Crudely drawn pitched roofs and shutters — flanking windows replete with divided panes — make up the crayon renderings children tend to depict of houses.
These iconic elements, alongside white picket fences and flower boxes, are what many of us have grown up understanding as the de facto representation of the physical home.
In fact, in many parts of our country, including my family’s neighborhood in Atlanta, comfortably familiar, traditional home styles have dominated for so long that, even just five years ago, those in the market for a truly modern home would probably have come up empty-handed.
Until recently, the mantra of local real estate professionals had remained largely consistent. Modern homes will sit on the market longer (and oftentimes sell for less) because far fewer want to live in them.
This was underscored for me when, several years back, I took our children trick-or-treating in our idyllic neighborhood, overwhelmingly occupied by homes built in the 1920s and ’30s, with the exception of a recently erected, flat-roofed, contemporary architectural wonder with huge expanses of glass and not a single shutter in sight. As we approached the home with another family, I overheard the child ask his mother why someone would want to live in an office building. Not skipping a beat, his mom replied: “Some people just like to live in office buildings.”
Fast forward five years and, on nearly a national level, the grip of traditional home archetypes has loosened exponentially faster than modern homes can be erected.
From the more expected embrace in California to the somewhat surprising welcome in the deepest parts of the conservative South, the modern-home trend has made serious inroads, even with people who may still consider themselves hardcore traditionalists in many other ways.
Atlanta residents Rob and Deb Stone, design enthusiasts and empty nesters, had lived for decades in traditional homes but decided it was time for a change. They are building a home in a decidedly modern style.
“We’ve long wanted to live in a modern home, but there have been very few on the market,” Rob said.
“The clean lines of modern homes have always appealed to us,” Deb said. “We love the airiness that often comes with them and the way their large windows bring in light, and the outside world, from all sides.”
They are not alone. Larger windows providing access to more natural light and visual connectivity to the outside are consistently cited as the primary drivers behind the modern-home movement. In line with studies linking natural-light exposure to an elevated mood, many of us just seem to be happier inhabiting brighter interior spaces with an effortless visual link to the outside, even if we’d prefer to be inside.
“Nationwide, independent of geography or climate, light is a recurring theme of what people are looking for,” said Christine Marvin, director of corporate strategy and design at Marvin Windows and Doors in Warroad, Minn.
“People are innately drawn toward light, and windows and doors play a huge role in how much natural light enters the interior spaces of a home,” Marvin said. “No matter the location, our research supports the conclusion that spaces with ample light, as well as a connection to the outdoors, allow homeowners to more readily recharge and relax.”
Launched just last year, Marvin’s newest line, Marvin Modern, has prompted an enthusiastic response to its cleaner lines and generous amounts of unobstructed glass, supporting market study conclusions that modern-home construction — and the incorporation of ever larger expanses of glass — is on the rise.
Rob Stone, weeks away from completion of his family’s modern home, said he thinks contemporary designs will become the norm in several years.
“Increasingly, we see contemporary designs replacing old bungalows, for better and worse,” he said.
“That’s being driven by buyers like us, but more importantly by a group of architects and builders with a passion for modern,” he said. “Their best projects wake people up and incite a new appreciation for contemporary design.”
Vern Yip is a TLC/HGTV interior designer and host and author of the book “Vern Yip’s Design Wise: Your Smart Guide to a Beautiful Home.” Originally from McLean, Va., Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (all @VernYipDesigns). He writes occasionally for The Washington Post.