Monthly Archives: January 2009

EYE ON DESIGN: 2009 Home Builder Show

At the National Association of Home Builders Show in Las Vegas last week it was all chiaroscuro, or shadow and light. There was darkening gloom about the present and brightening hope about the future as the historic inauguration appeared on Jumbotrons overlooking the Strip and in the convention hall itself. A lot of the hope centered on new designs and eco-friendly products. Here are some quick highlights.

The Builder Livinghome debuts at the 2009 NAHB Show.

The Builder Livinghome debuts at the 2009 NAHB Show.

Boyce Thompson, Editorial Director of Hanley-Wood Magazines (shown speaking at the opening press conference) commissioned the Builder/Livinghome. Factory built, the panelized structure was assembled and finished on the exhibit  floor in a miraculous, if not biblical, three days despite last minute trucking delays due to high winds. The sleek, contemporary, and open 2,500 sq. ft. home is a product of LivingHomes, of Santa Monica, California, and was designed by Philadelphia architects Kieran Timberlake. Boyce told me the idea of doing a modern prefab on the convention floor came from his visit some years ago to Sunset magazine, where he saw Michelle Kaufmann’s prefab Glidehouse in the parking lot. I found applications for us at Houseplans in the use of many green materials on the interior by Don Anderson of Color Design Art in Culver City, California. Here’s what stood out:

A clever coffee table idea.

A clever coffee table idea.

Four end tables from Livingreen make a new beginning as a handsome coffee table. And in a pinch they can become stools — and even end tables again.

Ample counters in Zodiaq quartz expand a compact kitchen.

Ample counters expand a compact kitchen.

This handsome U-shaped counter is Dupont Zodiaq, which is 93% quartz crystal and creates a surface with depth and sheen.

Recycled glass tiles add serenity.

Recycled glass tiles add serenity.

In the master bath the Kohler tub gets immersed in elegant squares of recycled glass tile from Crossville, Inc to create the sophisticated, unified look of a hotel suite in a destination resort.

How to make a splash in the powder room.

How to make a splash in the powder room.

I couldn’t resist including the powder room: the strong simple material choices — recycled tile from Crossville that’s treated vertically instead of horizontally, and the minimalist glass vessel sink and stainless steel wall fixtures from Kohler — give this tiny room maximum impact (Zen with hot sauce?) and make it feel larger than it is. I’ll include more vignettes, news, and ideas from the show in future postings.

EYE ON DESIGN: What Would The Obamas Build?

Inaugurate the Imagination

With all eyes on new beginnings in Washington I started thinking about what an Obama house of the future might be — aside from the White House that is. It could be their vacation house. I note that their Chicago home is a handsome Georgian Revival structure: sturdy, traditional, generous, and neighborly in the straightforward way it fronts the street with ample windows, a porch, and simple classical proportions. But a Michelle and Barack House of Tomorrow might be something different. I think it would be warm and welcoming, a place of great conversation and connection between multiple generations, with areas to come together for intellectual discourse and play, and places apart for relaxing and recharging alone or with family. In short, a house of ideas and inspiration. Here are some of the features I would include, which are actually what any well designed home should provide.

Tansparency, Natural Light, and Connections to Nature

Thoughtfully oriented and carefully sized windows, as in this house in Wyoming by Arizona architect Will Bruder Architects, make a house both a welcome to the world and a refuge from it.

will bruder houseThe window wall brings the forest into the house during the day and then at dusk reverses the process, turning the house into a beacon. The design is really a two-way lens-in-the-landscape. (The image is from Sunset.)

Skylights are equally important. They help balance the light and give a lift to smaller spaces that might otherwise be dark and cramped. The master bathroom shown  below, by San Francisco architect Malcolm Davis, and masterfully photographed by Joe Fletcher, is a particularly beautiful example.

MD_02a joe fletcher vanity skylightHere the skylight is artfully positioned along the top of the wall — not in the center of the room — so the eye is led up the vertical surface and into the sky as light bounces deep into the corners of the room.

Or consider a wonderfully luminous kitchen by San Francisco architect Mary Griffin of Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects, where the entire ceiling is a field of daylight, thanks to the use of translucent Kalwall panels.

photo2 tgh mary's kitchen

The counter of green granite lends a cool tactile quality that seems to solidify the color of the light, making an eloquent counterweight — literally! — for the floating scrim of the ceiling. (Image is from architect’s website.)

