Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where have all the Porches Gone?

Or: Why McMansions just don't do it for me.

So my dream house, in the interest of full disclosure, looks something like this:

Yes, it's the house from Practical Magic, but you could substitute almost any house built before 1930. I chose this one because it is so recognizable. Here's what I like about it.

1) The porch. It's inviting and there's the idea of a sleeping porch around back, for napping on pleasant afternoons. This is the place where you can pull up a swing and some tea and chat with the neighbors.

2) If you look to the left of the photo you'll see a little door going into a solarium. This is a place where things grow. It leads out into the garden. In my head (which is vastly different from reality) I can grow things. I grow the things we eat. In reality we buy most of our grown-foods from the farmers market. I killed mint. So you can see where the fantasy comes in.

3) Structurally - this house is sound. It's solid. It's floors are sturdy and wooden and have the patina of love and age. The joists are sound, the walls are lathed and plastered. The windows are double-hung, which means that on a mild breezy day you lift the lower and drop the upper and you get a cross-breeze which cleans the air and brings harmony. And because it was designed and built in an age where every inch of space was needed - before luxuries like dishwashers and indoor plumbing - every inch of space is efficient (both for ease of movement and energy usage) purposeful, intentional, and useful.

4) There is attention to detail here. Every little thing in the house was planned and procured for it's visual appeal as well as it's usefulness. In fact - oftentimes it had to be both beautiful and useful. Doorknobs are glass, moldings were both decorative and served as an anchor from which to hang art and photos. Air vents were laser-cut (though by hand at the time) so that they were more than just a bar-code on the wall or floor ventilating the rooms. Every detail executed with loving precision so that the home reflected both the creator and the inhabitant.

5) It's likely got a dumbwaiter, which fascinates me.

6) I can do without the Widow's Walk, except that it's quirky. I do like the picket fence - this also allows you to meet your neighbors.

This is the type of house being built in Dallas:

Behold: The McMansion. Do a Google Image search and this is what you'll find. Compared to the house above and you'll find:

1) No porch. Barely a stoop. Certainly not a place where neighbors out strolling with their dogs can pause and discuss the day. Granted- a lot of very popular and attractive houses styles don't have porches. You are correct. I would go so far as to say that most don't. But that's a travesty in my opinion.

2) No solarium. No growing in a climate controlled environment unless you build a greenhouse.

3) Lots and lots of wasted space. The McMansion often has a full-height entryway - a room measuring roughly 5x5 in area but which goes straight up to the ceiling. Occasionally the stairs can be found here but often it just opens into what they call a "Great Room" whose ceiling will also be double-height - perfect for the central heat to congregate yards above where the cold people are in the winter. And - this is from experience - rarely is a brand-new home perfect. Banisters wobble, doors don't close smoothly, floors and walls are rarely at 90 degree angles.

4) Very little reflection of creator and builder. Very little attention to detail. These homes are churned out assembly-line style, without the forethought that goes into actual pre-fabs.

5) No dumbwaiter. I don't know when they stopped putting them in, but I want to bring back the dumbwaiters!

6) No widows walk, which is ok, because we're in Dallas and what are they going to look at? 75? Also - a privacy fence. And while this is good for skinny dipping, it's not so good for chatting with your neighbors.

The McMansion starts off as a great idea - and if you added the welcoming porch and gave it some character so it doesn't look like every other house on the street -- or heck, some landscaping - it probably wouldn't be quite so odious to me. Probably, if we were to wait 50 years it, too, will have the charm and character and nostalgia sparked by the Victorians that I'm watching be demolished (so that McMansions can be built).

And I know what you're thinking: Emily, you live in a loft. Why are you even talking about houses? Well, I read recently about a show at the Museum of Modern Art called "Home Delivery" and it's about prefabs, which I like the idea of. And when the time comes for a yard and a single-family dwelling, pre-fabs will be considered over going with any local builder.

Of course - this is my kind of pre-fab...just fill it with mid-century furniture and we're off to the races! (Particularly with the price you think the wind-turbine comes with it? Because I'm all about a $1600 house with wind-power.)


Krys said...

I love that house in Practical Magic!

Chris said...

hate mcmansions. haaaaate! My dream house is also the Practical Magic one. I LOVE houses with porches, yards, and most of all, character.