#4 Large Bare Walls

4 of 10 Top Ten Design Mistakes

Exterior bare walls tends to look plain, boring, cheap and industrial. They also create a large visual mass that tends to pull the eye away from the more interesting details of the house.

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Consider the gestalt principle of surroundedness. This says that small objects against a larger shape will tend to stand out as figures while we interpret the larger shape as background. But if the larger shape stands alone then it too will be interpreted by our minds as a figure. This means that large, bare walls will stand out from the rest of the house.


A lovely house scarred with a bare wall
This house would be better inside and out with a few windows on the bare wall. The divider between the floor help, but it is still a big expanse of blank.

Except for a few failed modernist experiments this is rarely a problem with the front of the house. Even the most taste-challenged builder recognizes no one wants to buy a house with a blank façade on the front. So why do they think it is okay if the sides, or even the back, are bare?

A lovely house scarred with a bare wall
Another lovely house. What would it have cost to make it lovely from all sides?

I will excuse, for the moment, those houses which are so close together that no one would ever get a good glimpse of the side walls, but for the majority of offending houses this is not the case. The walls are left bare because the builder thinks no one will care, and he can trim a few thousand dollars off the cost of the house.

Well, economics are real, and a few thousand saved might just allow a couple to afford the house. But this is not just a problem with bare bones starter homes. People who are putting big money down for granite countertops are willing to accept ugly on a good portion of the exterior of their home. It is time for this to stop!

The usual solution to this problem is to add windows. Chances are your interior will appreciate the extra light.  The great architect Christopher Alexander, in his book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction says that natural light coming in from two different angles improves communications and helps people feel more at ease when conversing.  The improved lighting helps us to discern the subtle differences in the other persons facial expressions, aiding our understanding.  

bare walls
A typical suburban house with lots of thought applied to one of its four sides.

If windows aren’t practical then the space needs to be decorated with some other type of device. An exterior chimney might do the trick, but that is a tad extreme. If the house is masonry then some external buttresses will help, as will decorative brickwork. For the house that is already built there is always the trellis. Climbing vines will provide texture and interest, as well as shading the house in the summer.

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MN  
There was no mention of house orientation. If the wall faces directly North, doesn't that have an impact on installing windows on that side. Here in …

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See my Architectural Design Principles Sections



Greek Revival House in Hillsdale, MI

See my Greek Revival Sections



Moulton Carriage Door

Solve your Garage Door problem here



Gunston Hall - Georgian Style House

Investigate the Georgian Style here



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See the old Victorians here



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Confused? Try my Architectural Dictionary



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Tired or Suburbia? Check out your alternatives here