Contemporary and Modern Architectural Home Designs
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A Contemporary house plan should match the lifestyle and vision of its owner. Where traditional styles may be very common and the owner wishes to stand out, forge a new direction and set the stage for a modern psychology then a different approach should be taken. Sometimes the site or context dictates this, or simply that an avant garde solution is most appropriate. In this case, precedent should be discarded and new forms, new geometries and living spaces investigated. There is much satisfaction in arriving at a solution for the moment, and one that will be timeless.
(See essay at page bottom page)
Contemporary Chic @ 6,800 SF above
Florida Transitional Contemporary above, 8,000 SF
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Spanish Mediterranean Contemporary (above)
Throughout Italy and France, the Tuscan and Provencal styled home has enchanted every visitor and became the prototype design to emulate. For centuries the simple house was the standard form in these regions.
Imagine the medieval farmhouse, originally one story, which had to shelter family, livestock, and store grain/supplies/tools, etc. As the farm and owner’s family grew, two options were available. Either to build additional structures to accommodate needs and/or build a second floor over the first. These two avenues can be seen in the many examples dotting the countryside in Europe.
When the owner elected to build above, the first choice was to install a ladder or small staircase from inside. If animals remained inside the first floor, eventually an exterior staircase was built in order to avoid the obvious problems and the owner’s living quarters were fashioned above. The rationale in part was that heat generated below in winters would rise and supply some of the warmth. The first floor fireplace flu was built upon and extended through the second floor.
Now these living quarters became the ‘piano nobile’—an Italian term that literally means the noble level, or owner’s suites. Over centuries, the compact two-story form gained the reputation of simple construction and energy/materials conservation. The same derivative in colonial America is obvious. When the decision came by those with means to build anew or for the first time, this geometrical form was one of two options.
During the Renaissance, symmetry (as in the human body) was deemed a guiding design principle. While the rustic farms had single stairways usually off center, the larger new villas being built by wealthy merchants and nobility in the south of Europe incorporated central stairways or double flights on the outside to offer a direct route to the piano nobile.
When nobility and royalty erected palaces and chateau, this same model was followed in countless examples. If you recall Versailles, the king’s chambers and formal suites are on the second level, not the first. The first floor contained rooms for offices, livery, stores, guest suites and reception rooms. The wonderful Linderhof in Bavaria is organized exactly in this manner. In Venice, the palazzi on the canals have similar space layouts. In fact, this historic idea was incorporated in several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs and was the model for Corbusier’s ‘Villa Savoye’ in the 1930’s.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s reasoning to ‘go up’ was simply to avoid the noise and distraction of street activity in a bustling age of horse carriages, noisy new cars, and constant pedestrian traffic. He was so inspired by this tree top view to the outside world that he created his famous leaded glass based on natural forms. Corbusier wanted to improve the view of the owners on a second living floor and third level observation terrace. He also separated the car and utilities (machines) from the living quarters.
THE POST MODERN HOME
The Decon style design incorporates a very contemporary architecture that accommodates a family of four (by the same principles as the traditional design pictured here). Rectangular forms intersect angles and curves for an exciting exterior and interior design. Parapet walls on the front and back can screen solar collectors set in rectangular grids. Low VOC and other 'green' components may be specified.
This is an open plan design with single Living and Dining rooms with a large Kitchen communicating directly into these spaces on the second level. Master and secondary bedroom is zoned apart from each other. Although located on the second floor this living arrangement offers more privacy from the street and better views. Vaulted ceilings in all second floors are more interesting and possible whereas impossible to achieve on a ground floor with rooms above.
The large office/work area below (in both plans) allows direct access from ground floor to keep business matters or hobby noise away from family. Notice the large walk in closets. These are both intelligent home designs with great flexibility. Two families can practically live here, or elder parents, etc. Expansive feel with space in the right places. Office on ground floor with separate entry. Dramatic spatial features with contemporary curves, with much natural light and views.
FUNCTIONALITY for MULTI-GENERATIONAL LIVING
Zoned design to offer a maximum of flexible living arrangements. A few possibilities are as follows:
Young Family: Can leave entire ground floor unfinished (new construction) including elevator, and live perfectly on second floor. Dining area of French Country plan can be extended into bedroom in later years to open into a Ballroom.
Intermediate Aged Family: Teens can move downstairs with their own Den. Washer/Dryer and small Kitchen/eating area allows maximum privacy. Parents above also have maximum privacy.
