The New American Home (TNAH) is a showcase of The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), a laboratory of building technology and an example of builder know-how. Next year, 2024, marks TNAH’s 41st year of innovation. From 1984’s humble $80K, 1,500 sf house to 2023’s expansive $15M, 8,200 sf house, TNAH has witnessed political and social upheaval, and drastic change in lifestyle and homelife. Even so, through four decades American craftsmen, builders, and manufacturers have maintained an excellence deserving of congratulation. Congratulations, fellows.
Many notable architects have designed TNAH. The Post-Modern Charles Moore and the Classical Robert A.M. Stern come to mind, and you will find among 35 TNAH architects, traditionalists and modernists, stylists and mannerists, each contributing best efforts. The house that I designed (TNAH 2011) was to be a Spanish Revival jewel box, rich, fine, tidy. Well, that was before owner pride, builder ambition, and an industry determined to exhibit new products and new products, and new products. The house quickly grew from an estimated 2,000 sf to an actual 9,500 sf (largest TNAH) and became the 5th most expensive to build ($4.5M adjusted).
Designed in a month, built in nine, through various alterations the house yet reveals something of its first inspiration, Florida of the 1920s, that time of great domestic architecture. You will see in TNAH 2011 hints of Sarasota, Miami, Palm Beach, and too you will see memories of Athens, Rome, Florence, Madrid. Alike great villas, this Mediterranean Eclectic house was to be surrounded by palatial gardens; something of garden geometry survives in the deft handling of its pleasant suburban yard.
You will notice in the drawings an accuracy in detail, a correctness in niches, cornices, columns, a correctness seldom translated into reality by well-meaning, untutored interior designers, an accuracy seldom minded by capable builders crushed under deadline. Where once there was a light, articulate expression, there is a ponderous designy’ness, where once there was pleasing detail, there is broad expanse. Hints of the drawings’ grandeur were translated into the built house, not merely in the 24’ high ceilings, et cetera, but in proportions, the arrangement and harmony of parts. And too there is unity with variety, an architectural species of the Pythagorean theorem (the large is to the small as the small is to the whole).
Though over scaled, the house suits its Orlando neighborhood, a late manifestation of America’s City Beautiful movement, the eclectic style popular when taste was common, when Beauty reigned. Accomplished author Rich Binsacca (editorial director of Pro Builder Media) described the home’s “classical layout” for Builder Magazine:
… “The symmetrical layout of the floor plan follows the classic style of the home’s exterior. The center-set front porch is placed slightly back from its flanking forms, the one on the right (A) a stair tower that enables the 24-foot volume of the great room (B) to remain uninterrupted and allow a clear view through to the garden beyond.
… The owners also enjoy a completely private retreat, in which a rotunda (C) serves as a sitting room and as a hub from which a spacious walk-in closet (D), bathroom (E), and sleeping area (F) spin off. In addition, the owners’ retreat includes access to the pool (G) and to a “secret” garden (H), a contemplative space to contrast the far more public outdoor areas that occupy the rest of the footprint.
… A second rotunda (I) serves a similar purpose as the one across the way, offering the option of the stair tower—the epitome of the home’s classic-contemporary melting pot—as well as a peanut-shaped powder room (J), and the library (K) while itself serving as the home’s formal dining room with ready access to the kitchen (L). The dramatic family room (M) sits beyond that through a passage narrowed slightly by columns and cabinets and provides ample access to the outdoors.
… Completing the first-floor plan is an attached garage (N), cleverly designed to accommodate five cars within a three-car façade and set far back on the property to reduce its impact. The deep balcony of an extensive guest apartment (O) further reduces the garage’s impression and also shields the private entry and stair that lead to the living space above.
… The main house plan, meanwhile, supports a second-story bedroom suite off the stair tower (P) and a long gallery that leads to a rec room and another full suite. (Q). Even a fabulous photo can’t fully capture the impression created by the great room upon entering the house. Unencumbered by a staircase, it stretches wide and tall while immediately providing a glimpse of the garden through a trio of glass doors that mirror those of the entry at left. Climbing 24 feet to a simple coffered ceiling and featuring a stone-faced fireplace on one end, the room nevertheless feels comfortable thanks to an abundance of natural light and views to the outdoors.
… The connected kitchen-family room arrangement is meant for entertaining, and not just within their combined, 50-foot-long expanse. Effectively separated by a columned passage to maintain a human scale, both rooms provide ready access to the outdoors to encourage indoor-outdoor interplay. The exposed (if decorative) wood and metal trusses in the family room give a contemporary nod to the home’s Gothic roots.
… The expansion of the garage from a three- to a five-carport meant that the apartment above it grew, too, boosting the home’s conditioned footage. Fortunately, the space is packed with usable features, including an efficient kitchen and a wide-open center bookended by balconies, the rear one with a spiral stair to the garden below. The apartment also is served by its own entry to the left of the garage that leads to a private staircase, with no other connection to the main house except through the carport. That separation allows it to be a truly private space for an in-law, seasonal caretaker, or nanny.
… A large house affords some special places. The rec room, located on the second floor by way of a long gallery from the top of the stairs and a guest suite, provides a getaway from the activity of the public spaces. The library, however, is a bit more public. Located directly off the dining room rotunda (as well as through the clever butler’s pantry from the kitchen), it delivers the grandeur of an Old World book haven and study, complete with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a rolling ladder … It is also, simply, a beautiful house, a perfectly proportioned classic manor of historical reference that is about as architecturally akin to a cookie-cutter, gable-garbled McMansion as an apple is to a scissor truss.”
Thirty-seven major manufacturers contributed products to The New American Home 2011, and over 130 trade partners contributed supplies. As with all showcase homes, gratitude is due to many, a few of whom include Bill Nolan, Barbara McMurray, and Tucker Bernard, NAHB; Keith Clarke, builder; Chris Donnelly, AIA (local architect of record); Scott Redmon, ASLA ; James McCrery, AIA, advisor. To achieve Energy Star qualification many updates of classical practice were employed; rainwater collection, envelope-tight insulation, ventilation for heat and cold exhaust, etc. In all the home achieved a 60 percent energy saving over similar sized houses.
I am reminded that Green building continues in vogue, though in truth modern “Green” is an oxymoron. A Green home is a 2,000-year-old Roman stone house that has repaid labor and materials a thousand-plus times. Sure, save homeowners a buck, but really, there is nothing Green about building with modern manufactured products. Truly, if the building industry went Green it would cease to exist. Petrochemicals are necessary to housing the world’s population; nuclear, electric, and coal power are necessary to prevent death from heat and cold. As I said at the time, “It’s something of an absurdity to say that a home this size for two people can be called Green.”
Build a beautiful house and it will be loved, loved it will survive centuries, surviving centuries it will justify the labor and materials of its making. Reviewing The New American Home’s history, I would safely guess that many of the houses built and many yet to come will be loved and will survive centuries. To all at The National Association of Homebuilders I say, “Well done.”
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THE NEW AMERICAN HOME 2011
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