Monthly Archives: July 2009

Cool, not Cold, Storage and More

Customize Your Plan With Contemporary Cabinetry

Now that we’re able to offer copies of rare mid-century modern Eichler plans, it’s important to think about how you can update and customize them — or indeed any plan — for today.  For example, adding storage space can be an important consideration. Cabinetry is one way to go: Seattle’s Kerf Design — an especially inventive cabinetmaker specializing in sleek, vividly hued eco-friendly units — shows how, with everything from

bobwall kerf storage

entire walls of different sized open-and-closed compartments, to


sideboards for storage and display in the dining room or hall to

asagivanity kerf

elegant and efficient vanities to

kerf anderson

character-building kitchen cabinets, cubbies, and drawers. I like their three-pronged philosophy: honesty of material, which means revealing the beauty of the plywood edge; honesty of construction: keeping things simple with exposed   joinery, asymmetrical arrangements, inset doors and drawers, and notched hand holes; and honesty of function:  making sure there is a reason for every detail. I also love their color palette


as in this thin console, which to my eye is irresistible. And Kerf’s work is all green, using only FSC-certified plywood made with formaldehyde-free glue and finished using a process that eliminates all volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also have a lower cost do-it-yourself product line that is shipped flat for you to assemble.

Kerf’s work is especially appropriate for modern houses because it embodies similar architectural values —  but it can invigorate almost any interior. Interestingly, Kerf’s founder, Nathan Hartman, just told me that his cabinets are being installed in a remodeled Eichler right now.

Build Your Own Updated Eichler

Thinking beyond storage solutions, here are some other suggestions to get you pondering how to make an Eichler layout — or any house plan for that matter — your own unique design. Take a look at Gregory La Vardera’s  Spirit of Palo Alto Plan 431-11, shown below,

431-11alt1-1985 rear elev w table

in a view of the rear elevation. The layout


is itself an update of  a classic Eichler atrium plan.  In fact it’s very close to our Eichler Plan 470-4, shown below:


Now, see how Greg tweaked the original plan for today. He took the washer and dryer out of the garage and gave them their own laundry room set between garage and kitchen; part of the laundry functions as a mudroom or family entry. And he opened up part of the kitchen to the living room by replacing a  wall and a door with a peninsula/buffet bar, as shown in this interior view:

431-11p1-1985 kitchen

The idea, according to Greg was to create a balance where “the kitchen is still a discrete room even though it may be open to the living space.” He also added a kitchen island to expand the counter space.

Another major change is in the master suite. Today most people want a feeling of spaciousness in the master bathroom, along with bigger closets. As this cropped view of Greg’s plan shows,

431-11mf-1985 for crop mast bath

he reconfigured the bathroom to accommodate twin vanities, which give a more luxurious feel without adding a lot of space — in his view “bigger bathrooms = more bathroom cleaning. Yech.”  Similarly he installed closets along the bedroom’s two interior walls instead of using a walk-in closet, which he considers a space hog.

Or consider architect Robert Nebolon’s Palomino Plan 438-1, which is an adaptation of an existing Eichler: his own house. The following view is from the backyard and shows how the family room opens to the rear patio.

438-1re-2587 rear view

A key move was to divide the galley kitchen into two sections —

438-1mf-2587 plan

one for  cooking and eating, one for and storage and desk work — while connecting it to the family room and living area on either side. He also added such eco-friendly elements as low-e glass skylights, a roof that’s composed of 10.5 inch-thick Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) and is designed to support photovoltaic panels, and a fireplace insert instead of a conventional wood-burning fireplace (such units do not require a chimney).

Consider these ideas when you think about modifying a plan. Then work with our Design Department, run by Chief of Design Nicholas Lee. We’ll help you create your own unique living environment, whether it’s modern or traditional or something in between.

Eichler Excitement

Sixties Modern Revival

Big news! We have acquired the rights to sell copies of four original Mid-century Modern Eichler house plans — they’re the latest additions to our Signature Collection. These rare historical designs were done in the 1960s by architect Claude Oakland for California developer Joe Eichler. It was Eichler who brought award-winning modern architecture to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s when he hired contemporary architects like Anshen & Allen and Jones & Emmons to design his subdivision houses in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. At Anshen & Allen the principal designer for Eichler homes was  Oakland, who had studied briefly with maverick architect Bruce Goff. In 1960 Eichler contracted directly with Oakland, allowing him to start his own firm. Here’s a photo of Joe and Claude reviewing a set of working drawings:

ho_sigstyle_1 Claude Oakland Joe Eichler

Joe’s in the glasses. The firm became Oakland and Imada Architects in the 1970s — Kinji Imada had studied with Walter Gropius at Harvard. While most of their work was for Eichler, they also designed redevelopment housing and other projects. Oakland died in 1989; Imada in 2005.

