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Design with character

I have always loved the arts of home design: architecture, landscaping, interior structures, and interior design. When I was a kid, my mom subscribed to home decorating and remodeling magazines; I’d pore over them eagerly, dreaming of the spaces I’d one day create.

Even though I’ve never owned any property, and thus haven’t had the opportunity to really make a design mark anywhere I’ve lived, my enthusiasm for design hasn’t waned. These days I watch home buying shows and home makeover shows whenever I’m staying somewhere with cable (this kind of programming is oddly limited on Netflix and Hulu). I also greatly enjoy going on tours of homes, be they national landmarks or simply local houses with plenty of history and character. Ultimately, that’s what I’m interested in: how long the home has been around, who has lived there, what architectural and design features it started with and what got added along the way.

My personal design philosophy is that the history, the things that make a home unique, should be preserved when a home is renovated. I prefer remodels that maintain structures and features from the home’s original look, or from somewhere along the timeline of the home’s life. With new builds, there’s no need to try to interject fake vintage style; you can go ahead and use modern building and design techniques such as open floorplans, clean lines, and light colors. But if you’ve got an older home, why strip away everything it’s been for the years and years it’s existed to try to fit into a cookie cutter modern mold?

One example keeps coming back to me over the years. It was a bathroom remodel on some TV show I watched with my mom. The focal point of the room was a huge blue bathtub, completely walled off by a blocky structure covered in meticulously-applied blue tile. The owners admitted to a love/hate relationship with the bathtub; they loved the character, but felt the dark blue color and blocky style overwhelmed the room. The rest of the room was tiled as well, adding to the busy feel.

Ultimately the designer ripped that tub out and replaced it with a modern beige one, luxurious of course, with a clean, updated look. It was the most disappointing remodel I’d ever seen. The room went from fascinating to just like every other modern bathroom.

I agree that the room felt small due to all the dark blue, but surely that issue could have been mitigated in some way other than destroying the main reason the room was interesting. Lighten the walls. Increase the size of or add windows. Something. I could even see removing the old tub and replacing it with a nice garden Jacuzzi, so long as the blue tile structure remained.

I think the homeowners were pleased at first, but I bet nowadays the utter blandness of that bathroom gets to them, at least a little.

One thing I’m not sure designers think about when they do “modern remodels” is the fact that all they’re really doing is giving the home a later date than its original design. In a decade, or perhaps even less, the things that seemed so cutting-edge and fresh will look like throwbacks. Just enough out of style that the home starts to feel dated.

And then another renovation starts to seem necessary. Perhaps designers are aware of what they’re doing.

Someday, I would love to own property with character. I’d strive to keep the home’s character in its design. I’d make it usable and livable for modern needs and desires, but not at the cost of what made the home attractive in the first place. And I’d look into the history of the place and maintain records for it. It would be my way of preserving a little corner of history.

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