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Book Review: June 2011

The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough (American Institute Architects)

by Sarah Nettleton, AIA LEED

The Simple Home - Porch

Front porch of a Creole cottage. (Photography: Randy O'Rourke)

If you admire the Arts & Crafts and Craftsman styles, you'll love this book, which is in essence a restatement of the ideals of the Simplicity Movement that began more than 100 years ago in the United States.

I always have fairly high expectations of Taunton Press books and this one doesn't disappoint. Sarah Nettleton's The Simple Home contains enough eye candy to satisfy anyone with a penchant for beautiful architectural photography. From a practical standpoint, there are lots of ideas ... many of which can be incorporated in even the most modest home.

One can be excused for glancing through the book and admiring the high-end finishes and cleverly employed detail and ornamentation, then dismissing it as just another gorgeous but impractical coffee table book. The rooms look expensive. Most are elegant, spare, and very clean.

However, each image is timeless and captures a concept that Nettleton develops in the accompanying text. The front porch of the Creole cottage shown here is a good example. With the rocking chair, plants, and wide porch, you could be taking the air in 1850 or today. And timeless design is the essence of the best design; it never bows to the conceits of fashion. Its style remains true regardless of the century or the culture.

Writing about the Shakers, Nettleton says, "They represent a labor-intensive investment with relatively inexpensive local materials—the very opposite of the $20 folding chair shipped from China. Shaker and folk crafts come from an era when time was much more abundant than the money to buy and ship fancy materials." (Get a sense of the Shaker lifestyle by watching The Amish: A People of Preservation, available as a download from Amazon or through your Netflix account. No … they aren't the same, but there are similarities especially with respect to their crafts.)

Simple Home - CoverAs is typical of early 20th century Craftsman home design, The Simple Home is about light, ventilation, and human-scaled living spaces that protect and nurture. The photographs are clean, beautiful, and compelling. She expands further on her definition covering these points:

Clutter never darkens the pages of this book, which is a visual feast of both modern and traditional design. Though everything looks expensive, the reality is many design choices have been made to minimize cost without compromising quality and functionality.

If you look carefully, you'll find dozens of ideas for repurposing old hardware and building materials. By cleaning and restoring existing materials, you can achieve a similar look. If you already have an old house with character, you might be ahead of the game. If not, you'll find plenty of design inspiration to incorporate in your home. There's considerable thought put into the ideas shown, so don't expect to buy what you see prepackaged on the shelf or even easily available on the Web. This type of design takes either prodigious experience or time. There really aren't any good shortcuts.

William Morris, famous for his quote: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" is clearly Nettleton's muse.

The simple home is about time ... the most precious of all Life's treasures ... enjoying and using time to its fullest extent. I own this book and will not be giving it up to the library book sale any time soon. You'll need to buy your own copy!

The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough (American Institute Architects) by Sarah Nettleton. Taunton Press. 2007.

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