Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Name Game

A recent client said farmhouse was his family's style. He was very clear. Farmhouses were it and everything else was out.

Yet something was wrong when we started looking at homes. Nothing seemed to be quite what he wanted. Farmhouse after farmhouse went by, and nothing struck him.
Then we showed him a house that might best be described as French/contemporary. More along the lines of the picture below.
He flipped.
"Yes! This is exactly what I meant! A farmhouse!"

And I learned something important.
What clients say and what I think that means aren't always the same thing.
In this case, a farmhouse was some vision he had of a country home with contemporary style and few accents that gave it a French feel.
So just in the interest of better communication, here's what I think of when the following styles are named.

Arts and Crafts. Craftsman.

It's a style that tends toward the square, lots of wood, an overall "amber" glow and lots of built - ins. Most Sears catalog houses were Craftsman style. Bungalows were a popular style, and big, block-y pillars and porches tend to be part of these homes. Gustav Stickley, William Morris, Rennie Mackintosh - that's Arts and Crafts.

Gothic. Gothic Revival.

This style makes me think of castles, fairy tales, medieval churches and Tim Burton. There should be arches somewhere, dark woodwork, a "vintage library" feel. It can be whimsical or it can be formal, but all Gothic decorating has a certain "Dark Shadows" feel.

Victorian/Cottage Style
These beauties range from over-the-top gingerbread extravaganzas to simple farmhouses with just a little bit of detail that makes them more than simply utilitarian. Ceilings tend to be high and windows large. I have a weakness for Victorians. I admit it. They're the dominant old houses in the Midwest - where they were the style of choice by the time the first settlers started moving west.

These are the grandaddies - the first fancy houses built by European settlers in America. There's a variety of styles depending on the part of the country you're in. Here in New York, there are a lot of Dutch Colonials - built by the state's original Dutch settlers.

MidCentury Modern

 This was the home of the future in the fifties and sixties. It was bright, open and generally low to the ground. After years of languishing, it's a style that's cool again.
I think with every style, the best of it comes back into vogue eventually.  And then it becomes a classic.


This may be the toughest style of all to pin down.  Contemporary means those angular wooden homes built in the 80s and 90s. But it means the glass-walled open concept homes, the steel and glass industrial style homes, just about anything you can imagine that's being designed now.

There are many more, and many variations on the basic themes.

I suspect this will not be the last time I get tripped up by a label.

Perhaps all my client really meant is he wanted a house on property he could farm.


  1. Great post! Loved seeing things broken down like this...

  2. One of these days we'll have to get into others...I used to devour The Old House Journal. Talk about variety!