What is Transitional Architecture?

Home with modern look crossed with Spanish Colonial style is an example of transitional architecture

This home’s modern look crossed with Spanish Colonial design is a prime example of transitional architecture. All photos courtesy of Bassenian Lagoni.

Spend more than a minute looking at new homes and there’s a good chance you’ll see many described as transitional.

While the definition of transitional home design seems fuzzy, it usually describes a home that combines multiple styles, creating a cohesive feeling that facilitate modern living.

The meaning of transitional really can depend on who you talk to these days, says Dave Kosco, director of design for Bassenian Lagoni Architects in Newport Beach, Calif. “But it’s always been consistent in my mind. To me, it is architecture in transition.”

When we think of architecture, we tend to think of specific styles — Mediterranean, Craftsman, Spanish Colonial — rather than design that synthesizes different stylistic elements. In the past, architects who specialized in commercial and custom projects were change agents, helping promote styles that looked beautiful and impacted daily living.

Today, as consumers overall become increasingly savvy to the sync between architecture and lifestyle, the innovators often are architects designing for the mass market. Demographic shifts, affordability concerns, smaller lot sizes and configurations, sustainability and new building products also drive shifts in how architects can combine the needs of homeowners with the design of houses.

Beginning with two homes geared toward Millennials, based on in-depth consumer research, Bassenian Lagoni leads this design revolution. “We’re at the forefront of this renaissance,” says Kosco, “and it is exciting to come to work every day and wonder what’s the next innovation going to be, what’s the next change.”

Adapting Classic Aesthetics for Modern Living

Some describe transitional as a style that looks forward while also looking back. Kosco sees transitional as a mid-point between traditional and modern. “Transitional architecture takes those outside fringes and brings them to a center point. It is an aesthetic that bridges traditional and modern and brings it to a comfortable warm aesthetic that even a modernist might still find appealing.”

Rather than one single look, transitional can also be seen as a continuum that begins with elements of familiar styles and moves toward sleeker expressions defined by form and mass. Historical ties, references to regional aesthetics and a particular style remain but are revised and interpreted in light of modern lifestyles.

Bassenian Lagoni has gathered more than 20 different designs into a book that illustrates the many faces of transitional architecture, while also giving important insights into the aesthetic and the evolution of the style. The book, Transitional Design — Redefining Residential Architecture, will be published in December.

For a new-home community in San Diego, Bassenian Lagoni architects looked to the legacy of Lillian Rice to produce a forward-looking design that was rooted in a style synonymous with Rancho Santa Fe, which has more than 10 Rice-designed buildings with a Spanish Colonial Revival twist. The elevations of Trevion, designed for a new community in Playa Vista, Calif., reflect Southern California’s architectural heritage with arched entries, detailed eaves with shaped corbels and dark woods.

Lifestyle and adaptability are transitional hallmarks. Open-concept plans and a connection with the outdoors enable these designs to live larger than the square footage, a characteristic Kosco says will become even more important in the future. “As we start to deal with affordability, which means less square footage and more density, it becomes important to have fewer visual obstacles.”

Bringing the Outdoors Inside

A connection with the outside is another transitional essential. Rather than an addition to the plan, courtyards, covered outdoor rooms and balconies are central to the way the home is organized and they are integrated into more than just one area of the home or one level. Natural light is crucial to transitional plans — windows that wrap around corners and transom windows that float above a room are used liberally.

For production homes, the ability to create a seamless flow between indoors and out, often with stacking or telescoping doors or windows, is relatively recent thanks to companies such as Western Doors and Windows, who pursued door systems that could be priced for production homes. “Ten years ago, walls of glass were not economically feasible,” says Kosco.
Adaptable Floor Plans, Functional Design

Another aspect of transitional architecture not often emphasized is adaptability, although Kosco considers it simply smart design. “This transitional approach just opens up really a Pandora’s Box of things that you can do to the house. You can incorporate a lot of sustainable features, which instead of turning the house into an albatross, all become cool design elements.”

In a contemporary farmhouse by Bassenian Lagoni, solar panels were integrated into the home as awning elements over the windows. In others, shading around windows adds to the design but is also functional. Smart design means these features serve a purpose other than just being pretty.

In the past, enhancements such as shutters, for example, were added simply to adorn the property and make it look authentic. In transitional architecture, such features have a purpose and a function, while also being an enhancement.

Because transitional architecture isn’t as defined as other styles and doesn’t have to conform to requirements of a design playbook, it is more adaptable to technology and sustainable elements.

Additionally, since transitional plans can be configured in a number of ways, they allow builders to make best use of smaller lots and unusual shapes. Interiors include more options for flexible spaces, which can change and adapt as lifestyles change.

“I think merchant housing is beginning to turn a corner and the things that we’re applying to houses (allow builders to design) houses (that) have a lot more purpose and function — and that’s both on the inside and the outside,” says Kosco.
Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor Magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

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