America by Design
In our ongoing hunt for chic hotels and modern vacation rentals in the USA, we’ve found that by observing how architecture changes from region to region it’s possible to learn something about the history, climate, and even the culture of the area. From a stone mill in the Hudson Valley to a mid-century masterpiece in the heart of Los Angeles, it’s fascinating to see how materials and techniques are vary based on the needs of the residents and the demands of the environment. Follow us as we journey from sea to shining sea, checking out the different ways design adapts to the diverse landscapes of our country. Happy 4th of July everyone!
This historic rental in the Hudson River Valley was a functioning mill in the late 18th century and the owner has kept many of the original features in place, such as the original turbine in the living room. Taking a closer look at the materials used, we see that the choice of stone for the exterior walls and the large shutters on every window speaks volumes about the weather in the area. The further west we go, we’ll see less brick and stone, and much more glass and wood.
Frank Lloyd Wright is rightly hailed as one of the pre-eminent 20th century architects and Ann Arbor’s Palmer House is a great example of his genius. The brick is practical for the harsh Michigan weather (something Wright would’ve understood instinctively as a native midwesterner), but it also complements the surrounding environment, blending in with the surrounding red Cypress trees. The 90 degree angles and cantilevered overhang are architectural flourishes that would become part of Wright’s signature aesthetic throughout his career.
Design changes dramatically as we move into the southwest United States, an area which boasts a very specific and oft-imitated aesthetic, reflected here in this traditional adobe guest house in Taos, New Mexico. But there’s a reason homes in this area look this way. Adobe–a catchall name for a shelter built out of sun-dried earth–was favored by the local Native Americans because of its cooling quality during the day and ability to retain and disseminate heat in the evening. We also find adobes in West Asia, Africa, South America, and other areas that experience extremes in climate. The area’s colonial history also means that Spanish architecture is also a strong influence.
The Pacific Northwest may be socked in by rain and fog for the majority of the year, but that hasn’t stopped creative individuals from finding ways to bring warmth into their homes. Michelle de la Vega, pictured here at Artisan Oasis, turned a typical house and garage in an industrial area of Seattle into a cozy mini house and light-filled guest cottage with unique touches, like fixtures salvaged from nearby shipyards; a nod to Seattle’s history as an important port.
California is a special place for design lovers. The diverse geography and even more diverse history means that there really is no such thing as “typical” Californian design, even in similar environments. In Yosemite we see an example of the classic A-Frame, a traditional design that gained popularity in the mid-20th century and has been experiencing a revival as of late. It’s easy to see why: the steep roof and spacious interior make it practical for the High Sierras’ snowfall but chic enough for the stylish traveler.
Three Rivers is located at the base of the Seqouia National Forest, at the spot where the Kaweah River splits into three directions, about 2.5 hours south of Yosemite. Kaweah Falls actually incorporates water into its design by turning the home’s kitchen into a bridge over the flowing river. If you contrast the building materials used here to the ones used in New York, you’ll see that the milder climate of California (not to mention the earthquakes) makes stone a much less popular choice than wood.
Designing for the desert comes with its own challenges. Adobe doesn’t work in California as the material isn’t earthquake proof, so homesteaders have instead gone for flat-roofed homes with lots of overhanging areas for shade in the summer and protection from snowfall in the winter.
Finally we arrive at our home turf: Southern California! The consistently mild climate means that architects are free to integrate outside space into their designs without worrying about shutting the home up for the winter (because there isn’t one). In Topanga Canyon that might mean mid-century home that completely opens up to a park-like back garden surrounded by mountains.
In Laurel Canyon, architect RM Schindler designed a home that would offer perfectly framed views of Los Angeles from every room. The home flows seamlessly from the minimalist interiors to a generous outdoor space that includes a large swimming pool.
But who needs a pool when the beach is so close by? Let’s end our voyage at a particularly cool one: Venice Beach. As we’ve discussed, exterior spaces are just as important as interiors in Southern California. In hip Venice, you’d be hard-pressed to find a patio that isn’t furnished with a pair of sun chairs and a cool outdoor fireplace (but it might be difficult finding one as chic as this!)
Now that we’ve completed our cross-country journey, let’s summarize: we’ve seen a traditional stone mill in New York, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mid-western modernism, an example of traditional Southwestern architecture, and the many ways in which architects in California have used the mild weather and “anything goes” ethos to create a superb and varied collection of rentals. Book any of these properties via Boutique-Homes.com and see for yourself.