The following image of a typical Oakland living room is emblematic (photograph by Ernie Braun / courtesy Eichler Network Archives, all rights reserved).

2437-1-interior Eichler photo by Ernie Braun

All the Eichler characteristics are here:  an exposed post-and-beam one story structure, floor to ceiling walls of glass, and the promise of easy indoor-outdoor living. Furnishings are casual, uncluttered, and contemporary. It remains a powerfully seductive  image of modernity for a mass market.

Our Eichler plans were designed for two Bay Area developments – one in Mill Valley and one in the East Bay Hills. Plan 470-4 is organized around an open-air atrium, a feature that Eichler made famous.


The front door is really the gate beside the garage and opens to a passage leading to the atrium. Straight ahead, the second front door opens to the loggia adjacent to the living room.


A friendly gabled street facade gives no hint of the spatial surprise — the atrium — within.

Plan 470-1 is distinctive in that it contains a so-called “hobby room” behind the garage.


The kitchen is conveniently situated between garage and the entry and can be entered from both sides. A long low overhanging gable running parallel to the street


pulls the facade into an orderly line.

Plan 470-2, for a somewhat narrower lot, puts the entry between


kitchen and garage and includes a large “gallery” that functions like a great room.


The facade combines offset flat and gable roofs in a crisp contemporary composition.

Plan 470-3, below, is an unusual two story Eichler.


The layout is wide and relatively narrow, with a generous entry to accommodate the stairway.

470-3mf-2143 large

An efficient and graceful circulation plan on the ground floor allows each room to flow into the other without wasteful dead-end spaces.


Upstairs, airiness and outdoor living dominate with front and rear balconies and a two-story living room.

A percentage of the price of each plan supports the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley, which preserves the original Oakland/Imada drawings and the records of other significant California architects and landscape architects.

For an architectural history of  Eichler homes see the excellent Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream (Gibbs Smith, 2002)


by Paul Adamson and Marty Arbunich with photography by Ernie Braun. Information and advice about Eichler communities is available from the Eichler Network, which publishes the informative quarterly CA Modern.

We’ll provide ideas and advice for updating these Eichler plans for today’s energy codes and lifestyles in future postings. Also see our Eichler-inspired plans by New Jersey architect Gregory La Vardera, California architect Robert Nebolon, and Alabama designer Daniel E. Bush, which are part of the Signature Collection, with more to come.

Garden Room Gazette

Here are some ideas for giving your outdoor living spaces more comfort and visual oomph.

Planters With Punch. The decorative garden container is evolving: it’s not just about terra cotta anymore. Concrete is coming on as strong in the garden as it is in the kitchen and bathroom, which we saw in the last posting. I’m a fan of the geometric concrete planters by Kornegay, from Phoenix, like their Quartz Series, below:

promo_quartz kornegay planters

These hefty faceted containers range from 24 to 43 inches-wide and up to 45 inches-high. The shapes and the integrally colored sunset hues make them dramatic, creating strong focal points on any patio. Or how about Kornegay’s Ribbed Series,

promo_ribbed kornegay planters

whose repeating circular outlines catch the light, irresistibly drawing the eye.

The company’s newest designs are somewhat more subdued, like the Masaru line,

masaru_series_thumb kornegay

but are no less elegant and would work well in areas where an understated look is desired.

Beyond concrete is the rise of  powder-coated aluminum, like these Skittle-colored “Pods” for indoor and outdoor use from Pad Outdoor.

mixed3 POD planters red yellow green

Bet you can’t fill just one!

Fountains of Couth. A recirculating fountain can transform a dry gravel yard into a small oasis, and it doesn’t have to use a lot of water. Here’s an example from sculptor Peter Hanson that animates a small terrace.

Img0001 Peter Hanson sculptor

It can be enjoyed from inside the house as well as as on the patio itself. Peter’s sculpting is almost invisible — he works with the natural shape of the stone to carve out the basin, making it look as though it was once part of a mountain riverbed. The boulder sits on a bed of pebbles above a pan that collects the overflow for a pump to recirculate.

Img0004 Peter hannson sculptor 2

Peter installed the fountain in Sunset‘s Monterey Bay Idea House, where he worked with architect Thomas Bateman Hood and landscape architect Bernard Trainor.

Another example, this time from Stone Forest, known for their carved stone sinks,

image.php stone forest swirl fountain

sculpts the surface of the stone into delicate ripples, enhancing the fluid effect.