Large openings between rooms along with inventive material choices — as illustrated here in a kitchen-family room by Balance Associates Architects of Seattle — make a big difference.

rainbow-i-2 balance assc archt lv rm

(The image is from the architect’s website.) Both spaces share the daylight but are visually distinct; each is open but well-defined. The stone-faced exterior wall extends into the family room through three stacked windows beside the fireplace, giving it an outdoor feeling and making it feel separate from the kitchen even though it’s only steps away. I can see a space like this giving the First Family a relaxed way to entertain family and friends — though I’m not sure they would need the furniture’s color scheme.

Perhaps the Obamas would like to include a little whimsy; say a hint of Hawaii and shave-ice and water sport in the choice of counter material.

newportC Fernau Hartman surfboardWhy not use a well lacquered surfboard, as in this remodeled house by Fernau + Hartman Architects of Berkeley, CA. (The image is from Sunset.)

And a spacious porch, breezeway, or lanai for easy indoor-outdoor living would be essential. Plan 433-4, shown below, is a perfect example.

443-4e-2201 Outdoor LivingAnd the plan would fit a family of four very well, with each floor connecting to a wide porch – an ideal spot for enjoying that shave-ice.

443-4mf-2201 Outdoor Living

Here’s the upper floor:


It would suit most balmy climates, from Florida to Hawaii. We might even give them a discount!  Here at we dwell in possibility, to steal a line from Emily Dickinson. And we are excited about the future.

EYE ON DESIGN: Time for Renewal

Reclaim, Recycle, Refresh

It’s a cliche to say the New Year is a time for reinvention and renewal but we are in a time when old ideas definitely need to be looked at in new ways — and that particular cliche happens to be on sale at Macy’s and WalMart anyway, so we’ll take it. Architectural historian Vincent Scully, one of my professors at Yale, used to say there are very few really new ideas and that many great ideas simply come from changing an old idea’s frame of reference. That’s what is all about: adapting house design to a new reality: i.e. today’s economics and the Web. We want to reinvent how you design and build your home by taking advantage of the flexibility, diversity, and affordability that the Internet provides.

For example, in this time of great change — and new year’s resolutions — how do you build a greener, more eco-friendly home? I recently interviewed one of the country’s experts on this subject: architect, teacher, and author Sim Van Der Ryn, who was the California State Architect under Governor Jerry Brown and helped launch the discipline of user-friendly passive solar design more than forty years ago.

Sim Van Der Ryn 008

I photographed him at home. New York Times design writer Patricia Leigh Brown has called Sim the “Albus Dumbledore of Green architecture…the intrepid pioneer of the eco-frontier.” It’s a fitting honorific. His most recent book, Design for Life: The Architecture of Sim Van Der Ryn (published by Gibbs Smith, 2005) is shown below.

Sim Van Der Ryn book cover

It tells the story of his early years teaching at U. C. Berkeley (Hogwarts it wasn’t, however) where he pioneered the study of how people actually use new buildings, through his establishment of California’s first eco-friendly building policies, to recent green building design and consulting work. One of his most famous buildings and one that’s definitely worth a visit is the Real Goods Solar Living Center (flagship store for Real Goods, the largest supplier of solar living products and solar electric systems in the country) in Hopland, California, completed in 1996 — it’s the spiraling design beside the chambered nautilus on the book’s cover.

I particularly like this quote from the book: “The building should tell a story about a place and people and be a pathway to understanding ourselves within nature.” Nature and the art of collaboration have always been his greatest teachers.

Sim started his career at the age of fifteen when he worked for a dairy farmer in New Hampshire building — I am delighted to relate — a stock plan house from Popular Mechanics. First, he told me, good design is green because it takes into account proper orientation to sun and weather, and the use of materials appropriate to climate, site, and use. In addition, the easiest way to make a house more eco-friendly is to use sustainably harvested, recycled, or reclaimed materials in its construction. (And recycling is all about changing the frame of reference.) I think we should capitalize on this idea by rounding up Web resources in this area. Here’s a start:

For siding and flooring, consider Terramai, a company with offices in California and New York that sources reclaimed wood from around the world. All of its products are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified.

terra mai siding

This is a Terramai example of reclaimed wood used for siding.

terra mai flooring

And here’s one of reclaimed wood flooring.

For  the kitchen, consider Neil Kelly, Inc. from Portland, OR.

neil kelly bright

Neil Kelly custom cabinets are made with FSC-certified woods, no-added formaldehyde agriboard case/drawer materials and low VOC (volatile offgassing compound)-glues, adhesives and finishes.

How about furniture? Harvest Home specializes in handcrafted furniture from reclaimed timber, like this bench in their Tahoe Collection.

Harvest home Tahoe bench

Or here’s the Auburn chair from the same collection:

Harvest home Tahoe Auburn side chair

We’ll keep adding to our resource listings for eco-friendly construction and finishing materials. If you find some great leads in this area, please let me know.