Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let There Be Light....

I just recently spent a weekend in Finland, the country of my mother's birth and, luckily for me, the place that has given me dual citizenship and a passport which allows me to live in England.   I saw family and friends and had a lovely time and enjoyed being in the city, but what impressed me most of all, strangely enough in a country that is dark and snowed in for half the year, was the light.

Yes, light. 

Living in England, people love their gardens.  They love their fireplaces.  They love their pubs.  They love their wine.  But the one thing they have forgotten to appreciate, in a way, is light.

Scandinavian architecture, or at least the Swedish and Finnish architecture that I've been exposed to, is specifically directed to take advantage of as much light as possible that they can bring into their houses.  In countries where there is approximately 5 hours of light a day in the deep winter months, that makes sense.  There is a great book called Living With Light all about how Scandinavian design is intended to use every available moment of light and welcome light into a house.   Be it an old house or a new one, the essential style is the same. 

But in England, with old stone cottages and small windows, it's almost as if the light is something like the cold that needs to be fought against and braced for.  The theory being in a way if you keep the light out, you keep out the cold as well.  While Georgian buildings welcome and rejoice in the light with large, multi-pane windows, they're sadly not in the majority of the houses I can afford to live in.

To be fair, most houses in Finland are made of wood.  And, as my architect cousin Hanna reminded me, wood houses burn.  Apparently the city of Turku, one of Finland's largest cities after Helsinki, almost complete burned in the late 1800's.  My  cottage in England, built in the 1750's of Somerset quarried stone, is of a different era entirely.  So it's unfair to put even relatively modern 1900's standards of architecture and house building as a comparison to that.  But even so, standing in the bright living room of my cousin's 80 year old house or looking through the large panels of glass in my aunt's mid-century home that invites nature in, I had waves of window envy.

Years ago in the States I fell in love with Craftsman style architecture.  A product of the American Arts and Crafts movement propagated by Frank Lloyd Wright and William Morris, its ideals were about a combination of beauty and functionality.  No space was wasted....built in cupboards, sideboards, closets.  The themes of nature...and being one with nature in the space you lived in...are fundamental.  

And so I find myself in an architecture quandry.  My ideal house would be a Craftsman-style cottage with Scandinavian-style windows and light usage in the middle of bright green England.  

As I somehow doubt many of those exist I better start saving up so I can build it. 

And....might as well save up to build a sauna in it as well. 

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