Natural Light – Part 1
post by: Peter Zimmerman
The demands of contemporary lifestyles can create a tension between elevation and plan in both renovation and new construction projects. However, the need for both openness and definition can lead to delightful solutions.
People who live in or work on old houses are acutely aware of their idiosyncrasies – crooked window sills, sloping floors, mazes of dark rooms that are visual dead ends and stairways that tend to separate spaces rather than connect them – but they are drawn to them nonetheless. This is because they are Classical in proportion and scale and honest in their construction and use of materials. Inherent within them are century-old stories, told through the architecture, about the lifestyles and needs of the generations who inhabited them. Our challenge, as designers, is to remain true to a house’s architectural story while updating it and accommodating the needs of a modern family.
My firm is located in Berwyn, PA, a western suburb of Philadelphia. As was true of so many suburban areas during the 19th and early-20th centuries, it grew because urban society wanted country retreats. In the Philadelphia area, high society migrated from the City of Brotherly Love to the Main Line, where they secured their country properties and built weekend estates. These homes can be seen up and down the eastern seaboard, but the patterns of use of these houses have changed dramatically.
Of Its Time
The grand “country” house reflects the lifestyle of its time: large and rambling, it was designed to house families, guests and servants, thus creating separation between the family living spaces and the servant’s quarters. Hence the desire of many of our clients, who acquire these houses to renovate and add on to, to remain sensitive to the historic fabric while creating an environment that meets their family’s needs. Other clients want to design a new old house with a beautifully proportioned, traditional exterior and interior. They want to develop the historically appropriate story for their geographic area and they want the traditional elegance that lends itself to a less formal, more relaxed way of life.
Whether we are designing a reproduction Pennsylvania stone farmhouse, a Mediterranean Revival in Palm Beach, FL, an English manor in Maryland’s hunt country or a New England Georgian- or Federal-style clapboard house in Massachusetts, my firm’s design philosophy is deeply rooted in the historic tradition of architecture: Classical proportion and scale, the balance of shadow and light and the appropriate relationship between materials.
The focus is on integration within the built and natural environment, remaining faithful to historic roots and sensitive to the cultural context. The property and its natural features play a large role in the design process. We care about the overall experience – be it subliminal, visceral, tactile, even auditory; we design properties to heighten the total experience of architecture. Good architecture should evoke memories, and create new ones.