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By Lindsay Daniel

 Does your houses’ identity conger up moods generally considered feminine, poised, gentle, muscular, soft, intense, droopy, sleepy, stern, disciplined, frail, sad, stable, angry, or confused? (Anthropomorphic) 

 Or does its image imply principals and ethical ideals being described as democratic, transparent, muscular, unpretentious, rustic, aristocratic, honest, playful, respectful, intelligent, punctual, self-righteous, stable, or authoritarian? (Metaphoric)

 Or could we even describe your house thru our own “emotional souvenirs” such as seeing it as stuffy, sensible, pensive, tranquil, warm-hearted, aggressive, clean, gentle, expensive, cheap, friendly, kind, frivolous, calm, forgiving – (all readily found in each and every historic style)? (Associative-symbolic)


You purchased your house to first satisfy the primary function of shelter, and second as an investment.  But the third, and defining, reason you chose that house (or modified it as such) was most likely because it fulfilled the emotional function.  It conveyed your “ideas of a good life” and “ideas that support your values” which you want to live by – or qualities you crave.

 All buildings speak.

Just as in all other arts, architects also combine materials, colors, textures, shape, form, and scale to intentionally make houses express themselves, to create a mood.  You call it beautiful when you perceive it as succeeding.  “What we search for in a work of architecture is not in the end so far from what we search for in a friend.  The objects we describe as beautiful are versions of the people we love.”  There is an intimate relationship between your visual taste and your values.  Your ideal of beauty is your promise of happiness.  “Every architectural style speaks of an understanding of happiness”.  

You can destroy the meaning.

 A good education teaches us that the alteration of a single word can change the whole sense or meaning of a poem or sentence.  Architects, like professional writers, aim to make their buildings speak with pure simple clarity.  Changing the details on a house without understanding how to masterfully synthesize them to create real meaning only results in Chaos!  With recognizing and appreciating the power of how a house is made to speak through its form and details, we might become “more conscious, as well as writers, of our environment.”

For over 30 years I have been a student of the language of architecture, but I have never seen this idea as beautifully explained as in Alain de Botton’s theoretical book The Architecture of Happiness, 2006, Vintage Books.  Phrases in quotation marks are from his book. 

chaos                                                                       clarity of meaning   

House of Horrors 

This addition/renovation transformed this Colonial Traditional house into a House of Horrors!  This is a Cacophany!  Just noise!  No grammar-no meaning!  Totally illiterate - Where's the Hook!! 

                                                    Colonial Georgian 

This Colonial Traditional has clarity of meaning.  It says poised, gentle, unpretentious, and friendly.  Straight to the point people, and no great risk taking.

 Colonial Brick - rail mistake      

The modifications to this brick Colonial shows (the rail pattern placed virtically) translates as confused, crude, lazy, and living in a bubble. 

                                                                                           Colonial Revival

Colonial Revival style has strict rules for pattern, and proportions.  The personality protrayed here is one of discipline, respectfulness, sensiblity, and a serious nature.


Ranch with contemporary addition

The original Ranch style home is upstaged by this addition.  Non-conformity reigns here!  An agressive spirit out of its cage?  Undisciplined, no nod to the original ordering principles nor values of the humble Ranch.   Pretentious and muscular.        

                                                                                             Ranch with tudor cottage addition

A Ranch Re-Do does change the meaning, but on purpose and with clarity into a Neo-Cottage with Tudor leanings. The traits are humble, disciplined, gentle.  This personality is unpretentious but with their head held high and proud. 


Low Country mistake 

Low Country mistake - will this owner ever understand the value of good planning?  This exemplifies the "Dominos Effect" of no planning!  Dimensions are one thing, but also misunderstanding the language of columns, piers, floors, and railing relationships.  The impulsive nature of this personality overrides the complimentary traits eluding to clean, honest, and democratic.          

                                                                                              Low Country

Low Country - French Colonial origins - are simply modified to the urban context, and maintains its clairty.  Even these rural origins display an aristocratic air without embellishments.  This handling of the forms supports intelligence,  stability, poised, and a comfortable calmness.

 French manor collage  

Neo-French Manor - a collage squishing together as many of these elements that could be had on this small lot.  Restraint is not a term that informs us here - more like overindulgance.  It looks like the "Home Alone scream" with hands squishing the face!      


 French Regency



Neo Georgian Eclectic Beach house         Georgian Revival


Prairie Vernacular with weird dormer          Shingle Style - Bungalow



Neo Chateau collage          Neo Dutch Colonial



Neo Mediterranian          Neo Italian Renaissance



Neo Log Cabin         Ranch conversion to cottage



Neo Eclectic mix         New Tudor Manor style



Trailer        Minimal Traditional


Even after over thirty years studying houses, it is extremely hard to lable house styles.  I rely heavily upon one of the best books in my library - A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester.


Lindsay Daniel provides residential design services to Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding communities.