Open Air Cooking. If you can’t stand the heat, then cook outside the kitchen — of course a simple barbecue will suffice, but a generous counter with a built-in grill and perhaps even some built-in seating makes everything better, like this design

The Vine and Monterey Idea House 031

by Hood, with landscaping by Trainor. The simple bench seat makes this a true outdoor room. Or here’s a cooking counter and bench covered with milk-chocolate-and-butterscotch-hued Heath Tile

398089205_13bc5c01c2_o heath barbecue

and designed by Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic, who have brilliantly revived their mid-century modern Heath Ceramics factory — and recently opened an outlet in Los Angeles. (The big news this week is their invitation to the National Design Awards ceremony at The White House. Bravo Cathy and Robin!)

For house plans with grilling porches and other outdoor rooms as part of the layout click on our Outdoor Rooms and Porch Time collections. Here’s Plan 460-3, with the amenities clearly drawn in —

460-3e-1984 patio elev with barbecue

grill in the foreground, planters at right. You just add water.


The Wonder of Concrete

Concrete Casts A Spell

The latest Harry Potter film debuts this week, which made me think that if Harry designed patios, kitchens, or bathrooms, he’d use a lot of concrete. That’s because it’s so malleable and expressive and, like the best potions, incorporates both ordinary and unusual ingredients for special effects. But you don’t have to be a wizard to see the possibilities in this remarkable age-old material. Here’s a Gryffindor Common Room of counters, sinks, pavers, and garden benches to prompt your own transformations.

Let’s begin with concrete innovator Fu-Tung Cheng, founder of Cheng Design, author of Concrete Countertops Made Simple (Taunton 2008).

sidepic_ccms book fu tung

The book speaks to the do-it-yourselfer, incorporating techniques, tips, and advice from his long career teaching people how to work with concrete. (Of the 350 members of his website, 250 have been trained as concrete installers by Fu-Tung himself.) It’s useful for anyone building a new home. Here’s a page showing three installations:

ccms_sample_04 image from book fu tung

The green triangular counter with the integral round sink is an example of sculptural geometry, and turns a tight corner into an expansive vanity; it’s practical as well as beautiful.

Fu-Tung designed the warm coppery orange-hued hearth (below) for a contemporary kitchen.

concrete_counter_04 rust colored Fun Tung

The smooth waxed finish and depth of color make you want to run your hand along the surface. I like the idea that this counter is both a hearth and a buffet.

Or here’s a concrete solution for a tight rear yard: a circular patio ringed with a bench.

ds_le_dowd_01 fu tung sf rear yard

The bench artfully outlines the terrace while providing ample places to sit. It frames the space and frees it at the same time: truly a form of design magic.

ds_le_dowd_05 fu tung better detail bench

Notice the characteristic Cheng detail: inserted elements — stones, rough texture, contrasting color — that draw the eye and add personality to abstraction. Here’s a view across the patio back to the house.

ds_le_dowd_07 fu tung rear yard back to house

It shows how the bench starts flush with the deck and edges the steps down to the patio floor. Such a compact, low maintenance yard suits a dense infill lot.

When I spoke with Fu-Tung recently he reminded me of concrete’s environmental qualities. He said: “85% of a bag of cement is sand and gravel, which is harvested locally, and so the carbon footprint is low compared to what’s required to cut and transport granite, for example.”

Fu-Tung is also branching into FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) cabinetry with his new Plyboo line at Tonusa.

Sonoma Cast Stone is a company that continues to make waves — literally — in the concrete world.

earthcrete sonoma stone wave sink

I’m thinking of their marvelous undulating sinks, like the one above, which have been evolving ever since they debuted at the National Kitchen & Bath Show some years ago.


I’m also a fan of their Ramp Sink, shown above, versions of which Sunset used in several Idea Houses. Sonoma Stone also invented “Stainless Nucrete,” part of their lighter weight Earthcrete line, designed to resist staining from limes, lemons, tomatoes, wine, and oil, (which adds a patina that some customers do not appreciate). According Sonoma Stone: “Liquid soap and a wet sponge will keep EarthCrete totally new and guaranteed so.” Earthcrete products make use of recycled paper fibers, glass, ceramics, and industrial by-products such as fly-ash. The company is also known for an ever expanding array of concrete tiles and pavers, including their so called “Soft Stone,”

tiles13 soft stone sonoma

which has a pillowed look.

Concreteworks has made a splash with the clarity and simplicity of their designs, especially owner-artist Mark Rogero’s marvelous egg-shaped tubs, like the Napali, below.

t-napali by mark rogero

Getting into it must be almost like returning to the womb!

