Monthly Archives: May 2008

EYE ON DESIGN: Home Movies

Screen Savers

Movies are a great way to stimulate architectural thinking, especially in summer when relaxation is on the agenda. Call me a little narrow (nothing new there!) but I love films with good residential architecture. High on my list is the modern Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stone-and-steel aerie above Mt. Rushmore in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.


According to a very fine article by Sandy McLendon on (which is the source of this image) it was a stage set. But you just can’t beat the stone base, the window wall, and that crazy cantilever. It’s Luxuriant Modernism — With An Edge!

I’m also a fan of the more traditional shingled beach house on Long Island in Something’s Gotta Give where the huge white kitchen seduces the eye with its array of storage cabinets and expansive island; and the over-the-top Tuscan mansion in Holiday (built in 1929 by well known San Marino, California architect Wallace Neff for his own family) where the master bedroom mimics the presidential suite in a five star hotel. Seeing such films again — while paying closer attention to design details this time — is an enjoyable way to research what you want in a home.

In fact, I have a friend who assigned film homework to his architect. He wanted his new rural getaway to resemble a classic hip-roofed, veranda-wrapped Australian farmhouse, like the one in the 1982 horse film The Man From Snowy River, seen here courtesy

man from snowy river harrison homestead

It’s a classic ranch house form: the simple strong shape of the hip roof and generous veranda create a memorable image of life on the range. Here’s a variation from Houseplans (Plan 81-101) that combines the hip and the gable. You can find many other variations by browsing through our Ranch House Style Collection.

hip roof farmhouse

This sort of house suits a rural setting and conjures images of horses tied up to the posts while their riders relax on the porch. A seductive summer idyll, and something to ponder as you dig into the popcorn.

GREAT HOUSES IN THE MOVIES LIST — Your suggestions welcome (a great place to start looking is the website

–Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan-inspired Ennis house in LA in Blade Runner; the Neo Classical brick Filoli mansion in Woodside, California (by San Francisco architect Willis Polk) in Heaven Can Wait, with Warren Beatty; the round-towered Victorian in Mrs. Doubtfire; the Roman pool temple at Hearst Castle as the villa in Spartacus; the Gamble House by Greene and Greene in Pasadena (the ultimate Craftsman bungalow and open to the public for tours by appointment) as Doc Brown’s house in Back to the Future

EYE ON DESIGN: Carbon Dating

Firepits and Barbecues: The Remix

Dusk is my favorite time of day, especially now that spring is turning to summer, because I enjoy dinner outside — with a dry rose or some prosecco, naturally. That usually means sitting around an outdoor firepit or barbecue (when “spare-the-air” regulations permit). And though we need to be careful about particulates in smoke, according to The New York Times Magazine’s recent “Green Issue” barbecuing with charcoal is practically a net zero regarding carbon emissions. Whew! Summer still has some sizzle. But as I start to clean the big rusty black cauldron-on-a-tripod that is our grill, I wonder about alternatives that might bring our backyard into the 21st century. Here’s what I’ve found with a cool stainless steel look.


The sturdy propeller-like design of The Conmoto Outdoor Fire Pit reinvents the campfire for suburban life.


I’d call this one “Beyond The Pail!” or “Got Hot Milk?!” It’s the Eva Solo Tabletop Grill (porcelain and stainless steel with a teak stand) and takes the hibachi idea in an entirely new direction. I love it. Of course the charcoal should be equally well-designed…

I hope all this grilling has spurred your plan search. For a quick round-up of barbecue-friendly floor plans like the one shown below, Plan 544-1 by Steven Murphy, explore our Outdoor Rooms Collection.


EYE ON DESIGN: Modern Marketplace

Contemporary Giving and Living

With the graduation and wedding season upon us, I started thinking about how I like to give well-designed contemporary objects like bowls or architectural book-ends as special occasion presents, and that brought to mind Placewares, one of the best contemporary design stores I have ever visited. To my mind it rivals Conran’s in London and New York because the objects on display are so well edited. Placewares and its adjacent Lyndon Gallery is in the tiny town of Gualala three hours north of San Francisco on California’s Mendocino Coast. Browse for everything from Marimekko pillows and mid-century modern dishware by Heath Ceramics to artwork by Lawrence Halprin, America’s most famous landscape architect, who designed the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D. C.



