I love looking at houses on Zillow.com – you never know what will turn up.  I used to look only at old houses there (those built in the early twentieth century or earlier).  But lately I find myself drawn to the clumsy and distorted newer houses which are increasingly commonplace.  They’re like train wrecks; you just can’t help but stare.  Yeah, it’s nit-picky.  But someone has to plea for design sanity.   And that’s what the Architectural Observer does: observe.  And occasionally plea and nit-pick.

Once upon a time (a time long ago) humans built buildings which made sense.  Today, for reasons too numerous to detail here, new buildings are frequently mere caricatures of traditional buildings.  The following structures do not appear to recall what it is that they are emulating.  Or perhaps they are simply content to be merely superficial.  Traditional practices have been reduced to simplistic imagery which is frequently out of context and, frankly, just plain odd.  All images below were obtained from zillow.com unless noted otherwise.


The front of this suburban town house would be entirely forgettable if not for the plastic louvered blind which has been skewered with a porch light. I’ve actually seen this done before! The only logical explanation is that people have forgotten what blinds and shutters are for and how they are supposed to function. Please, pick one or the other – but not both in the same space.



This house violates so many principles of good design that it is difficult to know where to begin. Randomly, let’s start with the gables. There is no consistency to them in terms of roof pitch. That alone is unsettling. Pork chop soffits are not attractive. There is no consistency in the design of the windows and their fake muntins add more visual clutter. Why is there a pair of small windows crammed way up high into the gable over the garage? Larger windows placed somewhat lower (or none at all) would not only make more sense but be visually less abrasive. The garage door is definitely the most egregious – and not only by being so in-your-face.  By virtue of the “decorative” “wrought iron” “hardware” applied to it, the conventional two-car overhead door is pretending to be two pairs of hinged doors (as if this suburban garage were some kind of “Ye Olde” agrarian structure). The center hinges have no jamb to attach to – not even a fake, purely visual, attempt at one. The “handles” are mounted so high as to be impractical even if they were authentic (which they are not). Why is the casing around the entry painted brown when all the other trim is white? It only creates undue emphasis for the storm door (an element best downplayed).


This cropped photo, though a bit small, shows the awkward way in which the garage roof connects to the projecting entry. There are lots of tight spaces to make maintenance work more difficult in this area. The eave of the garage has been held back so that it does not encroach upon the window over the door. The slope of the main roof calls further attention to this gap.


I don’t find these houses to be especially modern or attractive. They are cartoonishly retro.  What would they look like without the bright colors to give them interest? It will be interesting to see how people modify these houses in the future; I’d venture to guess that they will be modified. I can’t help but think that the projecting rooms closest to the sidewalk look like enclosed garages. Image courtesy Google Street View.



No, this isn’t the ugliest house in the world, but it is one of those houses which is trying just a little too hard to be both interesting and traditional. I’m not sure what bothers me most… the narrow window trapped in perpetual shadow between the gabled projections or the three types of siding (shake shingle, clapboard and board and batten) which don’t seem very compatible in this particular configuration. To add more visual confusion, the porch is built of “natural” wood and paired with an iron balustrade (but no porch supports). And, of course, those annoying pork chop soffits. While I’m at it, I may as well mention the undue emphasis placed on the electrical receptacle and porch lights hugging the front door… was it really necessary to highlight these three items with trim paint? Truly, a less chaotic facade would have been easier to build and more attractive to the eye.


This new house has a slight scale problem. There appears to be too little emphasis on the center window and too much emphasis on the others. The asphalt parking pad in lieu of a garage sends a message quite different from the one sought by the traditional styling.


At first I thought this was an old house which had been remodeled! Built in 2015, this house looks like a remodeled older house because of its traditional gable-front form in conjunction with horizontally-oriented sliding windows. At least the contractor avoided the pork chop look on the soffits by not extending the side soffits to the gable ends… the house gained a bit of dignity in the process! Prairie-themed muntins just look weird on sliding windows, as do the shutters which are not associated with either sliding windows OR the Prairie style.  There is no entablature on the porch (ceiling appears to bear directly on top of the columns) and the columns are a little too beefy given the excruciatingly thin trim around the windows and door.


This exterior cladding of this house lacks consistency, and it is rarely a good idea to make a finish transition on an outside corner. The corner at right is clad in stone veneer below with plywood (emulating board and batten) above while around the corner vinyl siding helps to make the facade even more illusory than it already is.  It would have been more merciful to have not painted the “panels” a contrasting color.  The glass in the garage door seems to hug the top of the opening too closely.


Built in 2016, this suburban house has a distinctly 1980’s PoMo feel to it. I don’t understand why there is a gable behind the gable. For well over a million dollars, the new owners shouldn’t have to tolerate pork chop soffits. Note how the garage crowds the windows to the left of the entry while a patch of stucco and two projecting squares try to compensate to the right. Odd. The house would look better without the squares and extraneous gable (and misshapen entry arch).


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