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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cottages, Communities, Congeniality

There is a certain category of housing in which we use an activity as an adjective with one of the shelter terms we know and love.  Beach house.  Hunter's Cabin.  Fisherman's Shack.  You get the idea. There is a similarity in our expectation of such structures.  Things are simplified.  They tend to be more about the location and activity than about the architecture.  Preconceived notions of formal-informal are thrown out.  People go to such places to kick back, ignore the pressure of social convention and expectation.  Behavior is expected to be more pure, less contrived.  People do what they want to do more than what they have to do. Congeniality rules.

It all sounds like a pretty good idea.  I sense a growing tendency, especially among my younger clients, to take these attitudes more to heart  when designing their primary residence.  Many people seemed more inclined to do things that they can enjoy themselves rather than spending money doing things mainly to impress their peers.  Though I am of an age where I enjoy the public-private aspects of the home, I can appreciate the inclination to get rid of all that and just get down to the good stuff.

One of the sub-groups that fires me up is the golf cottage.  I like these because even while the structure is being pared down, it is doing so to appeal to a group who enjoy an activity which is hopelessly mired in tradition and arcane rules of behavior.  It is seemingly a yoking of entirely opposite expectations:  that is, an informal and simplified lifestyle dedicated to a pursuit of an activity  which requires an intense knowledge of a wide variety of self enforced behaviors during the game, prescribed dress codes, as well as the shot making requirements of the sport.  Strange bedfellows.
        I've had occasion to enjoy a couple of exquisite golf cottages mainly when I was younger, as my father was an avid golfer and family vacations were often scheduled with that in mind.  I'm thinking of the picturesque cottages sprinkled around the Mid- Ocean course in Bermuda. We were fortunate to spend two weeks between Christmas and New Years in a couple of these in the 70's.  I can also recall several nights in a cottage at Eseeola Lodge in Linville, N.C. when I was younger.  These memories are well impressed in my psyche and I'm sure come out in a variety of ways in my design efforts.  There is a different flavor to these golf cottages from other vacation homes I've experienced.  They are not nearly as informal as the beach house, in which  people  run around in bathing suits all day, traipsing in and out from the beach for the occasional beer, sandwich, or nap.  They are not nearly as rustic or purposeful as a hunter's cabin or fisherman's shack.  There is a formality to them, despite their location in a leisure environment.  They usually exist in communities, surrounded by other homes of similar intent.  There was a purpose in their development, usually the entire location and community was contrived from the start to exploit the resident's desire for just such a situation.  It is a very different set of circumstances than the hunters or fishermen, who are more likely to desire isolation and privacy.  It is also different than the shore communities, which can only spring up where there is a happy coincidence of sandy beach and available transportation.

      Golf provided a built in activity perfectly suited for resort development.  It could happen nearly anywhere, which gives developers the chance to acquire ground in the middle of nowhere at a reasonable price.  It attracts clientele of a certain financial status.  The game is not inexpensive and participants have to devote a lot of time to it.  Finally, it is a highly social enterprise, with handicapping systems to allow players of wide variety of talent to compete together.  A perfect setup for community development and a unique housing type.

The grandaddy of golf resort villages is Pinehurst , North Carolina.  It was conceived as a health resort by a Boston soda machine magnate in 1895.  At first it was to gain the benefit of the pine tar smell in the air which was thought to help respiratory disease prevalent in the North East.  But once a golf course was added, Donald Ross was hired to improve it, and the sport of golf enjoyed a boom which swept the country after the turn of the 20th century.  Pinehurst had a couple advantages.  First, being from the Boston area, it was only natural that the developer, Leonard Tufts, would turn to  local Boston  talent  to help with the planning and landscape.  The renowned Olmsted firm put its indelible mark on the project.  Second, he was fortunate to connect with Donald Ross who was newly emigrated from Scotland.  Known as the father of American gold course design, during next 40 years he created more than 400 courses across the country, but always called Pinehurst home.

The concept was a New England town, with a village green, an area of shops, a church, restaurants, and a couple resort hotels.  Cottages of a variety of sizes happily intermingle on comfortably sized lots.  Its all very walkable and intimate, if a little contrived and controlled.  If this formula sounds a little cliched given today's new urbanist mantras, well there really is not much new under the sun.  But what I really want to examine is a couple of the cottages which have come up for sale recently.  Two in particular intrigue me, a 4000 sf two story and a 2000 sf single story.

Despite doubling the size, there are a couple of similarities in concept.  First is the simplicity and purity of form.  There is no attempt to dazzle anyone with turrets, offsets, and gratuitous reverse gables.  The smaller house presents its gable to the street.  The larger house has a long ridge running across and a pavilion on each side , making an H plan.  Pretty simple stuff, with strong axes and enforced symmetry.

Second, there is no effort at using a front porch to provide a place for neighbor interaction and a buffering from the transition of outside to inside.  A delicately covered door leads you directly to the principal living space.  This great room needs to be nuanced subtly to provide a variety of purposes- Entry, circulation, a couple conversation areas, and enough space for the furniture to be placed to allow it all.

These homes were built in the early 1900's so there was no effort to integrate the kitchen into the living space.  Probably in most cases there was a cook to get the food ready anyway.  But if you think about it, a golf community isn't really about cooking.  Playing cards, nineteenth hole drinks, catching up on your reading all seem more important than spending a lot of time preparing food.  Bedrooms are comfortable, but not intended to be an oasis.  The cottage itself is the oasis.  The bedroom is just where you sleep.  Same is true with the baths.  No need for them to be a spa.  The spa is right there at the clubhouse.

These concepts seem  alien to us today.  We have turned our homes into personal spas, barrooms, resorts of one kind or another.  The concept of the house being a simple shelter co-existing with similar structures with shared amenities located nearby has retreated into the distant past.  In my neighborhood there is an old livery building ( a shared garage) where a hundred years ago all the cars were kept.  When it was time to go somewhere, you rang them up, and the car was brought over to the house.  Add in corner grocery stores, milk and eggs brought to your door.  It all seems so civilized.  But now we have 3 car garages to fit in to our plan.  Master bath spas, fabulous foyers as if the house were a embassy.  Our own theaters, our own pools, kitchens made of the finest polished woods, with gleaming surfaces everywhere we look.

Can you see why these simple golf cottages have such appeal?  Garages, if present, are detached.  Foyers nonexistent.  Kitchens simple work spaces.  Baths utilitarian.  Ample sized gathering rooms, large enough for several couples to enjoy cocktails, but not so big to make curling up with a book seem presumptuous.  Bedrooms for sleeping, baths for washing.  Everything right sized.  I find it a noble program for a house.  Very civilized.  Congeniality over conceit.