One of the reasons that people are so charmed by, and drawn to the homes and cottages built before the second world war, is the care and complexity with which both the custom interior and exterior finishing was designed and completed. Labour was less expensive in those days, and craftsmen had highly developed skills for custom work.
Exposed rafter tails, high skirt boards with drip edges, hand cut cedar shingle patterns in gable ends, banding, deep overhangs; all these details combine to delight and engage your eye, creating a building that appears stately, and unique from its neighbor. There was a complex order to the design and construction of homes and cottages of this vintage.
Conversely, many of today’s subdivisions lack spontaneity, with buildings having variety from the neighbours only in a predictable pattern of cost efficient mass produced trim. Although we are uneasy in an environment that is too random, our eye can be bored by this level of regularity. A home or cottage that has complex details that create balance, variety and stability is what touches us emotionally, causing us to want to explore or linger there. A home or cottage with a complex order enhances our experience of home, and affects us emotionally in a positive way.
When it comes to architecture, we have cultural and evolutionary needs that are subconscious. They are what are appealed to by the five characteristics of “home” sited in the University of Washington study lead by architect Grant Hildebrand. These needs are subconscious, which is why we are not usually able to articulate clearly why certain homes or cottages feel just right, but we instantly know that they do when we experience them. Despite the style, being Modern, Craftsmen, Victorian, or International, when these five characteristics are in place in a design, a good feeling is produced in that home.
“Complex order” is the fifth characteristic described by Grant Hildebrand’s research team. Without order there is chaos, so every design has to have an underlying order, which can range from the most basic, to that which is complex. The order with which architecture is organized, both on the interior and exterior, is based on geometry, alignment or balance, and rhythm. Even though you can’t articulate each of these, your eye and your subconscious pick them up immediately.
Although not necessarily functional, applied geometric patterning provides visual delight to your building. Our brains are evolved to take in large amount of information, and so a complex order stimulates your brain and delights your eye. One of our friends, who recently built a new cottage adorned with complex trim finishing, told me that when she wakes up each morning, she is enchanted anew with the beautiful trimwork and patterning on her bedroom ceiling and walls. She marvels at how she never tires of looking at them. This is part of her daily visual delight in the craftsmanship of her cottage. Since you look at walls and ceilings each day, shouldn’t they be a thing of interest and beauty, to enhance your daily experience in your home?
A more complex order can be added to your cottage or home at any time. Think about the use of shingles, board on board, or board and baton to create textural changes on the exterior walls. Consider changes of material, changes of direction, and changes or colour, to add to the complex order of your cottage.
This summer we finally decided to improve the appearance of our back porch by adding to and improving the complexity of the design. This renovation is not only more pleasing to view; it is more functional to keep the rain off our porch.
If you look at the before and after shots of our cottage, you can see how the addition of the overhang roof, between the lower and upper floors, grounds the building and makes it seem to be more securely settled. This roof space also allows drop down windows to be used in the upper Muskoka room. The size of the pillars was dramatically increased, and huge braces were added, making the building seem to be more securely supported. For variety and textural changes, the pillars were then clad with shingles on the lower third. When you compare the before and after shots, you can quickly see how much difference the size of the pillars make in the appearance of the building.
A water table board and drip ledge was added to the pillars at the ground, and a pleasing combination of decorative trim was fashioned to join this wider section to the solid pillars above. This increased size and complexity serves to fashion a more interesting and grand entrance for guest arriving at the cottage from the lakeside. The expanded coverage serves to make us feel more protected on the porch.
You may be able to see changes you could make to your cottage by simply studying other cottages which you admire. Some changes take more imagination than money. An architect can give you advice on these matters and so can an experienced builder.
For ideas, you can read more about architecture and see a wide variety of pictures in the gallery on our website or call us at 705-645-2110 if you have questions.