Monthly Archives: December 2008

EYE ON DESIGN: Happy New Year

Leap into the Future

My father started a family tradition many years ago that my own family continues today: at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve we get up on chairs — or even the sofa — and jump into the new year. The house reverberates but usually remains intact. Here’s the living room in one of architect Greg La Vardera’s modern plans (Plan 431-11) from our Signature Collection — it’s the perfect spot for leaping off all that contemporary furniture.

431-11p2-1985 living room

May we all land in a new era of possibility. See you next year.

EYE ON DESIGN: Holiday Lights and Other Ideas

Special Effects

Highly efficient LED (light emitting diode) lights are the eco-friendly choice for brightening the neighborhood. A quick Web look reveals many choices like these lollipop/golf ball lights:

Faceted_Berry_Blue lolipop led lights

And these stars…

Blue_Icicle_Burst_10L star led lights

And this light cable.


All three are from Christmas Lights Etc. Next year we should think about asking you to send in photos of your LED light decorations…

Build a Getaway

Let’s plan a vacation home: a place to enjoy nature after the holiday frenzy. Here’s one of our newest plans to help you dream. It’s a fine year-round house, too.


The casual restorative air of Plan 443-2 comes from its many porches.


There’s the entry porch, the dining porch off the living room, and the screened porch off the bedroom at the rear.


Three more porches are on the upper floor — some designed for sleeping and some for sitting. It’s a great holiday house with ample room for overnighters; there’s even a built-in bunk off the upstairs hall.

Green Delicious

Alexander Girard was an influential mid-century modern designer whose patterns became very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. A colleague and friend of Charles and Ray Eames, he amassed an important folk art collection that’s part of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Now Northern California industrial designer Eric Pfeiffer, founder of Pfeifferlab, has created eco-friendly Alexander Girard “Plyprints” for Columbia Forest Products.

21849-Snake_det girard snake

21849-Daisy_Face_det girard panel

The six designs (two are shown here) are screen-printed on handsome square plywood panels — each panel uses reclaimed plywood and formaldehyde-free glue and so are very green.

Best Book

34632514 On architecture by Ada Louise

On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change, by Ada Louise Huxtable, the late architecture critic of The Wall Street Journal (and formerly of The New York Times) is an essential addition to any library. It brings together her columns from both papers along with essays from other sources. She wrote with immense knowledge, perception, and verve about the key structures and design debates of the last forty years. Her essays are timeless — though all about moments in time. Included are memories of growing up in Manhattan, her first job working for Philip Johnson when he was the design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and spending the night at Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater. No-one can turn an architectural phrase better than she, as in her description of the Kennedy Center in Washington. D. C.: “It is a cross between a concrete candy box and a sarcophagus in which the art of architecture lies buried.”  I found it hard to put down.

Building Blocks

If building a house is difficult at the moment, try using toy blocks to feed your imagination. I’m always looking for great examples — I store mine under the couch in the living room so they’re accessible when the urge to construct strikes, which is usually after the tryptophan in the Christmas turkey has finally worn off. Always take a nap before you build!

41VQHG8P96L__SS400_ natural wood blocks

Every block collection should start with natural wood blocks like the set by Brio above. They’re good for younger hands and older minds, and excellent for rapidly assembling a “city center” on the living room floor and then adding accents around it. Doesn’t everyone do this? My family joins me (or perhaps “humors me” is more accurate) in making extravagant landscapes…I like to combine many block collections and often use a set of Anchor Stone Blocks, like the one shown below,

yhst-2591795729378_2029_14275418 anchor stone blocks

which are recent artificial stone versions of toys from the late 19th century. They make handsome castles, towers, and gateways. And I often throw in my set of Bauhaus Bauspiel Blocks (below, and shown on, a weblog), designed by Alma Siedhoff Buscher at the Bauhaus in Germany in the early 1920s.

bauhaus blocks daddytypes

These are smooth, small, and precise and form simple buildings, bridges, and boats…my city always needs a harbor or a suspension span (just turn the boat hull upside down).

From all of us at

Have a Holiday Built of Comfort and Joy.

EYE ON DESIGN: Fireside Chats

double_arrangement1 planikafires red

Hearth Sirens

Don’t let the Economic Grinch steal your holiday spirit. Sit here beside this unusually warm and inviting coffee table. Literally sizzling with style, it’s new from Planikafires, a Polish company with offices in New Jersey. Look into those particulate-free “Fanola” fueled flames, and dream about the hearth in your new home (a little rum in the eggnog might help).

