You can get sweet tea at McDonald’s and a mint julep with your Kentucky Derby party, though your hat might need to have a fleece lining. And more than a few of you have adopted “y’all” over “you guys.” Is the South destined to rise and seduce the rest of the country to our charms?
I posed that question to Aaron Daily, partner at architecture firm Historical Concepts and co-author of “Coming Home: The Southern Vernacular House,” who is coming to Ketchum’s Chapter One Bookstore on Thursday, Dec. 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. to discuss the sultry architecture of the South and its influence.
“Well, each region has its own identity and I think we get a sense of pride from sharing that with others,” he said. “But, I don’t think we’d be true to ourselves as a firm if we tried to put a house that belongs in the South smack dab in the middle of Idaho. The West has its own regional vernacular with great examples of indigenous and historic architecture. If we seduce the rest of the country with anything, we’d just like it to be our design sensibilities and our passion for re-creating authentic architecture in any given setting.”
The gorgeous coffee table book reminded me of the annual biblical-proportioned devouring of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book with its wish list of luxury gifts with the Texas-size price tags. The book is an indulgent romp through the deep historic traditions in architecture, and the clients behind them are said to be in pursuit of relaxed family living.
While some of the homes are romantically opulent, Daily explained, “First and foremost, our clients appreciate authenticity and detail, and value quality over quantity. Each client’s vision of home is different, as are their backgrounds and life experiences, yet the common thread is that they share our passion for historic and traditional architecture.”
Today’s mobile world and the rootless generations that have occurred as a result are now reversing themselves, looking for a home base and a legacy. A factor, that “actually is very relevant to our design philosophy,” Daily said.
“Few of us anymore have the ‘old family home,’ but we do associate a sense of comfort and security with a house that has been loved and cherished for generations. While it’s often unspoken, I think it’s that feeling that many of our clients are trying to re-create, not only for themselves but for their children and grandchildren.”
Using traditional design based on historic precedent, Daily said, “it’s possible to create a sense of age and permanence in a new home. And, we often take that further with a technique we call generational architecture. We often plant evidence of a supposed past by stepping back a few generations and considering how a home would have evolved into its current state.”
Daily illustrates the point.
“For example, we like to suggest that the present day dining room was formed by filling in a porch or that the mudroom occupies the space formed when an outbuilding that once served as a kitchen was connected to a main house. By designing a sense of time into our homes, the illusion is created that this is a residence that has been added onto and handed down through the years.”
The firm’s philosophy is reiterated throughout the book, with one of the guiding principles being that the land dictates the design. Still, not every place can be as verdant as the south. But Daily said the firm still relies on the existing landscape to help shape the vision.
“Sure, century-old oaks dripping with Spanish moss create a very dramatic and romantic image, but a site doesn’t need green trees and lush plants to be beautiful. No matter where we’re working, the first order of business is to really understand the site—its features, its challenges, its solar orientation, its topography—because the site really influences the design.
“Because we’re focused on creating an authentic sense of place, we’re very sensitive to using indigenous materials, from native plants to locally sourced hardscape materials.”
Traditional and vernacular architecture is inherently sustainable, he said.
“We use a lot of reclaimed floors in our homes. And, we always recommend energy-saving systems, like tankless water heaters, efficient insulation and high-efficiency mechanical and electrical fixtures.”
Daily said his firm isn’t seeking to convert the West into the South, but to show how the integration of styles can result in homes with a lasting style and enduring legacy.
“There’s something about the South that is so compelling. But if you dissect Southern vernacular architecture, it’s simply classical and traditional architecture that has evolved in a way that meets the demands of climate and lifestyle. So in that sense, the roots of Southern architecture transcend region.
“I think the key, though, is that many people are drawn to Southern architecture because of the familiarity and sense of warmth that it conveys. That feeling is what so many of our clients really want to capture. By incorporating local traditions, and the character that historic precedent provides, we’re able to create a sense of place and authenticity no matter where we’re working, and that makes residents and visitors alike feel as if they are in fact ‘coming home.’”