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.
A number of trends can be seen in home design today that show where we are advancing and challenging the masters of the past.
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.
The days of the one-size-fits-all approach appear to be over. White render still has its place but today’s leading modern homes are all about responding to their unique context, whether it is nestling down to respect a view or incorporating local materials that bed the new home into its surroundings
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….
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, humor 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.
Clean lines and simple shapes continue to be part of the 2015 home’s repertoire, but there’s a softer, more tactile element to interiors — introducing natural materials inside and out as well as frameless glass to better help incorporate the surroundings
10 Modern Home Design Essentials
If you’re planning on creating a home that is the epitome of 2015 style, you’ve come to the right place. Natasha Brinsmead explores the essentials to consider
The Roof Overhang
Overhanging eaves add a sense of charm to more traditional-style properties — those on this award-winning home by architect Neil Turner are the contemporary equivalent. Guaranteed to help turn a simple structure into something utterly striking, flat roofs that jut out provide an instant covered outdoor area, but also add protection to the house from the glare of the sun and shelter from the elements.
The Feature Staircase
Occupying such a prominent position in the open plan home, staircases are also often one of the first things you see when entering — capable of making or breaking the entire look. The most successful contemporary feature staircases tend to be made from a material used elsewhere in the interior scheme, be sleek yet solid, and are always in proportion. They should be well-lit and crisp in their design.
Warm, Not Clinical
There seemed to be a time when it was assumed that to be contemporary, everything had to be white, see-through or shiny, leading to some very cold and clinical interior schemes. Happily, contemporary interiors are much warmer places these days — natural materials, woodburners and lots of individual touches are key, as in this project by architect Dan Brill.
Contemporary spaces are all about creating unexpected and surprising effects and your lighting scheme can lend itself perfectly for doing just that. Whether you choose to conceal lights beneath furniture to create an ethereal glow, or fit them into recessed channels within floors and ceilings, some fascinating results can be expected. Highlight your favourite architectural features.
Embrace Dark Materials
Continuing the warm, homely feel now being embraced in contemporary homes, are dramatic dark finishes contrasted with white spaces elsewhere. Rich tones in timbers such as wenge, walnut and stained and smoked oak are all popular. Use them to clad walls, as flooring, for furniture and in kitchens as worksurfaces or the units themselves.
While open plan spaces look stunning and undoubtedly work well for most on a practical level, they can feel just a bit too open — lacking in intimacy. Creating little privacy pockets and snug seating areas around the space is a great way to ensure a cosy feel in the most open of layouts.
Expanses of glazing are not just for the junction between inside and out. Glass used internally in the place of solid balustrades, floors, and ceilings, not to mention walls and doors, allows light to penetrate right to the centre of the home.
Extreme Open Plan
If you are going to go contemporary then be brave about it. Make the most of exciting shapes and architectural forms by exposing them — dramatic double-height spaces guarantee wow.
Ensure your fireplace is the focus of the room by creating floor-to-ceiling surrounds. This is particularly effective in open plan spaces, or in buildings that are naturally quite cavernous, such as barns and warehouses. Not only does the fireplace create a stunning centrepiece, but it will also act as a way of separating various zones within the layout.
Forget pristine and perfect finishes — the most stylish contemporary homes feature raw, earthy materials in as close to their natural, unfinished state as possible. Riven and matt finishes are ideal for natural materials, while more industrial products such as concrete, oriented strand board (OSB) and metals such as copper, lead and zinc should all be up there on your wishlist. Leaving services exposed adds to the look too.