Monthly Archives: October 2008

EYE ON DESIGN: View Finders


Idea Collecting: Windows

You can learn a lot about design by simply looking more closely at houses in your neighborhood, town, or on your travels. Take an architectural detail like windows, for example.

Stens Hus 2938406383_3c97cd04e8

This image of an imaginative modern house in Denmark shows how a window can morph into a door (see the sliding barn door tracks over the big front glass), a wall, and a window bay (toward the rear). It’s the Sten Hus (photo by seier+seier+seier through Creative Commons).

Bruno Taut detail 2600935213_80056260d5_m

Or here’s one window divided into four individual windows, for variety, by Bruno Taut, at Onkel Toms Hutte, Berlin (photo also by seier+seier+seier through Creative Commons).

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Or in a hot or cold climate, why not have functioning shutters that also show colorful character (photo by joseph.stuefer through Creative Commons.)

Gaamble house window 21574833_3f4f398ad9

Finally, see how a simple, horizontally expressive frame — in contrast to surrounding shingles — can turn a small window into something special (photo by ercwttmn through Creative Commons), as happens at the Gamble House in Pasadena by Greene & Greene.

Building a new home suddenly makes you see everything in a new way or as if for the first time. You start wondering about the windows on your new house and that makes you look at the windows on other houses. This “looking around” phenomenon reminds me of a statement by the late great landscape San Francisco landscape architect Thomas Church, who said “Look to your trees; they may have unrevealed beauty in their branches.” In other words, with a little pruning you can bring out a tree’s structure and perhaps its beauty. We are creating a new feature — called Looking Around, naturally to do just that: help you look more closely at architectural details — including streetscapes, facades, front doors, windows, porches, roof lines, outdoor lighting, and more — as you search for design ideas. It debuts next week.

Until then, here’s a design to explore — (Plan 64-136).


See how double-hung windows shape the house’s character — it’s an updated bungalow.

Browsing manufacturers online is another way to gather window ideas; semi-custom units are common. You or your contractor review the window styles that suit your new home design and then special order or purchase pre-made units. View the product galleries at major window manufacturers, including Andersen, Marvin, and Pella.

EYE ON DESIGN: Country Living

Barn in the USA

As you think about the design of your new home, consider the classic gabled barn, especially if your lot is rural. A vintage barn’s simple shape lends itself to typical interior layouts, with a tall living-dining room in the middle under the gable and low bedrooms or porches at the sides. The straightforward use of rustic materials like board siding and metal roofs add to the charm. Architects and designers have found design inspiration in the barn for decades — if not centuries, when you consider that the Roman basilica or law court is basically a tile-roofed stone barn. Sunset’s Monterey Idea House, below, is a recent example, and also takes visual cues from coastal California’s ranching traditions. Green or recycled materials, from beams to siding, are used throughout, adding to the nature-oriented design.

The Vine and Monterey Idea House 042

Designed by architect Thomas Bateman Hood, this dwelling is really three linked structures — garage, main living area, and “bunkhouse” — that form courtyards framing beautiful landscape views. Hood has updated and adapted the barn in fresh contemporary ways.

The Vine and Monterey Idea House 033

The central wing is a particularly dramatic interpretation of the barn idea, with central entry hall under a tall monitor roof supported by a sculptural scissor truss. And here’s the view that draws you through the house:

The Vine and Monterey Idea House 015

The house’s curving rear facade frames an existing indigenous live oak like a work of art. Simple elements: posts, gravel patio, low wall, carefully placed boulders, and tree come together in a powerful environmental design. The serene garden plan emphasizing drought-tolerant native plants is by landscape architect Bernard Trainor.

Barn Again

So is there a connection to Yes indeed. You can find various barn-influenced designs in our inventory. Here’s a sampling.

406-178e-1270 barn on slope

The understated design (Plan 406-178) suits a slope, includes a daylit basement (like many barns), and opens the low ends of the gable for porches.

406-178mf-1270 barn on slope plan

Or here’s a more literal approach (Plan 302-241 ):

302-241e-1831 silo

The silo is the entry. Or try a design (Plan 64-134) that blends the barn outline with a regional house type known as the Florida Cracker, raised on stilts to survive flooding.

florida cracker

The plan shows how the wrap-around veranda expands every major room.

64-134mf-1527 florida cracker plan

In short, the barn idea can help jumpstart the design of your new home. We’ll be adding more barn-inspired plans in the future. Let the barn dance begin!

EYE ON DESIGN: New Modern Plans

Now Debuting on are two new modern stock plans from our Exclusive Signature Collection.

