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Bad House/Good House

May 24, 2011

Most prototypic house plan designs have good intentions, but often have truly problematic realities that can be mitigated.

The McMansion

(see/hear bonus material below)

Bad House:  Often designed with over 15 nameable rooms, these homes offer the usefulness of a home that is far smaller, less expensive in purchase price, utilities, taxes, and maintenance.  The vast majority of these oversized, under-designed homes create spaces that are irrelevant to the lifestyles of their occupants and are inherently wasteful.

Good House:  The strategic removal of walls that separate novelty rooms (Sitting Room, Music Room, Foyer, etc…) can create delightful pathways through the house (versus a space maze). Careful design can bring a sense of scale and detail to these blank boxes.

For a radio interview where I discuss the McMansion on Bruce Barber’s “Real Life Survival Guide,” click here.

Read a recent article in Slate Magazine by Witold Rybczynski about the McMansion here.

The Closeting Cape

Bad House:  What was a terrific home back when one central chimney was needed to heat all of the interior of a home, now its half ‘n’ half or 4-square plan subdivides a contemporary informal lifestyle into a gridded existence with undersized rooms for today’s furniture and a hostility towards simple expansion.

Good House:  An opened-up box – by selective removal of walls and the judicious use of openings facing the rear of its site, the original Cape can be the perfect focal point for the formal side of the house, while allowing either new construction or renovated space to respond to the common desire for an open plan with easy access to the outdoor world.

Center-Hall Colonial Corset

Bad House:  With a central front door, entry hall, stair, and bath these generous first floor plans are rigidly bisected with as much as 30% of their floor space made either useless or ceremonial because of the inability of these homes to have rooms that respond to their actual use, or the site.

Good House:  A centered-entry does not necessarily mean a symmetrical house.  Individual rooms can expand (or even in some cases be removed) so that exterior space can be defined by the new lines of the house and an open plan can create useful space with the outdoor connection people desire.

 Crazed Ranch

 Bad House:  Ranch homes today represent almost the worst of all worlds; a home that is bisected like a center hall colonial and constrictive like a cape.  Because these are often split-level homes, or one-floor homes with bedrooms on one side and living space on the other, there’s virtually no opportunity to escape the strait-jacket of their extreme plan limitations.

Good House:  The freed ranch can often relocate the entry or add a floor to most or all of the footprint to liberate the first floor and segregate private spaces to a different level.  Additionally, the often awkward half out-of-the-ground site location can be eased by creating decks that step down to ground level, or even the backfilling of earth to bring the site up to the informal side of the house.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Baldo permalink
    May 28, 2011 9:37 am

    Subtitle: Why We NEED Architects. Thank you, Duo!

  2. Alexandra permalink
    May 31, 2011 1:38 pm

    Well, my cape house is now a good house. We didn’t have the money to fully remove walls, but a large doorway beween the entry hall and the dining room and a “fake” window between the dining room and the sunroom did the trick.

  3. June 26, 2011 8:50 am

    Good thinking! Hmmm. . . our home doesn’t fit into any of those categories; maybe we’re safe *-) I do believe that design is so vital to our well being on so many levels: good design elevates us, and bad design just brings us down. Some pithy ideas you’re sharing there, Duo. . . thank you. (Lauren of Small Town Concert Series)

    PS – Heard you on NPR last week, at the barber shop etc. Funny!
    PS – I’m also a fan of Susan Susankah (“The Not So Big House”).

  4. duo permalink
    June 26, 2011 9:24 am

    Sara is an old friend – the next piece (today) is better still – really excellent sound, pacing, people…thanks for noticing – I would give this all up if I could sing more than 12 notes though….

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