May 1, 2018

What is an Average House?

These days it is getting increasingly hard for young couples to afford their own home. We’ve all heard the term “starter home,” well anymore what exactly does that mean? This generation of architects is no different than many of the previous generations. What I am talking about is the struggles and how very disheartening it is that architectural design is not accessible to the “average person” wanting a basic home. For generations now we drive around any subdivision in any corner of the country and see the same basic split level home that has been regurgitated thousands of times for the past half-century. But anymore this “Vanilla Box” is not even within reach of many young couples starting out.

Historically, we saw Wright in the 40’s develop the Usonian Homes, we saw modernist pioneers in the 50’s developing their own version of a generic track home and today you have some kit homes and some pioneers experimenting with their own versions of an average home but overwhelmingly we still see tens of thousands of split-level homes littering our landscape every year.


We hear a lot about how millennials are nomadic, moving around so they don’t like to be tied down to a mortgage and loans, and they are okay with renting longer than previous generations. Still, when you think about The physical places that many of us live in, whether they are homes that we own or ones that we rent, they typically fall way short of being warm and comfortable environments. Sure we have HGTV these days to help us “spruce up” these sterile and bland spaces with tips and easy “How-To” advice but none of this compares to when you walk into an intentionally designed space, you instantly know it.

As I reflect on my career, it has truly come full circle. When I first started out I was very interested and equally frustrated with the concept of “affordable housing.” Design is not a bad word and it does not have to be expensive. Yet when people can’t even afford the basic homes that contractors are slapping up, the discussion never even comes up about an architect or custom designing a space. So many times potential clients tell me, I would love to hire an architect but if I have to choose between design services and nicer fixtures, the nicer fixtures win every time. So many times people call me up and ask if I just have a library of house plans that they can look at that I can pull off the shelf. They are eager to tell me about all their “magazine plans” and all the builders they talk to have “stock plans”, and are very confused that I, an architect, do not have piles of house plans sitting around that they can use. The cynic in me just wants to walk away and let these misguided folks “get what they pay for,” but at the same time, we all know the studies that prove the psychological and emotional benefits that good design can have on one’s wellbeing.

Tony Perpignano, AIA- President

With more than 30 years of experience in principal management, architectural design, administration, and planning, Tony has the expertise on project types of all scales and sizes. He’s had a hand in designing many of CWG’s signature structures, but he particularly enjoys designing public schools. Tony has a passion for community service and is an active member of Rotary Club and the Helena Chamber of Commerce.