Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unhappy Houses

For years the magazine Dwell has featured modern houses, or "dwellings," as they're called, in issue after issue. Now Dwell's vast photo archive has inspired the wonderful Unhappy Hipsters blog, which pairs photos of modern houses with new captions reflecting existential angst and isolation.

It became their routine.
d so the evenings stretched out
before him: still, gray, and gravel-strewn.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman, Dwell, November 2006)

No time to marvel at his sheer luck: Larry just ran.
( Dwell, July 2009)

In her Psychology Today blog Design and the Mind, designer Ingrid Fetell writes about the psychological effects of minimalist spaces in Unhappy Hipsters: Does Modern Architecture Make Us Gloomy.

Fetell looks at the characteristics of much modern architecture -- "clean, often angular lines, neutral colors in tones of gray and beige, bare materials, and a general sense of spareness and minimalism" -- and wonders if they are inherently threatening to the human psyche:
"Delight and joy are primally connected to wellness, and wellness in nature is lush, plump, vibrant, and bountiful. Throughout our evolution, these were the aesthetics that signaled a good place to settle — one that provided adequate water, food, and shelter to sustain life. The matte, bare surfaces beloved of modernists signal something else entirely. I can't help but think there must be something primal within us that understands such stripped down spaces as inhospitable — the emotional equivalent of dry desert, or fallow fields."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absolutely Fabricated

Until recently, modernism has been the only architectural style to make serious inroads into prefab home manufacturing. That made sense, since boxy, minimalist houses are well-suited to the process of prefab manufacturing, whether delivered as kits of parts or modular components.

Several designers became known for their modern prefab home designs, including Michelle Kaufman for the modular Glidehouse (right, above) and Rocio Romero for the LV Series kit homes (right, below). As public awareness of prefab grew over the past five years, many other designers joined Kaufman and Romero in designing modern houses for factory fabrication.

Traditional architecture has been slower to make strides in prefab, but that's changing. The collapse of the housing industry has goosed public demand for cost-effective alternatives to custom design of traditional homes.

Russell has been promoting factory-fabricated traditional homes for years, and his Pennywise House collection includes 22 designs that can be built modularly.

Recently Dwell Magazine, the bible of modern home design, interviewed Russell for his thoughts on the future of factory-fabricated houses:
"In September 2207, we saw the beginning of the end of the old way of making houses. By 2030, we're going to see nearly all houses made to order in factories. There are fewer qualified tradesmen coming along, and young people are less interested in working in the trades. Hand-built houses are going to be far fewer, as they're going to be so expensive, available only to a few at the very highest income level. Factory manufacturing of modular houses by that time is going to be well established, and it'll become exponentially more sophisticated, more efficient, and cheaper to do it. It'll never replace the elegance of something handcrafted, but the economics are going to favor doing it this way."
We applaud the ability of Dwell magazine to stay alive in a world that's increasingly hazardous to the survival of shelter magazines (Cottage Living, Southern Living, Metropolitan Home, Country Living, House & Garden, and Domino, are no longer being published).

And of course, we were happy that Dwell chose to include Russell as a "prefab mover and shaker." A bit surprised, but happy, nonetheless.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Getting Back to Roots

Last April Russell spoke at Bundoran Farm in Virginia during Charlottesville's Design Week. Here is a short clip in which he introduces his book Roots of Home, which chronicles the 500-year history of American house styles from their European origins to the present day:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Modular goes upscale

Mansions go modular as costs,
timeline lure high-end buyers

Washington Post, 3/3/10

"Custom modular -- it sounds like an oxymoron. But elite architects who've seen their business drop in the recession are teaming up with manufacturers across the country...

'Without the recession, nobody would be paying attention,' said
Russell Versaci, a Middleburg architect specializing in farmhouses for wealthy clients who partnered with Haven [Homes] in 2008."

Once the scourge of homebuilding, modular homes have gone upscale. Washington Post writer Lisa Rein tells of a "prefabricated, modular mansion, dropped in from the jib of a crane and set in place like a layer cake" in Bethesda, Maryland.

