May 6th, 2011 | by BEN WATERHOUSE Arts & Books |

Eyesore of the Week: Boistrous Eccentricity

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While walking in Creston-Kennilworth recently, I spotted two houses, one block apart, that epitomize the potential for strangeness that comes of owner-built additions. The owner of the first, at left, has run with his home's silly Tudorbethan half-timbering and adopted a Ye Olde theme for the property, adding a plastered entryway that looks straight out of the Shire.


The building seems to be in progress; next to the hobbity doorway is a half-finished porch and a cement mixer that looks long neglected.

Just down the street is a magnificent example of genuine vernacular architecture that has been added upon so many times that I can't even begin to imagine what the original structure looked like:


Look at it! Isn't it majestic? The house appears under assault by plywood shipping containers (and Jeeps, of which I cropped an additional two from the photo).


I assume the building's unique profile is the result family growth and many trips to Home Depot. What I love about owner-built homes is their refusal to conform to traditional ideas of form—they take their shape from the needs of a single set of occupants, and they aren't interested in your opinion, thankyouverymuch.


But for all the strangeness of these two buildings, I wouldn't consider either of them an eyesore. They are eccentric, certainly, but neither is a blight on the landscape. That honor goes, instead, to the many cookie-cutter homes that infest entire blocks of the neighborhood—near-featureless boxes built without regard for aesthetics, tradition or utility, their mismatched windows, miniscule eaves and soul-crushing sameness born only of a developer's desire to build the biggest home for the least cost in the utmost speed.

Better than raging against their creators, though, is to take the long view: in fifty years (should the flimsy materials from which they were assembled last that long), each of these monotonous clones will likely have been so modified by generations of owners that they will achieve the wild diversity of their neighbors a few blocks away.

 
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