I am honoured and delighted to welcome Lisa from a mid life of privilege here as a guest in the Humble Bungalow.
Hello all. Lisa here, from Privilege. Where I write about style, some anxiety, and the raptures of living. All from a High WASP perspective, with my tongue very firmly in cheek. I try not to be a jerk.
High WASPS are funny about their houses. One of our more pronounced quirks is that we prefer what one might call 'authentic' house style. In other words, indigenous forms, where design takes inspiration from location and architectural history. As the Hostess described yesterday in her story of how the Bungalow came to be. Heritage status can be a wonderful thing.
For example, my Aunt Eve lived in the School House in East Aurora, New York. It had been, in fact, a one room school house of the sort common in early America. My mother's family's house on Cape Cod was, well, a Cape Cod. My father's family lived at 740 Park Avenue, an apartment building so native to New York privilege that someone wrote a book about it.
I have inherited, or absorbed, this bias. In my opinion, if you build a house it ought to at least attempt to speak the local architectural idiom. If you remodel a house, you should honor the original design.
Here in Northern California we have several indigenous styles. The Arts and Crafts bungalow (as seen in the Humble Bungalow), the Spanish mission style, and, in my neighborhood, the California ranch. Which looks something like this, in its original form.
Or this. Perhaps not found on actual ranches all that often, but built by the thousands in the 1950s, to cover acres of Northern California countryside. The architecture responded to our climate and lifestyle - no basement, no attic, an attached garage or carport for the cars that took us to all those shopping centers on all those long roads.
But these houses were built in 1953. By now, almost every one in my neighborhood has been remodeled or replaced. High WASPs have an opinion about which were done well, and which were not.
A brief aside. It's rude to say mean things about other people's houses. However, I need to illustrate my point. Therefore I've taken these photos as faux Polaroids, in the hopes that no residence is recognizable. If I have failed, if one of these houses is yours, I apologize. Please feel free to come and point fingers at the scraggly tomato plant in my front yard. I pronounce it open season on the Privilege[d] raised beds. I hope that suffices.
However, I cannot help but believe there are ways not to remodel a house.
My particular pet peeve above. Random windows. Windows don't make a house special, on their own. This little ranch has been subverted by multiple arches. I didn't even show you the circular portal. Unnecessary. Unfitting. Unattractive. (As is High WASP snobbery, when I let it show, but I am making this as true as I can. I do not know if it matters.)
Trying to remodel a classic derivative - the ranch - into another classic derivative - the mission - doesn't make much sense either. Particularly painting siding orange to resemble stucco. And using obviously artificial roof tiles to resemble old Spanish clay.
OK. Again, my apologies. Let's move on to more pleasant matters. Some remodels, when the original design is beautiful and comports with modern taste, do well to explore the original territory. But treading the 1950s California Ranch path too closely will lead you straight to Jetson-land. Plastic bucket chairs and all. Which in a groovy pad in Brooklyn might be quite, um, groovy. Here it would make one feel just a little too Stepford Wife-ish. Whether one is in fact man or woman, by the way.
Witness below a tasteful alternative to historical recreation. We shall call it Simple Modernization. Add a new front door, with redwood grain, and expand the 1950s side panel window with glass block. Put in simple dual-paned windows. Replace your cement path with brick. There's brick in the neighborhood already. It's OK. Not too historically irrelevant. And rip out those water-hogging azaleas and replace them with neat, structural grasses.
Let's say you need more space. Do you build a second story and cover the facade with mock Tudor beaming? I hope not. Just build a bigger 'ranch' house, with a porch. We shall call this, Cast A Wider Net. OK, sure, the porch is more characteristic of Oklahoma ranches than California, but good enough. Good enough.
However, my favorite way to remodel a ranch is to tie in the classic 'modern' idiom*. The people below went all sort of Mies van der Rohe on the left, and all rustic wheelhouse on the right. The porch beams are clear-stained, knots left showing. The key here is an overall grace of proportion, creating a palimpset, a layering of then and now, that remains a pretty house, with pretty flowers out front. We can call this, Modernity, Then And Now. Or, frankly, you can call it whatever you want.
For, when all is said and done, house styles come and house styles go. My father's New Jersey family home was a red brick mansion complete with carriage house. Built by dry-goods-turned-banker money, for a newish wife. Georgian without King George, if one is charitable. Were it still standing I'd probably think it beautiful, now. For all we know, today's McMansions may be the next era's nostalgic design classic. Hipsters may snap up brass door lanterns, octagonal windows, and gold-chunked brown granite counters, and cart them off to next year's Brooklyn. Stranger things have happened. I think.
*It's interesting, is it not, that "modern" is to date a timeless idiom implying an undated modernity? Someone more expert than I, feel free to weigh in.
Large California ranch image via Wikipedia
others by me