Mies van der Rohe said, ‘Less Is More’. Coco Chanel said, “Elegance is Refusal”. Alexander Pope said, “Consult the Genius of the Place”. Here in Maine, we say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. They all add up to essentially the same concept, and they’re all good advice. You see where I’m going with this?
I clipped this photo from a Sotheby’s brochure a few years back. I don’t remember where it is, exactly, somewhere in Massachusetts. I saved it, because I thought it that the house was maintained with perfect pitch. The color scheme is clean and simple….a nice soft yellow that suits the architecture and the New England light, with the dark shutters and white trim. No replacement windows, no ill fitting, artificial looking plastic shutters standing in for the real thing, no hideous color scheme off the Benjamin Moore exterior charts, which should all be gathered up and burned.
We interrupt this blog for a public service announcement: If you own one of these fine old houses, do not, repeat, DO NOT use those silly, scale destroying, inoperable plastic shutters. I don’t care how much peer pressure the neighbors put on you to have shutters. If you don’t want the nuisance of repairing real shutters, fine. Just don’t have shutters. The damned things look worse than false eyelashes and pasties on Whistler’s Mother. The old houses have fine enough proportions and moldings that they will look very well with nothing at all, and far better than with fake shutters that are inevitably ill proportioned and placed incorrectly and just make the house look artificial, tacky, and wrong.. Have I made myself clear, class? Now back to our scheduled program.
The landscaping is fine here, too. No attempts at anything cute, or ‘colonial’, also known as Phonie Colonie. It follows the good New England tradition of simple planting, no pyramids of yew with variegated foliage euonymous at the foundation—-the lilacs and low old fashioned seasonal plants allow the strong lines of the house to meet the ground in an elegant fashion. If you want a lovely little formal garden, or flower borders, put them on an axis with a window or doorway, and don’t jam them up against the front of the house.
And, if you need to add more room, don’t feel that you need to order every arched window in the Marvin Catalog. You don’t want your addition to be the tail that wags the dog. If it’s Versailles or a McMansion you want, buy Versailles or a McMansion. Leave these poor old houses alone, to continue to grace the countryside.
This concludes our first seminar in how not to mistreat a fine old building. If you are one of those brilliantly talented people who can break these rules and make something spectacular and charming, more power to you. Most of us can’t, and shouldn’t.