I've given up my lovely little 1928 bungalow for a production home. My colleague, the editor of CUSTOM HOME magazine, has threatened to out me, so I thought I'd beat her to the punch. My former house was full of character, layered on by years of doting owners—an architect who opened up the floor plan and added intricate detail work in the kitchen and baths and a finish carpenter who handcrafted built-ins for the master bedroom and loft. My family and I have traded that character for amenities and space. And new plumbing and wiring. A family room adjacent to the kitchen. Room for my dad. It may take awhile for us to fully realize what we've given up. But for now, we've solved the problem of how to accommodate under one roof a growing, multigenerational, multitasking family.
My new house is, well, new—built just three years ago as part of a pocket infill development. Yes, we've bought a not-so-small house, but it will amount to a third less square footage overall when my father's household combines with ours. In a way, we are downsizing.
I know the buyers of our former house will be good stewards of the little gem. They offered to buy it the first weekend it was open; they did so because they fell in love at first sight—as we had before them—and because it suited their needs. We also snapped up our new house; we did so because nothing deeply offended us and because it suits our needs. Also, to be fair, there are many things we genuinely like about the place. Foremost are the neighborhood and the siting of the building. They go hand in hand: The house is in a historic area and the builder had to work the plans through the county review board for nearly a year.
The board required a deep setback, in keeping with the 1897 house next door. It also mandated the garage at the back of the property. Because of these requirements, and because he was also developing three other houses on the parcel with similar restrictions, the builder commissioned designs from a local architectural firm—one that understands floor plans conducive to contemporary life and has a decent sense of proportion. Except for the front porch, but that's grist for another editorial.
So, I consider my new house a suburban success story. And I suspect that its best qualities have more to do with what came before it than with its creators. Its orientation mimics the adjacent historic house—morning rooms and kitchen facing east, formal rooms to the west, service areas to the north. In its day, the house next door couldn't afford to ignore passive climate control; its placement at the top of our gentle hill enabled it to capture every cooling western breeze. My infill house benefits from this largely forgotten wisdom.
And will my new house ever have as much character as my old bungalow? Maybe, if I get busy with some upgrades and details over time. After all, that much-loved bungalow started as a generic house plan too—a blank slate with all the key elements in place.
Comments? Call: 202.736.3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.