House opinionating

Sippican goes off on stupid house trends.  He wouldn't approve of some things about our house, but I'm right there with him on other trends:

1.  Snout Houses.  As he says, don't nail your house to the ass-end of your garage.  It's an egregious failure of American design that we can't figure out what to do with the cars.  Here, we put the house on stilts with a wraparound porch on the second level and the garage underneath.  We never put the cars in the garage, though.  They just get parked wherever.

2.   Flat-Screen TVs over Mantels.  Guilty.  Works for us.

3.  Microwaves over Stoves.  I prefer not to put any electronics (other than the vent hood) over the hot stove, but our microwave is built into the upper cabinet, which he disapproves of.  He thinks a microwave belongs in the island, but ours is an island-free galley kitchen, not an 800-square-foot extravaganza.

4.  Cook-Tops on Islands.  See above.  We did put in a nice, powerful hood that's properly vented to the outside.  My mother-in-law's vent hood doesn't vent anywhere.  I fail to see the point.

5.  Open Plan in a Big House.  For the airport-lobby look.  I'll go him one better:  our not-very-big house has the quaint kind of kitchen that's not integrated with the living room.  My husband feels more strongly about this one than I do.  I enjoy houses with the integrated kitchens that seem almost obligatory now, but he's the cook and he doesn't feel like being on stage (or subjected to conversations) when he's getting dinner masterpieces ready to bring out.  The idea usually is to avoid making the kitchen drudge feel isolated, but that's not an issue with him, to put it mildly.  (See "Introverts," below.)  But I chuckle now when I see plans in fancy housing magazines that include an "away room," which used to be what we called any ordinary room with an old-fashioned door.

6.  Very High Ceilings in a Family Room.  Guilty again, and loving it.  We suffered for too many years in a suburban house with 8-foot ceilings.  The common room here goes right up to the peak of the roof and suits us just fine in addition to accommodating my Christmas tree.  All other ceilings are 9 feet or higher.  I'd have been happy with 11 feet everywhere, but it does complicate construction.

7.  Plastic Everything.  Unlike Sippican, we live in a hurricane-threatened swamp and therefore made some concessions to humidity, including vinyl-clad window exteriors and lots of Hardie-plank and a PVC-related extruded material that I can't tell from wood trim once it's painted.  It's dimensionally stable and fire resistant.  I agree with him about anything that's supposed to mimic stained wood, though, including plastic decking material and vinyl fences or rails.  That technology is still in the double-knit polyester design stage.

8.  Ceiling Fans Everywhere.  Guilty again.  This is just more Yankee talk, frankly.  I feel less strongly about it, but my husband wants a breeze from above in every room, all the time, especially when he's trying to sleep.  The ceilings are high enough to accommodate the fans.

9.  Enormous Jacuzzi Tubs.  No, but we have two claw-foot tubs and no showers.  Sippican claims no one will bathe in front of a window, but it sure doesn't bother us -- though of course we're isolated behind trees and up on stilts.  If we can't manage to die here, I'm sure the lack of showers will give us fits in a resale.  For that matter, buyers probably will wonder why we didn't hide the toilet in a little closet (not me; too claustrophobic) and why we're perfectly able to share a single sink in the master bath.  Neither of us places time-consuming or complicated demands on a sink.

10.  Powder Blue and Cocoa Brown Color Scheme.  Not our thing.  I've seen worse color schemes, though.

Sippican doesn't mention my number-one objection in modern housing trends:  flat, "picture frame" exterior window trim, like the one pictured on the right.  I want a proper window sill on the bottom, with a nice shadow line.  Our framers were deeply confused by this request.


DL Sly said...

Re: snout houses
I'd never heard of one until a few years ago when I was visiting my folks and my Pop told me about the city council in Portland actually making it *illegal* to build a snout house anywhere within city limits. IM(NSH)O that's crawling up the citizenry's butt a little farther than anyone has a right or reason to. I guess I'm just old-fashioned enough to still believe that if I'm paying the mortgage, insurance, taxes, etc. then what I do with my property is my damn business and nobody else's.
But then I have no plans to live within a city or even a small village ever again.

Grim said...

Yeah, I'm going to keep my ceiling fans. I don't really want to bring the air in through the window midday in a Georgia July; but by bringing in the night air with box fans, then closing up and recirculating with ceiling fans, we can avoid using air conditioning most of the time.

Anonymous said...

