Thursday, September 17

Learn your styles!

I came across a real estate brochure last week that gave me a great laugh. The realtors described the following 2 homes as being "Center Hall Colonial", and for the life of me, I don't see why.

Is it because the one on the top is made out of brick? I'm totally stumped by the one on the bottom - how can you have a Center Hall Colonial with an asymetrical entrance? I guess the columns make it "colonial." Basically these are 2 examples of a contractor building a house without a design professional. More than 90% of residences built in our country are not built with the aid of an architect, and folks, this is the ugly result.

Now most of you who are design conscious would never mistake Chanel for Armani, or BMW for Mercedes. Why is it so different for architectural styles? Good design vs. bad design in residential construction is not a topic you'll find covered in any shelter magazine or major newspaper. I just read a nearly half page review why Microsoft's Zune is never going to make it in the marketplace despite a good design in the NYT last week. I've never seen such a critique on current residential construction.

Here's an original Center Hall Colonial in Williamsburg. It's Bassett Hall originally built in the mid 1700's. It eventually became the home to John D. and Abby Rockefeller, and is now a part of Historic Williamsburg.

It's design is based in English Georgian architecture obviously because the people in Williamsburg were from England. They couldn't afford brick to replicate the Georgian houses, but they were able to use the basic center hall plan and symmetrical elevation. This house has a lovely proportion and presence in the landscape.

Below a very common 20th century Center Hall Colonial. I like the fact that it remains true to the basic plan and symmetry.

Next time you're driving around looking at houses, start seeing the Center Hall Colonial vs. the pretenders.

Monday, September 7

Countertops, Part 1

I'm often asked by clients which material makes the best countertop. It reminds me of the old axiom about which is the best exercise. The answer to both is the one that best suits you. It's pretty obvious that visual taste is a huge influence. But there's also cost, maintenance and wear issues to consider. For purposes of this entry I'll stick to kitchen counter materials I'd recommend.

My favorite counter material for a kitchen is natural stone. I tend to specify very dense stones like quartzite or granite. These materials take a beating and require virtually no maintenance. You can cut on it (although not great for the knife edge longevity), you can put boiling hot pots onto it. In short, about the only damage you can inflict onto a stone surface is dropping something very heavy onto it and possibly chipping the surface or an edge. Below is a kitchen we did using a white quartzite material.For a while, marble and limestone were in vogue for counter tops, but both materials require a good deal of maintenance involving constant sealing to keep their appearance pristine. Both materials will have their surface marred if acidic materials come in contact (such as lime or lemon juice, tomatoes, wine). The more porous the material, like limestone, the more chance there is to stain deep into the material. However, if you're not the type that has to have the perfect appearance at all times, I actually like using marble and NOT sealing it - letting nature run its course. Below is a photo taken at a local fish deli, Barney Greengrass, of their marble countertop that's been there for almost 100 years; it has a great patina of wear. I think it looks fabulous.
If money is no object and you like color, then glazed lava stone (Pyrolave) is the perfect material. The finished surface has the appearance glazed tile. They can produce almost any color. Like quartzite, it's impervious to most normal wear - but again, it can be chipped if something heavy is dropped onto it.
These are my favorite stone materials. New stone materials constantly come to market as the older quarries run out of material. Right now we find more quartzites coming to market, and far less granites (which seem out of fashion) and marbles. I'll touch on metals for counter tops, as well as use of wood in my next entry.