Thursday, March 10, 2011

Architecture and Art of Living

architecture is an art that interests me a great deal.  i am convinced that our experiences with the buildings in which we live, work, and worship are among our most important life experiences, that these buildings influence how we live and who we become.  in this blog, i've written about two churches in which i worship with some regularity and how those structures affect how i worship.  i have mentioned the home in which my wife and i live in this blog, but today i want to devote the entire post to our home and our experience of living in it.

when we first moved to this town, we drove past our home as we were searching for a house and thought it quite ugly.  it had been vacant for over a year, and the yard had fallen into a sorry state.  as we described the sort of house for which we were looking to our realtor, he said that he knew of the perfect house for us.  he brought us to this "ugly" house that we had rejected when we first saw it from the outside.  as we walked through the front door and on into the house, we were speechless.  everything we had described to the realtor was there.  It had the perfect floor plant, beautiful wood moldings, abundant windows, the right size overall, rooms that were perfectly proportioned.  But there was more--cedar-lined closets, a huge mechanical room that housed the washer and dryer, the central heating/cooling unit, and a large pantry with space for a freezer.  What was unusual was that the mechanical room was right in the center of the house, not at the very end of the house opening off the kitchen.

one of the first things that struck us was the gorgeous oak doors, mostly pocket doors, and many with a cactus carved into the center of the upper panel.  The doors were quite unexpected.  They, like all the moldings except those in the bathrooms, were finished so that the beautiful grain of the wood showed through the clear finish.  The upper and lower panels of the doors give the appearance of being finished by hand rather than machine.  They are distressed and a coat of white wash had been applied and then wiped away, so that only a little remains in the grooves in the wood.

the house had been constructed in the mid-50s.  it was designed by an architecture firm that built a number of homes in our town.  when one drives around, their work is apparent, because their homes are quite distinctive.  they have low-pitched roofs, wide overhangs, careful placement on the lot, and a combination of brick and tongue-and-groove wood on the exterior.

i haven't been inside but a few of them, but none of their interiors of those i've seen show the careful attention to interior finishing that ours does.  that leads me to think that there was a close relationship between the architects, the contractor, and the family for whom the house was built.  there are many craftsman-style influences evident in the home at a time when that style had fallen into disfavor.  the strongest craftsman feature is the abundant use of wood, but the oak that one sees throughout the house, and particularly in the common rooms, is finished in a light finish, rather than with a dark stain as one sees so often in craftsman-style homes.  there are numerous electrical outlets and phone jacks (one small room that may have been designed to be used as either a spare bedroom or an office has three phone jacks), something one doesn't often find in homes from this era.

as we've lived in the house, the thoughtful planning that was put into its design has been revealed to us.  for instance, there is a band of awning-style windows that fills the outside wall of all the rooms on the north and south sides of the house.  these are the long walls of the house.  these windows are placed almost at the ceiling and extend down about four feet.  the effect when seated is that one is in a forest.  because there are many tall trees in our neighborhood, only the canopy of trees is visible from a seated position; the placement of the windows makes the other homes in the neighborhood invisible.  these awning windows pivot out from the top, so they can be open and one never has to be concerned about rain blowing into the house.  the screens are on the inside, so that if the windows need washing, both sides can be washed from outside the house.

the one feature of the house that was disappointing to us when we first moved in was the kitchen.  the architect's original plan had been altered so that the arrangement was awkward and one end of the kitchen was quite dark.  we made some temporary changes in the kitchen that improved the situation, but it was several years before we could afford to completely gut the kitchen and correct the problems in it more permanently.  in the process, we took in a small porch in the back by putting a wall of full-height doors and windows that gave the effect of a wall of glass looking out to the back yard with its beautiful oak tree that is the focal point of the house.  this enabled us to enlarge the kitchen slightly and give it views of the back yard.

later, we called in an architect who, fortuitously, had apprenticed with the firm that designed the house.  he helped us design a new den that extended into the back yard where the wall of glass from the previous kitchen renovation had been, preserving the oak tree as the focal point while giving us more space for living and for the office in which i am working right now.  the new den fits in beautifully with the original house and, thanks to the architect's careful design, appears to have been part of the original plan for the house.

it is difficult for me to stop writing about this house that is our home.  i cannot describe the great feeling of warmth and peace that it conveys.  one senses that the house was created with a great sense of respect between those involved with its creation and that much thought was put into its planning.  in many ways, architecture is the greatest of the arts because we live IN it, rather than experiencing it as something outside ourselves and then internalizing it.  the space in which we live ought to enhance our lives, making us realize the importance of warmth and shelter and enhancing our appreciation of beauty wherever we find it.

my prayer for each of us is that we all have a place of shelter that does more than protecting us from the elements, a place that helps us to become better people.

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