I like ceiling fans, I don't like open kitchens (but a door to the outside is nice, for those occasional flaming bagel moments). TV over the fireplace? No, for several reasons that come quickly to mind. And I'll keep my low ceilings, thank you; cozy is good.

Do people still do the single bright cinnabar wall in the living room, or has that fad passed?


E Hines said...

We never put the cars in the garage, though.

I certainly hope no one puts cars in someone's workshop, unless the car is the object of the shop.

Very High Ceilings in a Family Room.

10 ft ceilings everywhere in our one-story home. I love it. It really does let the heat get above us and reduce our a/c load. Same with those nasty ceiling fans--very useful. When we built our geodesic dome in Las Cruces, the ceiling over half the house was that dome--26 ft up. I loved it.

I agree with you on the picture frame window. Our neighborhood--Plano generally--uses a lot of brick veneer for siding. It looks good and needs less maintenance than wood clapboard. Unfortunately, the builders all thought it was cool to put the outlines of windows on upper outer walls, doing the outlines with bricks a bit proud of the main wall, and filling the enclosed space with bricks following a different pattern than the main wall.

The picture frame window just looks like a badly retrofitted window, and the faux brick window outlines just look like someone did a lousy job of bricking in a no-longer wanted window.

In general, though, I'm not very interested in the interior design of a house. I just need something that's weather tight, insulated, and doesn't interrupt me as I go about my business. (What's wrong with double-knit polyester, anyway, other than in a humid environment? It's cheap.)

Eric Hines

bthun said...

As Grim points out, ceiling fans are functional. We have one in every room in our house too.

My major dislike of the hovel is a drive-under garage with doors hidden from the street by grading elevation and plantings. Blech! This feature makes me ponder the eternal what was I thinking when I bought this house question.

I'm seriously considering building a detached garage/workshop with loft and closing off the garage for a rec-room apartment. Just in case one of the fledglings decides that a return to the nest is necessary. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket...

We also have brick mold trim and window ledges around the exterior of our windows.

No plastic, just an old style country type of house, albeit one with indoor plumbing.

As for the rest of the list, to each their own, preferred method of the floating of boats, etc., etc., etc.

raven said...

Snount house- There is a good reason for them especially on narrow city lots- do we really want to do a K turn every time we leave the garage? Although blocking the entire south side of a house with a garage is not a good idea, at least in cold climates.

20 odd years in an old single wide trailer in the northwest rain forest- yes I like high ceilings. And big overhangs. Keep the water away! eeekkk!

I suspect, although I dearly hope not, that we are going to find out just exactly what our housing lacks, and how we threw away 8,000 years of house designs in a brief 100 year fling with peace and public safety.

To whit- bullet proof walls, high fences, heavy doors, and fireproof siding. Those compounds in Afghanistan or variations were
standard issue housing design for millennia.

maintenance is a drudge- any material that can be left untended and maintain it's function and appearance is a blessing- life is too short to spent precious week-ends painting, replacing, de-mossing, etc, ad. infinitum- my next house will be concrete and steel. We will save the fancy woodwork for the interior.

bthun said...

"my next house will be concrete and steel"

Amen! And I might add my Energy Saver idea, a main floor sloped towards a center drain making Field Day for policing the barracks just a 15 minute, hose it down from the elevated rain-barrel/cistern, affair!

Texan99 said...

I'm a fan of waterproof floors that slope to a center drain, myself, though I don't have any.

Our entire ground floor, which is all garage (not the shop variety, the stack-crap-all-over-it variety), is concrete block, because our foundation is only at 17 feet of elevation, and the less wood that makes contact with the ground in this termite-ridden area of the subtropics, the better.

It makes sense to put the garage door near the street, but there are ways to prevent the house from ending up like an afterthought. Even a bit of carport or overhang can work wonders, as can a garage door that's something other than a blank face in a flat wall. One's visitors deserve some kind of pedestrian entrance that's not completely overshadowed by the giant mass that holds the family car. If nothing else, the garage can be part of an exterior wall for a compound: something that clearly signals where a visitor is supposed to penetrate in order to move from public to private. On the other hand, I agree with DL: it is emphatically my decision, not that of the architectural control committee. I have no plans ever to live anywhere with either a zoning committee or an HOA.

Grim said...

On the other hand, it's important to point out that Sippican is also the genius behind the Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys. So, you know, he's OK in my book even if he is a low-down Yankee.

Texan99 said...

