I don't know how many people have gotten tired about hearing about the crisis in the housing market, but I certainly have. The destruction of personal wealth, the larger recession, and the overall joblessness of the entire country have all been attributed to the burst of the great housing bubble. Although I could talk about the 'bubble' for days, I will try to keep my opinions down to a minimum and just offer these two words in response to all the doomsday prognosticators: Design Matters.
Now while this may be apparent to some, it is clearly not a phrase that most people have adopted. The bulk of residential development and construction in this country is done by people who have limited Architectural or Design experience and replicate typical 'models' driven by the short list of consumer's 'wants'. This has led to many developments of large homes (often called McMansions) where quantity clearly trumps quality. If you don't believe me, you can go find such developments and see that the material on the front of the house is usually abandoned for the other three sides. You can see the use of lesser quality materials without even going inside; windows with false mullions (I love the look of a good snap on plastic mullion) vinyl siding, asphalt shingle roofing, and in some cases, fake stone veneer. Although these houses are often in the 'Colonial' style, I'm sure the Colonists would laugh at our abuse of the term. In a recent issue of Dwell Magazine, the editor referred to this type of construction as 'historical fiction' (brilliant).
Without going in to further detail, I can tell you that it was no surprise to me that these types of homes have recently lost a good portion of their value. I want to talk a little bit about this, as it touches many areas that affect most people's lives. These areas include happiness, spirituality, and wealth.
First, let's talk about happiness. Modern Homes that have been Designed, provide for a wealth of activities and use the house as a functional tool to assist you in your life. Remember that old image of the ironing board that folds down from the wall and goes away when you are done with it? That was easy and out of the way. I have never seen a McMansion with a built in ironing board. I think this is because the builder wants to give the illusion that the Masters of the house don't have to do any work in their castle. Well, I don't know who's going to clean that huge window in the two story entry foyer, but I can assure you it's not going to be the builder. In contrast, Modern Homes are typically built to a human scale and Designed to be easier to maintain. Compact floor plans that have clear circulation patterns and better materials are much easier to clean and use than their Merchant Builder counterparts. There is a whole movement about this called 'The Not So Big House', started by an Architect named Sara Susanka. There is also a great book from the fifties called "The Guide to Easier Living" by Russell and Mary Wright. I don't know about you, but if I could Design myself a house that would reduce housework and provide a richer living experience, it would certainly make me happier.
The next area I want to touch on is Spirituality. Without getting into a religious discussion, let's just say that Spirituality is however you connect with the forces of Nature or the Universe (whatever you consider them to be). Personally, I feel very strongly that there is a grand design to our environment and I want to live in a place that connects me to it. I think a house should respect and reflect its site, take advantage of natural light and wind, and be constructed in a way that does not disrespect the earth. Having a home like this will not only make you feel better about being in it, but it will also reduce your costs to heat, cool, and illuminate said dwelling. Which leads us to our final topic: Wealth.
Nothing makes me madder than watching economists talk about the housing bubble as though it were the product of economic forces. Wrong! The housing bubble is the product of bad housing that people overpaid for. Florence Knoll said that "Good Design is Good Business". I think Apple would agree with statement all day long. So here's the deal: if you want your house to be worth more money or if you want to start a company that is successful: Invest in Design. Whether that means bringing in an Architect or Designer to improve your space or hiring a Graphic Designer to make you a great web site and Identity system, the rules are the same: Design Matters. Still not convinced? In my next post, I will show you a number of examples of how smart companies use Design to build great products and HUGE fortunes.