Modern Design: Trend or the new Traditional?

Local home builders shed light on recent growth of modern home design in our predominantly traditional or craftsman market


Over the past several years, there has been a trend towards modernstyle homes in Europe, the United States, and Western Canada. Now, what seems to be only recently, we are seeing the same modern trend in our local HRM communities. Reminiscent of the midcentury modern style, contemporary modern exteriors are generally characterized by low pitched or flat roofs, linear/block design, over-sized windows, the use of multiple material types, and bolder/contrasting colours.

Home builders know, perhaps more than most, that we live in a time of choice. With several television shows and a vast multitude of websites and social media dedicated to home building and renovations, consumers have the ability to view home styles from all corners of the world. And with choice, comes demand. Buyers of new homes are demanding more style choices that will showcase their personal tastes and it’s up to our industry to fulfill that demand.

A simple survey of local home construction gives us an insight. Looking within the city, the surrounding subdivisions, and the regions of HRM extending outwards, it is clear that variety of exterior styles are in demand rather than a single style. On a drive through West Bedford—one of the more active new home construction areas in the region— you can find markedly different home design styles between adjacent streets or even on either side of one street. Many individual communities outside the city are characterized by a particular exterior style, as buyers choose a community in which their preferred style is dominant and that reflects their chosen lifestyles. While yet other communities show a mix in styles throughout.


What’s your style?

The modern exterior style, sometimes also referred to as contemporary-modern or urban style (although there are differences between these) focuses largely on clean and simple rectilinear or curvilinear forms. The idea is crisp, sharp, and modular, augmented by mixing multiple textures and colours, resulting in simple forms while still producing a striking visual effect. Rooflines are distinct and low pitched with cantilever or large overhangs. Windows are many and over-sized with horizontal panes. Many modern facades are made up of several materials and a mix of flat vinyl with natural or natural-like materials such as wood, brick, and/or stone. The colour palette mixes darker colours with bolder, brighter highlights. It is not unusual to see different colour windows and multiple colours of siding on the same house and an additional, diff erent trim colour all combined with two or more diff erent stone or brick products on the same house.

Cresco_ModernIn Nova Scotia, the modern style currently trending tends to be less extreme in these characteristics than modern homes in other regions, with elements— sometimes more, sometimes less—of other exterior styles mixed in. “There are varying degrees of styles of craftsman and modern styles,” says Ryan McNeil, President of Stonewater Homes, a custom home builder in Nova Scotia for 12 years. “Modern in Nova Scotia is not necessarily the same as modern styles in western Canada or the US. There is a range within each style. We as home builders and the general public, adopt certain aspects of diff erent styles and we implement those styles in our home plans. It keeps things fresh and creates diff erent aesthetics and diff erent streetscapes from one location to the next.”

Cresco_Modern_2Another building company, Cresco, began seeing a demand in their clientele for a modern exterior over the past two or three years. Breanne Markotich, Customer Experience Coordinator at Cresco says that the company is now building 10-15% of their homes with modern exteriors. “Our demand has defi nitely changed. When we began building 28 years ago, there would not have been as high of a demand for a modern look,” says Markotich. “This has been heavily infl uenced by magazines and TV. We are fi nding that there are more ways for prospective buyers to fi nd new ideas on home trends and renovations and it has defi nitely shaped the way they envision their home. The modern home is unique, you don’t see that style as often in traditional HRM communities, and some people are really drawn to that.”

For the past decade, craftsman style (or “Art and Crafts”) homes have been the most popular choice for new home construction. Typically characterized by having covered front porches with tapered square columns, stone accents and gabled roofl ines with decorative brackets or rafters, these homes incorporate a more traditional simple colour scheme. Previous to that the traditional style predominated market demand, although in some market segments the demand for traditional style homes is again overtaking craftsman. These styles are also subject to changes in their own trends. “Exterior pillars now tend to be square, whereas a decade ago they tended to be round,” says Keith Sawlor, Owner of Sawlor Built Homes, giving one example. Sawlor has been in custom built homes business for over 30 years and his biggest demand continues to be for traditional style exteriors.

Josh Norwood, general manager of Nature Ridge Homes, has also seen trends change. “People are now expressing themselves through bolder colours on exteriors. More vibrant blues and reds. They’re not sticking to the beige hues which would have been popular a few years ago. For example, a very popular colour choice now for us is eggplant,” says Norwood. Nature Ridge Homes based in Porter’s Lake has for the past six years built custom homes in that area fulfi lling a demand for craftsman style exteriors with strong arts and crafts elements.


While elements of modern exterior design are influencing choices in other styles such as traditional, craftsman, and arts and crafts, for a large part these infl uences are subtle.