Mixed Family: Two different family groups or individuals can share space. Garages on both sides of ground floor in French Country plan can be used independently of each other. Independent entries are available on both levels.
Mature Family with Elderly/Sick: For baby boomers, semi-retired with aging parents- easy to care for loved ones on main floor with own living and kitchen facility. Elevator can be activated to bring upstairs for dining or visitation, etc. Private and independent as necessary.
Office and Living: This model is similar to medieval European examples in Germany, France, England, Netherlands, etc. Living quarters above work area. Can bring clients into building below without affecting owner’s quarters above. Extra bedrooms become offices, etc. as zoning permits.
So, we have not really reinvented the house -- John Henry Architect has reintroduced and packaged this superb historic notion for the contemporary homeowner. Where there were storerooms and animal stalls, now we have garages, storage area or office with private exterior entry, secondary bedrooms with baths ensuite for older children, parents, or a second family, galley kitchen/utility room, and large central den/reception hall – accessed from ground floor directly. There is an interior winding stair, and an elevator to communicate effortlessly with the upper floor.
Cutting edge Deconstruction contemporary design, - 3D view below
Southwest Contemporary, Modern style @ 12,000 SF above
Most of the work shown here is clearly Modern, with free flowing plans and sweeping profiles. Modern Movement or International Style design started as products of the machine age which resulted in boxy and rectangular statements, but through the years after the early part of this century, Modern Style has evolved to represent a self-referential exercise more the result of the idiosyncratic style of the architect. It has come to be an 'anything goes' approach, which often results in a lack of any historic allusion, and the designers are constantly pushing the limits.
Contemporary Malibu hillside design concept, above
'Solar House' at left, ' Desert Southwest Contemporary' above, 'Contemporary Mediterranean' below
Supreme Florida Deco contemporary: 'Papillon II' above
Contemporary Mountain Retreat (above)
Florida Mediterranean Contemporary Dream Home, concept above
18,000 SF Modern Contemporary Luxury Home
Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Contemporary above
Southwest Texas Contemporary: 'Big Bend' above @ 6-9,000 SF
Art Deco design above, Deco gate below
Modern Movement 'Deco Moderne' below, 850 SF.
Creating the American Luxury Home Available now on CD- rom. (click below left) This is a history of the luxury home with sections on working with an architect and builder, style, modern and traditional approaches, etc. Also, companion volume: Dream Home Design Questionnaire and Planning Kit (click right below, available as PDF file via email)
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‘Tis Use alone that sanctifies Expense, /And Splendour borrows all her rays from Sense.
Alexander Pope, 1731
The solution of modern problems must be freely developed from the premises given by modernity.
In a broad sense art always reflects the image of contemporary man, and if kitsch represents falsehood (it is often defined, and rightly so), this falsehood falls back on the person in need of it, on the person who uses this highly considerate mirror so as to be able to recognize himself in the counterfeit image it throws back of him and to confess his own lies (with a delight which is to a certain extent sincere).
We are in the midst of a liberating period of human expression, especially as evidenced in the plastic arts. The breach in the wall of tradition has allowed a torrent of individual experimentation within all branches of art, and its most permanent and visible result is in architecture. Urban and ural design has reached heights of daring and complexity never before witnessed. The bold manipulation of glass and metals, aided more so by computers, yields astounding structures of inventive/vast and ephemeral forms bound and contrasted by intricate detailing.
…an honest lining up of functions in a free, descriptive way without any worrying about their formal relationships, or the final effect. No a priori, no concluded process, and therefore no Hellenic, Roman and Renaissance approaches. Bruno Zevi
The efforts of the ers has repeatedly found expression in a part of our domestic architecture, but there is no doubt that the impact of modern form is still resisted by the majority of those building or purchasing private custom residences. There seems, in fact, a type of elitism in the minority who demands the modernist style. This attitude finds its parallel in the purchase and taste of modern art for example, as opposed to classic or more representational works of painting and sculpture.
But before we direct our attention to specific examples and of modern residential architecture, let us digress and examine the philosophical basis of this movement.
The term ‘modern’ as relates to architecture was not minted exclusively in the early part of the 20
Faced with new conceptions of building exploitation produced by midcult, the neo-Gothic villa and the sham fin-de-siècle mansion maintain a dignity which benefits their theatricality, but which today hides behind a false functionalism of low-cost production. In this way, the slums of the rich pile up in continuous development in the suburbs or in the more central areas of the city. Structurally, they are built on the same principles as the new working-class housing which in its turn strives desperately to turn its back on its proletarian origin in an effort to retain at least the dignity of the apartment if not the status of a private property…The apartment , the villa, the suburban family home, which still obstinately retains vestigial traces of the sense of private ownership and pride of possession, are straightforward examples of kitsch in relation to the object and the attitudes which it induces.
