Pick up any residential design magazine and you’ll find feature articles focused on contemporary architecture. While editors seem to fall far left of center when it comes to edgy design, the ultramodern tends to exclude the taste, needs and pocketbooks of at least 90 percent of the rest of the U.S. home buying market.
Contemporary design will continue to suit a very narrow niche of the marketplace. It is identified with the hip urban loft product that’s so prevalent. Nevertheless, as a national trend, modern design with cleaner lines and brighter interiors is gaining more appeal.
If we analyze an abridged history of the 20th century American home design, we see some telling patterns through the decades. At the beginning of the century, traditional patterns of mostly northern European influences were the norm in housing. As we move into the ’40s, architects like Frank Lloyd Wright made a notable dent with a significantly more modern look. In the ’50s and early ’60s, we saw more clean lines and the advent of the modern lifestyle.
This momentum was short-lived and there was a rebound of traditionalism from a strong earth movement that prevailed in the ’80s. Home design culminated in the ’90s with the replicas of Old World materials, styles and finishes that revived traditional Mediterranean design, especially in the Sunbelt, and deep traditionalism in the Northern states.
It’s not until now that modernism is beginning to re-emerge, following decades of overdone traditionalism. The new culture is embracing different designs of the ’60s, when modern design first popped up. Today it is referred to as the retro look. The younger generations are looking for this style of design and their voices are beginning to influence the new American home.
As architects try to move away from dark, choppy interiors and heavy textures, a few things are important to keep in perspective. For all of its edgy nuances, puristic contemporary design can easily result in the sacrifice of function. Design doesn’t have to include a hard edge to be considered modern. In fact, it will hold a stronger appeal if it attempts to blend with the existing design vernacular.
Modern design can quickly become unaffordable. Incorporating contemporary forms, materials and design elements that are too puristic can bust even the most realistic of budgets. As professionals, we can help attenuate cost by providing design options, blending modern elements within a wider palette and incorporating some classic design.
Blending classic elements with contemporary overtones results in a distinctive look that is fresh and light. This design direction is what I call “soft modern.” Classic proportions and elements such as columns and niches can provide the framework, while contemporary selections of hardware can create the mood.
Internationally, contemporary architecture sustains an appreciative audience. Modern urban design has long been juxtaposed with the romantic classic European. It’s a dynamic mix with influence on our trends.
Architecture is a reflection of who we are today and how we embrace change. It is a creative melting pot in a global sense, a common denominator that influences how we live. As architects, we have the privileged opportunity to impact the big picture, and in doing so, create a bit of personal legacy.