Category Archives: architecture

facelift

Thanks for all the fun comments and emails about my 45 degree angle post…clearly I’ve struck a nerve with the rest of you classicaly-minded folks out there who also ‘just say no’ to the standard issue dumbed-down design that seems to be so prevalent in new home construction.  I’ve received lots of requests for more posts like that (and some great suggestions for topics) so stay tuned for another rant here soon!

In the meantime, and in the interest of practicing what I preach, I recently oversaw an exterior facelift for the condominium complex where I reside.

That’s the front of my unit, before and after.  I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’ll refresh your memory again–I live in one of eight 500-ish square foot attached bungalows in a pair of buildings built in 1942.  Built on the edge of Mountain Brook Village, a planned commercial hub for the 1920′s ‘country estate’ development originally called Mountain Brook Estates–now it’s own city, Mountain Brook, AL–the complex was probably intended to be housing for newlyweds, shop workers, teachers, etc to support the Village.  From what I understand there were originally several buildings similar to these two along my street but over time they were all demolished and replaced by larger more expensive townhomes and condos.  This little pair of buildings escaped and remains today (converted to condominiums in 1986).

I wanted to live here for years, so when I finally had the chance I immediately jumped!  Of course nothing is ever perfect and from the day I moved in, I was itching to do something about the horrible paint scheme on the buildings.  At some point in the past, someone had seen fit to paint EVERYTHING on the buildings the same shade of grey.  Windows, doors, trim, stucco, eaves, everything…except for the porch columns and railings which were inexplicably white.  The effect has alternately been described by me–and later by my across the street neighbors after they started calling and thanking me for the redo!–as a women’s prison, an army barracks or a mental institution.  None of which you want associated with your home.

After much cajoling and suggesting at condo board meetings and in sidewalk conversations, I got enough neighbors on board to enact a redo.  We decided to leave the stucco color as it was (grey–not a bad shade, and recently painted and in good shape) but to paint all of the trim and windows a crisp white (Benjamin Moore ‘White,’ simply enough) and to install new board and batten shutters painted a contrasting black (Benjamin Moore ‘Black’).

The old shutters were in terrible condition, and were generic off-the-shelf louvered units.  Although they were fixed in place, the old shutters were not wide enough to ‘cover’ the windows if actually closable–perhaps my BIGGEST design pet peeve of all!  Even more than 45 degree garden tubs!

You may recall my post from earlier this spring where I investigated board and batten shutters.  It’s a look I always thought would be more appropriate for the cottage style of the buildings and when I suggested the change, my neighbors wisely agreed to let me decide.  We worked with the painting crew that Hannon and I use often in our work, who are also capable of some light construction.  They worked with me to design and fabricate new cedar board and batten shutters that are properly sized to the windows and to the buildings’ style.  I am thrilled with the results–and even better, so are my seven neighbors in the complex!

I elected to have shutters added to the side elevation of my unit (I live on the end)…I always think it’s so stupid when people only install shutters on the front of their home and I knew it would bug me to be in the side yard and see one corner with shutters and one corner without!  The owner of the unit across from me wisely did the same thing.  The window placement along the rear elevations of the buildings is irregular and close together so we were able to skip that face of each building and save some money.

One other feature everyone did agree to investing in was planter boxes for the streetside elevations of both buildings.  The bathroom window for each of these units is located on the front facade and it’s smaller in scale than the other openings–which created an awkward dead space in the center of each elevation.  The new planter boxes visually even out this situation, and also add a lot of color and life…and I think they are just so cottagey and fun!  The perfect touch for the complex.