Vittorio Gregotti, Kitsch and architecture, essay in Kitsch, Gilo Dorfles
Modernism has several connotations in our time. Modern implies progressive. Modern implies change for the better. Modern can be sensational, a flirtation with established morality or ethics even. Modernism implies freedom, freedom of expression, to ‘do your own thing’. Modernism also refers to changing ethics and morality. Modernist architects practicing in the International Style in the first half of this century tended toward geometrically pure structures, echoing even the Greek austerity of temple construction. Both examples reflect an ideal state, or at least profess its existence. David Watkin finds this idealism paralleling the classicist resolve more even than recent forays of postmodernism (Morality and Architecture). Later architects responded to the zeitgeist of the times which has evolved at present in various forms bordering on chaos theory. Richard Neutra in 1954 indicated the uncertainty and impossibility of an ideal state thus: “But static peace, slipping out of the chain of ever-new events into a life of stable ‘facts’, is an ideal we cannot possibly entertain.”
As a credo, “why not?” or more precisely, “why the hell not?” – is a new direction for world architecture. Frank Gehry, 1998
Modernism, as codified in the early part of this century, is a specific reaction to traditional artistic and architectural design principles and iconography. It is based on the availability and results of technical and material progress in industry – scientific primarily – that is adapted to structural and building needs. Only in the last 20 to 40 years has real research instigated by architectural academics been applied directly to the solution of building problems. The construction industry, those manufacturers of building components, are primarily responsible for breakthroughs in commercial glazing, metals, roofing, etc. How we apply these discoveries is the root of this discussion.
It was all pseudoscience, based on the fatal misconception that architecture could be nothing but problem solving.
Robert Cambell, of modernism in the 1960’s
(Modern American Houses
Modern methods of fabricating mass housing to solve the urgent problems of human displacement– precast paneling, prefabricated modules, utilities cores, etc. – in the closing phases of the world wars, had their most direct effect soon after on commercial structures. It is the development of modern building techniques that seized the imagination of so many post-war architects and designers, especially after the commercial developer realized the powerful tool gained. Large structures could now be economically erected using prefabricated steel posts and beams, sheathed in large panes of glass, held together by aluminum (and later rubber) grommets/ mullions. Large areas of duplicable floors could be likewise finished with light-weight concrete poured over either steel or concrete beams. The roofs for these mega-structures (as contrasted with their previous load bearing masonry clad brethren) were needed for mechanical equipment and access to floors below, elevator machinery, cooling towers, etc. and thus were more often flat than pitched. Built up gravel and tar flat roofs developed into high-tech synthetic agglomerations of multiple layered rubberized and neoprene waterproofed systems. Hand crafts were virtually eliminated. Wood and stone sculpting, ceramics, and all forms of traditional decorative effects quickly disappeared. Gains in erection time were highly appreciable.
Beauty was acknowledged in the daring massing of volume and repetition of module. New and technically clever applications of concrete and steel, and the resulting abstract forms generated was venerated. The application of glistening panels of aluminum, glass, and polished stone veneers became the new mode. God was in the details (Mies van der Rohe). A new aesthetic was born. It replaced completely its antithesis: traditional form and its academic precedents. Walter Gropius proclaimed in 1943, “New buildings must be invented, not copied.” Gropius believed that “…the artistic gentleman-architect who turned out charming Tudor mansions with all modern conveniences has almost vanished. This type of applied archaeology is disappearing fast.”
The imported cliché was not only easy to teach. “Less is more” unless less, already less, already little, becomes less than nothing at all and “much ado about nothing.”
Regardless, the old box comes back. The crate now consecrate. Frank Lloyd Wright, 1952
In the plastic arts, the abstract and cubism movements paralleled architectural thinking. It could be argued that painters who developed these modes influenced architectural style. The stripped-down anti-representational effect, the minimalism, the primitiveness of the works of Picasso, Pollack, _____, et al was not due to technological advancements in drawing materials but a reflection of angst; it described the human failure to contain the horror of man’s inhumanity to man. Thus there is a commentary on the modern social order, on its traditions, on its ethics and morality by painters and sculptors of the first half of the 20 th century. This ‘spiritual’ discourse had its parallel in architectural design. More than ever before it seemed, modern architecture was truly the instrument for positive social change. It made efficient use of space, energy and materials. It searched for ideal urban solutions which yielded visions of open space amidst democratic housing towers, and a separation of traffic and industry.
