Thursday, February 11, 2010

Back to Basics - Commentary on Traditional Building and Older Neighborhoods

Through one of the email groups we belong to, we received an email containing Peter Miller’s commentary from a recent Builder Show in Las Vegas.  Peter Miller is the President of Restore Media LLC and publisher of Period Homes Magazine.

Photo Credit:

We were enlightened by some of the comments he made of traditional building, hinting at going back to time-honored building styles of the early 1900’s.  For us “traditional builders,” we’ve carved a niche by specializing in old house renovations, working primarily in historic neighborhoods.  If you look past the charm and beauty of these traditional (vintage) homes, what you actually get is a closer community – neighbors who actually sit on their porches and talk to you as you walk by; a livable house that is “used” - no more extraneous space such as game rooms, loft spaces, etc. that may go for months without being visited; and true craftsmanship – afterall, they have withstood the test of time.   For us, it is more than the love of this type of building, but a contribution on our part to preserve what remains of these types of communities.

So, thank you Peter Miller for this commentary.  It’s refreshing to hear like-minded people out there who understand and support the needs of traditional building professionals like us.


…there were a few seminars about building smaller more efficient houses, with local materials, well sited to the climate with design features that save energy, like over hanging eves, operable windows and front porches…Builder magazine, the official magazine of the NAHB featured it's annual "Concept House," which, for the first time in recent memory is a traditional building. The Concept House has the right proportions, a steep gable roof, shutters and clapboard, porches and an interior plan where the rooms actually get used. It was designed by Marianne Cusato, an architect who is frequently published in our own PERIOD HOMES. The "Concept House" with a few modern modifications, is the same house built 100 years ago in small towns and close in suburbs across America. It is back to the future.
Boomers, echo boomers and immigrants comprise most of the home buying market. While each group has different priorities, these consumer demands are consistent across the board: they want smaller, urban, energy efficient homes, well appointed, within walking distance to work, schools, shops and restaurants. They want houses in close-in neighborhoods. And while they crave new technologies, especially work at home connectivity, they prefer houses "like the one their grandmother lived in."

My conclusions about the news, trends and ideas from this year's International Builder Show are these: the "reset button" is on. We are all trying to figure out what to do next amidst the conflicting, often contradictory advice we get from the experts. We start a new decade as uncertain as the last. We are afraid because we do not know what's next or what to do about it.

Here is what is certain: our past. For 300 hundred years we built houses and neighborhoods which served our needs, not our fantasies. Cities worked. Close in suburbs worked. Sidewalks connected us, as did public squares, small town post offices, neighborhood schools and our work places nearby.

Photo Credit: Downtown Fullerton

These places stand now, durable, organically efficient and proud. They stand in places where people want to be. They bring us together and represent certainty in uncertain times. These places need ongoing restoration and renovation as well as adaptive use and new, contextual infill. This presents opportunities for traditional building professionals.

After all the uncertainty and confusion I felt in Las Vegas, I am glad to be home in historic Georgetown.


Peter H Miller
Restore Media, LLC
202-339-0744, xt104

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