As regular readers might have guessed, I'm not a big fan of new homes. I feel uncomfortable in new buildings of all types - offices, stores, and especially houses. Growing up in Berkeley in the 1970s and 1980s, I never even guessed that such things as sprawling suburban development even existed - I had very little contact with the kinds of people who lived in such places. To me, then and now, there was something stifling and unnatural about living in a space that had not evolved, and while certainly the idea of building my own home some day has its attraction, I cannot honestly say that I would feel comfortable in a place without its own history.
Thus, it is with conflicted feelings that I read an email telling me about Atlanta's Hawthorn Park development. Part of that city's Kirkwood neighborhood (which itself was originally established in 1899), Hawhtorn Park is a 2003 development where the home plans are based on traditional (but slightly larger) Craftsman plans. Certainly this is not new; developers want to make money, and ever since the Craftsman revival of the early '90s homebuilders have been offering Craftsman plans and even a few large(er)-scale developments like this have been built. All of the homes in the Hawthorn Park development sold out quite quickly after the initial offer in 2003, and many of them seem to be complete and lived-in at the present time. read on...
By all reports, the homes at Hawthorn Park are especially well built. Available in 11 plans and styles, they run the gamut from strict shingle Craftsman bungalows to slightly more Queene Anne inspired designs and even a more formal western Stick model. Exteriors are a combination of brick, lapp siding and shingle (painted and stained), and the furnished model home, which uses their Gramercy plan (with the usual upgrades that new home developers expect all buyers to be tempted to buy) shows off all three exterior materials.
So what exactly is my problem? I'm not really sure; certainly these are pretty homes, on a pretty tree-shaded street, in a pleasant historical neighborhood. They seem well built, in some cases using materials that are as good – and maybe even better – than what they'd be made of if built 90 years ago. Aesthetically, they may be indistinguishable – minus the wear and tear and the patina on the floors and banisters – of a immaculately-maintained bungalow built back in the day.
Many of you grew up in old homes, homes that other generations of folks had been born in, grew up in, died in. Didn't knowing that history was there make the experience seem safer, more comfortable and richer for you? Would the attraction of starting from scratch really be enough to make you want to live in a new house?
Or is it something else entirely? Maybe there is something weird and fake about modern homes being built in another era's aesthetic. Can a modern house use these classic floorplans and still be Craftsman? Maybe this type of home needs more than just a look – maybe it needs a way of being built, materials, etc. that were only available for a short period of time at the beginning of this past century.
I don't have any easy answers why I am unsettled by this type of development or the idea of living in new houses in general. I understand, rationally, the need for new housing – obviously. My wife works for a planning agency and I live in one of the fastest-growing parts of California. There's a very real need for well-made housing for people of all income levels, built along public transportation corridors and in infill developments in city centers. I realize all of this, but I don't know if I myself could ever live in such a place.