In order to make the change effectual however, one had to abandon tradition in all its forms--- completely. This included the traditional city, especially the model of the medieval organic town. In fact, the zeal of the imported thinking at its zenith (European – and it was due primarily to the contributions and proselytizing of Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Gropius), reached a frightening prejudice. This prejudice, upon reflection, can be compared to the blind zeal of the fascist power that caused the massive destruction modern methods of production in architecture was devised to remedy in the first place!
Nevertheless, the promise of Modern architecture is alluring to those who wish to escape any reference to the past, to bring forth ‘original’ works that have no precedent. These results can be gained at no small expense however. The entire building industry favors the status quo and is loathe to adopt new methods of construction unless there is an overwhelming demand for the extraordinary. This seems unlikely to occur. The most acceptable and reasonable expression of the modern movement in domestic architecture is the ‘contemporary’ design, which has at its root traditional precepts. This can never be true modern architecture however, and the countless examples which have been produced are arguably full of the same pastiche as the indiscriminate regurgitation of traditional forms.
But there are truly unique possibilities in form when the mantle of tradition is abrogated. Modern architecture’s corollary theorem is that a building should respond to its environment. By this we mean that orientation to the micro and macro climate, to topographics, to the natural landscape and views produces a design that cannot be preconceived, but is of an organic result.
The first misunderstanding is that Classical architecture is pastiche. But in the Quattro Libri of Palladio, no guidance is given as to size, scale, materials and construction. The architect cannot simply construct according to a formula; creativity and resourcefulness are indispensable.
Frank Lloyd Wright used the term organic as an integral element of his work. Whether an eccentric or part of the forefront of the modern movement in this country, Wright believed the house should be ‘of the hill’ rather than on it, that modern materials should be employed in the clearest expression of our modern lives, that natural materials – when worked by modern tooling methods – are sufficient to yield beauty. An original spirit of Usonian architecture, our architecture, could be the only result. Wright, though, was critical of the bland effect of modern work: “Thus Modern-architecture is Organic-architecture deprived of a soul. Therefore architecture is now so easy to grasp that any boy of three months’ experience can practice it and appear with a dose of it on the front page of the local newspaper…as the new “It.” The ‘plan factory’ now has shows in Art-Museums.” Wright concluded that “…Modern architecture will become a poor, flat-faced thing of steel bones, box-outlines, gas-pipe and handrail fittings, as sun-receptive as a concrete sidewalk or a glass tank. Without romance the essential joy of living as distignuished from pleasure is not alive.”
An architect should look beyond the present. I wanted to be modern and felt I didn’t need the crutch of the past. Edward Niles
Assimilated by the modern movement finally, Wright’s ideas melded with the mantra of ‘form follows function’, the elimination of decorative frou-frou, the use of the most advanced construction technique, in the search for an inimitable, wholly original work at every opportunity.
Only the sophisticated client can recognize good modern work and equally good traditional work. It is an education one must take up to grasp the nuances, to follow the historical thread, to know the personalities, the protagonists, to recognize the signature stamp. In this sense modern architecture is most extreme: the charge to produce individual works that cannot be traced to other influences, either from like-minded designers, but especially not from past styles. This can become excruciatingly difficult. The challenge and expectations of this route are in contrast with classicist principles, whose proponents are more eager to conform to a set of precepts, canon, from which individuality becomes a study of proportion and the modulation of basic elements.
The elements of the classicist architect are earth materials (wood and masonry) in the form of columns, walls, and the pitched roof, while the modernist architect presses the use of gravity defying steel and concrete structure wrapped in bands of glass and seemingly weightless curtain wall, absent a visible topping or roof in most instances. The former attempts to build on traditional form, the latter to abandon it. One evokes the past, the other attempts to express a boundless future. The first is heavy and earth connected, the second pushes ephemerality. There has never been a more distinct contrast in architectural form.
Thus architecture, the bias in home building, the lodging tradition, is the hardest to reform. Certain patterns of response have somehow been preserved from cave days to the present. Mystically inclined conservatives may revere them as quasi-sacred. Richard Neutra
Each of us that build has to search for the appropriate philosophical basis. There are pros and cons for each approach. The moderns are in the minority as concerns domestic architecture. In that respect, modern designs are considered more unique, one-of-a-kind. They seem to be constructed by those who understand and appreciate more the modern arts than those of the traditional schools. They imply an elitism. When constructed on dramatic sites, especially in rural areas, avant garde work has an inspiring effect on its inhabitants. The interior layout and details are extraordinary. Typically wide expanses of glass, floating roofs, completely non-traditional geometries and coloration, use of materials, etc. combine to produce an unduplicable statement. The results usually justify the increased expense and efforts.
