Designing the 2015 Home

In the October issue of Homebuilding & Renovating magazine Charlie’s column explains how to approach the art of contemporary design.

If you wanted to build a modern home very much of its time, what would you do? Architectural designer and TV expert Charlie Luxton explains how to approach the art of the contemporary.

Will the 2015 home please stand up? Looking back at the early modernist masterpiece houses is a humbling experience. What is striking is that these early 20th-century buildings – 100 years old or so – still appear amazingly modern and relevant. Open plan living was coming into trend in the 1910s houses of Adolf Loos, and Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright were perfecting organic architecture and machines for living in the 1920s. Mies van der Rohe had sliding walls of glass and stripped minimalism in the ’30s. The Eames House of the ’40s was embracing mass-production and had already moved beyond modernist bombast and dogmatic aesthetics.

Surveying this pantheon of buildings, it is easy to wonder exactly what has moved on in the last 60 years — and that perhaps designers have all been doing cover versions ever since. However, there are issues and ideas being tackled by housing in 2015 that make them very specific to now. A number of trends can be seen in home design today that show where we are advancing and challenging the masters of the past.

Contextualism

Place and context have become an increasingly important concept in modern housing. The big criticism of much 20th-century house design is that it ignores local building styles and the important narrative roles houses play in the feel of a town or village. Limited availability of materials traditionally meant there was a unity of appearance to housing, often dominated by a local stone or brick. Modern transportation broke that relationship and the result has not always been positive. Buildings are not like cars, chairs or almost any other product. They do not move and therefore need to relate to their surroundings in a permanent and unique way. The best 2015 homes have a much stronger relationship to their surroundings through their materials, details and style. This contemporary vernacular is not about mimicking or copying (much as the planners want us to) but bringing together the specific character of a place and its buildings with those of your new home. There are so many wonderful design ideas to reference in the vernacular buildings of the UK, that starting from scratch with no reference to them seems so last century.

Low Maintenance

Another major failing of much contemporary architecture is that it doesn’t allow for the realities of time and ageing. Seemingly conceived in an idealised reality where time, weathering and decay don’t occur, the white rendered box (and its like) never look so good with green algae stains or if a beautiful white smooth plaster interior gets a boot scuff. It’s the illusion of perfection and while many buildings look fantastic in the publicity shoots, they age badly. Ageing is inevitable and good buildings should, like wine, add a new layer of beauty through it. Natural, traditional and interesting materials like brick, clay tiles, timber shingles, stone, wood or metal can not only tie a building into its location but can age beautifully too. The 2015 home understands this and embraces it.

Careful with Glass

For much of the 20th century, walls of glass were a real statement of modernity; expensive and hard to achieve. In the 21st century the folding sliding door is ubiquitous — a stock response to maximise a view or create a connection outside. The reality, both then and now, is that too much glass can result in overheating in summer and the opposite in winter. While this can be overcome through good design and modern technology the truth is that a wall of glass often lessens the impact of a view, whereas a carefully composed window frames it and heightens its effect. Acres of glazing do little for acoustics or creating a sense of place, often resulting in echoey washed-out rooms that have no soul. The 2015 house is sparing with its glass, preferring quality of view and performance of window over quantity. This includes glass balustrades — so last century….

Energy Consumption

Perhaps the main thing to have changed since the wonder of early modernism and defines good architecture today is its impact, or lack of it, on our beseiged environment. Superficially, at least, house design may appear to have not advanced much in the last 100 years, but functionally instead; how well insulated, sealed, ventilated and serviced they are has changed fundamentally. Many of these 20th-century masterpieces were awful to live in – too cold, too hot, too draughty and a nightmare to maintain – and it’s taken the intervening years for technology to catch up and make them comfortable and affordable to heat. Increasingly, automation and integration of systems are key to further reducing energy consumption, achieving more with less. Low energy consumption, embodied energy, internal air quality and responsible sourcing of materials are central to the 2015 house.

The Emergence of Fun

The modern home has for many years been a very serious place where people who drive German cars and eat muesli live in grey crisply ironed clothes.

The white rendered, glass walled, tight arsed, shiny hard house has had its day. The 2015 house has wit, humour and idiosyncrasy. It can parody itself, be quirky, irrational and fun. It references and responds to both its site and surrounding buildings. It cares for the planet, ages gracefully yet maintains the ambition and lessons of the modernist masters. Every building, no matter what the budget, is an opportunity to make the world a little better and the crop of 2015 shouldn’t waste it.

  • Planning Permission Granted - Planning permission has been granted for an extension and remodelling for a nineteenth century cottage in Oxfordshire. The building stands in a secluded spot within the conservation area of the village but situated away from any listed buildings. Its position
  • Completed Project - We have recently completed a multi-phased project to refurbish a grade II listed farmhouse and outbuilding in a conservation area. The project included extending the farmhouse and converting an existing outbuilding to restore the original farmyard character of the site.
  • Community Housing Project in Hook Norton - The vast majority of new housing is unsustainable, unfit for purpose, and doesn’t answer the local need. Possibly one of the biggest issues that results in the poor quality of housing in this country is the discrepancy between the local
  • Team outing to the Cotswold Distillery - Happy New Year! Before Christmas the Charlie Luxton Design team visited the Cotswold Distillery. Just a stones throw from our studio, the distillery has been making award winning gin for the past 9 years. This was a natural choice while
  • Competition winner - Blackwood has won two awards in The Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards. Best Self-Build and the coveted Home of the Year! We are thrilled with the result and the project features on the cover of January’s edition of Homebuilding
  • Oxfordshire farmhouse nearing completion - Careful design and attention to detail is breathing new life in to a collection of neglected farmhouse buildings in south Oxfordshire. We are restoring original brick barns and reorienting the main farmhouse to take full advantage of a fabulous view,
  • Black Barn Studios in Passive House + magazine - Our studio, Black Barn Studios is the cover star of the current edition of Passive House magazine. The magazine have written an in-depth article about our approach to creating a highly sustainable, energy efficient design exemplar. That attention to detail were key in
  • Planning permission for ultra sustainable office development - Planning approval has been given to a very exciting project; an ultra sustainable office development for an ethical investment company. The ambition of the client is to combine three main areas.  Working environment, sustainability and community. Taken together, these principles
  • Building Insights Podcast - Building Insights is a podcast which speaks to key people from across the construction industry. Ranging from the worlds of design, construction, development, self-build and social housing management, it provides an range of enlightening and unique viewpoints from a wide
  • Blackwood in competition shortlist - One of our recently completed projects, Blackwood , has been shortlisted for two prizes in this year’s The Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards. It has been nominated for Best Self Build Home and Best Green Home. There is a People’s
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