“About 4-5 years ago we would often speak to clients about craftsman style exteriors. That has been replaced in the last couple years with a demand for a traditional style home with elements of a contemporary or modern style mixed in subtle areas,” explains Sawlor “There are more questions and conversations with our clients on diff erent options for colours on windows and trim details, but these home are still traditional style”.

1702-McCabe_printThe demand for traditional and craftsman-style homes that builders like Sawlor Built Homes and Nature Ridge Homes fulfi ll illustrates that, although subtle modern elements may become trending, the demand for these exterior styles is still high both within the city and elsewhere in HRM. For companies such as Stonewater and Cresco that are seeing a much higher demand for the modern style, the mainstay of the HRM market demand is still the traditional or craftsman.

A difference in exterior style choice can be seen between buyers looking for spec homes versus those looking to build a custom home. It is generally the younger demographic, many of whom are buying their fi rst home, that is driving this increased demand for modern exteriors. This demographic generally seems more interested in spec homes that they can buy already built and ready to move into. For people in the 55+ demographic, those at a point where they looking to down-size to build their forever home, the traditional and craftsman styles seem to be the most in demand.

Companies that build homes by design predominantly are not seeing the trend towards modern exterior facades. “Traditional and craftsman style homes are certainly the biggest demand with our clients,” says Sawlor. “Since our company started in 1969, we have always been custom home builders and we build whatever our clients wish to have built. Most of them want a traditional look and feel to the exterior. We would gladly build an ultra contemporary home, but our existing clients have not asked for that.”

Location is also key. People choose a community that reflects their lifestyle, stage of life, and personal tastes, so community and style demand are linked. Cresco’s developments are largely in the subdivisions of HRM, not far from the city core. For Stonewater Homes, where they also have suburban or rural projects, the exterior style tends to depend heavily on the community and proximity to the city.

Builders in other areas of HRM are not seeing the same demand for modern style homes. For example, the Nature Ridge community attracts those who want more green space both on and around their properties. Here buyers want natural or natural-like exterior material and a more rustic, crafty feel that extends the exterior design into the yard with elements such as “edible landscaping”.

“One of the most popular things our clients ask for are the arts and crafts details. Whether it be tapered columns with stone on the front or a natural stacked dry stone on the front of the house, gable bracket accents, tapered column, shakes, something to dress up the house and give it a unique look to set it apart from other house in the areas,” explains Norwood.

Other Factors

Regional differences in climate also affect exterior design. Two key considerations here are choice of exterior materials and over-sized windows. Materials appropriate to climate must be balanced by final sales cost and energy efficiency. This is particularly important in spec homes, as the sale cost must refl ect what buyers deem reasonable within a given community. Vinyl products are still by far the most in demand because once material, installation, and maintenance costs are factored, vinyl products are the most economical. And with new vinyl products hitting the market at rapid rates, this no longer needs to constrain choice in exterior style. “There are vinyl products now that, at a reasonable distance, even someone in the industry would have a hard time distinguishing from natural products,” says McNeil.

NatureRidge_bungalowThis may be helping the trend for modern exteriors to rise in HRM as builders can manage balancing style with sales costs, making choice more accessible to buyers. Vinyl products also win in terms of being low or no maintenance. In both older and younger demographics, people are demanding low or no maintenance materials, as they consider both the monetary and time costs of natural building products such as wood.

Regional building codes are another consideration. “One thing we always like people to keep in mind is, if you see something on TV or the internet, make sure you use a quality supplier. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean there should not be a concern regarding the design. What’s behind the walls really matters. Building codes change from region to region—you might see an amazing home that is okay for one area, but not for the building codes where you want to build.” says Markotich.

While an increased demand for modern style homes is defi nitely rising, it is not by far the majority. HRM and the surrounding communities are by and large not the typical urban centres, with many communities either suburban or lakeside. The increased demand for modern exteriors is predominantly in the urban and subdivision areas closer to the city and we can reasonably expect increased demand for these exteriors in these areas. Although some people are choosing a modern exterior on a lake-front property, these are not common.

With our predominantly non-urban living spaces, our laid-back Maritime culture and long-standing traditions, it seems unlikely that modern design will overtake all others as the dominant home style, at least not any time soon. What can be said, however, is that regardless of past traditions, current choices or future traditions, Nova Scotians will continue to take whatever trend comes and make it a style all of their own.


Ania Swiatoniowski

Ania Swiatoniowski

Ania K. Swiatoniowski is a South Shore resident, Ania is a freelance writer and researcher in science, technology, and natural resources. With a science education from Saint Mary's, Dalhousie, and Penn State universities, she has contributed to numerous popular and academic publications and meetings. She makes her home in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.