I didn't realize the BSBFB connection. I usually agree with almost everything he says, Yankee or not. I have to make allowance for Yankees all the time, of course. They're everywhere. But I know better than to listen to a Yankee viewpoint on climate or agriculture, even if I grudgingly admit the worth of their beliefs on other subjects not including the Late Unpleasantness.

bthun said...

"Sippican is also the genius behind the Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys. So, you know, he's OK in my book even if he is a low-down Yankee."

Heh. And that would be a damned Yankee. Ah well, we all have our pluses and minuses, not to mention opinions, etc., etc., etc.

P.S. What DL and Tex said about HOA's, ACC's, city/county/community high councils of the acceptable aesthetics, busy-body garden clubs, or facsimiles thereof.

My blood, sweat, and tears, my property, forget the dog, beware of owner, no soliciting, trespassers will be violated, and so on.

raven said...

Proud to be a Yankee here!
My family has been Yankee's since we landed in 1635, fresh off the" Elizabeth Anne." My ancestors fought Indians, French, and British. One led a rifle Company responding to the alarm at Concord. (did not get there , they received word the battle was over) Bunches fought in the Revolution.
My grandfather was gassed in France, my dad was in the 77th Div.infantry in the pacific, my father in law dug up German mines with the 97 Div. in Europe. My Uncle went down on the Juneau. I had two brothers in Vietnam. We have a long history being honest farmers,loggers,whalers,fishermen and tradesmen. As far as I know, not a professional military man among them. They just did what they had to do.
Not to many crooks or any bankers (but I repeat myself) that I know of, although we did have a first mate who set his captain adrift in the middle of the Pacific....
Yep- proud to be Yankee!

Grim said...

Well, and I never met a Yankee who wasn't proud. Usually they can barely take a breath from telling us how great it is up North, and how they can't wait until they can make us fix the South up just like it.

Which, you know, I always wonder why they were so hot to move. Not that I dislike the North. What I've seen of it is pretty nice; but my home is the southern Appalachians. Anywhere from Georgia to Tennessee to North Carolina feels right to me; if I get up into Virginia, I already feel like I've gotten a bit too far from home. I keep traveling, for one reason or another, but I can always feel the distance from where I belong.

I guess that's a Southern trait.

raven said...

Not too many men who are not proud of their family. It ain't a northern trait, anymore than homesickness is a southern one.. It's in our DNA to hold our home and family in a special place.

I tend to frequent websites that are conservative in nature, maybe it is a chance to feel a bit of refuge away from the ultra liberal place I live-(not yankeeland TM) and it does get my back up a bit to hear a geographic place name used to denigrate a swath of good folks.- especially when it refers to me! It is like folks dissing the French- on their "lack of valor"- like they never heard of Verdun.

Sounds to me you have the same gripe with "Yankees" that westerners have with Californians. Are they "Yankees too? Or has the term "Yankee" become a generic term for "big city leftist" the way "Formica" has come to mean plastic laminate?

Grim said...

For a long time, "Yankee" has mostly meant "folks from somewhere Up North who move down here and then want to tell us ignorant folks how we should run things." If that's what Californians means out West, and it probably is, it's the same thing.

But try this. It's from 1985, but not too much has changed except that there's a whole lot more of them.

DL Sly said...

Actually, the problem with California is that they move North because of the taxes, prices, etc. and try to enact the same policies that created the situation they left in the first place. The biggest issue is in the tax base support for schools. Oregon doesn't have a sales tax, so most of the local funding comes from property taxes and bonds. Oregon residents understand this and will gladly increase their property taxes minimally to fund schools and whatnot in exchange for not having a sales tax. The Californians that move to Oregon are, in vast numbers, retirees whose children have long graduated high school,, so when bond measures for school budgets come up they vote them down -- afterall, it's not like they have any skin in the game any longer.
As to what we call them....well, the most *family* oriented term is "Flatlander".

Texan99 said...

I don't even have a gripe against Yankees, seriously. I'm 100% kidding. I grew up in Houston in the 60s and 70s, when practically everyone had moved to town from somewhere else for the oil business. I used to have over 100 partners who were New Yorkers. Almost the only time I identify with the South is when I hear nonsense from natives of other regions -- my New York partners had some quaint notions, for instance. When they traveled out to the provinces they were hilarious. I'll always remember one of them poking at his refried beans and asking what the brown stuff was.

But really, you just can't plant your vegetables the way those darn Yankees tell you to. They've got it all backwards. You grow your vegetables in the winter and take your break in the height of summer.

