Good Design in Opposing Styles

As an architect, I’m often asked about what I think is good design. Now, what people are really asking is what styles I prefer- modern, traditional, ornate, minimalist. But good design is not bound by style so much as it is by broader, more classic issues. Good design means that a home is built in proper proportion and order with well defined spaces.

Let me use two examples to illustrate my point. The first is a hand-carved walnut paneling heavily wrought with detail meant for a new construction traditional style home. The second is a modern contemporary home. How can these opposing styles both be rooted in good design?

When I work with clients who want design rich with detail and depth, I always stay rooted in tradition. For me that means maintaining scale and proportion- more, in fact, is not always more. Looking at the hand-carved walnut paneling, you will columns and intricate scrollwork. You will also see plenty of blank, i.e. non-carved space, where we have allowed for depth in an in-laid part of the panel. This blank space serves as a much-needed foil to the sophisticated carving that borders the top and bottom of the paneling. Without some blank space to bring order and proportion to the carving, it would look busy and distracting rather than elegant and refined.

Many clients are looking for the wide-open spaces offered by a modern, contemporary home. They want a plethora of natural light and open concept living throughout the home. Both of these objectives can be achieved while still maintaining good design practices. The desire for natural light must be balanced with the need for privacy and intimacy in the home. Floor to ceiling windows in public spaces in the home are utilized in this property, while on the second floor you’ll notice that there are still many windows, but they are smaller in scale. This lets in light while preserving private space.

To achieve the openness and airiness that accompanies modern homes, we used stand-alone walls to divide rooms into their various sections, rather than full walls with doorways. This way we have defined the spaces for their intended uses, like the kitchen and dining space, but have still cultivated a sense of flow throughout the house. Without some definition, modern homes become impossible to furnish and live in. 

For every project and client, we try to set aside our preferential notions of style and instead focus on good design, no matter what. Styles will come and go and fads will drift in and out of favor. But like a great painting, a well designed home will remain relevant and beautiful for a lifetime.