The New Transitional Style

By Boyce Thompson

Transitional design is about combining traditional and contemporary elements, as in this modern farmhouse, Plan 924-6.

So you don’t want a home design that slavishly interprets traditional. But you aren’t ready for a purely modern home with unusual forms and a flat roof. Don’t despair – there’s something in between: transitional design. This quickly emerging style puts a modern spin on traditional forms. In transitional designs you can still make out the familiar forms of Prairie, Farmhouse, or even Gothic. But the building materials, details, and colors have been updated to suit modern sensibilities. “People are tired of the salad dressings – French, Italian, and Ranch,” says Nick Lehnert of KTGY Architecture + Planning, one of several architects who talked up the look at this year’s International Builders Show. “They want something different. We’re seeing transitional design pop up all over the country, even in baby boomer housing.”

What elements distinguish transitional design? Typically column, railing, siding, and color details are the important places to look. The style often introduces industrial elements, such as corrugated metal siding, steel I-beam columns or metal grid railing. Some decorative elements customary to a traditional style may get left on the drafting board for simplicity’s sake. “The effect of transitional design is often an exaggeration of the original form,” says Architect Ed Binkley of BSB Design, who lists other elements common to transitional design -- gooseneck lighting, oversized windows, concrete block, horizontal awnings, and rainscreen walls.

Binkley recently completed an illustrative study of transitional housing styles for his firm -- this slide shows some of his recent designs, including what he calls the "new urban farmhouse."

Demand for transitional design is coming from two directions. Some people merely want to update traditional styles with new materials and sensibilities. Other home buyers start from a desire for a modern home and backtrack into a more familiar building form. Architect Seth Hart of DTJ, who also presented at IBS, refers to the style as "moderated modernism." Hart looks for cost-efficient ways to achieve the desired look. He focuses on creating color contrasts and simplifies building forms. “The thing you don’t want to do is go wild with roof forms,” he advises. “A simple roof allows you to spend money on other things.”

Another thing to watch out for is dramatically altering the key component of the architectural style. That means retaining the proportion, massing, scale, and roof slopes in traditional designs, says Binkley. Then you can focus on introducing transitional elements that “may add a touch of whimsy, animation, and perhaps humor,” he says.

Transitional designs are big in new neighborhoods of production homes. But you see them showing up on house plans, too, especially on the new wave of modernized farmhouses. Plan 924-6, below and at the top of this post, is a prime example of an

American farmhouse form updated with contemporary siding, a modern window palette, and exaggerated

eaves. Inside, the plan focuses on providing contemporary living spaces with interior spaces that flow to outdoor activity zones.

Cottage designs are also getting a makeover. In Plan 23-2308, shown here, the gables, a distinguishing feature of cottage designs,

were left intact. But the designer introduced a high color contrast between the building forms, and a host of non-traditional 
horizontal forms -- windows, color bands, and siding. The slope of the roof, 6/12, also happens to be ideal for another modern touch: solar panels.

In this updated farmhouse design, Plan 888-1, simplification – uniform vivid red siding in a vertical style

and a standing seam metal roof – allows the traditional barn form to shine through. But the plan includes contemporary elements -- a front porch recessed into the building form and geometric windows – rarely seen on barns. The plan is also filled

with old-fashioned creature comforts – a window seat, stair tower, skylights, a large mudroom and a built-in entry bench.

Some transitional designs are more subtle than others. With its deep eaves and white massing, Plan 498-18 has the hallmarks of Spanish architecture, with echoes of the Prairie style in the geometry of the hipped roof. 

But the exterior materials have been overhauled. Big glass picture windows (including a corner window), metal railings and downspouts, and a brevity of detailing give the home a transitional bearing.  

Tue Jan 31 00:00:00 PST 2017