Monday, November 7, 2011

Generic house

This weekend we went to visit a friend whose house has lots of what can only be called "character." I mean this in both the best and the worst sense of the word. The house has lots of interior detail—a stone fireplace, solid wood paneling, exposed beams, vintage doors and doorknobs—but it also has crumbling tile in the bathroom, acoustic tile falling off the ceiling, and a stove that hasn't worked for over a decade. I often find myself feeling frustrated in this house, because it's such a neat house in so many ways and it's not being shown to advantage.

I think the reason this bothers me so much is that our house is almost exactly the opposite: it's solid and well-maintained, but it has no detail whatsoever. In fact, I can't even identify an architectural style for it: when we bought it, the listing described it as a ranch, but it doesn't have the open, sprawling feel of a ranch at all. It almost feels more like a Cape Cod, with its rectangular shape, small rooms, and central hallway—but it it lacks the steep roof and central chimney that are the hallmarks of this style. Basically, it's just a snug, plain little postwar box, with no distinguishing features of any kind.

This makes it frustrating for me when I try to plan any kind of home improvement project, because I'm a big believer in working with the existing architectural style of a house, adding on in ways that enhance rather than disguise its original design. Yet with our house, I feel like I really have no style to work with. Suppose, for instance, that I want to add on a covered front entrance: what kind of addition would be in keeping with the style of the house? I can't come up with an answer to that, because the house itself is so plain that it seems like the only way to work with the style is to leave it plain and add no adornments at all.

Maybe I should just think of it like vanilla ice cream: since it's not a strong flavor itself, you can add anything you like to it, from fresh raspberries to creme de menthe. So if you have a house with no basic style, you can add on any style you like and it won't clash. But would trying to make our postwar box into a Craftsman bungalow just look pretentious?
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