Tag Archives: McMansions

Farmhouse Architecture: A Peek Behind The Windows

Popular looks change.

Over the centuries men have worn powdered wigs, crew cuts, “Beatle” haircuts and fades.

The Rubenesque female figure gave way to Twiggy.

So too with architectural styles. Within the past few decades Colonials, Cape Cods and split levels gave way — literally — to McMansions.

House on steroids.

Now we see a new trend. Gone are the steeply sloped roofs, jutting dormers and other architecture-on-steroid features that were must-haves for new construction.

In their place: the “modern farmhouse.” Its most distinctive feature: black window frames.

Westport’s new trend: farmhouse-style architecture, with black windows.

Where did this new style come from?

Scott Springer, his wife and son have lived in Westport since 2008. He is an award-winning architect, designer and preservationist with extensive international residential and commercial experience.  His project list includes Manhattan apartment renovations, country and coastal retreats and 5-star hotels.

Scott is vice chair of the Historic District Commission, and a member of both the Architectural Review Board/Historic District Commission Joint Committee and the Westport Public Art Collections Committee.

The other day, I asked him about this latest trend. Scott says that although black windows have been seen here for the past decade or so, the idea is not new.

“For residential construction in New England and many other parts of the country, all-wood windows have been commonly used for hundreds of years,” he says.

“In the 1960s, the idea of cladding the exterior side of a wood window with what was believed to be a more weather-resistant, low maintenance material resulted in the development of the wood clad window.

Scott Springer

“A factory-finished layer of thin material — often painted aluminum — is wrapped around all exterior-facing components of a wood window.  While the interior side of the window can be primed and painted any color on site, the exterior aluminum finish and color, once chosen, are intended to be the permanent finish.

“In theory, one can repaint the aluminum cladding in the future; in practice, the results of repainting these finishes are often not great. For a long time, white was the dominant exterior finish for wood clad windows as trim boards and other architectural elements were commonly white, and so white seemed to offer the most flexibility.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, all aluminum windows were popular, often in a dark bronze metallic painted finish. These windows gradually fell out of favor, however, primarily because they were not energy efficient and were subject to condensation and corrosion issues.”

In the early 2000s, Scott continues, a type of “retro-industrial” style started to become a popular trend in creative office and retail interior design.

“Often, these interior spaces were in former warehouse or factory buildings which featured exposed brick and steel windows that were painted in their original black. This might also be seen as a repeat of the 1970s residential loft and gallery aesthetic.”

While industrial steel windows are great, Scott notes, they became very expensive to manufacture. Eventually, the residential window industry realized that if they took a wood window, pre-painted the interior black, and then clad the exterior in black, they would have something that simulated (at least to some extent) the aesthetic of the steel window.”

As an architect, Scott says, black window frames — when properly used — can work quite well.

One example: a house painted a dark grey or black, or a more modern white stucco house with a flat roof and very large windows, could easily work with black frames.

An advantage of black interior frames is that they tend to blend in with the view of the outdoor landscape, thus better integrating the interior and exterior spaces.

However, Scott “would not generally specify black frames for a more traditional or transitional white house with a pitched roof and clapboard or shingle siding.

“Glass typically reads dark in a building elevation, so when a black frame is used, the window itself ends up reading as a large black rectangle. With a white frame, 6-over-6 window, the dark area is broken down into smaller areas.

“The now-popular 2-over-2 window (Window Diagram 2) also allows this reduction into smaller areas. A traditional 6-over-6 or 12-over-12 double-hung window painted white, which has either 12 or 24 divisions, integrates effectively with white trim and siding. This effect also works when a monochromatic approach is used with colors other than white.”

A now-popular 2-over-2 window.

In contrast, he says, “a black double-hung unit will read as a single large void in an elevation when the siding is white. This effect is made even worse when windows are ganged together.

Black double-hung unit.

“In traditional architecture, windows and doors are predominantly vertical elements in a façade that correlate to the verticality of an upright human form.  Ganging windows — especially ones with black frames — can create a seemingly arbitrary pattern of horizontal dark rectangles that takes a traditional building form in a much more modern direction. Sometimes it can work, but most of the time it really doesn’t.

Ganging windows.

Scott notes that “a very high percentage of new spec homes in Westport are white with black window frames. It seems these houses are being snapped up even before they can be completed.

“One can assume there is a large pool of individuals who think these window frames look good. Of course, general popularity is not always the main criterion for quality, and aesthetic preferences are highly subjective.”

Part of the popularity is that platforms like Houzz, Instagram and Pinterest, plus design blogs, digital and print magazines, and television home design programs, are hot now.

“Good and bad ideas spread around very quickly, and the original concepts behind them can easily be lost or taken out of context,” Scott says.

As for history: “By the late 19th century, operable steel windows were commercially available in England, primarily for warehouse and factory applications. The use of such windows quickly expanded to other parts of the world.

“In Germany, Peter Behrens, and later Walter Gropius and other architects associated with the Bauhaus, utilized mass-produced steel windows and other building components to achieve innovative architectural concepts.

