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.

  • 01/10/2022“… a Pruesplosion” Our Gloucestershire Farmhouse project was featured in the FT How To Spend It magazine this Saturday 1st October! Click this link to read the article online, and this link to read more about our design concept and approach. Photography: Fred Howarth
  • 05/09/2022Concept Sketches Concept sketches are developed early on in the design process to quickly generate, test and present ideas to the client. They will be included in a ‘Book 1’ feasibility study which we undertake at the start of every project. We
  • 10/08/2022Planning granted for Wiltshire house We have recently received planning permission for this house extension in Wiltshire. The existing Edwardian house had been subjected to a series of piecemeal additions which required updating to improve the living spaces and the energy efficiency of the house.
  • 19/07/2022Black Barn Studios We’ve had a very happy first six months in the new studio. Given we’re currently experiencing the hottest temperatures since records began, the building is fairing well in the heat. We are heat dumping at night when the air is
  • 25/06/2022Photo shoot Here is a photographer we work with regularly, Ed RS Aves . Juggling the difficulty of shooting a small space – this time from the outside in seems to work best! Photographing a project is an exciting time to revisit a completed building
  • 14/06/2022Development Sketch This is a development sketch for the landscaping of a project that is currently on site; a way of developing ideas in an informal way as part of the designing process.
  • 30/05/2022Available for Rent This stone barn conversion in North Cornwall is available to rent as a holiday let. Situated in the North Cornish AONB between Padstow and Newquay and a short distance from Bedruthan Steps. The barn is a very low energy conversion,
  • 15/05/2022Planning Permission We’ve recently received planning permission to refurbish and extend this stone cottage and adjacent outbuilding. The cottage isn’t listed but lies within a conservation area and in close proximity to several listed buildings. Sensitivity to the design and use of
  • 19/04/2022Sketches We use sketches to explore and present ideas to a client before developing the designs through 3D modelling and detailed drawings. These sketches show the development of internal spaces and joinery for a house that is currently on site.
  • 24/03/2022Graven Hill We’ve been involved in a few self-build projects at Graven Hill. As one of the largest self-build and custom-build development sites in the country, it is giving home owners the opportunity to choose a housing style that best fits with
|