Eric Blair said...

Sippican has a lot of good ideas and what not, but he does often spoil it with a certain condescending attitude about stuff he doesn't like.

He's also very grounded in a specific place, (as are others I've seen around here) and that colors his views.

One must know how to filter.

Grim said...

...He's also very grounded in a specific place, (as are others I've seen around here)...

I think I just finished admitting to that. :)

But it's probably true of everyone, really. I just read a piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the experience of living after the Rodney King riots, and the influence it had on rap music at the time.

I remember that period very well, from the perspective of having been in Atlanta during and after it; but the piece really conveys something I didn't know, which was the change of mood in LA that followed the riots. Apparently the Bloods/Crips peace treaty was a direct result of the riots.

Or compare Roger Simon on gay marriage: "Gay marriage is already virtually a fait accompli. Those of us who live in urban America see it all around us... It is only we geezers who object. (Okay, I don’t.) And, as we know, the minorities. As of now, same-sex marriage is a white man’s game."

I'm sure that's true where he comes from; but it's also true that thirty states have passed constitutional amendments, which generally requires a supermajority vote, expressly to ban the practice.

Now, in a sense that's compatible with his claim that "the minorities" object -- non-urban voters, or at least rural voters, could be taken as a kind of non-ethnic minority. Even then, it reinforces your point about grounding.

And I think that's fine, as long as we can have a Federalist system of government. It's fine -- even good -- that different areas and different cultures should be able to live side by side. It's only when we try to make everyone live by the same rules that we run into serious friction and culture war.

bthun said...

Mornin' Ravin,

"it does get my back up a bit to hear a geographic place name used to denigrate a swath of good folks."

Being a Southern, WASP, politically to the right, male boomer, I can certainly appreciate your denigrating a good swath of point.

And having lived in a few places north of the Mason Dixon, Jorsey, Mass., NH., north of Chicago, to name a few, I can even say some of my best friends are damned Yankees.

The South vs North razing is, as Grim and Lewis point out, due to a historical tendency of Northern folk to make too many assumptions about us slow, as in dumb hicks. Then move here and make it their mission to save our culturally bereft carcasses while reminding us of our inferior culture, intellect, etc., etc., etc.

So when you hear a Southerner saying low down Yankee or damned Yankee, it is usually, a good natured ribbin' of the prototypical Yankee as viewed from a Southern perspective. Many of us will not say anything if we're really angry, but if we do it will be directed at the individual and not a point on the compass.

bthun said...

Allow me to revise my greeting in my previous comment to Mornin' Raven

The nagging urge to proofread my previous post reveals that I had another neural net to digit malfunction.

I suppose that I am fortunate in that my current tasks in life, i.e. piddling around the hovel, often with the average power tool, does not require the same fine motor dexterity that I apparently fail to execute in my typing excursions these days.

As I've said elsewhere, if you manage to grow old, you'll need a sense of humor.

douglas said...

Well, as an architect, let me just say- To each his own. Some of his observations are right own, but as you all have pointed out, many are issues of geography/climate, personal preference, etc. That's part of what keeps us in business. If you just needed a decent enough house, there's not that much point to hiring an architect- standard traditional designs are usually pretty well worked out, in truth. What you need an architect for is accommodating your personal likes and dislikes, and dealing with the complexities that arise with remodels (much tougher to deal with than a new house), tricky local codes, particularly from the planning department (oh, how I envy Houston and it's lack of a zoning code!). Snout houses may not be ideal, but there are many times where there aren't any other options- code required covered parking, lots too narrow for rear or detached garage, etc. Compromise is, unfortunately, part of the game. The trick is doing it well.

Relating to the recent discussion of intro vs. extroverts, I think the open plan issue has a lot to do with that. It's how you live in your house that should dictate it's form, not the other way around.

douglas said...

Oh, and I have to add, regarding plastics and flattened windows- I just wish the manufacturers would start making some products that instead of being plastic mimicing traditional materials, found a way to be plastic in a proud, meaningful way that's true to it's properties. If they did, we'd see more traditional homes done correctly for their type, and modern homes that are true to the nature of a frame and skin construction, instead of a dimensional structural wall with openings- two different animals altogether.

douglas said...

I was working on a job today, and came across something that I should suggest to those of you looking to add dimension to your windows- if you need to replace your siding, consider adding a layer of rigid foam sheathing/insulation on the outside of the existing siding, and laying the new siding on top of that- it will add depth to the window frames, and increase your insulation values as a bonus.

