizophrenic off their meds. There's little thought to the layout, no logic that dictates what the floorplan should look like. Such homes are soulless, having less character than a refrigerator box one of the homeless would use to shelter themselves from the cold. The exteriors look bland, almost sterile, even though they have the vague form of houses we call Cape, Victorian, Ranch, Saltbox, Colonial, Federal, and so on. They are boring. Those designing them, whether professional architects or the future homeowners themselves, prove the only taste they possess is in their mouths.

Even our Manse, a supposed Cape, suffers from this malady. The basic looks are there, but the details have been overlooked or ignored, making our home an ersatz Cape Cod at best.

First, the siding looks more like clapboards rather than shakes, and most Capes are sided with shakes. While I have no desire to pull off the vinyl siding and replace them with cedar shakes, I have seen siding that looks like shakes while maintaining the advantages of vinyl siding.

Second, our fireplace is in the wrong place. Capes have their fireplaces near the center of the house, allowing more even heating. Ours is located at the south end of The Manse. What's worse is that we don't even have a real chimney. Instead it's a chase covered with siding that hides the two vent pipes, one for the furnace and water heater and one for the fireplace/woodstove. So it's a chimney-looking construct without the brick or stonework.

Third, the front door doesn't really match the Cape d├ęcor. It has a large cut glass oval with brass highlights that fills half the door. No Cape worthy of the name I've ever seen has a door like that. Only ersatz Capes like ours bear doors like that.

Fourth, the front door to the mud room is solid, bearing not a single pane of glass. Not one. The back door has the proper lights in it, but not the front. That means we don't get much light in there until late in the day. That's poor design.

Fifth, our home has sliders opening out onto the rear decks. That's right, not one, but two sets of sliders on the rear of The Manse! Sliders are an abomination on a Cape.

Sixth, though not the last or least, our garage dominates the front rather than the house itself. It should have been set back 5 or 10 feet, making the house the focus of the front. Instead it is even with the front of the house, and because of the nature of Capes, the front of the garage looks larger than the rest of the house. That's plain wrong.

I could easily go on and on about the soulless design of The Manse. Whomever dealt with the details either got lazy or got a great deal on doors, sliders, and siding. It's ironic considering there's so much that's right with our home. Much of the interior finish is excellent, belying the blandness and poor layout of the exterior. The amenities are quite good, too. But still, the proportions aren't quite right due to the lack of attention to detail.

Since we live up here in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire, we've seen more than our share of fine lake shore homes and cottages that have existed for generations being torn down and replaced with tasteless and bland monstrosities that look so out of place they should be made illegal and burned to the ground. The owners and the architects responsible for those eyesores should be ridiculed...or maybe flogged in the town square for the crime of poor taste.

Well, maybe not. Flogging might be too good for them.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you there, I myself have often commented to the wife during our travels the absurdity in design of new housing we see. They do not blend in with the surroundings at all in many cases. They are blights on our beautiful NH landscape. Very rarely do I see a new home built to blend in with the nature around it.

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