Concrete lends itself to a spare elegant esthetic,

spatub1 by concreteworks

as illustrated by this serene spa by Concreteworks East Studio and Catherine Gerry Interiors (photo by Todd Mason from the Concreteworks Blog). There is a Concreteworks Gallery with work by other artists as well, such as Alexis Moran’s architectural bookends (below).

t-bookends by Alexis Moran at concreteworks

They would make a good introduction to the material if you don’t want to spring for a kitchen counter or spa tub immediately, not to mention an easy way to store your collection of J. K. Rowling books! Or you could just sit back and use Harry’s summoning charm: Accio Concrete!

Cool Patio Furniture, Porch Plans, Katrina

Summer Swizzle: Outdoor Seating That Stirs

Let’s toast the Fourth of July with something frosty. My summer refresher of choice is what my cousin, who’s from the East Coast, calls a “Southside.” It’s like a mojito, only frozen. I combine one part light rum to two parts freshly squeezed lime juice sweetened with sugar syrup, the leaves from two or three sprigs of garden mint, and at least two cups of ice cubes in a blender and whirl until smooth. You can sweeten to taste. Now — where to sit? Here’s a round-up of eye-catching patio furniture designs that should keep you sipping — I mean sitting — pretty for the fireworks and more.

Candy-Colored Conveyor Belt. The single bent sheet of clear acrylic draws the eye to the LCP chaise, below, short for Low Chair Plastic.

398x398large2007g43685_2474Low Chair plastic LCP, Limn

Designed by Maarten Van Severen in 1999 for Kartell it’s available from ylighting. I like the simple form — a vivid accent for a shady spot.

Napping At The Bauhaus. Or how about a classic from one of the great modern architects: the F41 “Lounge On Wheels” by Marcel Breuer, of 1928, available from Hivemodern.

bild tecta breuier lounge chair

The bicycle-like wheels and woven cane seat and back give it a vivid presence, seeming to animate the idea of relaxation. According to Aaron Able on Apartment Therapy, “The fifth wheel is connected to the others with a bicycle chain, allowing the relaxer to propel the lounge without moving to an upright position!” This  must be what’s known in physics as Conservation of Momentum…

Carpool Lane. Here’s a new lounge chair from Lolldesign —  “the 405 Chaise” — made of recycled plastic. It comes in eight colors from black to sky blue.

09_chaise_blue 405 chaise from lolldesign

The name is clever: the 405 is LA’s busiest freeway so, if you live in Southern California: “you can skip work and tell everyone you were stuck on the 405 without lying,” according to the website.

Curves Ahead. The elegant simplicity of the lazy S-curve is hard to beat — it just seems to illustrate stretching out for a snooze.

ZMN1238_l Zuo Modern lounge chair from Accent Furniture Direct

This example is the “Zuo Modern — Sydney Outdoor Lounge Chair” in chocolate brown from Accent Furniture Direct. The surface is a synthetic weave over an aluminum frame.

Outdoor Relaxation Rooms

So, where to put the chairs? Here are two plans — from our only-at-Houseplans  Signature Collection — with especially good outdoor spaces, to get you thinking about how your new house plan might adapt to warm weather.

Ross Anderson’s “Boardwalk 1.0” Plan 433-1 includes a screened porch at one end.

433-1re-2220 ross anderson Boardwarlk

It’s  a sheltered, insect-free, open-air nature-viewing platform.

Gregory La Vardera’s “Plat House” Plan 431-2 is wrapped in a porch and and a sun deck.

431-2alt1-1420 LaVardera porch

I can imagine the aforementioned lounge chairs placed right there, at the corner, half in and half out of the sun, where sipping a frozen concoction as the sun goes down would be a great way to celebrate summer.

New Independence-Minded Designs for Katrina Survivors

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is bringing new housing solutions to Katrina survivors in New Orleans. The program is all about celebrating independence and new beginnings and innovative residential architecture and seems a very fitting subject for Independence Day — and the Foundation just announced 14 new designs. To learn more about the program and see the range of duplex designs by an international roster of well known architects read the July 1, 2009 article by David Sokol in Architectural Record. For a preview see the examples below, courtesy of Make It Right and Architectural Record.

make it right -- billes

Design by Billes.

Make it Right Mcdonough

Design by William McDonough & Partners.

Make It right -- elemental

Design by Elemental.

Make It Right design, atelier hitoshi

Design by Atelier Hitoshi.

For the back story on last year’s unveiling of the first set of designs (single family) read Andrew Blum’s piece in Metropolis magazine; it’s called Saint Brad. Let’s toast independence, creativity, and the drive to rebuild. Cheers!