This Makes Me Feel Like an Archeologist


This is going to go against everything I (think) I believe in but lately I’m finding the concept of ordering a house design from a catalog pretty cool. I’m not saying ‘Do it’. I’m just saying it’s interesting.

It all started this morning when my daughter asked me what my house looked like when I was growing up. I started drawing the floor plan for her (which is how we communicate in our house, by drawing floor plans) when I realized how logical the house was planned. Everything fit together like a tidy little puzzle.  I’m pretty certain my parents ordered these plans from a book. My grandfather was a builder and he could knock these out pretty fast back in the 60s and 70s. I’m guessing he built it. I should ask.

We have had the opportunity to remodel two catalog/kit houses. Right now, we are working on a remodel (down to the bones with some major restructuring) in Los Feliz Estates. This is a planned community that in the 1960's advertised various styles (Traditional, ‘Timeless’....whuuuut?, Oriental, Ranch, and Modern) to potential buyers to fill up the tract. And indeed, today, when you are driving around there, you see all of these styles. Grecian statues with cypress next to eastern influenced rock gardens. Our particular project must have been sort of a re-worked Modern when comparing it to the online historical data.  This area is changing as my clients can attest. The sweeping views from downtown to the ocean make it worth it and Griffith Park is walking distance. I mean, who gets to walk in LA? It’s pretty special.

The second one I'm thinking about was a few years ago. We did a major overhaul to a three story kit house  in Topanga Canyon. The home had been ordered by the previous owner from Lindal Homes. Lindal is still in business and thriving today. They have new designs and seem to be good quality. Because this particular home was in a very high fire zone, we were required to envelope the entire structure and make it fireproof. So now, it is a house inside a house. Very odd but it works. And it’s much safer considering its location. And its waaaaay more modern looking and functional. 

My favorite part of being in the architecture business is I get to see a good amount of demolition. Demolition is probably my favorite phase of construction because you finally get to clear out all the structural clutter and get a feel for the newly opened space that you had envisioned. The feeling is positive.  Anyway, one of the neatest things about demo is everything you find underneath the plaster or drywall. We regularly uncover old notes or drawings on the framing, or newspapers dated from the time in which the building was originally built (sometimes used as in-a-pinch insulation). Reading the old advertisements or articles makes you stop your busy day and sit down among the debris and feel like an archeologist for a blip of time.

Looking through the plans in the Sears Modern Home Catalog gives me a similar feeling.

Despite all this talk, I think it’s most important that your building responds to its immediate environment. And I believe we don’t have much of a responsibility to recreate the past in any way through architecture. But as a floor plan nut, it has been fun to go back and look at pages and pages of floor plans. For me, its as satisfying as reading poetry.