It’s interesting to see the growth of housing in Ottawa, a capital that reflects Canada’s architectural development. On one hand, we have the great Gothic Revival, a symbol of Britain’s past dominance. We also have modernism and all the other in-between movements, particularly evident in the streetscape of Ottawa’s downtown.
While these movements have clearly shaped large institutional buildings, they have also influenced the residential homes of Ottawa. Where do homes in Ottawa stand in their home décor?
It’s safe to say that the majority of houses are more traditional in nature, using recognizable forms and detailing. People prefer designs that evoke pleasant memories, and will choose familiar aesthetics from their past. The short-lived modernism that occurred ca. 1930-1960 wasn’t long enough for most people to change their concept of housing form.
For example, a residential house unit will commonly be finished with crown-mouldings, door and window trims, and even wainscoting. New suburban developments feature details like wainscoting too because developers understand that using neo-traditional packaging attracts consumers.
Modernism is a movement that focuses on maximizing function, a utilitarian philosophy using straight lines, pure geometry, and no adornment. It also rejects any historical precedent. Using this theory, modernist buildings shouldn’t use wainscoting or crown-moulding finishes.
However, wainscoting or other traditional techniques haven’t entirely disappeared in Canada. While it’s easy for people to accept modernism in institutional buildings, it’s harder for them to want to live in it. Canada’s national register reflects this attitude. While a number modernist buildings are listed to recognize their importance, very few of them are residential. Many people don’t see enough value in modern houses to pursue its historical designation.
Crown-moulding has always been a popular form of adornment in houses, a finish that was carried over from Great Britain. Modernism and Canada’s multiculturalism have transformed the way crown moulding looks, resulting in different profiles that reflect a diversified architectural history.
A common crown-moulding profile is one that uses a mix of curves and indents to create a traditional look. Meanwhile, Asian profiles tend to use square shapes. For modernistic homes, it comes as no surprise that their crown-moulding profile should have clean, straight edges.
Some houses have abandoned their traditional wainscoting and gone partially modern, sticking to clean lines with little adornment. However, in recent years, wainscoting has had a revival. It’s somewhat ironic to think that modernists would remove wainscoting, since wainscoting is very functional in a house. Wainscoting controls dampness, strengthen walls, and hides wall imperfections.
More contemporary homes feature colored wainscoting, adding a fresh vibe. Housing details have always been a mix of styles. It meshes enough modern to stay fashionable, but also retains enough traditional details to feel comfortable. For this reason, wainscoting is a valuable feature to keep.