Our Path to Two Homes, Part III: Design Influence

Villa Emo

There has always been invention in architecture (think of the passive house movement and green building initiatives), but there is also a great deal of reinvention and reinterpretation of history. My husband and I were educated to reference history in our design work and we did this in designing our first house. Although our next house will be quite different, we are also referencing history in its design.  

Before we put pen to paper on our first house twenty years ago, we returned to Italy for a second honeymoon and spent a week driving through the Veneto, the region of Italy where Venice is, to view the work of Andrea Palladio. Palladio, who practiced architecture during the Renaissance period (1508-80), was the first architect to integrate the classical elements of antiquity into residential design. The foundation of Palladio’s work is proportion. Palladio designed to a vocabulary he set derived from a set of principles invented by Greek and Roman mathematicians and architects, as well as from early Renaissance work that he admired, such as the 15th Century Santa Maria Novella basilica in Florence. 

The foundation of Palladio’s work is proportion. 

Santa Maria Novella

Leon Battista Alberti

Palladian Inspired Cow Shed

Palladian Inspired Cow Shed

Villa Barbaro

Villa Barbaro

The majority of Palladio’s villas were actually working farms; proportion and classical elements were used for both the main house and its servant spaces. By doing this, Palladio achieved a harmony between spaces that were served and the servant spaces. His design extended to the spaces used for animals as well. A loggia housing sheep used the same principles and materials as the main house for the human residents.


The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

The ancient Greeks thought that the Golden Ratio was aesthetically pleasing and wrote of it as early as the 400 B.C.  The design elements of the Parthenon (438 BC) fit within this rectangle using a 1: 1.618 ratio.


The Vitruvian Man

The Vitruvian Man

The Vitruvian Man - Renaissance artists and architects interpreted the architectural principles of the Roman architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (80 – 15 BC). The Vitruvian Man is a late fifteenth century drawing that depicts Vitruvius’ description of man fitting perfectly into a circle (the divine symbol) and a square (the earth symbol). This drawing is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci although recent research suggests it was first drawn by his friend Giacomo Andrea de Ferraro.


The work of Palladio has been reinterpreted for centuries. Examples include Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the architecture of the American Greek Revival period in the 19th Century. In the town where we bought our land for our first house, many Greek Revival homes had been restored. We decided to build our own version to cohere with these already existing restored homes.  

The themes of procession, proportion, and served/servant spaces were used in our design of this first house. Our version of a loggia became a porch located off the served area of the house containing the living room, dining room, and library. We also reinterpreted the principles of procession used in landscape design to build a house with an entry courtyard. Here the colonnade framing the courtyard was contained with a row of hornbeam trees. 

Marner House (first home)

Marner House Courtyard Entry (first home)


For our current house, which will be a certified passive house: see blog Our Path to Zero, Part II: Design Influence, our reference is the modern movement in residential design (1950- 70), particularly the residential work of Mies van de Rohe. Similar to Palladio, van de Rohe viewed the use of proportion in architecture as a religion. He also derived a vocabulary based on antiquity, the Golden Ratio, a mathematical guide invented by the Greeks in the 5th Century BC, and the concept of served and servant spaces. 

The Farnsworth House, to us his greatest house, consists of two rectangles, living quarters and terrace, that are based on the Golden Ratio.  Similarly, the 11’0” planning module for the exterior of the house is based on the Ratio. The house has its public fenestrated side, the served space, and a core element containing heating and cooling equipment, bath and kitchen (the servant spaces).     

The Farnsworth House Plan

The Farnsworth House


For our new residence, we chose to build a compact house also consisting of two rectangles: one the public fenestrated south-facing side (the served space), and the other a private servant bar of bedrooms, bath, and storage.  

Marner House (second home)

Marner House (second home)

Marner House

Marner House (second home)

We also have a number, 15’, that dictates the design in plan and elevation. But our module is more pedestrian, 15’ being a planning module that maximizes efficiency and works with the wood construction of the house. 

Pedestrian as it is, 15’ is a number that works for us. It will allow us to combine an elegant and simple design with the requirements for a certified passive house. 


Elisabeth Post-Marner

Elisabeth Post-Marner