Connecting With Family and Nature at The Totoro House [Video]

Connecting With Family and Nature at The Totoro House [Video]

Inspired by the powerful family ties of the clients and their connection to the environment, the Totoro House concept erases boundaries between living spaces and the garden. Designed by CplusC Architectural Workshop, this design was named after Studio Ghibli’s animated fantasy, My Neighbor Totoro, which explored the importance of such relationships more than three decades ago. To keep these bonds unbroken, the lounge, kitchen, and dining space are merged into one family zone that melts out into the garden. The outdoor space acts as an extension of the living room, including its own cooking area and seating, so that family life can flow freely and contentedly.

Here is an atypical house tour that does not use music to prop up the visuals, instead it embraces the natural sounds in the house’s setting.

Check out the home tour video:

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I Unknowingly Bought A Sears Kit Home — Here’s What I Discovered Inside It

I Unknowingly Bought A Sears Kit Home — Here’s What I Discovered Inside It

As most house aficionados know, in the early 1900s, Sears (yes, those stores known for selling jeans, tools, and everything in between) got in on the home selling game, resulting in hundreds of Sears “kit” houses and craft homes being built across the United States.

I’d never heard of them before until I bought one. I sent a picture of the house I was interested in buying to my mom, who is a historian of sorts, and she recognized it right away as a Sears kit home. Excited that my new home might have a bit of neat history to it, I started digging to learn more.

I discovered that the Sears Modern Homes program sold 447 ready-to-build, customizable house varieties via catalog to buyers between the years of 1908 and 1940. They reportedly sold around 70,000 houses, and an estimated 70 percent of them are still standing. These “kits” came with almost everything that would be necessary to see the final house built, including nails, flooring, doors, and even the paint (though cement and plaster were not included, nor were electrical, heating, or plumbing systems).

I fell in love with the house for its quaint touches, but once I moved in, I really began to spend time getting to know the charming details — and understand just why these homes are highly prized for their style, workmanship, and durability. Above all, I love the kitsch factor that represents a chapter in American history when things were built well and affordably.

In the case of my home, the style is quite sinuglar. Once I was able to distinguish its notable exterior features, such as columns in the front and the small windows situated on the roof’s peak, I noticed quite a few others like it throughout the rural Pennsylvania neighborhood where it has stood since 1920. Our house, along with many like it, has been remodeled over the years. 

Ours has an addition placed in the back, and offers a large pool in the backyard. The layout is extremely user and family friendly, with a spacious attic and basement, decent-sized bedrooms all located on the same floor, and roomy closets throughout the home. The place boasts original glass doorknobs, unique-looking windows and shutters, a solid wood banister, and original doors. It also has ornate woodwork on the front porch and maintains its original sliding “pocket” doors on both sides of the kitchen. (I guess so one can bake in private?)

My mom thought our home bore resemblance to the Castleton model, but it appears to have features of the Hillrose as well. As these homes were highly customizable, it wouldn’t surprise me if the original 1920 owner mashed the two together. 

Though many Sears kit homes have been customized and heavily remodeled over the years, some markings identify that the house is. For instance, in a Sears kit home often has stamped wood in unfinished areas like the attic. I looked in some unfinished areas of my home to see if I could find any of these markings, and I haven’t been able to locate them, yet. While I’m certain that it’s a Sears home due to my mom’s identification and to the fact that it bears a stunning resemblance to the images I’ve found of the Castleton model, I do intend to research the mortgage document history to confirm that it’s a Sears, Roebuck and Co. home. I may even opt to list in the National Registry of Historic Houses, as other kit house owners have done. 

My home is large, sturdy, and lovely inside and out, and is adorned with many quaint features. The lumber used on many of the Sears homes was virgin wood, pine in some cases (I believe this to be the case with our house), resulting in a strong home that’s built to last. I would have never guessed a house ordered from a catalog in the ’20s would fit that bill, but I’m sure glad it has.

The Most Photographed Architecture in America, According to One Study

The Most Photographed Architecture in America, According to One Study

From skyscrapers and museum buildings to cathedrals and historical structures, architecture plays an important part in where we choose to travel to. If you think about the tourist attractions in your nearest city, there’s a high chance that it will involve at least one magnificent piece of architecture that people flock to snap a photo and marvel in the impressive design. But which is the most popular piece of architecture in America right now?

A new study from online art and design marketplace SINGULART has revealed America’s most photographed architecture, taking into account Instagram data and the number of posts across relevant hashtags.

