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book review: Creating the Inspired House

book-iconA home is more than the sum of its parts - the combination of space for living and working, carefully designed for or altered to fit its occupants, furnishings and other contents specific to the lifestyle of its owners: these all add up to something more, something less easily defined, which John Connell has tried to quantify in Creating the Inspired House.


Connell's approach - a presentation of twenty-one case studies of planning, building, arranging, furnishing and living - explicates his belief that, as David Sellers writes, "Corbusier (was) wrong, the house is not a machine for living, it is an expression of living itself." Nothing less than a manual for logical and humanistic planning and arranging of living spaces, the book provides extensive before-and-after floorplans and photographs of each profiled home, alongside succinct and simple explanations of the homeowners motivations, problems the architects and designers faced and the solutions they came up with, and general summaries of the production of each property.

The book is a fantastic resource for anyone planning their own homespace, but much more than that, it speaks to those of us trying to integrate the personal with an already extant structure. Connell's examples are all success stories - in each one of these twenty-one examples, a building and its owners life have been united together into a living breathing home, a space that is the perfect complement to its owners way of living and a way of living that fits perfectly within its supporting structure.

These homes are containers and also integral parts of what they contain. While Connell never oversimplifies the work necessary to build or modify - nor does he minimize the very real self-analysis and self-interrogation necessary for such a project to be truly fruitful - he also presents this process as something joyful, exciting and interesting, and his own very thorough investigations of each project are tremendously invigorating. It is almost impossible to sit down and read this book through without feeling the need to integrate so many of its lessons into your own home - that is certainly the effect the book had on me.

The book is full of advice that is especially useful for owners of Craftsman homes, as Connell puts quite a bit of attention into investigating ways to maintain the historic character of a home and the many idiosyncracies of an historic structure into a space adapted for more modern lifestyles and different types family structures. Many of his examples are historic homes, some beautifully and faithfully decorated Craftsmans (such as Lynn and Ted Hopkins beautifully-restored Massachusetts Cape bungalow), and some of the newly-built "from scratch" projects incorporate a wide variety of Craftsman styles and themes (such as Peter and Susan Manning's Bainbridge Island "ultimate cabin").

Connell is as aware as you and I of the humanistic qualities that the A&C movement imparted to American architecture and design, and I am pleased that he devotes such a large portion of the book to the retasking of beautiful old homes - homes that don't have to be destroyed or even significantly altered to maintain or even enunciate the architect's original vision.

John Connell's Creating the Inspired House