A Sense of Place

In Muskoka, hundreds of permits for construction are issued every year. Again this year, so many families across Muskoka will be struggling with the design decisions they need to make for improvement of their cottages through renovation or construction.

As a society, we are increasingly aware of the importance of design in our lives. Great design is no longer just for the wealthy; it is showing up in the most humble of household goods like waste paper baskets by Umbra and cyclonic vacuums by James Dyson.

Effective design addresses both the form and function of a product. In the early 1900’s architect Louis Sullivan said ‘Form follows function”. Frank Lloyd Wright took that a step further to say that form and function should be one, joined in a special union. Harmut Esslinger from Frog Design, whose design work is enormously influential, further refined the thought by saying ” Form follows emotion. We believe customers just don’t buy products; they buy value in the form of entertainment, experience and self identity.”

Architecture is a multidisciplinary field. As well as involving science, mathematics, art, and technology, the work of environmental psychologists show us the political, social, cultural and economic effects on architecture over time, and the behavioural effects our architecture has on us. Some one said, ‘We shape our homes, then our homes shape us.’ Turns out this has been proven to be true.

What is for sure, is that great architectural design should produce a cottage that provides daily delight of use and of beauty, while enhancing the psychological benefits of being “away”. The primary rewards of a cottage are behavioural in nature. Being in a different environment refreshes us, and being in Muskoka brings us closer to nature, satisfying the sensory experiences we were born to enjoy.

For the most part, design is generally thought of as being divided into the principles of Scale, Proportion, Line, Balance, Rhythm, Repetition and Variety, with a number of elements that fall under each of these principles. These principles are like a visual grammar. Common forms of grammar in our written and spoken language are agreed upon and used so that meaning can be easily understood. Commonly used and agreed upon design principles are a visual grammar in the arrangement of elements in any composition, whether it be architecture, web design or painting.

Sarah Suscanka, an architect who has written such books as “The Not so Big House”and “Creating the Not so Big House”groups the principles of design under three categories; Space, Light and Order in her book call ” Home by Design”. Winifred Gallagher, in her book called ” House Thinking”emphasizes the environmental influence a space has on our behaviour and therefore looks at home or cottage design through the eyes of an environmental psychologist. To this end she relies on work done by the architect Grant Hildebrand in conjunction with a geographer, a biologist and a psychologist. Together they distinguished five characteristics they say enhance the ‘experience of home’

Through this column over the season, you will get a taste of design from the perspective of these varied professionals. Models will be presented that will help you to understand and articulate what your body and unconscious mind seem know innately about a cottage that functions well in the reality of our modern lives. I will share the vocabulary and concepts that I have learned that help me to describe what makes a place feel ‘just right’.

These models will help you to view the form and function of architecture critically, analzing and articulating your opinions regarding the relative level of success of any cottage you experience.

You may be better able to appreciate good design in styles of architecture that are not to your personal taste and are not what you might choose for your own cottage or home. You will have the vocabulary and concepts to apply as a guide that helps you to notice more detail than you previously might have. You may have a better idea of what is missing, rather than only noticing what is there.

You will also be presented with strategies that may enable you to inexpensively make alterations to your present cottage, enhancing its atmosphere and livability. Cottage improvement can involve more thought than money.

You will receive a guide that may assist you to be an effective and efficient consumer of architectural services. The more effectively you prepare, organize and communicate your own thoughts and life styles, the better your architect will be able to design a cottage that delights you and matches the needs of your family.

Copies of these resources are available by e-mail, as are copies of all of the articles from this column. If you have questions that you would like to ask, feel free to e-mail me at thelma@royallepage.ca.

Thelma Jarvis Sales Representative

Port Carling: (705) 765-6855
Bracebridge: (705) 645 5257
Cell: (705) 644-3554
Fax: (705) 645-1238

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