Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Upside of the Recession

In the recent Boston Globe article Rooting for a Recession, writer Renee Loth noted that the recession is having a curious upside. Having had to reign in their driving and spending habits, people are finding that a simpler life can be a satisfying life. With more time on their hands, they're living greener, gardening, spending more time with family and friends, taking up hobbies, and discovering new meaning in life beyond the mall.

Of course, marketing opportunity knocks even in a recession. While sales of SUVs and trophy homes are flat, other products that speak to a culture turning its back on conspicuous consumption are doing well. Such as Christopher Peacock kitchens like the one shown at left, as noted in Top-Shelf Kitchens by Penelope Green in the Providence Journal. And the $125 can of paint observed by trend-spotter Faith Popcorn (who introduced the word "cocooning" into our lexicon):

“How can $125 for 2/3 of a gallon of paint speak to anyone but the super-rich in this cool-not-to-consume economy? Because while conspicuous consumption is definitely out, consumption that expresses timeless values – concern for the environment, a sense of history, genuine craftsmanship, “authentic” materials and design – is still definitely in. Consumers at all income levels are still willing to pay a premium and forego other purchases to participate in these brands that include a sense of security along with their high price tag.”

Obviously, the recession will have disastrous effect on people whose livelihoods depend on failing industries and unsustainable practices. But for people who can afford high-end products, the desire for products made with a concern for the environment, historical sense, craftsmanship, and authentic materials and design is a promising trend.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tidewater Cottage

This drawing shows the side elevation of the English tidewater vernacular-style cottage to be built near Middleburg. The front elevation is shown in the previous post. The house, which will be a caretakers' cottage, is to be built from a knocked-down kit of parts.

The sloping roof on the front and back of the main section of the house is called a catslide, and it was a signature feature of the Chesapeake Bay English tidewater cottage style.

The earliest versions of these cottages were one room deep, with steep roofs and gable ends. By extending the overhang of the roof in the rear, the cottage could be enlarged with additional bedrooms; the ensuing variation was called a catside. Later, the roof in the front was extended in the same way to shelter an outdoor living space called a porch. By the 18th century, homes all over the South had begun to sprout porches, galeries, verandas, and piazzas to help people cope with the sultry southern summers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Home Delivery

In the past year we have begun working with Connor Homes in Middlebury, Vermont, to have houses fabricated and delivered flat by truck to the client's home site. Russell sees great potential in prefab and modular technologies to make good traditional design more affordable. He has written about the topic in two Architect's Principles columns in New Old House magazine, House in a Box in the Winter 2007 issue and Pennywise in Winter 2008.

We have two fabricated houses being built in Virginia at present, one at the Homestead Preserve in Warm Springs and one at Bundoran Farm near Charlottesville; both are designs from Russell's Simple Farmhouse Portfolio. A third is a custom design for a client that we expect to be delivered this week. We are especially excited about this one, since we'll be able to see the process at every stage from delivery to finished home.

The design is for a caretaker's cottage to be built on a Middleburg horse farm, and it's styled after the English tidewater cottages of colonial Maryland and Virginia. Tidewater cottages were timberframed and weatherboarded, with low brick foundations, double chimneys, and front porches. The front porch was new to the English colonies in the mid-18th-century, and it expanded the living area and served a social function as a place to chat with passers-by and greet visitors.

The design for the house in Middleburg is an amalgam of Russell's design and designs done by Rob Hale for the Simple Farmhouse Portfolio Tidewater Collection. Rob is the project architect on this house.

We'll photograph the house in its various stages and post photos here. Watch this space...