Softening corner of house: a practical answer

inkognitoMarch 5, 2012

As it seems to be quite common for people to find the squareness of a house to be jarring I wonder if there is a simpler solution than the one provided by planting a conifer at each corner. If the answer was not a growing plant there would be no problem with it becoming overgrown or with maintenance. What if instead a wooden or metal fixture like wings was attached to the house? If you can imagine something like the structure of a bent wood chair attached to the corner would that work for you? The possible shapes are endless and a vine or something could be attached if you want,it could even be a plastic two dimensional tree. I will see if I have the time and energy to draw up and post what I mean later but what do you think?

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Interesting idea... I'd love to see a drawing of your idea of that. The south alley gate/arbour here sort of acts a bit like what I imagine you are describing. On the south side, the addition we put on this house in 1999 is set about 25' back and extends about 8' out from the original house. That made an abrupt, jutting corner. It was also located at a logical place to place a fence and gate to close off the backyard. We set the gate/fence/arbour combination back about 18" from the corner and then planted clematis vines to cover the arbour/fence structure, a couple of small shrubs on either side on the 'outside' (i.e. the side facing the driveway and road) and a larger shrub (mockorange) in the L between the original house and the addition. That all seems to work to round out the 'hard' lines of the various house edges and draw your eyes out from the house and into the planted spaces.

I think what you're describing would do the same - and give an opportunity to build something interesting.

The other image that came to mind from your description is the wings for stadium jumps in equestrian competitions... The wings are often decorated with boxes of flowers and greenery, which makes them very ornamental and makes the jumps look less utilitarian. I could definitely see it working for a house too :-)

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:43AM
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When I look at many very pleasing landscapes, I often see a multitude of hard horizontal lines; low garden retaining walls and impressive curbing to delineate lawn from beds. It gives everything a neat look. We embrace all these hard horizontal lines, yet we reject without question the hard line of a house corner. I don't understand it. I don't think I'm going have much to add to this discussion.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:59AM
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Why ink, you have a soft feminine side. How unexpected! :D

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 11:25AM
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Perhaps we need to bring flying buttresses back in vogue?

I think the corners of houses being jarring most often happens when the house(s) is the only vertical thing in the terrain. So whether it's a lone house in a level field or a new development with no trees, they look out of place.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 11:45AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Could it be the wording ? "Softening" the edges of the house ?
I've usually thought of it as two separate words ; 'grounding' the structure to the landscape or 'uniting' the structure with the landscape .

When you mentioned the usage of 'wing's on the house I immediately pictured a flying buttress and the Chartres cathedral, which to my memory doesn't have any landscaping of proportional scale in the front. Yet it is united with the surrounding area ; emerging from the concrete and surrounded by other
cementitious buildings.
I think that architectural style and how the architecture is placed on the land makes this topic interesting and impressing. .
As an example if you site a traditional looking tract home in a field it is going to look out of place / incongruent to the surrounding area. There is no uniting narrative between the structure and landscape.
But if you place a very contemporary building in a field it can be a stunning unification.
There is an immediate aesthetically pleasing narrative between the stark natural field and the stripped down basic architectural box.

I'm currently working on a very contemporary modern house sited in a natural rural beachside N. California hillside. The 'landscaping' is to be seen as untouched as possible for the sense of harmony.
This type of modern landscaping works in this type of context because of its stripped down simplistic style.

A traditional styled Victorian, Edwardian, or 60's Ranchburger house most likely would not respond to this type of stripped down unification and requires a bit more layering so as to ease itself into the surrounding landscape.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 11:59AM
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I was hoping this would be more practical than theoretical but tano has opened up an alternative that is worth considering. My device would disguise the hardness but attending to the terrain as a whole so that "the house(s) is NOT the only vertical thing" would also work wouldn't it? I also wonder if this in some way connects with woody's post from a couple of weeks ago regarding wiggly lines the observations from pls certainly point this way.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 11:59AM
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Ah! Michelle we may be getting somewhere. As you suggest there is a huge difference between a house and its landscape being designed together and a nondescript little box made of ticky tacky dropped as if from the sky into a nondescript piece of land. Most of the people who visit this forum live in a variation of the latter and not the former I would guess. I have never seen your house (I know the garden) but I doubt that it would win any prizes if it was dropped into an empty field someplace, although the little dog would be happy digging holes.

I like your concepts of uniting and grounding, so then the question becomes not about softening corners which is too specific but how to make the house look like it belongs. Do you thing the wings would offer "a bit more layering so as to ease itself (a house) into the surrounding landscape."?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 6:13PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Several years ago, I was given a little book which was a collection of archival photos of 19th century landscaping. In many ways it was quite a revelation to see pictures of those classic Victorians with tiny saplings and baby shrubs instead of the established, overgrown plantings we are accustomed to. Many of those had been plopped into empty fields as new developments, and should be more of an imposition since they often ran to three stories with optional cupola. However, even the saplings noticably help. Particularly since they didn't share the modern tendency towards sylvaphobia, and usually placed large trees quite close to the house.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 6:54PM
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Ink - can you sketch your wing idea? I'm having a hard time picturing it.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 7:03PM
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I took a short cut tano. If you google "Flying Buttress" (thanks Michelle) you will see the concept. I have linked to a sketch that, although rather elaborate shows my idea well I think. If you can imagine a simplified version of a flying buttress made from wood or metal this is exactly what I am talking about.

If you wanted to round or soften the corners on a more malleable material than a house you would shave something off rather than add something on so the concept is to add something to the corner that is malleable and round that off but have it in something other than a tall Juniper.

Here is a link that might be useful: flying buttress

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 10:30AM
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I may be having trouble understanding the need to soften due to my decades spent around engineers. Those guys are in love with straight lines. Maybe I have become desensitized to the harm caused by hard straight lines.

I do perceive the strong exposed building corner as something that makes the building more dominant. And where the surrounding landscape is small without strong features the building seems to overwhelm the space. The reverse situation (a large landscape with strong contrasts) can also be true. I guess I would try to soften in the former and not in the latter.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 11:49AM
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Brad Edwards

I have seen some new nice homes with stone walls that usually curl that are extended from the wings.

I figure redbuds, little gem magnolias, and certain Japanese maples would all soften the corner, just be sure not to plant to close as most people do.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 9:44AM
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