Texan99 said...

The difficulty we had was more with the factory-made windows than with the depth of the walls. We made the exterior walls six inches deep in order to add rigidity and insulation, but we couldn't seem to find the double-paned windows we wanted in anything but a kind of pre-made sill style that was awfully hard to incorporate into a traditional exterior sill design. The carpenters were really flummoxed, though they did eventually cobble something together for us. We got lots of "not the way we always do it."

douglas said...

I thought about this more today, as I looked at an interesting sheet metal window trim someone had done on a commercial building. Next door was a building with traditional windows, nice deep sills, but not properly done so that they didn't extend past the stucco far enough to leave a proper drip edge. The only reason it didn't have massive problems was that it was located back under a 5' eave. This gets to why the window companies are making what are essentially 'sill-less' windows- they're better. They're far less likely to leak and create water damage problems. How many rotted sills do you see in old houses? Tons. Eliminating that ledge is a good thing from the point of view of defeating water intrusion, and that's the architect and builders bane when it comes to detailing. I'll never forget when I told my Uncle the architect that I was going into architecture, he told me- 'just remember to learn how to detail for moisture control properly, that's the most important thing!'. Okay, so he's a highly pragmatic Chinese- but he's also, in a way, correct. It is the number one cause of lawsuits against builders and architects.

With manufactured windows, I would have suggested using brick molds to develop a deeper trim on the window, combined with heavier trims. I think that would get most of what you wanted. I learned this from an architect I used to work for, and I remember it striking me funny that we were supposed to use brick molds for windows in a wood framed house, but now I understand why. Certainly, it's not the way the contractors normally do it.

Texan99 said...

You're probably right, that my aesthetic preference was formed by an older technology that doesn't work as well. On the other hand, if the "This Old House" guys are right, a properly built wooden sill won't leak either. In any case, we used Azek trim to extend the aluminum-clad exterior sills. The other night, we had a dramatic 60-mph storm with sideways rain, and although a lot of water made its way through the front door (normally protected by an 8-foot porch overhang), none came in through any of the windows, not even the exposed ones -- but the waterproofing was achieved by the factory design, not the sill extensions.

I agree with you about moisture-proofing: you lick that, and you're prevented most problems. Stucco doesn't work well here. I've never seen anyone control the water properly. I suppose it's possible, but the odds that any particular contractor can pull it off aren't great.

bthun said...

"I remember it striking me funny that we were supposed to use brick molds for windows in a wood framed house"

Brick mold is the standard around the windows and a Fronch door at the hovel. All I have to do is keep the hovel caulked and painted. So far, it has kept this old house in pretty fair shape. Far now nudging up against 25 years.

I will admit that I'm still dreaming of a poured concrete hacienda designed to resemble a Spanish, red adobe home, tile roof, and whatnot. Of the many items that are open to debate, the drain in the center of the main floor is mandatory. =;^}

douglas said...

"but the odds that any particular contractor can pull it off aren't great."

Yeah, that's a big part of it right there. If you want to do things not the standard (read 'easy') way, good luck with a lot of contractors. We used to joke about a detail being simple enough, or at least explained clearly enough that a carpenter after a six-pack lunch could still do it- more complex than that and you'd probably have to supervise those things yourself to be sure they're done right.

Sounds like what you did is working fine (and Azek and similar products are great for sills and fascias)- and you're right- the factory windows likely kept the water out, the sills just keeping the amount manageable. We were taught that water will get in somewhere- the question was 'how does it get out?' What you don't want is to 'seal' things up 'tight', because you're never as good at sealing as water is at getting in, so your seals are more likely to keep water that intruded in so it can rot things.

The brick mold thing was odd to me because I was born and raised here in So Cal, where it's all stick frame construction, dry climate, and bricks are about the last thing you want to use in an active seismic zone. I remember the first time I was in an all brick house- I was ten years old in a suburb of Philadelphia, and I marveled at the nearly foot deep interior window sills, and the coolness of the walls, even in Summertime. The basement was an incredible discovery to me also- we just don't have them here. It was as foreign a concept to me as the wall of humid air that I walked into coming off the plane- what a rude welcome! When you're from a climate where it's humid at 50%, and normal humidity is 20%, sometimes lower, the East and Midwest in the late Summer is an alien climate. Interestingly, that was also the summer I fell in love with my overalls, and wore them almost every day! Must be some relationship there.