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Monday, December 05, 2011

Book Review: Best Homes in America

Best Homes in America by Dwell
Dwell Media, 2011
Paperback, 168 pages

In this special issue of Dwell, the editors of the popular "at home in the modern world" magazine dug through their back issues to assemble their favorite U.S. homes. To be precise, thirteen houses are featured, ranging from publication in 2008 to earlier this year. Each house and spread on it is distinctly Dwell, modern yet still packed with the objects and people that make a house a home. While the comments accompanying the slideshow at Huffington Post tend to be conservative jabs against modernism, the way Dwell chooses to portray the homes -- as lived-in places with the residents in the photos and quoted in the stories -- makes it clear that livability and design are important; it's not just about architecture as form. The relationship between architecture and client (and site, and the environment, among other factors) is the focus, so the houses can be seen as the ideal homes for their owners; otherwise why would they present their houses in the pages of Dwell?

The houses range from Maine to the desert southwest, from a townhouse in the largest city in the country to a farmhouse on 55 Midwestern acres. It's a good mix, especially since it includes homes that are renovations as well as ground-up buildings. The varied mix makes it hard to pick favorites, but I'm partial to the Sky Ranch by Miller Hull, which perches an 800-sf residence atop a Seattle warehouse; LOT-EK's Weiner Residence/Studio, which cleverly incorporates old semi-truck beds in, of all places, a historic district in Manhattan; a bungalow in Austin, Texas renovated with salvage materials by the owner and his father, and told in a Studs Terkel-esque manner to Sarah Rich; and a guest cottage designed by Gray Organschi Architecture that is quaint yet expansive. What makes them "the best" is ripe for argument (I'd contend that the editors strove to present a cross-section, rather than their own favorites, which may have leaned noticeably in one direction), but there is something for everybody. The cover price might be almost double the normal cover price, but the scaling back of ads makes it worthwhile, especially for those not yet indoctrinated into the world of Dwell.

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