Creating a House with Built-In Character
Discover the details that bring a home to life.
Synopsis: Most people assume it’s a building’s age that gives it its charm, when in fact it’s the attention to small details that makes it feel so good. Small touches often go unnoticed, but they have a huge effect on our experience of a place. In this adaptation of Sarah Susanka’s book, Inside the Not So Big House (Taunton, 2005), we use one home to illustrate how to use details to add character to your home.
A house isn’t really a home unless it is filled with the personality of its inhabitants. Most homeowners assume this means filling the space you have with things that have meaning to you, and certainly this is an important step in the right direction. But a house that really sings has character that’s built in, so that even if the house were completely emptied of furniture and objects collected over a lifetime, the house would still feel warm and inviting. It would still have a character all its own.
Sadly, too many of the new houses and remodels built today would fail this test. To keep construction costs down, all the money available goes into square footage, leaving little or no money for the special details that can really make a house a beautiful place. The key to creating a home with intrinsic character is to keep the overall size down so that you can reapportion some dollars out of square footage and into the details that make the house a delight to live in. While such details do not have to break the bank, they still add to the cost of a home. A handy rule of thumb is that if you strive to reduce the square footage you were originally planning by about one third and make these savings available for personalizing your home, you’ll have enough money to do the kind of detailing that will make a difference.
Most people assume it’s a building’s age that gives it its charm, when in fact it’s the attention to details that makes it feel so good. Although these small touches often go unnoticed, they have a huge effect on our experience of a place.
God is in the details
We’ve all heard architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s assertion that “God is in the details,” but what are details anyway? Details are the special features of house design that are permanently attached to the interior and will remain there as the house passes to future owners. If you were able to turn your house upside down and shake it, these inside details are the ones that wouldn’t come off. They’re designed in from the beginning, to help personalize the house and make it function more efficiently.
To architects, the word “detail” implies the marriage of materials to create design elements or combinations that are built in during the construction or remodeling process. The connection of one part to another is, strictly speaking, a detail, and when all these interconnections are considered together they become one larger detail. So the word itself implies multiple levels of design.
Details in context – Most people think of a detail as a relatively small thing—a doorknob, a newel post, a shelf bracket—but the word detail can also refer to larger elements such as window seats, breakfast nooks, hearths, accent walls, built-in cabinets, and kitchen islands.
Details in combination – The word detail can also be used to describe materials and how they are used—concrete for countertops, hand-rubbed fir for ceiling beams, stainless steel for the stair rails—as well as how they come together, such as the marriage of wood and slate on a floor.
Details can also refer to design elements that are not objects at all but rather qualities that carry throughout the house, such as a palette of colors, a surface texture, or a type of glass that creates a particular quality of light.
And details can also refer to design elements that perform a certain function, such as defining the shape of something—for example, the casing or trim that runs around all the doors and windows in a house.
Details in focus – Sometimes, the details that can have the biggest impact are very small things indeed. For example, using glass to reinterpret a traditional wood newel post or wrapping round trim around the outside corners of wainscoting to soften the edges.
For photos and details on how combined details can give a cohesive look, click the View PDF button below.