The first time I toured a modern house, it was love at first sight. Heart racing. Pulse pounding. Face flushing. Love. Or maybe lust. Either way, once I met a house with cathedral ceilings, I never went back. Humongous windows. Outstanding views. Asymmetric layout. Open floor plan. Sleek styling.
The year was 1975; rock and disco were duking it out on the radio, and computers were not yet mainstream when I first viewed that modern house. Picture the scene in slow-mo. Our heroine turns the stainless handle, carefully opens the mahogany door and catches her breath as she walks into an airy delight with a two-story teal accent wall beside transparent stairs that ascend to heaven. Enormous skylights. Unrestricted space. Light-filled areas. The epitome of indoor-outdoor living. Love at first sight.
Modern houses aren’t the first choice for most New Englanders, and my parents were no exception. Many Bay State homeowners fall into one of two camps: Cape Cod or Colonial. I was raised in a traditional New England home—a classic cape with gray shingles and black shutters.
Our house looked like every home a child draws in the second grade: pitched roof, rectangular body, chimney on the side, symmetric layout, mullioned windows, flag stones leading straight to the painted front door. Insert a few shrubs under those windows and voila! The front door opened to a staircase with living room on the left and dining room on the right. Visitors could walk through the living room or dining room to reach a back hall which connected a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen—a perfect square. Not hip or cool at all.
In time-honored New England fashion, my dad added on, renovated and rejiggered to make it his own. A knotty pine porch here, a combination workshop/office/playroom there. Honey maple and a penchant for bronze eagles rounded out his design. Homey, sure. But exciting? Heart pumping? Fun? I think not.
My architect friend and fellow blogger writes a lot about people liking houses that are anthropomorphic and seem to ‘call out to you,’ suggesting a face. “Since we are biologically predisposed toward faces since birth,” says Ann, “symmetrical design feel comfortable to most people. It responds to their need for fast orientation.”
But I say, not so fast. We not only judge houses based on views from the outside-in; we judge houses based on the views from the inside-out. So our preferences are complex. Even though humans may prefer symmetry; they are also partial to an abundance of natural light and a connection to nature; characteristics that modernist homes display in spades.
Humans evolved with a preference for natural daylight for safety, and lately, as an antidote for depression. The older we get, the more natural light helps us with day-to-day tasks at home and at work. A recent study quoted in Science Daily, “highlights the importance of exposure to natural light to employee health and the priority architectural designs of office environments should place on natural daylight exposure.”
Researchers tell us that early humans looked to trees for sanctuary and protection long before they built huts as homes. Our evolutionary biases lean toward greenery, outdoors and nature which modern houses provide with those sliding glass doors leading to decks and beyond.
As I see it, home is where the heart is—no matter how evolved the human race becomes. And my heart belongs to cantilevered rooms, casement windows, cable railing systems and sliding doors that lead down curvy paths, meander through green gardens, and take me to sunny skies.
Writer: Janice M. Ward
Editor: Ann Sussman