In a mere 32 hours, the $2.5 million, 7200 sf house was set in place and ready for finishing -- a process that would have taken at least 18 months and cost nearly $400,000 more had the house been built by a crew at the home site.

In addition to time and cost savings, modular building stacks up environmentally, with advantages that include a tighter building envelope made possible by factory construction, increased energy efficiency, and reduced job site waste.

Until the recession, very little had changed in homebuilding since the Middle Ages. Men still trudged up and down ladders, toiled through inclement weather, and waited for parts arriving late.

Given the degree to which technological invention has altered every other facet of life, this stasis seemed counterintuitive. Modular construction has the potential to change homebuilding permanently, with quality and cost advantages achieved by controlled indoor production.

Builders who have been slow to embrace modular construction are gradually coming around, spurred by the need to offer more cost-effective building options to homebuyers. Likewise, homebuyers who never would have considered building modular homes in the past are realizing the real benefits offered by this method of building. Even architects, who have long turned up their noses at the very notion, are seeing the writing on the wall and are designing homes meant to be built in factories.

In the new economy, pragmatism trumps all other considerations.

Above: Currier Farmhouse, right: New Republic Cottage
Pennywise Houses, Russell Versaci Architecture

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pennywise Web Presentation

Russell has created a 15-minute presentation titled The Pennywise House for Hanley-Wood's virtual Directions conference, which is targeted to builders. In a narrated slideshow, he talks about what led to the housing meltdown, and he gives his prescription for restoring the health of the industry with smaller, greener, factory-built homes.

In addition to Russell's presentation, the conference includes 3 others:
Although the conference is free, you need to fill out a very short registration form to gain access to the presentations.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Architectural Tourist in Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala is one of our favorite places. Once the Spanish colonial capital of Central America, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With near-perfect year-round weather and a picturesque highland location ringed by volcanos, its natural beauty is unparalleled. However, its beauty comes at a price. Situated close to a fault line, and the city has been plagued by severe earthquakes since its founding in 1532, and it will always be at risk.

After a triple-whammy of earthquakes struck the city in 1773, the Spanish government relocated the capital and ordered the citizens to evacuate, and only the poorest families and a large indigenous population remained. The city's old houses sat undisturbed for the next 100 years, which proved to be a stroke of luck beyond measure, since it no doubt saved many buildings from demolition. Today there are an extraordinary number of old houses intact, and as one gazes up cobbled streets, it's not hard to visualize life in colonial times.

The houses were built in the style of Roman patio houses, and domestic life is hidden behind massive walls over which bursts of bougainvillea spill. Heavy wooden doors are adorned with thick, hand-forged knockers, hinges, and latches, while tall, grilled windows sit on hefty stone sills. Huge cupolas, originally kitchen chimneys, rise from chunky clay-tiled roofs into clear blue skies. The walls are painted in sun-kissed hues that crumble and peel away like a window into the past. Everything is mass, texture, color, and age.

While many of the houses have been converted to hotels and restaurants, private homes still dot the city. Some are restored colonial houses. Others are new houses built with traditional details, though most new fountains are ornamental and cupolas are no longer real chimneys. Builders still use centuries-old materials and craftsmanship, and by and large, the character of the old houses has been preserved. It’s often difficult to tell new houses from authentic old ones.

The city of Antigua Guatemala will always be at risk for earthquakes. But through global awareness of the city’s importance to world culture, the persistent efforts of preservationists, and the use of better building methods, the old houses have the best-ever chance of survival.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pennywise Prefab Houses

A year and a half ago, we were having a hard time convincing our clients of the advantages of factory fabrication. If you mentioned the word "modular," it was as if you had suggested vinyl siding; both conveyed images of what our clients didn't want in their new homes.

Builders had a different negative reaction. To many, modular was perceived as a threat to profitability, a production method that would shortcut site building and reduce their incomes.

