On the fringe
Some time back I promised that I would do a post just on concrete screens. This isn’t that post, although that’s what I thought I would be doing today. I chose a neighborhood on the fringes of the Duck Pond, where I thought that there would be many concrete screens, but where there really weren’t any. Still, being on the edge of the Duck Pond, there were many nice things to see. I think this fruit is loquat, but I’m not entirely sure. It’s a beautiful tree that looks almost like a magnolia at first glance, but with fruit hanging all over it right now. The leaves are not really very much like a magnolia’s leaves when you look closer; they are nowhere near as glossy and have a sawtooth edge.
One of the things I love on the edge of historic neighborhoods are that the houses are still likely to be old, made from authentic materials, but they are not as likely to be flawless. Somehow we have come to equate beauty with flawless, pristine conditions, rather than seeing that age can bring out more beauty in objects than that brand-new gloss does. This house is quite beautiful as it is, with its patina of age. The gap above the upper window concerns me, but not because it is an imperfection, only because it is likely to let water intrude and destroy this wonderful little house.
Older neighborhoods are also less likely to have homeowners associations, and unlike the homes in the actual historic district, the ones on the fringe may not have to follow the rules about painting and the like. That means that these houses are likely to be highly personalized, decorated only for the pleasure of the owner, which many believe is a recipe for disaster, but usually just adds to the character of the neighborhood.
The bold colors of this house on the right sing out from the surrounding greenery. While the colors may seem outlandish to or even unreal to someone in the north, they are taken directly from nature. The magenta echoes the colors of the showy azaleas that appear here and there throughout the neighborhood, while the blue is as close to the color of the January sky as any paint I have ever seen. In so many neighborhoods, this would not be allowed, but it looks amazing in here.
So often, front stoops and porches on houses look as if they have been added on, with no real connection to the house. They may be too shallow, or the roof just a thin membrane, and do little to announce that this is the entrance. The beautiful portico of the house depicted below, is deep enough to shelter from rain and sun and announces that this is the entrance to the home. It is fully integrated into the house, a necessary part of the architecture, yet it is different from the rest of the facade. Look at the attention even to the ceiling, where the wood siding continues along the arch. The owner had the sensibility to add the climbing rose and ivy along the curve, further enhancing the charm of the little house.
One of the things I love about Florida residential architecture from the mid- to late-20th century is that so much of it is simple, but not quite what you expect. The concrete block ranch homes are typical of this way of thinking. No curves that make it hard to fit furniture, just moments that suggest something special on the most ordinary of houses, like the little extra lift on the roof that creates layers while suggesting added height to a room inside. The block itself, a wonderful material for preventing thermal gain and resisting wind, is usually just painted on these homes. Stucco is sometimes used, but not siding or veneers that attempt to make it look like something it is not. Many of these homes are quite small, and are generally found in the poorer neighborhoods. I would say that it is a shame that they are not more appreciated, but the people who need the energy efficiency most are the ones who live there now.
We can thank Frank Lloyd Wright for both the ranch home and the carport, two architectural innovations that have unfortunately taken on rather negative connotations. Ranch homes were built in many cities in massive housing booms after World War II, and have become almost a cliche. But as seen above, they really do not need to be the standard brick and white shutter homes they so often are. The carport has come to be an added on aluminum roof for a car, uninspired and seldom integrated into the architecture, but again that does not need to be. Many carports can be found in Florida neighborhoods that have much more to offer than just a place to store a car. This one echoes the home’s construction and materiality, offering a space that provides shelter even for those who want to use the front door. Without the carport, the house itself would be squat and uninspired.
There may not have been any concrete screens in this neighborhood to show you, but that does not mean there were no screening devices. Many plantings can provide screens that ensure a measure of privacy in this neighborhood of small yards. In this case, the plantings are so thick that the house can be viewed only from directly in front, creating a path that can make even a very ordinary little house look like something from a fairy tale.