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Variation on a Theme

Each year, Gabriela and I try to escape for a long weekend in Cape May, a beach town at the southern tip of New Jersey.  For a change, one year we thought we would see what an autumn visit would be like . . . desolate.

Like many towns along the eastern shore, Cape May has a double life: In-Season and Out-of-Season.  This particular year it was as if we had the town to ourselves. The streets were empty except for the odd occurrence of another random couple discovering their own desolate Cape May.  There was a beauty in the silence.


Cape May has a long and storied history with its height of popularity coming to fruition around the turn of the century (two cycles ago).  It’s a Victorian beach town with a unique charm that makes it worth the trip.  While there, I typically spend a chunk of my time walking the streets and looking at the old architecture.  The enjoyment I experience on my tours is odd as I consider Victorian architecture to be one of my least favorite styles.  There is no individual home that I love, what I find so interesting is the endless re-interpretation of a theme.  Almost every house in old Cape May is very distinctly Victorian, yet no two houses are the same.  Each home has a bric-a-brac roof line and railing, but each is its own pattern, rhythm, and outline.  These variations create an engaging visual backdrop to the daily life around it.

I have discovered this same enjoyment walking the streets in the Cherokee-Seneca neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky.  Like Cape May, this neighborhood is dominated by homes that were all built in the same era, but none are alike.  The individualized brick detailing and window patterning separates each house from its neighbor.  Each home has a distinct personality though they share the same basic architectural DNA.


This is something I feel we have lost in America today.  Whether it is opportunity or interest, we no longer build in a variety of a theme.  A typical neighborhood is generally one of two types, either it has a variety of home designs that were built at different times in different styles or they were all built at roughly the same time but with little or no variation.  Variations, when they do occur, are more often than not superficial – it takes more than a different paint color to give a home individuality.


Imagine what it would be like to walk a neighborhood where each house is of our era and each house is completely unique.  Every home serving as a representation of the unique spirit of its inhabitant while at the same time declaring a connection to the community as a whole.  A neighborhood that offers the passerby a visual playground of detail to accompany their stroll.


That would be a place worth visiting.