Then the bottom fell out of the homebuilding industry, and the McMansion was declared officially dead. Prefab began to appear in the news and even had its own show at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Little by little, minds began to change.

To unemployed builders looking for new ways of working, modular started to look better and better. Homeowners began reading and hearing about factory fabrication and wondered if it might be a good option for them. Nowadays even our high-end custom clients are asking whether modular building might work for all or part of a new home.

For years Russell has been promoting factory building as a way to make new homes better, and he is very happy that the tide has turned. At Russell Versaci Architecture we have combined our Simple Farmhouse Portfolio and Simple Cottage Sampler into one Pennywise Collection, and all the designs are now available as modular houses from our partner, Haven Homes. The farmhouses range from 1600-3200 sf and the cottages from 650-800 sf. The New Homestead Almanac, a new group of designs ranging from 1000-2200 sf, is currently on the drawing board.

Above, left: The Chandler Farmhouse; below, right: The New Republic Cottage

Friday, February 6, 2009

Simple Cottage Sampler Designs for Modular Houses

Today our project architects Rob Hale and Josh Jones are completing construction drawings for a new collection of small homes designed specifically for modular building. The collection is called the Simple Cottage Sampler, and the ten designs range from 450-900 square feet but can be increased in size by adding modular units.

They were designed for people who want a single-family home and love old-house styles but who don't want or need a larger home, such as singles, retirees, people wanting to downsize, and couples just starting out. The designs all share the same modular construction framework for easy transport and quick assembly.

The designs in the Sampler were inspired by the early house styles that grew out of America's Ten Colonial Cradles of Home:

· Chesapeake Tidewater
· Cape Cod
· Gulf Coast
· Florida Keys
· Hudson Valley
· Louisiana Creole
· Carolina Lowcountry
· Western Reserve
· New Republic
· Southern Piedmont

We will have the Simple Cottage Sampler floorplans posted on the website of our partner, Haven Homes, in the next few weeks. Until then you can see the front elevations on Haven's website by clicking on Partner Architects and then on our blue logo to go to our home page. From there, click on the Simple Cottage Sampler logo to bring up a file with the exteriors for the 10 cottages.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Cradles of Classic American Home Styles

From Roots of Home: the Ten Colonial Cradles

America’s classic home styles were born in ten regional cradles that nurtured distinctive house forms rooted in Old World traditions. Below are the ten regions -- and the main vernacular house styles that emerged from each region's particular blend of culture, geography, climate, and resources:

St Lawrence and Mississippi Valleys

The first French settlement was founded at Port-Royal on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1604, followed by exploration of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley.


New England Coast

English Pilgrims established Plimoth Plantation on the New England coast in 1621 and spurred the founding of compact villages from Connecticut to Maine.


Hudson Valley

The Dutch founded New Amsterdam in 1624, while French Huguenots and Flemish Walloons settled into the Hudson Valley from New Jersey to upstate New York.


Delaware Valley

The Delaware Valley was first home to New Sweden (1638) and later Pennsylvania (1682), a haven for English Quakers as well as German and Scots-Irish émigrés.


Chesapeake Bay

On Chesapeake Bay, the Virginia colony was founded by the English at Jamestown in 1607, followed by Maryland established at St. Mary’s City in 1634.


Carolina Low Country

The Carolina Low Country and its tidewater coast were first settled in Charleston in 1670 by English planters with roots in the Caribbean islands.


Florida Peninsula

The Spanish established North America’s first settlement in Florida at St. Augustine in 1565, as well as a mission chain linked through Tallahassee to Pensacola.


Gulf Coast

Settled by the French at New Orleans in 1718, the Gulf Coast attracted French and Spanish Creoles, Acadians from Canada, and free blacks from the Caribbean.


Southwest Borderlands

Starting in the early 17th century the Spanish crisscrossed the Southwest borderlands founding presidios, missions, and pueblos from Arizona to Texas.


