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Orange Cars and Black and White Houses

In 1966 my parents remodeled our kitchen; new stained maple cabinets, laminate counters, avocado colored appliances, and a mosaic tile pattern vinyl floor. I was thirteen and thought it looked cool. A decade later and early into my remodeling career, those avocado appliances were a give away that a kitchen was outdated and ready to be replaced.

Fashion is like that. You may have some perfectly good clothes in your closet that you don’t wear now because the color or pattern or cut are dated. Fashion is fun AND fashion is temporary.

So here come the orange cars; you really can’t miss them because they sure stand out from what had been a decade or more of white, black, and grey. They exuberantly say, “Hey, look at me, I’m ready for something new and different!” I’m pretty sure they are this decades avocado refrigerators. We’ll find out in 2032.

The orange car’s domestic brethren is the black and white house. You can’t miss them: new white houses with black windows and doors. And if you are really cool, it’s all black (we are building two right now!).

I first noticed this at our national builders trade show in 2018 where new products are introduced and black faucets and windows and doors were on display. It’s a stark, graphic look, and like the orange car it gets your attention because it is new. It is the latest fashion.

Fashion is fun AND fashion is temporary. Fashion in houses is fun but houses aren’t temporary. They are hopefully being built to last. Each component of a house has a service life, and over that service life they maintain a level of service quality. That is, they degrade over their service life; some wear slowly (like a roof), while others end abruptly (like a water heater).

Homes are also ideals embedded in time. Every home begins its life as an expression of how folks lived and what they valued when they were put on the market or built to suit. That history is there to observe in the mix of Colonials and Victorians, the Ranches and McMansions, the 70’s single slope roofs and even the occasional mid-century modern that wandered into a neighborhood from the west coast in the 60’s (and not really equipped for our winters).

So the fashion for black and white and orange take their place alongside the rest and time will tell which will endure and which will become the avocado appliance. Appliances and cars have a modest service life. Windows and doors don’t, we not only expect them to last, we need them to. They aren’t easily replaced. They’re baked in.

We moved away from wood windows because their service life was effected by their service quality which in turn depended on disciplined maintenance. With that maintenance came the opportunity to change their color, and with that their fashion. That’s the nice thing about painted surfaces, they can be reasonably renewed.  But we’d rather they last without all that effort, so we now use windows that last far longer, and so does the color we chose.

What we’d like in a house is for the artifice to be independent from the function in places where the service life exceeds its fashion life. We replace things that work fine because they are dated. Where are all those stone counters going next? And whither the black windows and doors. Ask me in 2032.

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