Monthly Archives: November 2008

EYE ON DESIGN: Thanksgiving Kitchens

Heart of the Home

Gathering to prepare and consume savory meals (and leftovers!) with family and friends is an important part of Thanksgiving. My ideal space for such rituals would be a large open kitchen-dining room with ample counters for more than one cook, and tall windows on at least two sides to suffuse the room with daylight. (Unfortunately my own kitchen is nothing like this.) I’d also like just enough separation between food prep and dining areas so you can’t see the dirty dishes. And the dining space should be lined with bookshelves in case someone needs to look up a quotation about broccoli or the derivation of cous-cous during the meal. It should be a place that can dress up or down simply according to how the table is set. And in a temperate climate, maybe almost everything moves outdoors…Here are some kitchen-dining room ideas to help you think about what you want the heart of your home to be.

dia3 kitchen by howard backen

This warmly inviting galley-kitchen-and-more by Backen Gillam Architects can open fully to the outdoors thanks to large sliding glass doors on two sides. Add a few more chairs and the big long preparation table can serve for dining as well (photo couresy BG Architects).

nonquittE2-large fernauharrtman mass. dining

Or here’s an inventive indoor-outdoor screened dining porch by Fernau Hartman Architects. The outdoor feeling is enhanced by the change to decking for the floor and the use of exterior siding on one wall. The room feels larger than it is by borrowing space from the adjacent sitting area.

Here’s a dining-kitchen by Bosworth Hoedemaker Architects.

SJIInt1 Bosworth Hoedemaker archts

I like the way the shelves run across the windows, letting light stream through the storage and display area.

So where do you start looking for plans with spacious kitchen-dining areas? Right here. Bon appetit:

Plan 436-1 has room for food prep and eating and hanging out.

436-1mf-2599 faust plan

436-1re-2599 faust kitchen

436-1e-2599 faust interior

A good place to celebrate Thanksgiving, next year!

EYE ON DESIGN: Stair Ideas

Rising to the Occasion

A stair should do more than get you up and down. It can double as a light well, storage and display wall, extra seating, and even become a sculptural accent. Here are some examples to help your imagination take “flights.”

SU0310116e_1_x tansu stair, sunset

This contemporary wood, metal, and  glass Craftsman style stairway gives storage and ciculation a little drama. (Photo and design credits from Sunset).  It recalls stair-shaped Japanese tansu or storage cabinets, like this contempoary version, below,

Photo_68_331_3 bkl mills kaidan tansu

which is from Berkeley Mills.

Compare it to a more abstract interpretation of the stair-step tansu by architect Jerry Veverka.


The imaginative use of two scales — larger for the cabinets and display shelves, smaller for the steps themselves — makes this stairway multifunctional and dramatic.

The Greene Brothers created one of the most famous staircase sculptures in their extraordinary design for the Gamble House in Pasadena.

porter-stairwell gamble house by tim street-porter

You can see — in the way the polished wood interlocks and overlaps — how the stair is both a stair and a magnificent piece of furniture.

A simpler Shaker-like approach turns the underside of a stair into a chest of drawers.

shaker stair cc

See how the ends of some of the drawers are shaped to fit the angle of the stair. (Photo by Ctd 2005 through Creative Commons.) Or here’s an example where the step is the storage compartment.

stair drawer in tread cc by husin.sani

You could add a variation by hinging the tread to make a lift-up lid. (Photo by husin.sani through Creative Commons).

Now that we have climbed so far, what do you want your stairway to do? Don’t forget that a stair can always double as a a row of seats. Here’s an example by architect Greg La Vardera — Plan 431-1, from’s Signature Collection:

431-1p4-3136 pretender stair

And here’s a seating-and-display example by architect Sarah Susanka — Plan 454-7.

454-7 stair

It lifts the focal point of the living area and adds spatial drama. A good stairway turns the room into a stage where anything can happen.

EYE ON DESIGN: Customize Stock Plans

House Specialty

A stock plan gives you a head start in the design of your new home. But you still need to make the plan your own by adapting it to your site, requirements, taste, and budget. Think of it as a kind of architectural “soup stock” (pun gratefully accepted) forming a good base for a wide variety of interpretations. The trick is to start with a plan that suits what you want to do with it. (In other words you can’t use chicken stock to make a lemon meringue pie). We help you modify a plan to fit your needs. Here’s how it works.

Select the plan you wish to modify, click on it, takes you to the Plan Detail page — at the lower right you will see the blue tab that says “Learn how you can modify this plan.” You’ll find tabs for minor, moderate, and major modifications, which show examples of what you can change and what that change will cost to redraw the plan. 

An “Add Your Comments” tab lets you describe your changes and drag the words anywhere on the drawing. Hold the mouse pointer over the line or comment to delete it. Save your changes and proceed and you get the After plan. A Project Advisor will call you to explain the customization estimate including the breakdown of costs, review of changes, written quote, and discussion of options. The tool turns a stock plan into your custom home plan. It whets my appetite for design!

Important New Book on Esherick Houses

Joe Esherick was one of Northern California’s most imaginative residential architects and an absorbing new book about him has just been published: Appropriate:The Houses of Joe Esherick, by Marc Treib (William Stout Publishers).

61eyG1yBXaL__SL500_AA240_Appropriate Amazon cover

Full of sketches, floor plans, and comparisons to work by other architects, the book is fascinating for anyone interested in regional modern home design, from ranch houses to mountain cabins to urban row  houses. Treib lets us see Joe’s omnivorous imagination at work by showing what inspired some of his designs and then explains how those designs evolved. One sketch for a ranch house and pool is particularly appealing for its wry sense of humor: sharks are circling in the water.

I knew and admired Joe very much and had the privilege of serving on a campus planning committee with him. It was the greatest pleasure to hear him talk about design and his early days in California, like the time in 1939 when he drove Alvar Aalto around the Bay Area to look at buildings and a local farmer aimed his shotgun at them when they were trying to explore his barn (you can read my essay about Joe in Toward A Simpler Way of Life: The Arts & Crafts Architects of California, University of California Press, 1997, edited by Robert Winter).

In fact, I think Aalto was quite influential for Joe. Take a look at Joe’s hedgerow houses at Sea Ranch (on the cover of the book, above) and compare their shed-roofed outline to Aalto’s Maison Louis Carre in France, below:

2768975623_4ac55c31a9 maison louis carre by aalto

The photograph is by Doctor Casino through Flickr. The Aalto house is much more elaborate and in a different material but there is a strong similarity in the way each house becomes an abstraction of its site. The Maison Louis Carre is part of the Aalto Foundation and is open by appointment — and well worth putting on your travel itinerary.