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House numbers – when typography meets architecture

For most homeowners, it’s commonplace to spend time and energy on choosing outdoor furniture, house color, wallpaper in the bedroom and fabric for the sofa. But what about house numbers? According to typeface designer Göran Söderström, the design of the house number should be chosen with the same care as the other interior of the house.

– Why have a white plastic sign with Helvetica numbers on your house when you can choose something that harmonizes with the architecture? It feels like more and more people understands the value of design, and selecting your house number with care is a natural step to take when you build your dream home, he says.

Göran says that he grew up in the Stockholm suburb of Östberga, where some of the first Swedish graffiti paintings were found.
– I remember drawing several paintings on paper, and then proceeded to draw different fashion brands’ logos. In high school, I studied graphic design and got to draw classic antique fonts and learn more about typography, graphic design and printing technology. I think I was already sold back then, but it was not until 20 years later that I really took this interest seriously and started my business.

Typography is the basis for graphic design

According to Göran, typography is the basis for all graphic design and plays a major role in the public space. – Should you be forced to take away everything but the most important thing in a graphical composition, only typography would be left, he says.
– Typography is used wherever and whenever something should be communicated, and to design new fonts that can communicate and at the same time create some kind of aesthetics or identity is fascinating.

Creating a new font is like a trip where anything can happen, and the challenge of getting all the characters in a typeface to work together and look natural is very inspiring.”

He finds inspiration for new typefaces through the collaboration with interesting people, but also in older typography books and exciting expressions in various areas. – Most of all, however, I'm probably inspired by the process itself, I really love my job, says Göran. – Creating a new font is like a trip where anything can happen, and the challenge of getting all the characters in a typeface to work together and look natural is very inspiring.

Room for improved interplay between typography and architecture

Regarding the fusion of typography and architecture, Göran believes that there is great potential for improvement. – Now, I don’t know the process for choosing typefaces to house numbers on new buildings, but sometimes it seems as if a sign manufacturer has been contacted in the last minute. A manufacturer who then selects a standard font from their catalog, he says. – There is a great opportunity for deeper collaboration between architects and typeface designers. I mean, all typeface designers would consider it a dream project to draw letters and numbers to entrance doors, elevator signs and information boards for newly built or restored buildings.

The biggest difference between designing a typeface for print versus house number, according to Göran, is that a house number is a physical, three-dimensional product. – For house numbers, one must consider how the numbers will look in a certain size with a certain depth when drawing them. The depth also affects the shape, as you don’t always look at the house numbers standing right in front them as you do with printed typography. In addition, house numbers don’t really need a strong relationship with other characters in the same way as in a complete typeface family, so you may think more freely.

”For house numbers, one must consider how the numbers will look in a certain size with a certain depth when drawing them.”

Although Göran believes that the interplay and collaboration between architecture and typography can be improved, he thinks that there is lots of house number design that is good. Especially on houses and buildings where creativity as well as clarity in terms of architecture and typography have taken center stage.

– Some modernism houses at Gärdet in Stockholm are amazing, and the entrance gate to Hornsgatan 62, for example, have very nice house numbers, he says. – But if I should choose a favorite, I would like to choose something close to where I live, the Barnmorskan area in the Enskedal valley. I respond to the houses in that area every time I ride my bicycle. It’s an area with 22 townhouses built 2008 to 2010. Here they have truly focused on designing nice house numbers. Black, big numbers, probably 1.5 meters high, against a white wall. The numbers have an industrial expression and appear to be custom-made just for these houses. On the other side of the road you will find classic villas, providing a nice contrast.