Recently someone was looking at pictures of a home I had designed, and they commented that it was a "fine southern home". I hear that often, and I take it as a compliment. But I'm not sure that I initially set out to design southern homes - it's really a by-product of being southern and being an architect. I guess it just seeped into my bloodstream and flows out of me into the home plans I draw.
So here's the question that I'd like to explore with you:
What is it that makes a home "southern"?
I think there are several characteristics, and I know the question will take more than a single post to answer. Here is my first thought:
To understand the southern home, you have to understand the southern climate - hot and humid! It occasionally gets cold here, but it doesn't last long. And then we're back to hot and humid. A "fine southern home" responds to this climate by providing shade and ventilation. This was especially true for homes built before Air Conditioning - and these are the southern homes I admire! Think about it:
- That wide front porch gives us a shady place to sit and catch whatever breeze there is. And a ceiling fan on it gives us a breeze when there isn't one.
- Tall ceilings let the heat rise - away from the floor where we are.
- Big double-hung windows allow the breeze to flow through the house, taking the heat and humidity out when it goes. And if you don't think that ‘double-hung' is important, try this. Next time you want to cool a room without AC, drop the top sash rather than raising the bottom. You'll be amazed how much faster the room cools, and how much cooler it gets!
- High ceilings and big windows work together to bring natural light deep into the interior, reducing the need for artificial light (which produces more heat than light).
But there's more to it than these simple climatic responses. A southern home reflects a lifestyle that is relaxed. They use materials that are available locally...sometimes even from the very site they were built on. And they are always elegant - conveying a simple, graceful attitude about life itself.
These are the ideas that I'd like to explore. I will be posting as thoughts come to me - and I'd like to hear what you have to say on this topic. I will also post pictures of homes that embody "southern" - both my own designs and other homes that capture the spirit. The term "Southern Home" has a personal meaning to everyone who uses it, and I want to discuss your ideas as well as mine.