We need to turn the whole idea of the American home around.
Literally. Turn it around so that people’s indoor and outdoor lives are focused on the front of the home, not the back.
It used to be that way. But in the great suburban boom beginning in the 1950s, American homes started to cluster their real living spaces in back: den, family room, dining room. Outdoor life became centered on the deck and back yard. Front porches all but disappeared, and the most prominent architectural feature out front became a yawning garage door—or two or three of them.
What happened was one of those unintended consequences: along with the front porches, community evaporated. Families turned inward on themselves.
We’ve designed the Highlands at Langley to reverse that reclusive trend. We believe that the layout of a community and even the architectural design of its individual homes can contribute a great deal to creating a sense of community.
If ever there were a perfect place to do this, it’s Whidbey Island. There’s a community spirit in the air here. Walk into a shop in downtown Langley, and someone will know your name. Go to a movie at the Clyde Theater, and the owner will step out in front before the movie to make an announcement or two about some upcoming community event. Instead of commercials.
The Highlands taps into this spirit and builds on it.
In several of the Highlands’ pocket neighborhoods, the homes don’t face a street. They look out over a landscaped commons—at people, not passing cars. The street and garages are in back.
In every home, the porch is the most prominent architectural feature out front. It’s not only a practical neighborly gathering place, but also a symbol affirming the prime importance of community.
Notice the wooden railings around the porches. They’re wider than usual, forming subconscious invitations for neighbors to drop by and sit on the beams to chat. Where possible, the porch roofs are translucent acrylic, allowing diffused daylight to brighten the sitting area.
Inside the homes, kitchen, dining and living areas are all grouped at the front. Den, office, bedrooms and bathrooms are in back. It’s a simple and logical design principle that orients the public part of the house toward the public space of the community. It’s so logical and community-spirited that we can only wonder why a couple of generations abandoned it.
The Highlands’ master plan was designed by architect Ross Chapin, an architect who makes his own home on Whidbey Island and has achieved national prominence with his work on pocket neighborhoods and innovative small houses. He has also drawn plans available for building on the Highlands’ lots.