Clients often ask me: “can we prevent our new house from looking out of date in the future?” With so much being spent to build or renovate, it’s understandable to want it to look as good as possible, for as long as possible. Whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, I do want to share my 5 principles that I work by, and I feel minimize the chances of a design dating quickly.
Before delving into this, I think it is important to understand that any older great house design which is today considered a “classic”, shows its age. However, timeless design still looks beautiful despite this. See the example below: Case Study House 22, by Pierre Koenig, Los Angeles 1960.
1) Avoid fads.
A new item appears in stores, should it be a success its popularity sees it in stores and homes everywhere. It becomes a victim of its own success, and we tire of it as its novelty is lost due to overexposure. And so the cycle repeats itself with the next fad. The trick is to recognise what is fad or what is not. How? All these five principles must be considered together to answer that.
A recent fad example: The above bench round washing vessel/ basin. I was able to convince every one of my clients to avoid these. Just a few years on from them being everywhere, they have all but disappeared from stores. If you were to came across one now, it will have a sticker on it: “reduced to clear”…
2) Look to the past.
Take out the guesswork; simply look around to see what has stood the test of time and what hasn’t. For example the ‘Modernist’ movement/ architectural style started in the 1920’s and still exists today. Other styles have since come and gone. Take elements and features you like from other older examples, so you know they will last. The next three principles must also be considered in conjunction too.
3) Lines and shapes – Keep them simple.
All designs that have stood the test of time such as modernism or art deco, have done so due to a common theme: simple and elegant lines and shapes. The more you add the more you put into the mix that can date. Modernism for example is an arrangement of basic shapes – cubes and rectangles, often combined, but never overdone. Modernism was founded on the idea that “Less is more”, stated by one of its pioneers, architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe.
Villa Savoye, France, by Le Corbusier 1925.
Also take into account that a space must also contain objects, furniture etc. Consider the building as part of the scene, it does not need to do all the work, art, furniture etc completes the space.
4) Be careful with colour.
The popularity of colours change over time, think of the 70’s then the 80’s and I bet you can immediately imagine or remember what colours defined each of those eras. This is what we want to avoid, pinning our building down to its era. The picture below: good for a laugh but not a good way to spend your mornings.
There is an exception: black, greys and white have always been with us. Throughout time these tones have never dated, probably because they are an absence of colour. Use strong colours sparingly to make bold statements here and there, but don’t define a whole space by them as they will date.
Remember also that colour will be further introduced through soft furnishings, rugs, artworks and furniture. These are far cheaper to replace than needing to rip out tiles, basins, window frames, and having to repaint an entire house.
Danish furniture from the 50’s and 60’s is still sort after. Part of this is their lines which are simple and elegant (principle 3), but also very much their choice of material – solid timber. Timber has featured in buildings for centuries; it has proven itself as timeless. The same cannot be said of cork flooring from the 70’s. However, the key to a materials success is the way it’s used. Timber kitchens were big in the 90’s and left, but timber floors have been used for centuries, as with weatherboard cladding. Stick to the material and applications that still look good today and have done so throughout time (principle 2).
The Eames lounge chair below, still in production since 1956, and still beautiful.
One of mine. Designed 10 years ago, and I’m still happy with it.