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Downsize & simplify

Smaller homes and sustainable lifestyle management are part of the ever-evolving world of architecture

>> Sustainable living techniques are being used in houses and units in the Lost Rabbit community (above), outside of Madison. Even larger houses are on smaller footprints in the planned community along the waterfront.

The sluggish economy and a desire for a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle are factors affecting changing residential design, according to two prominent Mississippi architects, Michael Barranco of Jackson and Jonathan Mattox of Oxford.

Michael Barranco, an architect since 1989, says the current state of residential design is an interesting issue.  His firm does a lot of residential design related to large mixed-use communities.

“What we’re finding is that more people are moving to where there’s true community,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons for that. Certainly an economic one of having less distance to drive to work, which translates into saving gas costs, but there are also social and spiritual aspects. People find that many times in suburbia they’re isolated and live in a homogenized world. At the end of the day, that causes them to desire more community.”

He finds Jackson’s Fondren area an example of an interesting play on community where wealthy residents and the not-so-wealthy live in close proximity. That means every day residents are with people who are not like themselves. Another Jackson area, Belhaven, also epitomizes community.

“In Belhaven and Fondren, people give up certain luxuries to be in a community. They reuse old homes,” Barranco said. “In suburbia they may feel they have to have a three-car garage, huge master bedroom and a closet as big as a room, but not in neighborhoods with a sense of community.”

He sees the trend going on everywhere although it’s tracking slower in Mississippi, a rural state where trends catch on more slowly. Condo and apartment living are also catching on in downtown Jackson.



“These units are very small,” Barranco said. “They’re attracting single artists, young professionals, empty nesters; really a cross section of people who’re starting to realize they might not need a huge closet and a two-or-three-car garage.”

Another trend he and Jonathan Mattox observe is a move toward smaller housing across the country and in Mississippi.

Mattox, associated with Oxford’s Howorth & Associates since 1994, sees a focus more on quality and practicality rather than size.

“I see more emphasis on efficiency, remodeling versus new construction and a trend toward more informal spaces,” Mattox said. “People are building things they will use. Homes are smaller, meaning a shift in priorities, although that doesn’t necessarily mean smaller master bedrooms and kitchens, but homeowners are not building rooms they don’t use, thus eliminating a lot of the fat.”

Mattox, who works solely in residential design, enjoys working with clients who are involved and care about every detail. There are no committees to deal with in residential design.

“I’m also seeing people investing in outdoor spaces because they’re staying home more,” he said. “In our market there’s not one go-to style of design but a variety of home styles. The Southern influence is popular as are natural materials such as brick and wood.”

Still, in Mississippi Barranco finds homeowners hesitant to get rid of the master bedroom on the ground floor and the two-car garage. He continues to see the use of porches, courtyards and other outdoor spaces, including outdoor kitchens. Some people are also requesting places for urban gardens.

Green, or sustainable design, is the buzz word around the country. “People are acknowledging it even though it’s not really mainstream here yet,” Mattox said, “but it’s coming. We’re not behind; we’re just in the second tier of this trend.”

Barranco definitely thinks the trend is for more sustainable residential design. “It just makes sense,” he said. “A lot of building products are now such that we don’t have much choice. Brick and wood manufacturing is becoming more considerate of green technology along with how things are built. The building/design orientation is also important in making homes more energy efficient.”

He sees a prevailing design trend around Jackson as “quote French.”  “There are some really strange hybrids being done,” he said. “It must be due to a lack of understanding of French style and the use of products that are a little awkward.”

The use of old brick and stucco is still popular along with newcomer Hardie Board, which has replaced the old asbestos siding. “We’re getting better applications with stucco that I think is due to the Hispanic population that moved here,” he said.

Lynn Lofton is a contributing writer for the Mississippi Business Journal.


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