Monthly Archives: April 2010

Outdoor Living Ideas

Contemporary Barbecues and More

May in the US means it’s time to start moving outdoors. Here’s a range of warm weather-oriented design ideas that caught my eye recently because they combine functions and forms in artful new ways. To use an old term often used in shelter magazines, they “do double duty” — with a certain panache.

Warming trends get a boost with two products from Fire Sense. One is a handsome round powder-coated steel fire pit

that comes with a hardwood top  so it can double as a cocktail table. It’s the HotSpot Solid Base Revolver Fire Pit Table, also available from Gaslog Guys. The Hot Spot Notebook Charcoal Grill

resembles a magazine rack (holding only the hottest publications, er coals, naturally). It folds flat for storage (also available from One Click MX), which would be a great help in places like my cluttered tool shed.

On the cooler side, try this reinvention of the  hospital curtain track as a privacy and shade screen across a lap pool.

It’s a clever idea even without the water and could be used under a projecting eave to protect any patio from harsh summer sun. This house for jewelry designer Georg Spreng and his family is by the Stuttgart firm  C18 Architekten (photo courtesy Daily Icon).

I like the way sculpture and furniture somersault together in this “Loopita” chaise by Mexican designer Victor M. Aleman.

which appears to be quite literally a twist on the conventional love seat — or  is that a loop de scoop or a mobius “dip”!

A bench by San Francisco’s Aidlin Darling Design comes alive as serpentine segments of redwood.

You perceive the parts  and the whole together and separately in an ingenious interplay between sitting and stretching — the practical waxes poetic.

A somewhat simpler seat, designed by Los Angeles architect Barton Phelps for his own garden, is all about rustic warmth.

A flagstone couch (covered with canvas cushions) is set into a retaining wall made of recycled concrete rubble. It absorbs the hot late afternoon sun and then radiates the heat at night to make a delightfully toasty spot for relaxing under the evening stars.

Fresh Air Home Design

Here’s a home plan that also takes advantage of the open air. It’s architect Gregory la Vardera’s Plat House 3 (Plan 431-13)  an expansion of his earlier design, and recently added to our Signature Plans Collection.

The shaded breezeway along one side

can  be modified to incorporate

a screen porch at one end, as shown here. It’s time to be outside or at least bring the outside inside.

Modern Paint Color and Eichler Plans

Nature-Oriented Paint Palettes

We’ve just added four more Eichler mid-century modern house plans (by architect Claude Oakland — see them at the end of this post) to our Signature Plans Collection and this has made me think about interior paint colors that might be appropriate for contemporary homes. And it’s spring: spruce-up time! The Yolo Colorhouse palette of no VOC paints (volatile organic compounds) sprang to mind.

The colors are organized in nature-based categories, from Air to Petal. One advantage of Yolo Colorhouse is that you can order poster-size color swatches (instead of smaller paint chips) to see how the color will look (remember that online paint color is only an approximation and you should refer to a dry paint chip sample before purchasing paint).

Because the range of color possibilities is so wide, I asked architectural color consultant Jill Pilaroscia of Colour Studio, who has directed color projects for Herman Miller and a wide variety of community developers, for her advice.

She suggested taking cues from the design, the materials, and the lifestyle characteristics of the typical Eichler home: its open plan, use of wood and warm-toned laminates, casual organization and clean lines; its rooms oriented toward and connecting with the garden; and its abundant daylight through window walls and interior transoms.

She says: “All of these basic characteristics set the stage for a range of natural  and organic colors that will harmonize with the building’s given elements.  Warm reds, rusts, browns, taupes, olives, greens, buffs, greyed tones that mirror those found in shadowed natural settings look wonderful in these homes. Sometimes an owner will find the colors heavy and oppressive and determine they want to paint the ceiling beams, and paint out the woods.  Subjective color likes and dislikes are deeply ingrained with the emotional connotations. This in no way means this is the only way to deal with an Eichler.  Some clients will choose to work in strong colors that suit their personal subjective color needs and can make it work. “

Jill suggested twelve Benjamin Moore hues in several categories as a starting point (swatches shown below).