Alta California

Alta California was the last Spanish frontier where a chain of twenty one missions was created from 1769-1823 along the coastline from San Diego to Sonoma.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tidewater Cottage in the News

Recently, several media articles have appeared that chronicle the pre-fab tidewater cottage and our Simple Farmhouse designs. Below are links to these articles as posted on the Web, sans images:

The original dozen designs in the Simple Farmhouse Portfolio, which you can view in detail on our firm's website, are styles that were commonly built in the Southern Piedmont region. Joining them is a new collection of Chesapeake Tidewater houses; a slightly tweaked version of the tidewater cottage is the first design in the collection. In addition to the Simple Farmhouse designs, which range from 1600-3200 sf and can be built from kits of parts or modular units, we are developing a new collection of small houses designed and engineered specifically for modular building. The new collection is called the Simple Cottage Sampler, and it will be available in 2009.The first ten cottages in the collection are inspired by the Ten Colonial Cradles of Home, which Russell wrote about in his new book, Roots of Home. The Colonial Cradles were the places in America that served as the seedbeds for our early house styles. Each of the Simple Cottages is an American classic style that emerged from a specific Colonial Cradle region.

We are hoping to build the first modular cottage on the exhibit floor at Restore Media's Traditional Building Show in Boston in mid-March. It is a real stretch to make that happen in just three months, but when the cottage design is ready, the process of modular building is very, very fast.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Factory-Made, Site-Assembled

At Bundoran Farm, the Currier Farmhouse from the Simple Farmhouse Portfolio has probably shed its housewrap skin since this photo was taken a month ago and looks less like a house under siege. The cornice return, like the rest of the exterior shell, was factory-crafted in Vermont by Connor Homes and shipped to the site.

Meanwhile, here in Middleburg a stonemason has built a retaining wall in front of the tidewater cottage, now reflected against a backdrop of early autumn colors. While fall in Virginia is not an eye-popper like fall in Vermont, it's subtle and serene with distinct charm.

Make It Wrong?

What have we here?

Why, it's one of the 13 choices of new home designs for residents of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. This project of Brad Pitt's states the following goal: “Because local cultural influences gave rise to the pre-Katrina architecture so emblematic of the area, preserving that identity remains vital in reclaiming the spirit of the neighborhood.” But it's mighty hard to find any attempt to preserve the area's architectural identity in this bizarre design from MVRDV, a firm from The Netherlands.

To view all 13 design offerings, visit the Make It Right website. Like so many other modernist attempts at low-income housing in the U.S., these houses look like sure-fire candidates for the wrecking ball in 20 years.

While the Make It Right project is certainly well-intended, the designs seem so out of touch with the intended recipients, even though community leaders were involved in the project. It's hard to imagine that the people who will be living in these houses would actually choose these designs over the vernacular styles — the shotguns, camelbacks, and creole cottages — that for 100 years have meant home to this culturally-rich, close-knit, vibrant community now in tatters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Classic Virginia Style, Part 2

More photos of the new estate in Fauquier County...

In this view of the front of the house, one can see the distinct parts that give the impression of a house that grew over time.

Doric columns with triglyphs grace the traditional Greek Revival entryway.
Designed in the style of a traditional tidewater cottage, a new shed on the property shows why it pays to wait a few years before photographing a project. By now ivy-covered and flanked by a cottage garden, the little outbuilding looks as if it was built 200 years ago.

Landscape design by Arentz Landscape Architecture

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roots of Home's Official Pubdate

Today is the day that Roots of Home is officially available. For nearly a year we have been speaking, writing, quoting, and citing October 14 as the new book's pub date, but now that it's finally here, it's a quiet morning in Lake Wobegon.

People have other things on their minds today, as do we. So long eagerly anticipated, the book's due date has arrived in the midst of the worst economic week in decades. It does tend to suppress one's euphoria.

Still, beauty is beauty, and no bad news can alter the luminous, otherworldly, timeless appeal of the Poche Ezidore House, shown in this image from Roots of Home. This early 1800s Creole cottage in Gramercy, Louisiana, was lightly restored to repair structural problems but otherwise left with period detail and original surfaces unchanged. In Erik Kvalsvik's photo of the light-bathed dining room, one can almost sense the hush, the stories in the walls, the soft footfalls over centuries.

