Last year, a spec home went up on my block. It’s Georgian, about 4,000 square feet, and the original asking price was just over $1 million. The builder is a nice guy with a background in remodeling and I believe he honestly wanted to create a beautiful home.
But that hasn’t worked out so well.
To date, the house has gone through three price reductions and is still sitting there like a lonely kid nobody wants at their birthday party. There are many reasons for this—a lousy floor plan, no backyard, a footprint much too big for the lot—but there’s another more subtle factor at work that’s also important.
The house looks wrong. That’s the only way to describe it; there’s something that just doesn’t appeal to the eye. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Brent Hull, owner of Hull Historical, in Fort Worth, Texas, for a profile in Professional Remodeler next month. Hull is an expert in historical design, and I showed him a photo of the home in question. He shook his head sadly.
“This guy is trying,” Hull said, “but he doesn’t understand the fundamentals of classical design.” Hull went on to make a bold claim: “I suspect this builder saw a house that he really loved on Swiss Avenue [historic district in Dallas] and thought he was replicating it here. The problem is that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
That evening, I went on Google maps and took a look down Swiss Avenue. I didn’t think I’d find the actual house, but the idea of it intrigued me.
Lo and behold, the house was there.
The second I saw it, I understood exactly what the builder/remodeler was trying to accomplish on my block and also precisely where he fell heartbreakingly short. The two homes, built about 100 years apart, are nearly identical. Yet the tiny areas where they differ make one stately and graceful and the other disproportional and claustrophobic. Such small things: the choice of an arch rather than a straight edge, the size of a column as it relates to the molding and bands above it, the pattern of the bricks.
The root of the problem lies not with this particular house but with a professional who has no education in classical architecture and its place in the larger narrative of home design. Hull talks about this constantly, and I now see the seriousness of the issue as well. As long as remodelers and builders lack an understanding of the designs they are imitating, they will never be proficient, or even reliable, in their craft.