In residential architecture, and especially in Houston residential architecture (one of the most wide-ranging I’ve witnessed anywhere in the world!), nothing has sparked my imagination more than the so called Modernist home. Those massive, white, boxy constructs that appear every now and then amongst H-Town’s inner loop neighborhoods, promising to make the most out of your plain-vanilla, 6,000+SqFt lot. Or to raise the hairs on the of back your more traditional neighbor’s’ neck. Yes, they do come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but one thing remains constant: these linear retreats are usually the epitome of clean design, spacious interiors and abundant natural light.
Because "true" Modernist homes will date back from the early Fifties to the mid-Sixties, and because Houston boasts properties of the caliber of Frank Lloyd Wright’s "William Thaxton House" (1954), some developers refer to these newly built properties as "soft" Modernists. So… exactly what makes a home "Modernist?" What is the essence of these livable works of art?
From James Leasure, Co-Founder of Modern Home Tours, LLC out of Austin: "We love Modern. Modern design, Modern architecture, modern living. More than just an aesthetic, "Modern" embodies new construction techniques and materials, and new ways of addressing old problems. "Modern" is not just what you live in, but how you live. From attainability to sustainability, the singular thread that connects "Modern" is an outlook that embraces new possibilities in living and lifestyle." (1)
With that said, it seems as if modern is more of a mindset, than anything else. From renewable energy to efficient cooling and heating systems, all the way to polished concrete floors vs. bamboo, the quest for better living – and creative living – seems to be found best in Modernist homes.
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Art enthusiasts will possibly see walls when they think Modernist homes. As in big, white, empty walls. Walls to be mounts for that fabulous piece. And corners: perfect junctions of concrete, wood, glass and steel, where a sculpture may come to life, bathed during the daytime with natural light, and in the nighttime with those fantastic LED displays.
From the architect’s perspective, I imagine, a Modernist home’s blueprint in the making may be more of an open canvas, one where less traditional rules will apply, one where creativity can run free. 32’ ceilings? Not a problem. A futuristic garage encased in glass, facing your indoor patio for guests to see? Why not. Cantilevers? Bring it on! Landscape artists must have a picnic with Modernist homes as well. From cacti to sculpture to bonsai trees, where else can these coexist with impeccable lines, dramatic façades and yes – very white backgrounds, if not in a Modernist home?
Are they cold and impractical, is a question that has pestered me in the middle of the night…? Can a "normal" family inhabit one of these? Will daily life interfere with their gallery-like traits? And how will it age? Can I spend a cozy Christmas here, or will that fluffy blanket screech against that white, museum-grade couch? And what happens when I fry up that steak? Oh, yes– I’ve asked these questions and many more. No answers for these yet…
But one thing’s for sure: every time I drive by a Houston Modernist –and I’m guessing I’m not alone here– that Barcelona-designer in me, that minimalist-loving, art-curious, geometrically oriented, black-and-white-loving self, wants to know every detail of that house. Currently ranging between $350-$700/SqFt (depending on location, mostly, and on finishes, to a lesser extent), Houston has plenty a Modernist to offer for every taste. Long-live the Modernist home, and thank you Houston for providing a fantastic habitat for them to coexist, below your lovely and bluest of skies.
(1) Quoted from http://modernhometours.com/about-us/