The Irvine House

The Irvine House

The Master Suite

As the owners of a new $200,000 plus Irvine Home, the happy couple are rewarded with generous personal space.  Occupying nearly a quarter of the house, the master suite is a shrine to the marital act, or at least to hygiene and the wardrobe.  Large walk-in closets, his and her sinks, glass shower stalls, Jacuzzi whirlpool bathtubs, and private toilets are standard features in the master bathrooms.  As if the inner sanctum of the bedroom did not provide enough privacy, many houses are designed with optional ‘retreats,’ a room within a room.

The Children’s Rooms

Although adopting the same private position, but sufficiently distant from the parents, the children are not blessed with the same abundance of personal space.  Forced into rooms the size of prison cells with mirrored closet doors – to double the perceptual size of the room – children’s activities move into the rest of the house.  Study niches and lofts frequently form the transition between the personal and familial zones of the new home.

The Stair

Adjacent to the loft is the stair.  Still the primary sculptural element of the American House, the Irvine Stair also creates vertical openings, its spatial volume appropriated by smaller adjacent rooms.

The Kitchen/Family Room

Appropriately enough, the family gathers in the hybrid kitchen/family room, or as it is called in one house plan, the ‘super family room.’  Horizontal in design, the family room is used for the informal preparation and consumption of food and television.

The Living/Dining Room

Formality in the family occurs at the dinner table – the dining room is almost always stiff and formal and located between the kitchen and the front door.  Important guests still come to dinner, perhaps.  As the imagined face of the family, the dining room is joined by the living room, a volumetric space (but never truly vaulted – the mass produced trusses permit only flat ceiling treatments).

The Home Office / The Entry

In the smaller houses, however, the pretension of a formal living room to serve as the family’s internal public space is dropped altogether.  This role has been assumed by the home office.  Sometimes located on stair landings, sometimes in large wall niches, sometimes in separate rooms in lieu of a third garage bay or guest bedroom, the home office is always located near the house’s entry.  For the entrepreneuring, the office frequently has its own exterior door.  Not withstanding this mixture of business and domescity, the house’s entry is still designed to overwhelm, presenting the entrant with the house’s most impressive views and spatial dynamics.

The Garage

But, in most cases, the street facade is still dominated by a two car garage door.  Moments of imagination occasionally occur around the Irvine Garage, however.  In some houses, the garage faces, with the living room, a landscaped autocourt for basketball, tailgate parties and tinkering with the BMW.  Nearly attaining the status of a real courtyard atrium in a Roman or Spanish sense, the autocourt accesses the street via a porte-coerce.  Other homes employ a drive-through garage, one car wide and two deep.  This device reduces the percentage of front facade dedicated to garage doors and necessitates the revivial of the alley.

(Sub)Urbanism

But beyond this relationship between the house’s architecture and urbanism, the spatial gradations of privacy are negated – or reinforced – by the complete failure of site planning.  Why open the blinds of the beautiful bay window in your kitchen with the view is of your neighbor’s bay window ten feet away?  How do you have your private communion with nature when your neighbor’s bedroom porch all but overlooks your backyard?  How do you sustain a neighborhood street culture without front porches or on cul-de-sac roads?  Successful within their own internal domain, the inability and lack of this interior planning to anticipate the phenomenal densities of Irvine Houses forces the homeowner inward.  Exterior privacy is impossible and privacy within doors can only be obtained by drawing the curtains.  Masters of their own domain, the owners of the Irvine House are precluded by architecture and suburbanism from participating in a neighborhood public life.

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