Monthly Archives: August 2008

EYE ON DESIGN: Watching the Clock

Time and Time Again

The return to school and work after Labor Day makes me think about symbols of continuity and change — like the conventional wall clock (and speaking of conventions in this election season: how about a gavel-to-gavel-coverage-clock!). It remains recognizably the same and yet it’s always being reinvented — just like the stock house plan. Here are some examples to think about hanging in your kitchen or family room as you count the days until you can move into your new home.

This classic George Nelson Mid-century Modern Clock from Design Public is an overscaled asterisk.

Vitra Nelson wall clock

I like the idea that it’s always “footnoting” the time. Kenneth Wingard’s Cube Clock (below) lets you set the face along with the hour. It can be a circle, a square, or something in between.

Wingard cubeclock

This clock and Wingard’s Large Mod example use geometry simply and effectively.

wingard block clock

They both give new meaning to the phrase “block of time.” 


Back to school means thinking about where you and your family work at home. If homework or bill-paying is done in the kitchen or family room those spaces should include a work table, buffet counter, or built-in desk. You can also build a desk into a window bay, along a hall, or beside a balcony. A dedicated home office is often somewhat removed from the heart of the house. Here are some plans that show a range of options.

Plan 449-16, with alcove as study.

449-16 plan

Plan 888-1 includes “The Pad” for computers, oppoosite the stair.

888-1 plan

Plan 461-31 includes a “den” between the second floor bedrooms.

461-31 upper plan

For more examples explore and Search by “Den Office Study Computer” under “Additional Rooms.”



Power Plays

Hasbro’s newly revamped game of Clue, with its expanded choice of murder weapons, spiffed up characters, and updated Tudor mansion (with a spa instead of a billiard room), has made me think about the changing nature of the home….Hey, they should have used a design from! In fact, wouldn’t it be cool if you could select the house style before you started to play — I think I’d choose a French Country manor just to be different, like our Plan 48-244:

French Country

But I’m getting distracted. In any case, I like a house you can play in. Many of our newest plans embody this informal quality in a modern context, like our exclusive Spirit of Palo Alto Plan 431-11, from architect Greg La Vardera, inspired by the post-and-beam-and-glass Eichler tract houses of the 1950s and 1960s.

431-11p4-1985 living dining

The strong simple shapes and views between spaces contribute to the feeling of casual family living. Or try the Porch House, which is meant to be a year-round getaway.

Porch house with car431-7re-1066

The surprising openness of the porch-like ground floor — hence the name — which Greg designed as half “summer kitchen” and half bunk room, makes you realize right away that this is a place apart from the workaday world. The banana yellow convertible doesn’t hurt either.

Playful and Creative

I think almost any space or object can stimulate the mind in a creative or playful way. Here are some examples of playfulness in design that have recently caught my eye. Long ago Sunset magazine ran an article with the following somewhat puzzling headline: “When a Shower Needs a Friend.” Well here’s a shower that doesn’t need anyone:

Quixote winery shwr

It’s by the late Viennese artist-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and is part of the complex he designed for Quixote Winery in the Napa Valley. Antonio Gaudi meets Piet Mondrian: the colored tile design wakes you up before you step inside and turn on the tap — especially helpful if you’ve been drinking Quixote’s luxuriant petite syrahs. The outside of the winery is also a visual feast. It’s worth a visit.

Quxote winryIMG_0476

The finials are like giant chessboard pawns and every column is ceramic sculpture.

Meet a love seat that’s also its opposite: a splinter group.


It’s by Matthew Kroeker for Jane Hamley Wells. Reminds me of an inscription carved into a granite bench in front of a public building in downtown Denver: “If you wish to rest, rest not too long.”

For playfulness with a purpose, consider the Magnetic Chalkboard Panel Doors from the Simpson Door Company.

magnetic chalkkboard

They’re elegantly proportioned, versatile, and great for family artwork and notes. Chalk one up for creativity.

So as you search for the house plan that fits you and your family, think about how and where you’ll play.