In first place is the Brooklyn Bridge, having received 3.5 million posts under the hashtag #brooklynbridge at the time of the study. Whether stood under it, in the middle of it, or the classic perched on the edge of it pose that graces many Instagram feeds.

In second place is another bridge, but this time on the West Coast: the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The iconic red structure had 3.1 million Instagram tags at the time of the study. Taking the bronze medal is the Empire State Building, following up closely behind with three million posts. From exterior photos to snaps taken at the very top, the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper is a popular pick among both tourists and locals.

For those looking to up their game in photographing architecture, professional photographer Gregory Herp, who focuses his work largely on architecture, shared his top tips with SINGULART.

“Look around you and look for another angle, try to get on a roof on the other side of the street, or shift your position completely by incorporating one or more elements into your composition that will reinforce your image,” he says. “It’s not just a matter of standing at the bottom of a building, looking up and taking a picture! I have to look for my point of view, make these lines and volumes the actors of my image. Architecture is fascinating if I can make it bounce off something else in my composition.”

The Groovy History of an Iconic ‘70s Home Feature: Wood Paneling

The Groovy History of an Iconic ‘70s Home Feature: Wood Paneling

If there were a “Family Feud” question on iconic design features of the 1970s, several answers immediately come to mind. Shag carpet. Sunken living rooms. Avocado tile. Linoleum. And of course: wood-paneled walls. For the first decade of my life, I lived in a 1970s build with a wood paneled basement, and folks, we hated it. Even after my parents painted them white to brighten up the space and propel us into the ‘90s, the rec room still smelled of the stench of bell bottoms and Watergate.

Looking back, I’m willing to admit I was wrong about two critical things. First: I admit that my family was quick to condemn the wood paneled walls, which are actually pretty excellent. After all, there’s no easier way to achieve that very trendy “Mad Men” look than by having the real thing already installed in your home! Our second critical error? As it turns out, wood paneling has a history that goes further back than just the 1970s! Who knew!? 

Let’s rewind. When I think of the earliest forms of architecture — I mean ancient, historical, even — various stone structures come to mind. From Machu Picchu to the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Colosseum to the Great Wall of China, each are made of stone, lime, and other earthen materials. Beyond grand structures such as these, interior wood ornamentation wasn’t universally popular, and was relegated to the homes of the hyper-privileged few. 

It wasn’t until the Gothic period that wooden paneling became a more broadly utilized decorative element. And the paneling commonly found in, for instance, Tudor styles of architecture did not resemble the wood paneling of your grandparents’ rec room. Rather, these wooden wall coverings were far more ornate and made of heavier and sturdier woods like oak and pine. These aided in insulating homes in colder climates of many European countries, and the trend caught on.

As colonists and immigrants set sail for what would become the United States, settlers constructed their modest homes with wooden walls, though these frequently lacked any sort of ornamentation. As the colonies expanded and white enslavers appropriated the revenue from enslaved people’s forced labor, the same wooden ornamentation of the Elizabethan and Tudor eras blossomed in mansions throughout the South. Later on, during the Victorian era (1837 to 1901), wood paneled walls evolved into wainscoting, a design element that remains popular today

Wood paneling as we know it now exploded onto the scene during the post-WWII housing boom. With soldiers returning home from war in droves and the U.S. enjoying a period of economic prosperity, houses were constructed en masse and in record time. With this period of development utilizing prefab housing and easy-to-assemble and inexpensive materials, wood paneled walls made their retro debut. Between the 1950s and 1960s, when mid-century modern design changed the game for architecture and design forever, wooden walls served the purpose of showcasing nature within the home’s interior. With wood grain on display, the massive windows of MCM homes complemented the home’s earthy materials.

As the ‘50s and ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s, builders continued to utilize the synthetic wood paneling for homes. But the 1980s ushered in a new wave of interior design and architecture with pastels, glass blocks, Memphis design — all the good stuff that wacky decade that brought us, like perms, hair metal, and yours truly.

The 1970s seem to be manifesting everywhere these days, and with good reason. Those moody colors, the myriad of textiles, the open-floor living space concept and back-to-nature basics are, as the kids say, A Vibe. Next time you come across a preserved retro wood paneled wall in all its groovy glory, take a second to appreciate its epic journey through time.

Sarah Magnuson


Sarah Magnuson is a Chicago-based, Rockford, Illinois-born and bred writer and comedian. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and Sociology and a master’s degree in Public Service Management. When she’s not interviewing real estate experts or sharing her thoughts on laundry chutes (major proponent), Sarah can be found producing sketch comedy shows and liberating retro artifacts from her parents’ basement.

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