"I say to our artists study your country’s tastes and requirements, and make classic ground here for your art. Go not to the old world for your examples. We have entered a new era in the history of the world: it is our destiny to lead, not to be led. Our vast country is before us and our motto excelsior."
Robert Mills, ca. 1830
[below, Neutra’s Lovell Health House]
Most large American companies are run by managers who preside over the status quo. They’re apt to live in traditional homes and be interested in art from previous eras. But if one is an aggressive entrepreneur, he’s drawn to new thoughts. And probably to contemporary art and architecture – it’s innovative and energetic.
Eli Broad (Kaufman & Broad),
quoted in Fortune, Nov. 1998
There is without a doubt a sort of free-spirit mentality that supports the creation of the true modern house. Let us differentiate here precisely what we mean. As opposed to the contemporary house, which is usually an acceptable structure of clean lines but hyphenated, as for example: contemporary-Mediterranean, or contemporary-Colonial, Pueblo, Mountain, Valley, Seaboard, Shingle, Victorian, etc. -- the modern house has a more intellectual approach. It breaks cleanly from tradition, vernacular or otherwise. It is much more abstract. It does not have recognizable forms; it is sufficiently impersonal, and often-times unlike any domestic structure, lacking the cues that typically define home: a gable roof, shutters, paneling, ornamentation, some semblance of symmetry, conventional usage of stone or brickwork, decorative ironwork, mullioned windows, etc.
“We don’t want you giving us anything like that house you did for Winslow. I don’t fancy sneaking down back streets to my morning train just to avoid being laughed at.” New client admonishing Frank Lloyd Wright
Autobiography, Frank Lloyd Wright, p. 128
The truly modern house is exuberantly defying the status quo at every turn. It could be properly attributed to the nonconformist, the rebel. The modern home is about today and tomorrow, not about yesteryear. It reflects the modern age, a modern society that is pluralistic, that allows freedom of expression, free thinking, free acting. Its roots no longer are important to its invocation. It can work with nature or defy it. It is more sculptural as an overall form than traditional architectural massing. It can curve and bend. It can jag. It can twist on its axis. It can be anything. This is the new essence of modernism. The ability to do anything one pleases. Who is there to criticize? After all, there are no canons, no rules – only milestones to invent anew. As modern art broke the rules of representation, so does modern architecture seek its own unique state.
Often, it is self-referential. There is absolutely no context, no dialogue with the past or the present. It is an intoxicating liberation of space. Materials, shapes and colors are selected many times for whimsical reasons. Why not? Why not a blue concrete floor and a contrasting corrugated metal wall? Why not insert a metaphysical gap in the structural floor or wall? Stairs that go nowhere, hanging columns, corridors that run askew, etc. are all characteristic elements of the avant garde. How far are you willing to go?
Modernism can be highly rational or can appear to be schizophrenic. There is usually a raison d’être behind seemingly nonsensical geometries, albeit tortured at times. Its most severe self-critique is exhibited by the Deconstructionists, who border on avowed anarchy. Modernism is a reaction to a world that cannot have ideals, or whose philosophies, ethics, morals, and religion have failed. Modernism is highly individual. The statement it makes is extremely personal. It does not represent anything except idiosyncrasy, takes no cues from precedent (except when it is handled in a mannerist mode copying its own products), and in the end is simply an artistic construct.
By being neutral almost or a-historic, a modern domestic structure usually makes a sharp contrast to its natural and built environment. Many deed-restricted subdivisions do not allow such individual and eccentric behavior, thus the Owner is forced to find a rural site. There, an abstraction of art becomes one spiritually with its environment, not visually. If its materials are industrial, it finds no empathy with natural stone or wood. But from within, the wide expanses of glass let in nature as no traditional home can. Dramatic cantilevers perch over ravine or body of water. Views are arranged for the benefit of the Owner, fenestration does not conform to a canon that specifies what percentage of wall must balance with opening. The plan is a natural layout of discrete functions that are customized to the specific way of life of its inhabitants. There are no axis, no enfilades. Symmetry occurs only if it responds to function.
Venice House (below), Antoine Predock
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