I’ll admit I struggled a little bit with what to do about the double windows on each courtyard facade.  If I’d had my way we would have been technically correct and removed the shutters on these windows altogether.  However since we didn’t repaint the stucco–and of course the last time the buildings were painted no one removed the old shutters to paint behind them!–we had to put something back in their place.  I decided to use the same 18″ wide size we used on the other windows (every window except the tiny bathroom windows above are 36″ wide, so a pair of 18″ shutters is correct) — I figured at least on these double units the proportions would still be right for 1/2 of each side.  If there’s a better solution, I’d love to hear it…I am okay with it finally, but being such a shutter-size fanatic it bugged me at first.  I’m in the process of trying to get historic designations from the county for the complex and am in search of historic photos of the buildings–I suspect they’ve always had shutters on the double windows so even if it’s wrong, it’s still historically right.  Right?  I’ll be sure to share the historic photos when/if I find some.

45 degree angles

Friends, I am delivering a public service announcement today.  If I offend any of you, dear readers, who have the design feature I am about to address present in your own home, I apologize in advance.  I feel however given the severity of the situation that I must address the matter regardless of the consequences.

People who design and build new homes:  STOP PUTTING 45 DEGREE ANGLES IN YOUR FLOOR PLANS!

I feel better already.  I ran the idea of this post by my favorite blogging buddy, Brooke and she replied with “I hate them too.  You can quote me on that.”  So there, I just did.  And now you have two professional opinions.  I get that this tactic is supposed to open up space, or improve flow, or views, or something…but it’s SO dated and SO stupid looking.  I was looking up a construction company today (that’s a rant for another day) and their website was full of them.  This “feature” strikes me as very 1995 (at best!) why, why are people still doing this?  It’s so bad!

This is not a good look.  Getting past the many atrocities present in this image, let’s focus in on the sink placement.  There’s no reason for the angling.  None.  It’s absurd.  I guess the point was to allow a view/connection into the room to the left as well as into whatever space is across the dumb little wall from the dishwasher?  How chatty do you get when washing the dishes…how about we straighten that out and just deal with it?

Ah, the angled eating bar.  Dynamic isn’t it?  Especially with those dopey little pendants hanging in your face.

Here’s another stunning kitchen on the angle…the theme here seems to be to pen the cook into the workspace.  Why couldn’t both walls of cabinets just terminated in squared off ends?  The left one could have extended and made a peninsula bar if eating space was desired.

Lest you think this trick is confined just to bad kitchen design, here’s a stunning master bathroom where the requisite ‘garden tub’ has been cranked into the corner so that the water closet can be accessed.  In this case, it’s just lazy…If the shower and toilet had been flipped, everything could have run straight into each other and there wouldn’t have been any need for all this whoopty-woo angling to take place.

Look, I’ll show you:

See, no more dumb angles, same features.  I’d argue most people don’t actually use those acrylic horse tubs new home buyers insist on, but that’s a fight for another day.  Only change I had to make to go from angle-y to straightforward was to steal 9″ from the water closet and give it to the shower…really, wouldn’t you rather spend the square footage on that anyway?  Oh, I made the tub a rectangle too…because that oval business is about as current as plans with 45 degree angles.  And I centered up that vanity, it actually could push all the way to the tub and you could pick up a linen cabinet down by the entrance to the room.  Imagine the possibilities.

I am sure at some point in my career I’ve drawn a plan or two with an angle like this.  I can think of one very specific example where I was laying out a condo with a laundry closet or pantry or something in the corner and I angled off the wall and placed the door to the adjacent space in the angle.  I didn’t like it on paper and when I walked into the finished space I HATED it.  Mind you, I was 25 at the time, and I still knew better.

I suspect a lot of the folks who are still doing this kind of thing have a few more years on them.  Maybe that’s the thing, this design trick is a hold-over from years past.  It’s time to let it go.  There’s nothing classic, there’s nothing appealing and there’s nothing even attractive about dumb angled bits of rooms and millwork.  In most cases, it’s just laziness, or poor planning…and especially bad taste.  Anyway, let’s work on avoiding it, okay?

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

[all images via here…I avoided the temptation to lift them from offending builders’ and developers’ websites, but you know who you are…)

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