Warm Accents

035 Baked Clay

077 Fiery Opal

194 Hathaway Gold

Softer Organic Warm Yellows to suggest light:

177 Mushroom Cap

186 Harvest Time


492 Dune Grass

495 Hillside Green


513 Limestone

1522 Inner Balance

Metal color:

1547 Dragon’s Breath,  for deep metal accents

and Deep Browns:

HC-72 Branchport Brown

2114-20 Mississippi Mud

On the Benjamin Moore website you can use their Virtual Fan Deck and Personal Color Viewer to see the paint applied to walls in several sample room photos, like this:

which uses Dune Grass on the fireplace and trim and Hillside Grass on the walls.

Here’s the same room with Hathaway Gold on fireplace and trim and Mushroom Cap on the walls. Beware, the click-and-cover feature can definitely become addictive… For information about colors used in the original Eichlers see CA Modern, the magazine of the Eichler Network.

Our latest Eichler Plans

The most recent additions to our Signature Plans Collection are four more historic Eichler plans from the early 1960s.

The 4 bedroom, 3 bath, 2,733 sq. ft. layout of Plan 470-6 (original model HPO-15) — organized around an an open-air atrium — allows windows on two sides of every major room for cross-ventilation and balanced light.

The plan is both elegant and practical: a spacious loggia connects the kitchen/multipurpose room with the living room, and a laundry hall opens to the garage. The street front

centers a big welcoming gable porch over the entry beside the flat-roofed garage.

In Plan 470-8 (model NY-254), one of the very few Eichler homes also built outside California (in the Hudson River Valley outside New York City),

a long horizontal facade — part garage, part wall — preserves privacy for the  front courtyard.

The 4 bedroom, 2 bath 1,706 sq. ft., L-shaped house wraps around two sides of this open space. The living dining area and the master bedroom open directly to the rear yard.

Plan 470-7 (model MC-34) shows how the so-called “multipurpose room” is no longer part of the kitchen (where it appears in the previous two plans) but its own separate space,

that now really functions as a family room. The “Gallery” in this 2,364 sq. ft., 4 bedroom, 2 bath plan includes a variation on the atrium idea, only this time it has a roof and is part of the interior. The segmented gable

extends from front to rear, across the gallery. These Eichler designs celebrate easy indoor-outdoor living and remain seductive for people who want to live on one level. We are able to offer copies of the designs by special arrangement with the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley; a percentage of the plan price supports the Archives.

In-Between Spaces

Transparency and Transition

The most compelling part of a home can often be a transition zone between indoors and outdoors. San Francisco architect Craig Steely’s own house, for example,

shows how the living room merges seamlessly with the deck. The elegant suspended modern fireplace is actually outdoors, but because of the sliding glass living room wall, it’s visually — and sometimes virtually, when the sliding doors are open — part of both spaces. The ambiguity adds a layer of artfulness.

The overhanging roof and the floating fireplace define the outdoor room while  making it an extension of the living room. Both spaces feel larger than they are because they visually overlap.

An open-air corridor or gallery can function in a similar but more directional way. New Mexico regional modern architect John Gaw Meem was particularly deft at the use of transitional spaces to tie structure to site. In his McCormick residence of 1931, north of Santa Fe, the entry is along a covered walkway

that opens to a terraced courtyard. The portico shades the entrance, creating an outdoor room within the larger outdoor room that is the courtyard (photo by Robert Reck from Facing Southwest: The Life and Houses of John Gaw Meem, by Chris Wilson, W. W. Norton, 2001). Here’s another example — this time on a slight downhill slope.

It’s the entrance at the Wallace house of 1933 near Santa Cruz, California by Henry Howard (photo by Henry Bowles from The Howards: First Family of Bay Area Modernism, by Stacy Moss, Oakland Museum, 1988). The long corridor, the paving pattern, and the distant open doorway beckon eyes and footsteps into and through the house. If there had been no overhang the entrance walk would be abrupt, exposed to the weather, and unwelcoming.

The porch-as-passage is an old idea: classic American examples are found in the Charleston, South Carolina single-houses of the 19th century. This version (courtesy Explore Charleston)

shows how the front door opens to the porch, which in turn leads to the front hall (in some examples, the porch is the front hall). These houses are only one room wide and the porch is oriented to catch the breeze, while the front door preserves the dignity of the street front and the privacy of the porch at the same time.

