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Filtering by Tag: distinctive home

resource review: the distinctive home - part 4

Emily Oster


The final key element to a distinctive home is the details. For Eck, the details are what become the "essence of a home" (Eck, 181). However, the chapter is not about what size crown molding to use or how to design built-ins but rather how to think about details. Eck explains that "In a sense, the best way to think about details is not to think about them at all. Instead, look at them first in relation to the whole house" (Eck, 181). This is to say details should always be in support of the whole house - the site, floor plan, and exterior - and not disparate elements that become an after thought. 

New Construction: 
1. The first principle for creating distinctive details is to acknowledge the "power of materials" (Eck, 183). Each detail whether it be a door or casing is made out of something and the "stronger the connection between the material and the role of the particular detail, the more powerful the result" (Eck, 183). It is also important to consider that details "tend to work best when they are designed so that the natural qualities of the material are revealed in some way" (Eck, 183).
2. Details both on the interior and exterior need to work together. They should unify a home's design while also be those special elements that give a house character. 
3. Think about how exterior trim can create a "rhythm and continuity" to the facade of your home. For example, "houses with little trim tend to emphasize the house as a whole (a unifying feature in itself), while houses with a lot of trim tend to emphasize its parts" (Eck, 186). 
4. Consider using a similar type of trim for the baseboard and window and door casings. This will often save you money and be another way to unify spaces. 
5. Eck urges that particular attention be paid to the "defining edges" of a house - "the areas between the ground and the wall and the wall and the roof" (Eck, 189). Treatment of these areas are significant as they greatly determine how your house sits on the site. For example, a treatment of stone between the wall and the ground will make your house feel rooted to the earth - solid. While a white banding of trim might make it appear like it was floating above it. 
6. Particular details like doors, brackets and columns, and rails can act like "punctuation marks in a sentence. They can clarify parts of a house, join some parts together, even exclaim one portion over another " (Eck, 197). 
7. For Eck, there are three interior details that can really make a difference - stairs, fireplaces and built-ins. Stairs are somewhat different than other details in the amount of use they get and that they are seen from so many different angles - below, above, up close, far away. It is therefore important to view them as a three dimensional space and not just a flat, purely aesthetic component. Fireplaces are perhaps the most symbolic of all details in that the hearth takes on the figurative representation of the house. In Eck's practice, he uses only Rumford fireplaces, a design developed by Sir Benjamin Thompson in the eighteenth century. This design calls for a much larger but shallower opening allowing more heat to be sent back into the room. It also requires larger flues and chimneys. Built-ins can be one of the most costly details (Eck shares that in his first 1,200 square foot home, he allocated 10% of the total budget to cabinets). However, they are often the most effective in tying diverse parts of a room together. 
8. Some details are distinctive simply because they are not common. Exposed timbers, trellises and pergolas, and niches are a few examples and "like all good details thoughtfully considered, they can add another layer of interest" (Eck, 211). 

Purchasing a Home: 
Since this chapter is about a way of thinking about details rather than the details themselves, all the points apply in the sense that they are things to be considered when looking at a potential home. Finish work can also be very telling with regards to the sort of quality and craftsmanship that went into the construction of a home. When touring a house, take notice of the details and think about what needs to be added (or subtracted) and the potential costs of those types of improvements. Remember details can be very costly but also very significant.

Modifying a Home: 
Again, all points apply in that this chapter is about a way of thinking. Details are a great way to update your home and while often costly they can completely change the look and feel of a space. Updating your front door or constructing a custom mantle for your fireplace are just two examples of relatively low cost but high impact improvements. 

Check out tomorrow's post for a home with distinctive details and for the last installment of this series!

resource review: the distinctive home - part 3

Emily Oster


The third principal for creating a distinctive home is focused on the exterior design or what Eck calls the public face. For Eck, the key to a well designed exterior is "to look outward to the site and neighboring houses and inward to the floor plan" (Eck, 132). He continues in explaining that many of his clients start out with a specific style in mind - contemporary, colonial, victorian etc. - but that to begin with a style is extremely limiting and often comes at the "expense of a thoughtful and distinctive solution, one that integrates the site, the floor plan, the exterior, and the details inside and out" (Eck, 132). Eck instead proposes that all options for incorporating these crucial elements be considered and then to end up with a style or rather what he likes to call a personality for the home.