Bring Back the Breezeway

Courtyard 1.0, an L-shaped ranch house by architect Ross Anderson, draws inspiration from the Bay Region Tradition and specifically the work of Northern California architects William Wurster, Joseph Esherick, and Willam Turnbull. Wurster and Esherick helped define the early modern ranch house in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, setting the highest standard of regionally inspired modern design. Turnbull expanded on the idiom in the 1970s and 1980s. Ross worked for Turnbull before establishing his own practice. Here’s the entry elevation showing the big clerestory window that brings light into the great room.

433-2e-1111 Courtyard 1.0

The L-shaped design is both classic and contemporary in its use of long breezeway/galleries and simple, abstracted shapes under a standing seam metal roof — like a collection of elegant sheds. The detached garage is at the right, forming the third wall of the central courtyard.

433-2mf-1111 Place for the tree

The plan is all about indoor-outdoor living: most of the house opens easily to the long breezeway. There’s an outdoor fireplace beside the living room and an outdoor shower off the master suite.

The Eichler Rides Aagin

Palomino, by architect Robert Nebolon, deftly adapts and updates a mid-century modern (and Western!) classic: the Eichler subdivision house built in Northern and Southern California by developer Joseph Eichler. Robert knows his subject: he lives in an original Eichler with his family.

438-1e-2587 Nebolon Eichler

This stylish single-story home suits a flat to moderately-sloped lot. Large windows and sliding glass doors connect house and garden. All rooms have vaulted paneled ceilings. Grooved exterior plywood siding is specified to match the same used on the original Eichlers. The simple roof structure can be constructed out of SIPs (Stucturally Insulated Panels) or 2×10 framing.

438-1mf-2587 Nebolon plan

The plan shows how open the interior is, with an easy flow between public rooms. A storage wall separates the living areas from the bedroom wing. The family room opens to a private patio at the rear. Twenty-first century amenities include pantries and a built-in desk in the kitchen and twin closets and double vanities in the master suite.

Look for more additions to our Collection in the coming weeks.

EYE ON DESIGN: Understand the Past, Invent the Future

Get Inspired

What better time to explore historic examples of architectural styles than when you’re planning your own home. Here are some examples:


This is the Villa Savoye at Poissy near Paris, of 1928 by Le Corbusier, one of the most powerful symbols of 20th century modernity — even though the roof always leaked. (The photo is by Omar Omar through Creative Commons on Flickr). Indeed, if you visit the house you may see on display some of the letters from the client to Le Corbusier asking him to do something about all the water running down the interior walls. Despite such evident flaws in construction you can also see what made it so unusual, such as the way the ground floor forms a carport and front entry, and how the second floor becomes a courtyard open to the sky. There’s even a contoured lounging bench built-into the master bathroom. It was clearly a house of ideas, many of them still relevant today.

Or how about Billtmore Estate, Asheville, NC, designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt with grounds by Frederick Law Olmsted (developer of Central Park) for George Washington Vanderbilt in 1891.


The 250-room Chateau style house is the largest private estate ever built in the United States. It was, in effect, a way of bringing the European Grand Tour home — references to Blois and other French chateaux are evident (Photo by Kamoteus through Creative Commons). Though grand in a way that’s difficult to comprehend, it illustrates an idea-collecting habit that is shared by anyone building a new home.

The Art Nouveau house of Brussels architect Victor Horta, from 1901, exemplifies the Art Nouveau style.


The twisting grille on the door only hints at the curvilinear metalwork within. The interior’s nature-inspired design shows how structure and ornament can become extensions of each other. (Photo by Brian Pirie through Creative Commons.)

Many more famous houses are included in Get Inspired. Each example is thought-provoking, especially if you’re interested in understanding the history and characteristics of house design, or think you want to build in a particular architectural style. Explore away. We’ll be adding more examples regularly. I hope this new resource helps you enjoy the plan search process and ultimately achieve a better house — in other words, to know history but not be bound by it.


The Power of the Pebble

“The Vine, A Conference on Community”, met in San Diego last week and despite the economy brought a measure of inspiration to 140 attending builders, developers, architects, designers, branders, industry watchers, and homeowners. Two presentations galvanized the audience. Documentary film maker Ric Burns (his films include New York: A Documentary Film, Ansel Adams, and The Way West) spoke movingly about how New York City’s density, heterogeneity, and entrepreneurial spirit helped it reinvent itself repeatedly in the face of socio-economic setbacks. British innovation expert Charles Leadbeater, author of the fascinating and important book We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity made the point that the way you frame a problem determines the answer. (This is especially true in home design.) He sees the world in terms of “pebbles’ and “boulders” where pebbles are all about new ways for huge numbers of people to collaborate (the Web) and boulders are traditionally organized entities that are more about doing things to or for someone. Google and Flickr illustrate the power of the pebble — and so does It brings many individuals together to make better houses affordable to more people. Maybe all the pebbles of the Internet can solve the credit crisis…