Add a glass wall and things start to evolve.  One of the most important examples of the glazed hallway was designed by U. C. Berkeley campus architect John Galen Howard (Henry Howard’s father) for the University’s Architecture School in the early 1900s.

It stair-steps up the slope and is essentially a hallway

with a wall of multi-paned windows along one side. Note the use of shingle siding on the interior wall, which reinforces the indoor-outdoor connection (two previous photos by Daniella Thompson, courtesy Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association). It has inspired many architects over the years, including William Wurster, for example in his Robbins house at Hillsborough from the mid 1930s,

where the brick-paved floor and simple horizontal board walls emphasize the outdoor feeling. Wurster ultimately expanded on the glazed gallery idea to invent what he called “the room with no name,” which was essentially a sunporch or lanai that could have multiple uses as a kind of family room or indoor-outdoor dining room. Other modern architects did the same across the country. Here’s an example by Midwest architect Edward Humrich — on the cover of a handsome new book by Gary Gand about mid-century modern Chicago houses as shot by the late architectural photographer Julius Shulman.

See how half the patio is a hallway-sitting room thanks to the wall of glass. A hallway can be so much more than a corridor!

Textiles, Artisan Wood, and Cabin Plans

T-Shirts to Timbers

In Melbourne recently my daughter, who knows her father well, pointed out various design galleries. At Spacecraft, an innovative artist-owned textile firm, I immediately spied this comforter emblazoned with

a large image of  Dutch baroque row houses. Perfect for a good night’s sleep dreaming of European travel. Want it.  Or how about this T-shirt showing St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.

Now you see how patient my family is with someone who has AOS (architectural obsession syndrome).

Another gallery fanned my table and chair fixations: The Mark Tuckey Company designs, makes, and sells elegant modern timber furniture — often from recycled woods.

Their Melbourne showroom and workshop (they also have a gallery in Sydney)  is a woodworker’s fun house. I was drawn to the minimalist geometry and flexibility of these sideboard storage and display cases.

Combine the sturdy open boxes and and drawer modules into whatever size credenza suits your space. I also liked this coffee table made from recycled American oak.

In case Australia is a little far, browse Urban Hardwoods, a company with galleries in Seattle and San Francisco that specializes in wood from urban trees — like this elm

that died and was born again as

a sculptural dining table.

The Wharton Esherick House Museum

Speaking of wood furniture, sculptor Wharton Esherick (1887-1970) was one of the most influential American woodworkers and the house he built for himself in Paoli, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia (now a museum) is an extraordinary invention in its own right and worth adding to your summer itinerary.

I toured it not long ago. From the outside it recalls something from The Lord of The Rings, with its central board-and-batten-covered tower and sunken stone-and-glass studio.

(Photo of rear-facing side with deck is by G. Widman for GPTMC). Inside, one of several dramatic surprises is the wooden stairway leading from the studio up to the bedroom, kitchen, and dining area.

It’s a marvelous architectural vertebrae: the house’s backbone exposed. The studio contains many of Esherick’s furniture and and lighting designs

along with models for larger pieces. Esherick brought an Arts & Crafts esthetic into mid century (stair and studio photos courtesy Esherick Museum). I recommend the new book that explores this house and those of two other great American woodworkers: Esherick, Maloof, and Nakashima: Homes of the Master Wood Artisans (Schiffer, 2009).

The cover shows how stairways become a fine furniture maker’s Everest: to be conquered (reinvented) and climbed!

Our New Cabin Plan

So, where to put all this new bedding and furniture, not to mention the odd woodworking book? In your new vacation getaway, of course. Architect David Wright’s cabin, Plan 452-3, one of the latest additions to our Signature Collection, is an especially appealing example. The barn-inspired design combines a wrap-around porch

(that’s wide enough for a dining table) with a soaring light-filled interior.

The kitchen is by the stair; bedroom and bathroom are at the rear;

overflow sleeping area is in the loft. I think it’s exactly what a cabin should be:

simple, easy to secure — note the metal shutters that slide over the windows — and flexible. Browse our Cabin Collection for more plans. Which one calls you?