Americans want the “New Old House,” an older-looking home with McMansion amenities

The Wall Street Journal describes the trend of architects and builders putting together homes that look old and have character but have all the latest features:

“The first words that come out my clients’ mouths are, ‘We’d love to have a real old house. We just can’t find one,’ ” said architect Russell Versaci, who runs a Middleburg, Va.-based practice. “And the second thing they say is, ‘We are so sick of McMansions. We just want to get out and get back to reality.’ ”

What architects like Mr. Versaci—along with certain discriminating prefab builders and house-plan companies—offer instead is known as the New Old House: a sanely proportioned residence that’s historically accurate on the outside, but conceived for the needs of modern Americans on the inside. Austere Greek Revival farmhouses with roomy island kitchens. Time-travelesque Craftsman bungalows with startlingly open floor plans. Walk-in closets designed to hold more than a few Civil War-era muslin petticoats…

The exhibition is timely. According to Amy Albert, editor of Custom Home—a Washington, D.C.-based magazine that caters to architects, designers and high-end builders—a hankering for authentic traditional residential design is one of 2014’s big trends. That said, “People aren’t seeking exact replicas of historical houses,” she added. “They want architectural purity in the elevations and the details, but inside they want connectivity and open floor plans.” Discerning homeowners, she said, are demanding that custom builders bone up: “Mixing a Palladian window with a Craftsman column is not going to cut it. Even if people don’t have the vocabulary to articulate why it’s wrong, they instinctually know it is.”…

Both Mr. Versaci and Mr. Schafer acknowledged there’s something potentially inauthentic about recreating oldness, especially if you go to the extent of simulating patinas on stone (using coffee) or, as Mr. Schafer mentioned, importing $50,000 mature beech trees so your New Old House’s landscaping doesn’t look too new. “Making a mirage is an issue,” said Mr. Versaci. “My personal preference is to let a house age through natural processes. If you choose quality, natural materials like unlacquered brass, they will eventually age. But some 21st-century Americans, who are used to ‘add water and serve,’ just don’t want to wait.”

One of the more interesting parts of the new second edition of A Field Guide to American Houses is the last section on newer houses, dubbed Millennial Mansions, which discusses the differences between an authentic looking older home and a fake looking older home. For example, a new home in a Craftsman style might not have the correctly proportioned pillars on the porch or might be built on a slab when such older homes in this style usually had a basement.

Yet, the problem with historicity is not just about recreating the past. There is also an odd lack of interest in a historic interior as it is all about the exterior. If anything, this just reinforces the same mindset these people criticize about McMansions: it is all about making an impression with the exterior and then having a flashy interior. Would the people who complain McMansions don’t provide a good psychological fit make the same complaint about these new old houses?

Also, are these New Old Houses much smaller than the average McMansion?

0 thoughts on “Americans want the “New Old House,” an older-looking home with McMansion amenities

  1. Pingback: Rebuilding the Hamptons, one expensive teardown at a time | Legally Sociable

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