And that's the news from Lake Wobegon.

Classic Virginia Style, Part 1

Although we have been featuring prefab houses on this blog, we have a vigorous custom practice at Russell Versaci Architecture as well. Here are photos of a beautiful equestrian estate completed several years ago, which is just now being photographed for our firm's website and for publication. For a new custom home to become seasoned enough for the photo shoot, trees must grow, plantings fill in, materials weather, and the raw look must soften for the house to ease into its historic style.

Russell designed the buildings on the estate in classic Virginia style. The house, which sits on a 150-acre track of verdant Fauquier County farmland with mountain views, was built in parts in the manner of a real farmhouse expanded over several generations. The first photo shows the "earliest" part of the home, designed in 18th-century Jeffersonian classical style; it serves as the kitchen wing in the new old house.

The second photo shows the Greek Revival portion, which is the main part of the new house. In the fictional story, this part might have been added in the 19th century, along with the fieldstone carriage house, as the farm prospered and the family grew.

The narrative continues into the 20th century with a sunroom addition (not shown). Several smaller buildings complete the arrangement to make a farm compound with deep roots in Virginia tradition.

Working with Russell on this project were Rob Hale, who designed the interior cabinetry and casework, and project architect Kathleen Lofdahl. Horizon Builders was the contractor.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Certifiably Green, Part 1

This is the year for going green. In our local paper, several builders are trumpeting green building practices. It's an easy claim to make, but what does it mean?

There are two measures for determining that new buildings meet environmental targets -- Energy Star and LEED. Energy Star is a government program administered by the EPA and DOE. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is sponsored by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED was created in the early 90s to give quantifiable performance measures for sustainability--and also to motivate and stimulate the industry to strive to adopt best practices to earn the LEED distinction. Energy Star hails from the same time, but its focus is on energy rather than performance.

Back then, sustainability was a pretty hard sell. Long-term savings that required a higher initial cost for systems and materials were trumped by short-term cost issues. That was the case until recently, when "pain at the pump" and the shock of the monthly heating bill made it all too personal. Factor in the bad news from global environmental fronts, and sustainability suddenly becomes a major issue when planning new construction.

Today the market wants green buildings, and the industry wants to be able to market its green building creds. Hence LEED and Energy Star are much-sought distinctions these days.

As its name suggests, the Energy Star program focuses on energy, rather than performance. While the program is best known for the nifty labels on products that help consumers make buying choices, Energy Star also certifies new homes. A certified home is about 15% more energy-efficient than those built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) standard, and about 25-30% more than most houses in general.

LEED rates new homes on a host of criteria, including operating costs, reduced waste, energy and water conservation, health and safety for occupants, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Certified homes qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other incentives, as well as demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

On the farm outside Middleburg, the geothermal heating system shown in the photos was sunk into the pond to provide energy for the prefab tidewater cottage in the background. The finished house will probably meet Energy Star requirements, and we hope it will earn LEED certification as well.

We are fortunate that the owners of the farm, our clients, are committed to the environment -- and also to traditional architecture. As designers, we are happy to be able to offer visual proof that a house built to green specifications can be beautiful and suited to its rural setting, designed in a vernacular style with appropriate detailing, built with traditional materials such as wood, stone, and brick, yet crafted using the efficiencies of factory fabrication.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Traditional Details: Wood Shingles

On the tidewater cottage, the hipped-roof dormers are topped with wood shingles that are overlapped and fantailed in a manner as old as the Virginia colony. The illustration and description below are taken from The Houses of Williamsburg: Construction and Detail (1960), an excellent reference on traditional detail used often in our practice:
"At the hips of a roof, the shingles are 'fantailed"...laid so that those on one side projected about 2 in. above and over those on the other. The choice of which side of the ridge to carry up in this manner was not settled by chance or whim, but with a sound regard for orientation: it had to be the side that received the most prolonged rain. In Virginia, where it was common knowledge that the northeasterly storms were the ones to be feared, the 18th-century builder chose the north or east."
On our 21st-century tidewater cottage, the shingles crest to the east, since the heaviest rain hits the farm from the west.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Qroe Preservation Development

