Improving Our World, One House at a Time

Once in a while a piece of unexpected publicity arrives in my inbox or over social media that tells a story that no one else has considered until that moment. This is the case with fellow architect Duo Dickinson’s recent article, “The Impossibility of Equity.”

I have known Duo for many years, and back in the ‘80s, when I first went into business with Dale Mulfinger, we realized that Duo was someone who thought in the same way we did about our profession.

Speaking to the Homeowner

Inspired House Magazine cover

For many years, I wrote regular columns for Taunton Press’s magazines, Fine Homebuilding and Inspired House

We realized very early on that the people we wanted as clients—homeowners who simply needed a little help to make their houses into places that really feel like home—wouldn’t be reading the architectural journals, where many architects climb their way to success in our field of expertise. Our clients also weren’t the types to be interested in how avant-garde or trendy our work was. Instead, they wanted houses with familiar characteristics that felt like home to them. So, they would be reading magazines and articles about house design, written specifically for them.

Back then, it was magazines like Home, Better Homes & Gardens, This Old House, and Inspired House (today, think Houzz.com). These resources have always focused first and foremost on speaking to the homeowner directly. And people who love their houses pore through these resources, looking for real inspiration.

So, from the get-go, we aimed to get the word out about our work to the mainstream media, rather than to the architectural press, where most architectural stars are born. We were OK with that. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people we served far more than we wanted to be recognized by our colleagues.

Speaking to the residents of Winter Park, Florida

This governing instinct has continued throughout my career. It was this motivation that made me want to write a series of books for the general public about how to design a really good house. So, I’ve never thought much about the fact that, as Duo notes in this article, although I may well be one of the best-known architects in the country, getting recognition from the general public is not something that is usually celebrated by the profession of which I am a part.

 

For the Greater Good

Ross Chapin, Andres Duany, and Sarah Susanka

Three architects whose work is best known by the general public: Ross Chapin, Andres Duany, and yours truly

In a way, what I and many of my architectural colleagues who serve the residential market have created in recent decades is a different genre or subset of our profession—one that works for the greater good, without seeking accolades for what we do. This may sound noble, but I don’t believe that is the driving force behind the now thousands of residential architects doing this kind of work. Our motivation is to make a better place to live, both at an individual and community level.

As Duo notes, “Architecture is both popular trade and rarified fine art.” Those of us who practice in the less visible realm of domesticity and livability have a huge impact on the worlds of those we serve, though we are not as celebrated as our fine art colleagues. And I like to believe that by simply doing good work, and helping to make homes and communities that are both beautiful and functional, we are indeed improving the world we live in, one house at a time.

Note: Though Duo’s article mentions my multiple appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, there was in fact only one (re-run several times). And though he says I wrote perhaps a dozen more books after The Not So Big House, the total number of Not So Big tomes (so far) is nine.

 

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