There is much truth to the old Japanese proverb “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. However, the phrase is far more descriptive of rural America than it is of Japan – especially when it comes to assertive examples of styled architecture. Victorian-era houses, for example, have been reviled, altered and toned-down for the past century in an effort to make them appear more modern. Ironically, actual modern houses – particularly those of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s – are facing a similar hostility.
When the modern movement began to gain more traction in the 1920’s, the forms and surfaces of buildings built in the Art Deco, Art Moderne (a.k.a. Streamline Moderne) and International styles must have seemed unorthodox and harsh to the masses; only the most avant-garde built in these styles. Sadly, their fan base does not seem to have grown much outside of major cities and even there many good examples languish.
All three styles are characterized by exterior walls of smooth stucco; other details (or lack thereof) help distinguish them. Their stark wall planes were typically painted plain white – it was an integral part of the style. Therefore, it is not surprising that when one wishes to tone down a modern house today, the introduction of color is the easiest and most popular weapon of choice. Color is also sometimes used to play up detailing, often with cartoonish effect (think Miami Beach hotels).
Let’s take a look at a few examples of how some of these houses have fared…