Luckily Placewares has an online store. This tempered glass trivet caught my eye:

circular trivet

And here’s a house that’s quite affordable at $150 (drawback: it’s only 8 inches-tall…) It’s a plaster model of the house of Victor Horta, the Belgian architect who epitomized the Art Nouveau style of architecture…

Horta house

It and a variety of other models, including miniatures of Jane Austen’s house and architect Sir John Soane’s house (Richards is from Bath, England), are for sale at Placewares.

timothy richards models placewares

The architectural bent isn’t just a random act of architectural passion. It’s in the air and perhaps even the water. Placewares is a mile or so from The Sea Ranch, the second home community famous for its environmentally sensitive planning and contemporary ranch-inspired architecture. Halprin did the landscape plan in the 1960s. The original condominium building at the southern edge of the community–with its central sloping courtyard and shed-roofed tower forms–was designed by award-winning architects Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon (the brother of Maynard Lyndon, who owns Placewares with his wife Lu), William Turnbull, and Richard Whitacker. It draws inspiration from area barns, the 19th century Fort Ross just a few miles south, the Bay Region Style, and the architecture of Louis Kahn. Here’s an image of Charles Moore’s own unit by photographer Jim Alinder.

chales moore unit sea ranch

The big blue box on tree trunks over the built-in sofa is like a giant two-story piece of furniture. It defines a sitting area below and a sleeping loft above. Ingenious! The checkerboard pattern on the adjacent wall turns the kitchen into another focal point. Charles Moore was the Merlin of making small spaces live large in the imagination. Here the vacation begins as soon as you step inside.

You can read the history of The Sea Ranch and explore many important custom house plans through the sumptuous and critically acclaimed book The Sea Ranch, by Don Lyndon and Jim Alinder.

sea_ranch_book cover

You can even rent a house here (many are by well known architects), which is an excellent way to test drive contemporary design as you plan your new home. The rentable house shown below is from Rams Head Realty and should get you dreaming about summer vacation even if gas prices are making it impossible to actually go anywhere:

Sea ranch home

EYE ON DESIGN: Fire the Imagination

The Strength of Simplicity

Recent stints on two design juries reminded me that inspiration often derives from limitation: constraints in materials or budget have a way of freeing the imagination.

City College of San Francisco’s ARCHISTRUCTERIOR competition celebrating the Architecture Department’s 60th anniversary took the form of a happening in a downtown plaza. Each team of students was asked to design and build a full-scale construction representing the cultural, social, and ethnic diversity of specific San Francisco neighborhoods within four hours. Building materials: two kits of parts; one supplied by the department of architecture and containing things like boards and wire, the other containing “neighborhood elements” assembled by each team. Winners included the the following:

The team representing Chinatown created a dense mini-street under a canopy of Chinese take-out menus:


The team representing the Haight-Ashbury fashioned an evocative hilly landscape out of long-playing records melted in a microwave:


Both celebrated distinctive neighborhood qualities, features, or memories in vivid ways. In other words you can do and say a lot with just a few elements.

The strength of simplicity also became apparent in Atlanta where the Chrysalis Remodel Awards Jury reviewed more than 500 entries from across the country. Here’s a photo of the entry binders burying Ken Canline, the organizer of the program:


Judges included yours truly (in the green sweater), Leslie Plummer Clagett (in white), Editor at Woman’s Day Special Interest Publications; Oma Blaise Ford (in black), Senior Deputy Editor, Home Design, Better Homes & Gardens; and Louis Joyner, Photographer and former Home Editor, Southern Living:


Here the residential remodel projects that made it to the top of the heap often demonstrated an elegant simplicity: they didn’t use too many different materials and they solved space problems in clear and uncluttered ways.

So how does all this relate to finding your perfect layout on By way of a little common sense advice: Stick to the basics: a well thought-out home plan should help you get the best out of where and how you want to live without adding extra complications. Simplify and savor!

EYE ON DESIGN: New Modern Plan

Modern Living for May Day

Modernity in home design is growing more popular as people look for simple, efficient layouts that still feel airy and bright. And with good reason: modern plans are all about creating a feeling of spaciousness by opening up rooms to the outdoors. For example, a good modern plan should have comfortable patios and terraces just steps away from the family room and kitchen. Here’s one of’s newest modern designs, Plan 64-167,


which celebrates easy indoor-outdoor living.  (For more such plans click on Modern.)

Disappearing Walls

If I were building this house I would replace the wall of fixed glass in the living room facing the pool terrace with Nanawall folding doors in order to open up the room still more. Nanawall is an exceptionally well-engineered accordion window wall system that provides flexible openings up to 36 feet so you could easily turn a living room like this one into a summer lanai. Here’s a Nanawall photo to demonstrate.

Nana Wall If you visit the Nanawall website click on the Gallery tab and see the simple animations that illustrate standard folding configuations, they’re addictive. Something to whet your appetite as the home building season gets under way.