“From the 1920s through the ’40s, steel casement windows for multifamily residential and hotel projects from New York to London to Shanghai was common.

“For brick buildings, the steel windows were often painted black or dark red. In New York, the Starrett-Lehigh Building, completed in 1931, is a prime example of a building with black window frames.  The windows in this building form horizontal bands that wrap the building, and they alternate with horizontal brick bands.

“Today, old steel windows are great candidates for restoration. It is possible to significantly improve their performance by using vacuum insulated glass in place of the original single layer of glass.”

Park Avenue restored steel casement windows. (Photo courtesy of Scott Springer Architect)

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Water, Water Everywhere

An alert (and very worried) “06880” reader is still drying out from Tuesday’s 3.5-inch rainstorm — and the 7-plus inches that cascaded down on Westport just a week earlier. She writes:

I know mine is not the only neighborhood in town suffering from this problem.

Like many others, 2 feet of water caused terrible flooding in our basement last Tuesday. Fortunately it was immediately sucked out by our sump pumps — but the damage was done.

The high water mark on an “06880” reader’s garage is very high.

We have lived in our house for 9 years. We had a similar problem once before, but it only resulted in 4 inches in the basement.

It is my observation — and that of my neighbor, who has lived in her house for 30 years — that this is a progressively worsening problem. It is due to the huge swaths of land that have been cleared, so new homes could be built behind ours.

Where there used to be trees and forest, there is open land. The new houses are bigger than others.

There is nothing to absorb excess water. It just runs over the huge lawns to the lowest point: my driveway.

My drain can’t keep up, so it backs into the basement.

Another view of recent flooding.

My parents — who live in another part of town — have seen huge rivers of rain wash down their road, which they never had in the 30+ years they have lived in their home. They think it may be due to huge houses being built in the neighborhood above theirs.

Is this a larger town issue, with all the new construction and water being diverted as it hadn’t before? Is there a way for me (or anyone else in this situation) to have someone from the town look into this?

If so, who would that be? I know the weather has been more extreme, but I think there is more to it than that. Any insights from “06880” readers would be appreciated.

This Is A Teardown

We see impending teardowns often, on “06880” and WestportNow.

We see the end results — first in the form of vacant lots; later, as much larger structures.

But we seldom see a teardown in progress.

This afternoon, I was driving down Turkey Hill North. Here’s what I saw:

Enjoying a steak dinner is far different from watching a cow get killed. Just as watching a house demolition is not at all like seeing a McMansion rise quickly on empty land.


The Great Age Of Headroom

Sometimes, David Brooks makes me tear out what remains of my hair.

Other times I agree with him so strongly, I wish I’d written his words myself. That happened again last week, when the New York Times columnist wrote that one result of our current economic woes is that “the great age of headroom” has ended.

Yours, for only $5,825,000.

“The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous,” he writes.  “New houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.”

Online, the Times invited experts to respond.

Architecture professors Ellen Dunham-Jones and Jill Williamson said:

Facing the ongoing deflation of the housing bubble, it’s time to dramatically rethink the types and locations of dwellings we build….

For the past 60 years the housing market has catered to boomers with a “move-up” model providing ever-larger houses.  It worked while they were receiving raises and raising families – but not as they approach retirement.  Who wants to upsize now – especially with all of the related costs?  Instead, we see great benefits to a renewed emphasis on the lifelong use value of our homes and neighborhoods for all stages of life.

The downsizing of housing is coming at an opportune time.  Because neither of the big demographic bulges, the Boomers and Gen Y, is in prime child-rearing years, demographers predict that 75 percent to 85 percent of newly formed households through 2025 will not have kids in them.

These will be the folks controlling the market. They will be seeking more compact houses and apartments, flexible in use and located in lively settings, both in cities and in the suburban areas where the most job growth can be expected.

To adapt and prepare for a more resilient future, communities would do well to revise their zoning and subdivision codes: increase street network connectivity and walkability, eliminate lot size minimums, permit accessory dwelling units, and allow for the subdivision of large homes into duplexes, even quads.

Recognize the benefits – from reduced carbon footprints to providing options for “aging-in-community” by older residents – of building well-designed multi-unit housing, including rental, in transit-served locations.

“06880” readers are invited to join the debate.  Some questions to consider:

  • What are the pluses and minuses of super-sized houses?
  • How did these homes become the de facto standard?  Why — in these tough economic times — do they continue to be built?
  • Are they appropriate for Westport?  Will they keep selling in the near future — and longer term, as families grow smaller, and our population ages?
  • If “the great age of headroom” has ended, what will replace the current large houses?  Is another type of housing economically feasible in Westport?
  • Is Westport unique in this debate — or are we just another suburb?

Be thoughtful.  Play nice.  Don’t drag your neighbors through the mud.

The First Of The Season

Westport CT McMansion

After a long winter of dormancy, McMansions are sprouting again around Westport.

The example above — prime new growth — was spotted on High Point Road.

No surer sign of spring — and a reawakening economy — can be found than the bursting forth of fresh large homes.

Quick:  tell Wall Street!