Building Not To Impress

At least on the outside. Maggie’s Farm did this post about houses in Wilton, the town just North of me.

Comments about how ugly these houses are, which happens to be true.  There’s a bunch of reasons for that.  Perhaps it’s not so much that these houses are not ugly, but incoherent.  Rather than being a solid design throughout one would get the impression that these houses were put together from design elements from different ideas and times all put together mishmash with very little concern for the whole.  You would be exactly right in that summation of how those houses were put together.

This has been a trend going on for some time here in Fairfield County CT. It’s driven by two things. The first is land prices.  The cost of land that you put a house on is extraordinarily high thanks to the amount of land that’s available and the severe  zoning restrictions placed on that land.  This means that even with the cheapest possible construction there is no way a house in Wilton can be built for about $2800 to $4000 a Sqft(this is based on discussions  with developers at the hardware store I worked at).   So in order to make money the house is going to be large, there’s no way around it.  The house is also going to cost a lot to put up.  So the developer will take steps to include things that will help the house sell.  Like multicar garages and attic suites with dormers.

This is compounded by the fact that the owners are also primarily concerned with features that will sell especially here in Fairfield County.  Here most people don’t expect to live in their houses for more than four or five years.  The people here in Fairfield County that buy house tend to be high level corporate executives who expect to move on to their next transfer about then.  So the buyers tend to be more concerned with  amenities than they are with features that make the house unique.  In fact a unique house doesn’t sell very well.

In many ways this has been created by the way the region has developed.  Suburban CT was developed in waves, the first wave being from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, driven by the railroad  the second in the post war baby boom, driven by I95 and the third from the 1980’s to more or less now but because of zoning and other restrictions  like no road  infrastructure improvements the growth has been slowed.

The problem is that due to the depression and the way houses sold in the post war period, the large house of the turn of the last century to the beginning of the depression went out of style. Houses became smaller were built more or less in a factory style based on a few  house plans.  It’s interesting that you look at any part of the country and see essentially the same colonial style house, built in the 1950- 1970 period. I’ve been in houses where I knew where everything was because they were built essentially to the same plan as the house that I grew up in, with some changes.

There’s been a tendency to use those same plans from the same books ever since.  But more recently people wanted bigger houses with more features like multicar garages. So builders needed plans for bigger houses. Which the design books creators did simply by enlarging or tweaking what they already had.  Thereby creating the McMansion with the results seen above.  These are houses, but they can never be homes, truly.

In many ways, the rush to the suburbs has made us forget the livable things that made houses homes.  Here’s some examples.

Instead, we’ve replaces individuality with efficiency and livability with features.  Houses are built out of design books in developments to features that represent what the developers pull from trends set by I don’t know who. We have become trapped as country into design following rather than the design leadership we once had.  With the results at the beginning of the post.


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