If you prefer something more permanent, remember how Frank Lloyd Wright approached the hearth in the one he designed for oil heiress and theater patron Aline Barnsdall at Hollyhock House in Los Angeles of 1921: by actually making it hard to approach. Or at least artfully approached across a body of water: it’s a small stage for an elemental performance (the house is open for tours).


And the moat takes a star turn as the spark arrester…

Or why not lighten up the fireplace front and add a little wood storage at the same time. Los Angeles architect Alejandro Ortiz drew a thin veil of sandblasted glass across the firebox, making a play of shadow and flickering light.

Fireplaces0105shadow ortiz fireplace shot by art gray

Wood is stored in the steel platform at the base (photo by Art Gray from Sunset).

The fireplace is always being reinvented. Here’s another example,

X-Board_Fach modern fireplace attika side view

the X-Board by Attika, where metal shelving hides behind the stone front.

Eco-friendly fireplace and stove design has expanded exponentially, with the use of bio-ethanols, and other so-called “green fuels.” I’m drawn to the elliptically-shaped Zetal fireplace by Ecosmartfire, an Australian firm.

1806126816zeta1 ecosmart fireplace

Designed by Sydney architect John Dimopolous of Geoform, it burns denatured alcohol. I have mentioned Ecosmart before; it’s good to see new takes on age-old ideas. (Could it also be a billfold on fire? a metaphor for bailouts?!) A good place to learn about the latest developments in green design is at

If fireplaces with mantels are more your thing — say, for hanging stockings — explore prefabricated fireplace fronts. Here’s a sampling from, for a start.

S11 blaze fire 11

s5 blaze showroom fire 5

S12 blaze showrom fire 12

At Houseplans, you’ll find a vast library of plans with fireplaces, so as you explore, think about placement and size, and how you live around a fireplace. Use our Plans With Fireplaces Collection as an introduction.


This is plan 23-791, with ample room on either side of the hearth. And here’s Plan 64-187, with fireplaces in the living and family rooms.


Perfect for a cold evening before Christmas.

EYE ON DESIGN: Holiday Plans

Architectural Ornaments and Where To Put the Tree

In a difficult economy, the home becomes more important than ever as a place to regroup, recharge, and reconnect with family and friends — especially over the holidays. So how about greeting the season — and dreaming about a new house at the same time — by looking for something architectural (of course!) for the tree. Here’s what I found after a quick Web search, beginning with the shop.

wedding chapel ornament FLW

This ornament is based on Wright’s “Wedding Chapel” design from 1957.

House Beautiful ornament FLW

Or here’s one inspired by his House Beautiful designs from 1896-7.

Palaces — “not so small houses” — may be out of fashion but how about affordable examples, now available in the online shop at Newport Mansions, The Preservation Society of Newport County, in Rhode Island, where the Gilded Age reached its apogee.

Marbe House, Newport onrament

The Marble House, of 1893,was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built for William and Alva Vanderbilt. If the house itself is too much, how about a gate from another Vanderbilt extravaganza.

Breakers gate (bigger)

The Breakers was the biggest of all the Newport mansions, also designed by Hunt, and commissioned by William Vanderbilt’s older brother Cornelius.

Yet another Vanderbilt house — the largest of all — is Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, also by Hunt, with landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park. Talk about a family of builders! You can have a Chippendale bed from this house.

chippendale bed from biltmore brass bed

Which gives new meaning to sleeping under the tree — or else it’s a metaphor for a wished for sense of calm during the holiday frenzy.

A more typical Victorian edifice is the Denver house of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, designed by architect William Lang and built in 1889.

Molly Brown House ornament

She famously survived the sinking of the Titanic, which is a hopeful sentiment in recessionary times.

If your tree needs not architecture, but sparkle, here’s a very simple craft idea: fill ordinary glass ball ornaments with conifer sprigs or shiny, gauzy ribbon, like this:

glass ball with juniper

These examples, from could also work as tags for packages, or placecards. There must be a way to get a house inside one!

Location, Location, Location

With all these extra ornaments, you need a place to put a bigger tree. As you explore our floor plans, look for layouts with bay windows or alcoves facing the more public areas. Here’s a design that can easily accommodate a holiday tree.

Eichler-inspired Plan 438-1 by architect Robert Nebolon, has a good spot in the glassy alcove.

438-1p2-2587 Eichler place for tree

Let the holiday season begin.