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The Beauty and Simplicity of Modern Home Designs

The Beauty and Simplicity of Modern Home Designs
Learn about this popular style.
No home style evokes stronger emotions than modern. Some people are drawn to a style that emphasizes big windows that make the most of natural views, clean interiors that bring out natural materials, and honest details that reveal a home’s means of construction. Others decry designs that may sacrifice privacy, or even security, for the sake of daylight. They may disparage “sterile” interiors with a limited color palette or floor plans that don’t accommodate the messes that real people make.  

Architect Larry Martin of Yamaguchi Martin finds that potential clients like or dislike modern designs for very specific reasons. “One person may see a modern home as simple, uncluttered, elegant, and refined. Another may perceive that same home as sterile, cold, and standoffish. When someone is building or selecting a home for themselves, they should pursue a home that appeals to their sense of beauty, practicality, and hominess.”  

Modern homes, and modern home plans, appeal to a growing cohort of American households who would rather build a home that looks to the future than recreate the past. The trend is amply evident in the housing tracts, where builders increasingly roll out modern homes with geometric massing, flat roofs, and horizontal orientations, homes they never would have considered building ten years ago. The homes appeal to buyers, young and old, looking for something different. But it’s also clear in the sale of house plans.  

The white walls preferred in modern home design don’t have to create a sterile environment, says Christopher Burger, who likes white walls because they bring out the natural grain of floors, counters, and trim. “I think a lot of the ‘cold’ and ‘sterile’ qualities that people associate with modern architecture has to do with the simple shade of white that is selected and what that white is set against. Too much blue in your white, when set next to concrete, can be very off-putting, while adding a little more of a yellowish-grey can transform the feeling into something different.”

Another misconception is that modern home designs sacrifice storage for the sake of “clean” design. Storage often abounds in modern home designs. But you have to look for it -- It’s often hidden in walls, halls, and niches, rather than called out as in traditional designs. You may get all sorts of exciting storage for toys, televisions, and appliances. The idea is to create a more monolithic and soothing interior, one that isn’t cluttered with furniture, one that emphasizes clear views of nature. Closet space abounds in this compact, 1340-square foot plan by Burger (plan 914-5). Coat closets by the front and side door, two walk-in closets in the master. 

Big picture windows not only provide great views of trees but take advantage of the sun to heat the home. The strategy may include tile floors that soak up heat and radiate it into living spaces during the night. Martin’s designs included super-insulated building envelopes that reduce the need to condition space. Carefully calibrated overhangs reduce the exposure to the sun when it’s high in the sky during the summer. The sustainable approach to design pays utility dividends down the road.  

Most modern plans reserve big glass expanses for public rooms in the back of the house. Though the backyard is typically more private than the front yard, it may still make sense to work with a landscaper to put walls around the backyard to restrict access to the space. Another thing to consider – though this is true when buying nearly any house plan – is the views through windows in the front and to the side. Most modern architects take pains to preserve the privacy of these views. But you may have special lot considerations that call for custom adaptations. This 1715-square-foot plan by Yamaguchi Martin (plan 933-7) emphasizes a big open expense in back, with limited fenestration – besides kitchen windows -- on the front.

To get a modern home design in the past often required building a custom home with custom materials. That’s another big change in recent years. Virtually all manufacturers have off-the-shelf products that work with modern home designs. It’s never been easier and less expensive to source everything from translucent garage doors, to horizontal fireplaces, to metal stair risers. Trades are getting more accustomed to doing the smooth finishes and seamless joints dictated by this style.  

Burger works overtime to design homes that will be cost-efficient to build. His homes have a minimalist bearing. As he adds features, he continually re-sketches designs to create efficiencies. He accommodates the 4 x 8 dimension of plywood, drywall, and other sheet goods so that they don’t have to be cut on site, making the home less expensive to build. The practice can also result in a house with pleasing geometric proportions, like this 1,150-square-foot Burger design (plan 914-1).

If you're building your home on an infill lot in a neighborhood dominated by traditional homes, there are some things you can do to make a modern home blend in. The first is to pick up on the massing and materials used in the neighborhood. Your home could be the same size as others on the block. You could use the same lap or stucco siding that’s prevalent in the neighborhood. Here’s a good example (plan 933-9) of a modern home design that would compliment a neighborhood of traditional homes thanks to its familiar form – a two-story bay window – and materials – horizontal lap siding and a metal roof.

Martin prefers to go with the flow rather than shoehorn clients into a specific style of design. “As an architect, I don’t try to persuade people that any style is more right than another.  Every style has equal footing to us. As an architect, I try to see the vision that each person has and hopefully find a way to create a home for them that fulfills their belief of what they want to have in a home, regardless of style.”

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