Homes That Make Statements

By Stuart Mitchner

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous line, “The very rich are different from you and me,” in his story “The Rich Boy,” inspired Ernest Hemingway’s sarcastic retort in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro, “Yes, they have more money.”

In The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us (Delphinium $25.95), novelist Alison Lurie begins by stating “A building is an inanimate object, but it is not an inarticulate one. Even the simplest house always makes a statement, one expressed in brick and stone and plaster, in wood and metal and glass, rather than in words—but no less loud and obvious.”

The homes built by the very rich make statements expressing what makes them “different from you and me.” Whatever your definition of “different” may be, people of means are likely to have larger, more elegant homes as well as enough wealth to maintain the allure of affluence after transitioning to smaller living spaces. In effect this is the theme of Leslie Linsley’s Upscale Downsizing: Creating a Stylish, Elegant, Smaller Home (Sterling $24.95), published this month. In Linsley’s introduction, she liberates the term “upscale” by pointing out that “downsizing doesn’t have to mean living in a humble abode, especially if the person, couple, or family has spent a lifetime accumulating lovely things or has a sense of style.” Her synonym of choice for downsizing is “editing,” as if a home were a book, every room a chapter.

Referring to one of the primary elements of remodeling, the choice of paint color, Linsley notes that “interior designers who once favored beige and various shades of white are suddenly opting for gray.” One of her favorite shades is “Down Pipe,” from Farrow & Ball, “an upscale British paint and wallpaper company. When used on all four walls, this gray provides a rich contemporary atmosphere to a room and creates a mysteriously moody interior.”

The author of over sixty books on crafts, decorating, and home-style, Linsley has written for House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart Living, and O.

Dream Homes

Will Jones’s lavishly illustrated The New Modern House (Princeton Architectural Press $40) features forty new houses organized around five themes—conditions, materials, environment, budget, and aesthetic.

Upscale is definitely the word for Paris-based architect Barclay & Crousse’s Casa Equis in Peru, “an architectural oasis” chosen for the book’s cover image. “A dream home for the new millennium,” in Jones’s words, Casa Equis stands atop a cliff above the Pacific Ocean as if “hewn out of its setting.”

This Peruvian vision is only the beginning of a journey that includes Rafael Viñoly’s Piano House in The Hamptons, created in the architect’s back garden; Edge Design’s Suitcase House overlooking The Great Wall of China in the Nanguo Valley near Beijing; Sean Griffith’s Blue House in London, “a clarion call for the Post-Modern revival”; and houses in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Singapore, and Melbourne, among a variety of locales worldwide. London-based Will Jones’s articles have appeared in RIBA Journal, Financial Times, Blueprint, and Dwell.

Architectural Affinities

Published this month, also from Princeton Architectural Press, is Northern Exposure: Works of Carol A Wilson Architect ($50). In the foreword to this intimate portrait of eight houses by the Maine architect, Enrico Pinna recalls meeting Wilson at the Casa das Canoas in Rio de Janeiro, a home that Oscar Niemeyer had designed and built for himself. Pinna describes the professional rapport he felt with Wilson in relation to Goethe’s novel, Elective Affinities: “Such natures when they come in contact, at once lay hold of each other, and mutually affect one another.”

Focusing on climate, seasons, views, local materials, the ecological history of building sites, and collaborations with local artisans, Wilson crafts “exquisitely designed and built houses that celebrate the beauty of New England and the power of architecture to combine modern forms with a traditional built landscape.” Following introductory texts by Pinna and Juhani Pallasmaa, and a conversation between Wilson and John Leroux, each project opens with a foldout of plans, from hand-drawn to computer-aided, along with information about the house, followed by brilliant exterior, interior, and detail photographs. The book closes with an interview in 20 questions about Wilson’s working principles and the history of her studio for the past 30 years.

Principal of Carol A. Wilson Architect, Wilson is based in Falmouth, Maine. Her modern and environmentally responsive buildings have been honored with numerous design awards and published extensively. She has taught at the University of New Mexico, Montana State University, Bowdoin College’s Coastal Studies Center, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

The Language of Architecture

In Designing Your Perfect House (Dalsiner $39.95), updated in August 2017 with a “Green Building” supplement, William J. Hirsch Jr. emphasizes a link between spoken language and the three-dimensional vocabulary of architecture. “Composed together in architectural sentences, the rooms (nouns), doors and windows (verbs), details of space (adjectives and adverbs), and the special features and accents (interjections) become the prose of architecture.” Hirsch goes on to point out that while some architectural sentences are flat or showy, those that benefit from a constructive accord between builder and client achieve a quality comparable to literature.

Swiss-born British author Alain de Botton, quoted by Lurie in The Language of Houses, says “The buildings we admire are ultimately those which … refer, whether through their materials, shapes or color, to such legendarily positive qualities as friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength, and intelligence.”

On Related Subjects

Popular titles in this area include Charlie Wing’s The Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling, 3rd Edition (Taunton $29.95); Susan Lang’s Designing Your Dream Home: Every Question to Ask, Every Detail to Consider, and Everything to Know Before You Build or Remodel (Thomas Nelson $24.99); Amy Johnston’s What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You: The Essential Guide to Building and Renovating (Shube $24.95); and Michael Litchfield’s Renovation 4th Edition: Completely Revised and Updated (Taunton Press $50), which Library Journal calls “a masterpiece” and This Old House says is “Hands down, the best home renovation book…written in a down-to-earth conversational style that’s comprehensive, practical, and easy to understand.”