Currier prefab at Bundoran Farm/ photo by Leigh Donohue, C'ville

Currier Farmhouse front elevation

In an article from the online Charlottesville magazine C'ville, writer Will Goldsmith gives props to Qroe Farm Preservation Development, the company developing Bundoran Farm, for sticking to what they promised. The company had vowed to maintain the working farm on the property, tuck the homesites away so they are not visible from the road, and, most importantly, keep 80% of the 2,300 acres undeveloped and in conservation easements. These principles are key to a growing movement called New Ruralism that is starting to gain ground. Qroe has been involved in this type of development for more than a decade, with four preservation developments completed in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, each with more than 80% of its acreage preserved in open space. Bundoran Farm is the first outside of New England.

Qroe has a terrific vision for preserving rural land. The company is committed to bringing together three diverse groups often locked in combat -- conservationists, farmers, and homeowners -- in innovative development projects that satisfy everyone's objectives.

We live in Loudoun County, Virginia, a once-rural area that has morphed in a short decade into a poster child for development run amok. Located an hour outside of Washington, DC, Loudoun was long-renowned for pastoral beauty, historic towns, and gracious farms -- all but destroyed in the 1990s when a high-speed freeway opened to connect farm and city. Suddenly, developers were everywhere. A huge chute opened, littering subdivisions, malls, SUVs and minivans all over Loudoun, rendering it for years running the nation's fastest-growing county. Loudoun quickly transformed from rural to "exurban," a term that sounds as hideous as what it describes. Build it and build it some more, and they will come. And they did.

That is, until lately. With rising gas prices and the "economic downturn," Loudoun is no longer looking so fetching as a place to either make money or live. If a long-distance commute becomes truly unaffordable, this bedroom community is going to be a landfill for empty bedrooms.

It's too late for Loudoun County. But perhaps in our new reality-checked America, more companies will emerge with a long-term vision like Qroe Farm's -- to conserve the land and nurture an area's rural heritage rather than simply get in, get rich, and get out.

Leesburg in Loudoun County, VA / photo by Tim Dillon, USA Today

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Prefab Currier at Bundoran Farm

The Daily Progress/Andrew Shurtleff
A prefab Currier, which is a design from the Simple Farmhouse Portfolio, is the first house to be built at the Bundoran Farm preservation development near Charlottesville. In this article from the Daily Progress, Brian McNeill writes about the Bundoran project, the Currier design, the prefab process, the builder group, the development company, and much more. The Currier is the design that has become Russell's iconic house. It is based on a custom home built in Waterford, Virginia, that Russell designed in the mid-1990s. We continue to hear from people who saw the house in a magazine a decade ago and have never forgotten it.
The custom home in Waterford on which the Currier is based
We have added a new blog feature: a list of links to recent online articles that are piquing our interest. We scan online media regularly to monitor trends in the housing industry and ensure that we are taking the practice in the right direction for changing times.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beautiful Brick

Here is the brick to be used for the foundation and chimney of the tidewater cottage. It's a Cushwa handmade brick called Old Savannah. With lovely variation in texture, contour, and color, the bricks look as if they were salvaged from an old building.

Cushwa is the artisan line from Redland Brick, a company that also makes machine-moulded bricks and brick pavers at their other plants. Since 1872 the Cushwa plant has been handmaking bricks the same way: by pressing clay into sand-coated wooden moulds, then removing the bricks to be fired in a kiln. The colors of the finished bricks range from orange to black, depending on how close they are placed to the fire in the kiln.