New Construction: 
1. Name your home. Giving your home a specific name rather than just an address "gives it a significance that raises it above the ordinary" (Eck, 132). It is a way to appreciate and give meaning to the place where you will spend much of your time. 
2. Begin with thinking about the exterior of the house from a distance and imagine how a visitor would see it. From a distance, a home's exterior is about scale, massing and color. Scale is about size but more importantly how the size relates to the people who live in it. People tend to be most comfortable in spaces that have a scale that is similar to their own. Mass is about volume and perceived weightiness. A single mass is experienced as a much larger space than one that is the same square footage but that is broken up into multiple masses. Finally, color plays a large role in how your house will relate to its context - should it stand out or blend it?
3. Determine the scale of your home (this is different from square footage). For a smaller size home, perhaps one with a condensed floor plan, think about how you can play with the scale to make the home seem larger. For a larger home, Eck recommends breaking a house into smaller parts or even separate buildings to keep the scale in proportion to its inhabitants and surroundings. Another solution might be to keep the house to a single story or to use the details of the home (windows, dormers, columns etc.) to help reduce the scale.
4. Determine the mass of your home. Mass is all about proportion and is innately tied to scale. For Eck, "single masses work best on small houses because their limited size makes it hard for them to grow to massive. But the larger the house, the larger the mass and odds are, the heavier or bulkier it is likely to look. Breaking down one large mass into multiple smaller masses (similar to adjusting scale) is a good way to reduce the impression of bulk" (Eck, 142).  
5. Consider the details of the house specifically the doors and windows, textures and patterns, the roof, entries, chimneys, and porches and decks. These details work together to create the overall composition of the exterior and while each should be given its own specific attention they should combine to create one cohesive and pleasing exterior design.
6. When thinking about the design and placement of doors and windows, begin by thinking about the contrast between the solid and void. Eck explains that "while a distinctive interior is the direct result of siting outside and the plan within, it is also an independent composition that should have a pleasing balance of solids and voids - rather than a hodgepodge of openings that have no order" (Eck, 146). For windows, Eck outlines three rules. Firstly, "place the windows to take advantage of the outside views"  (Eck, 153). Secondly, "size and position windows in a way that corresponds to the positioning and importance of rooms in the plan" (Eck, 153). Finally, "make sure the windows have a pleasing visual composition that balances with the amount of wall and its siding, trim, and texture (Eck, 153).
7. Combine different materials to create visual interest. 
8. Don't forget to consider the patterning of your selected materials.
9. Remember that the roof is one of the most prominent elements of the exterior and that its design cannot be ignored. Eck recommends a process of designing the roof that tries to match the basic roofline to the qualities of the site. It is also important to carefully consider the pitch of your roof and how well it will function in your specific climate area.
10. Create an entry that is welcoming, well proportioned, and functional. Avoid thinking about entries as having one for show and one for function.
11. Regard chimney design as an integral part of your exterior rather than an after thought. Eck describes his approach to chimneys by stating "I often think of them as stakes in the ground around which the house rotates" (Eck, 167). 
12. Consider that "porches and decks can do more to add human scale and distinctiveness to a house than any other exterior element" (Eck, 169). 

Purchasing a Home:
1. When thinking about potential homes examine how you remember the different properties you have seen. If you are constantly referring to a house in a negative way - "the one that was a horrible mess" -than it is probably not the place for you. It also might be helpful to try to name a potential home and see if it helps you make a decision on whether or not it is right for you.
2. Same as above. 
3. Take into consideration this point when looking at a potential property. Does it look too big? Too small? 
4. Same as #3.
5. Same as above. Step back and notice where your eye is drawn. Does the composition of windows, doors and details seem to work well together? Does something seem not to belong or look right?
6. Apply the three rules of thumb to the window design and placement when viewing a potential home. Look out each window and think about what it would be like to look out of those windows on a daily basis - would you want to or would you want to close the shades?
7. Think about the aesthetics and the function of the materials used. Educate yourself on how easily changes could be made or what the upkeep will be.
8. Does not apply. 
9. Same as above.
10. Think about what the entry of a potential home conveys to a visitor. It is an intimate, courtyard entrance that draws a person in? Or is it a formal, clearly defined front entrance that conveys a sense of stateliness?
11. Take notice.
12. Take notice. 

Modifying a Home:
1. Its worth a try!
2. Consider this point if you have never thought of your house in this way - it might reveal something new to you.
3. Same as #2
4. Same as #2.
5. Same as "purchasing a home #5".
6. Does not apply. 
7. Think about how changing the exterior materials or color of your home might enhance the overall exterior design.
8. Same as #7.
9. Does not apply. 
10. Changing entries are a relatively simple and often high impact way to transform the exterior of a home. Think about what a new door or adding an overhang could do for the outside of your house. 
11. Does not apply.
12. Another great and relatively simple way to change the whole appeal of your home. Add a front porch? Or maybe a side deck?

Check out tomorrow's post for a distinctive exterior design example!