EYE ON DESIGN: Contemporary Perspectives

Views from Above

I just toured the restoration-in-progress of San Francisco’s landmark Palace of Fine Arts, designed by architect Bernard Maybeck for the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. Here I am on the dome, twelve stories above the Marina District with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

DG photo

(Note to self: Enough with the green sweater! And how many odes does it take to fill that Olympic-sized Grecian urn?) Funding for the meticulous preservation work and earthquake retrofit has been — and is being — raised by the Maybeck Foundation: an important project that deserves community support.

Palace of Fine Arts 014

Seeing the lively streetscape from the dome made me realize that is a parallel universe that exhibits the same diversity of styles, periods, and cultures. And it’s always evolving, just like a healthy urban environment. Here are some of the newest exclusive plans adding interest and excitement to our cybercity.

Greg La Vardera’s contemporary Cube House, 431-8 is designed for a narrow, deep, infill lot in an older neighborhood.

Cube house elev

It makes the most of a compact footprint with a plan that’s efficient and adaptable. Good circulation: no dead-end rooms!

Cube house grounf floor

See how the living room occupies about a third of the ground floor. French doors or a folding wall connect it easily to the side yard. Or rotate the plan, depending on lot characteristics and the desired sun orientation, and put the living room at the rear where it can open to the backyard. Consider adding a paved terrace or deck off the living room and perhaps a trellis for shade.

Cube house living rm

The living room is one and a half stories high, for a greater sense of spaciousness without adding square footage. This view is from the dining area toward the front.

The top floor contains a roof deck within the frame of the cube.

431-8alt2-2386 roofdeck

This plan shows how flexible and open a simple box can be. The great Northern California architect Joe Esherick, whose firm designed the Monterey Bay Aquarium and who was, incidentally, a huge admirer of Maybeck, often talked about how designing a house was all about “packing the box.” Greg’s plan illustrates this principle very well.

Dan Tyree’s mid-century modern-inspired Azalea, 64-170 is for a suburban lot.

Azallea house elev64-170e-2521

The L-shaped house wraps around a courtyard; one wing is more public, containing the kitchen and living/dining area; the other more private, with bedrooms and family room.

Azalea plan

In balmy weather the living moves outdoors to the backyard terrace.

Azalea rear courtyard

The extended gable creates a shaded terrace off the living-dining room.

News from the Blogosphere

Some of our latest home plans appeared on two popular websites this week. The comprehensive green resource site quotes our very own Greg La Vardera in a discussion about the cost of good design and his and’s desire to make high quality design more affordable. And on, which is an engaging cyber cocktail party and information exchange about mid-century modern design, you’ll see our exclusive Azalea and Proximity plans from Dan Tyree. Exciting times!

EYE ON DESIGN: In Praise of Lanai Plans

Hawaiian Inspirations

Every home should have a lanai — otherwise known as a “living porch” — to take advantage of balmy weather. A common feature in Hawaiian homes, it’s a covered outdoor room that’s larger than a typical front or rear porch and organized for sitting and dining. Here’s a good example from the Big Island.

Hawaii lanai pix 040

My family and I recently spent most of our vacation time reading, talking, and dining on it. The big blue built-in couch — called a hike e (pronounced “hickey-ay”) —  is an important element and drew each of us like a magnet. Where insects are a problem a lanai could be screened. The great Hawaiian modern architect Vladimir Ossipoff included lanais in many of his Honolulu houses, some of which are profiled in Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff (Yale University Press, 2008), which is the catalog to a major exhibition of his work at the Honolulu Academy of Art.

Many of our plans include lanais, for example, Plan 61-387:

lanai plan elev 61-387e-5052

The house includes a front porch. The rear lanai is accessible from breakfast and family rooms. lanai plan 61-387mf-5052

A lanai isn’t the only place for a bed-couch. Try the living room, great room, or family room. It doesn’t even have to be built-in — any twin bed that’s set against a wall and covered with colorful pillows will do. Not only can it become a favorite spot for curling up with a good book, it can also double as a temporary sleeping area for overnight guests.