Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Introducing our new Slow Home

So, we bought a house!

exterior - yes, we just had a snowstorm
living room natural-gas fireplace with stone facing
detail of rail at top of stairs in bonus room
kitchen granite counter and backsplash
one of the small square windows, to show the neo-Craftsman millwork
ensuite tub, showing the maple cabinets and tile used throughout the house
oak floors with a nice dark stain
I took a few photos during the home inspection today. I've tried not to show the current furnishings, out of respect for the prior owner. (I'll share more photos once our stuff has been moved in. Promise.) The house has a bad case of builder beige, but good bones, don't you think?

As you can see, the exterior and interior trim is suggestive of Arts-and-Crafts style, as is the case in several of the new subdivisions being built around Edmonton - and in many other cities, based on what I am seeing online. As a Prairie city that had its first real growth between the World Wars, Edmonton's most coveted central neighborhoods are streetcar suburbs filled with Craftsman bungalows and Four-Squares - many of which were mail-order houses. I once read a reprint of a 1930s Sears kit home catalogue, and it was amazing just how many of the illustrated exteriors were instantly recognizable as homes in Glenora and Strathcona. It makes sense that they'd be mimicked by builders looking to trade on the style's cachet, for buyers who want the look in a larger, newer, less expensive home in the outer-ring suburbs.

So, we'll work with that style, and add Craftsman-style interior trim, built-ins, and hardware (and fix the existing trim, which is a bit too simple and looks clumsy as a result). That will help to add architectural interest and a sense of history to the interior. At the same time as we do that, we'll try to slow down the design of the house, which we score (generously) at 14/20 on the Slow Home Test. Making the home more environmentally friendly, adding better lighting and more built-in storage, creating a proper garden, and giving the neighborhood time to mature and develop more nearby amenities (which are still under construction) will all help to improve that score. It'll never be a 20/20, given its suburban location and total lack of attention to the sun's path and the prevailing winds, but it's "somewhat slow" and it meets all the criteria that I laid out in a recent post.

I'm pleased that the home is faux-Craftsman instead of one of the other styles that are currently en vogue. The Craftsman aesthetic is very in tune with modern Slow Design sensibilities, with an emphasis on honest use of natural materials, connection to nature, artisan workmanship, and human scale that was originally borne of protest against industrialization and mass manufacture. In practice, the kit houses and the furniture and wallpapers and tiles used to decorate them were mass-produced in one of the first examples of democratization of design, and they were marketed by the kit-sellers as modern, luxurious, efficient, hygienic, and convenient. Craftsman bungalows borrowed from traditional Shaker, Japanese, and Bengalese architecture, and featured rooms that were open to one another, an abundance of natural light and natural wood, and the use of art tiles and art glass as durable decorative flourishes. Thoughtfully-designed built-in furniture was used to increase the apparent size of the rooms and to keep the rooms easy to clean. An emphasis on long horizontal lines, square motifs, and simplicity of form makes the architecture read as fairly masculine, which is usually balanced by adding rounded forms in the furniture and lighting, and adding decor showing Art Deco and Art Nouveau influences. (Here's a detailed article discussing Arts-and-Crafts architecture and interior decoration in Nebraska - most of what the author says is also true in Edmonton.)

There are lots of great resources out there for families who are restoring their Craftsman homes, and if I really wanted I could pull out all the stops and make this house as authentic as I wished using those resources. I will not be going with a slavish reproduction of Craftsman style in our new home, but I will let its aesthetic inform the architectural millwork and hardware choices we make. I've started by creating a pinboard of Craftsman reference images (naturally). We take possession at the end of April, so I have about two months to pack and plan things before the move. This should be fun!

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