I recently heard someone say that he did not like a particular building on a lake in Muskoka because it was built in a style that was “dated”. The fact is that every building is dated and it does not take very much knowledge about architecture to be able to figure out when it was built, through its features. Even if it is a replica, it still holds many clues as to its actual construction date.
What he really meant, I believe, was that the building was of a style that is currently out of favour. Building styles come and go and each decade or generation, has its favourite features, often determined by the economics, the technology available or the political times.
I was recently told that with architecture there is a fifty year cycle. Buildings are at their most vulnerable time after fifty years. This is because they are at the peak of requiring repair and renewal, they do not reflect the current standards and technology of construction, and they are of a style that is no longer favoured by the portion of the population that has the most disposable income with which to do repairs and renovations.
An interestingly observation was made that it is the things that your grandparents had which you tend to value most, and not the things that your parents had and that you grew up with.
I can remember my Father making such a fuss over me going to auctions to purchase oak sideboards and old Quebec pine furniture. He could not understand why I would want all that old stuff that he had been finally able to get rid of in favour of colourful arborite tables and matching chairs. He acquired a brand new stereo record player while I was carefully repairing the old Victrola. He bought a sunburst electric clock while I was searching out Seth Thomas striking clocks. He proudly commissioned a modern garage and deck to be attached to our 1825 Victorian farmhouse, while I was developing curriculum for my students on historic local architecture.
I did not appreciate the modern furniture of the 50’s that I grew up with. He did not appreciate the trappings of a 1910 farm home which he grew up with.
What goes around , comes around. When we were getting rid of much of our city furniture to move to Muskoka, none of the young people in our family wanted the oak antiques and the large carved fireplace surround. They were busy collecting the furniture we had distained thirty years earlier. They want tulip tables and Eames chairs. Mid century modern homes sell like hotcakes to the 30 something home buyers.
So also goes the cycle of favoured styles of architecture. How many of the beautiful old Victorian cottages built in the late 1900’s were modernized with a large picture window. How often were additions that were not sympathetic to the original building put on in efforts to modernize a home during the 60’s and 70’s. How many old cottages were pulled down to be replaced with the modern “Muskokan” style of cottage produced by Viceroy with its cheaper version of an International style.
But that was then and this is now. How many of the modern additions put on in the 60’s and 70’s are now being torn off and replaced with something that is more sympathetic to the original design, by a couple who are in the baby boom generation. How many of the ” Muskokan style” Viceroy cottages are being taken down in favour of a cottage that is referred to as being designed in the “old Muskoka” style. How many of the tables, which were carefully stripped of their finishes in the 70’s, are being repainted and distressed to look old now?
At the same time, mid century modern is reaching a peak, but most usually with the echo generation not the boomers. Recently in the design section of the Star, I read that the modern Ron Thom and Arthur Erikson designed and influenced homes are the hottest properties for the hip, young, beautiful people. Mies van DerRohe chairs and modern furniture designed in the 50’s and 60’s fills these homes.
Luckily there are people from every generation who hold onto and maintain structures as they were built. Around the lakes we have cottages that have changed very little from the late 1800’s,which are still there for us to see. Wistowe on Lake Rosseau is a fine example of that. It is as if time has not passed on that island. You truly step back in time when you step onto the island with everything, even down to the fire extinguishers, still in place.
Marygrove, formerly Glen Home Resort, is another fine example of a building which has stood still in time with all its streamlined art deco plaster and light fixtures from the 40’s still intact, in excellent condition. While it is unfortunate that its future is uncertain, we are fortunate that the current owners are considering making a video about the building in order to preserve its memory for future generations.
Hopefully, unique examples of modern design like the Lake Muskoka Shim Sutcliffe asian- inspired boathouse will be as lovingly maintained,to be appreciated by future generations as representative of its time. This boathouse has won international awards and is pictured in several books, but is not well known around Muskoka.
As previously mentioned, Muskoka is a place that wins the hearts of the people who spend time here. Because such a diverse group of people from assorted locations around the world call Muskoka home, for at least a portion of their year, we have a rich and varied collection of architecture. People are willing to spend the money it takes to express themselves here through their architecture. These assorted and distinct styles make our community unique.
As an art form , architecture is not just a superficial placements of decorative features of a building, varying the roof pitch and changing the shape and size of the windows. Architecture is a planned process of using the technology available to meet the needs of the owners and express their values.
Through this column you will be able to gain some background about many of the architectural styles that are common across Muskoka and have an understanding of the social reform movements from which they sprang. You may be better able to hear what a building is saying and understand what it represents, rather than merely looking at it subjectively, deciding whether it is, or is not to your taste.