Handmade new brick is a great choice for a new old house, but, like salvaged brick, it's an expensive one. Fortunately, there are brick products at all different levels of cost and quality for giving a house an authentically old look. Russell has spec'd Boral Thin Brick , a 3/4" thick brick facing made of concrete, in several Simple Farmhouse Portfolio designs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Chandler Farmhouse

At the Homestead Preserve in Warm Springs, Virginia, the Chandler is being built on a site with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge mountains.

The side and back of the Chandler at the Homestead Preserve

Wouldn't this be a great spot to sit and watch the hawks ride the air currents as they fly south?

Reconfigured for the hillside setting, the Chandler now has a walk-out basement

Chandler front elevation as originally designed for flat land

The Homestead Preserve is a conservation development in a tiny hamlet close to the Homestead Resort in White Sulphur Springs, Virginia. The developers, Celebration Associates, acquired a tract of 11,500 acres of pristine land. Their first act was to transfer 9,250 of them to the Nature Conservancy for protection in perpetuity, and later, to donate conservation easements for an additional 935 acres to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
Homes are being built on just 325 acres of the Homestead Preserve. Residents enjoy privileges at the 200-year-old Homestead Resort, including golf, tennis, cultural and social events, and spas such as the Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs -- where a certain weary ex-President traveled in 1818 to take the waters in the Gentleman's Spa.

Like the tidewater cottage in Halfway, the new house at the Homestead Preserve was built from a factory-fabricated kit of parts crafted in Vermont by Connor Homes and delivered by truck to Warm Springs for assembly by a crew from Ilex Construction.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More "Roots of Home" Endorsements

Katrina Cottage
We have received additional endorsements for the new book, which will be on bookstore shelves on October 14th. We are grateful to author and interior designer Alexandra Stoddard, architect and Katrina Cottage designer Marianne Cusato, National Trust President Richard Moe, and Charleston interior designer Amelia Handegan as well as to a number of earlier contributors for taking time from extremely busy schedules to review the galleys and offer comments. All of the endorsements are posted on the online media site for Roots of Home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

HABS and Historic Precedents

Russell's new book is titled Roots of Home, which is how he refers to the particular mix of culture and customs that shaped an area's classic home styles. The first settlers in a region took building traditions they knew from where they came from and adapted them to the climate, resources, and landscape in the new place. Through the years the styles of the houses evolved with new migrations and cultural influences, and they are still changing today as they're modified to fit how we live in the 21st century.

To plan a new old house, we begin by researching the native-grown homestyles of the place in which the house will be built. In our office at Russell Versaci Architecture we have an extensive architectural library with more than 1000 volumes; many are antiquarian and most are out of print. On the shelves are hundreds of books with old drawings and photographs of houses that serve as a great resource for researching vernacular traditions.

Although we feel fortunate to have this extensive architectural library on site, we also rely on another resource -- one that's available to anyone with a computer. The
Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is a huge electronic archive of drawings and photographs of early American architecture that is free and easy to search on the Library of Congress website. (For the story of HABS, read Russell's column titled Picturing Home, which appeared in the summer issue of New Old House magazine.)

All this information serves to introduce the drawing at the top of the post. It is a HABS drawing of a house that served as a historic precedent and design inspiration for the prefab tidewater cottage. The house was called Maidstone, and its record states that it was located in the vicinity of Owings in Calvert County, Maryland. Beyond that little bit of information, we don't know anything else about the house, like whether or not it still exists. Many of the houses in HABS are no longer standing. The project was begun during the WPA years to document in photographs and measured drawings the early architecture of our country before it fell to ruins or was bulldozed to make way for the march of progress.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Prefab House Takes Shape

Outside Middleburg, the factory-fabricated cottage is looking very much like its rendering. On the second floor, the dormers now have their windows, and the roof has been covered with asphalt felt paper.

Clapboard siding and trim moulding are being applied, and the house is partially covered in GreenGuard Housewrap. The Marvin windows are double-hung with simulated true-divided light. The hipped style of the dormer was common in early Virginia and can be seen on houses in colonial Williamsburg.