Monthly Archives: May 2010

Transitions: Dogtrots, Duchamp, & Julius Shulman

Beyond the Breezeway

Having just attended my younger daughter’s graduation from college, transitions and transitional spaces are on my mind (if you follow this blog you will not be surprised…). The breezeway entry to a romantic compound by the architecture firm of Peter Brachvogel and Stella Carosso, below,

incorporating the tower studio that is our Plan 479-6, celebrates arrival and the view. Here’s another view as photographed:

The tower is a kind of exclamation point but the breezeway is the welcome; an in-between space that adds breathing room with multiple functions: for greeting, sitting, sheltering.

Such transition points are where first impressions are made — remember the famous opening sequence of The Philadelphia Story

(still courtesy when Cary Grant pushes Katherine Hepburn backward through the front door after she breaks and then throws a golf club after him. (Or maybe this is a last impression leading to a new beginning). Transition points are where many great conversations seem to happen — in our house it’s by the front door or on the stoop just before guests leave a party. The great urban sociologist William H. Whyte, author of the influential The Organization Man (University of Pennsylvania, Paper, 2002) and City: Rediscovering the Center (University of Pennsylvania, Paper, 2009), recorded versions of this phenomenon on busy New York street corners where he found that intense conversations often occurred just before people parted ways.

I am a fan of the early 20th century conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, whose work challenged conventional ways of seeing; for example his “Door, 11 Rue Larry” is two door frames set at right angles

(photo courtesy, the online Marcel Duchamp Journal) with one door between them so that when the door closes in one frame it opens  in the other. A clever way to illustrate contradiction and transition at the same time — not to mention graduation!

Inside-Out and Outside-In

We have a new illustration of an especially vivid transitional space: this photograph by famous LA photographer Julius Shulman, of Case Study House #3 (our historic Plan 529-1 by Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons). It captures the very essence of the dogtrot design. It shows the garden room (the dogtrot) between the living and sleeping wings as a hallway that’s also a destination in its own right.

[Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with Permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)]

Is it inside or outside? The ambiguity is alluring: an indoor room with outdoor features. The far wall opens completely to the terrace and the garden. Sunlight pools around the plant-topped table beside two elegant outdoor chaises and an indoor standing lamp. In the background is a fireplace and an indoor Aaltoesque sofa below a wall-hung staghorn fern. Cocoa matting partially covers the tile floor. It’s emblematic of how to live in a mild climate: call it a lanai, living porch, or furnished breezeway. To my eye it’s a classic image and still looks contemporary today.

One of our latest designs from Braxton Werner & Paul Field, the rustic-modern Plan 491-10, adapts this dogtrot idea to a long narrow vacation house.


See how the Breezeway functions both as entry and outdoor living room. It’s a simple strong design that embodies restorative escape.

What’s Selling Now

I’m delighted to report that several of our most innovative plans have sold recently, including this appealing getaway

Plan 443-6 with its ample double decker porches; and Sarah Susanka’s Home By Design Original Plan 454-7

with its encompassing screen porch. The Tower Studio mentioned above has also sold. These houses celebrate the arrival of summer. Onward and upward!

News from ICFF 2010

New Furnishing and Lighting Products

Our fearless Manhattan correspondent,  former New York Times Home Section editor Michael Cannell, filed this report on the latest design trends.

“Furniture fanatics filled the streets of New York last week as the city hosted the annual designapalooza known as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. ICFF, as it’s commonly called, is this country’s biggest design exposition, mixing the best new American lighting, furniture, and accessories with introductions from big-name European outfits.

(The view above is of the Spanish pavilion, with blue “Agatha pendant” by Luis Eslava Studio.) The mood was surprisingly buoyant this year with an emphasis on the eco-conscious and a vibrant mix of colors. Here are some of the most noteworthy introductions:

Intricate Room Divider

Everybody loves big open loft spaces, but there may be times when you want to separate a living area from, say, a home office or media center. For this purpose the Dutch-American couple Mike and Maaike created Swarm, a playfully chaotic screen made of strips of wood connected with aluminum links.

Swarm is a porous divider, with plenty of room for light to pass through.

Colors include: natural, black, white, yellow, green (81” high; 38” wide): $1,425 (the two images above courtesy

Woven Light

Timothy Liles is a New Hampshire designer who puts a contemporary twist on regional crafts. His new collection, called “New New England,” includes Sweetser,

a lamp with solid ash legs and a woven shade made in collaboration with New Hampshire basket weavers. The cord is covered in red textile. (52” high; 16” in diameter): $375.

Ancient Perch Updated

Tatit is a pair of ergonomic stools based on the bathing traditions of Finland and Japan, but it could be used anywhere.

Designed by the Finnish architect Toni Kauppila, Tatit is made of lightweight laminated pine from a Scandinavian forestry firm known for sustainable practices. Tatit will be available this summer from the Finnish Design Shop. (17.7” and 9” high, respectively): Price to be determined.

A Classic In Plastic

In 1944 Emeco began making a basic aluminum chair for use on U.S. warships. The Navy chair and its variations have surged in popularity in recent years. This spring Emeco and Coca-Cola introduced the 111 Navy Chair, a version made from 111 plastic soda bottles.

Emeco estimates that more than 3 million plastic bottles will be recycled annually for the production of the chairs.

The 111 Chair will be available in June in six colors: Coca-Cola Red, Snow, Flint, Grass, Persimmon and Charcoal (34” high; 15.5” wide; 19.5” deep): $230.

Ambient Origami

One of the more attention-grabbing items at this year’s ICFF came from the Spanish designer Ray Power who created a table lamp (it can also be used as a sconce) called Air MP out of a single sheet of twisted plywood veneer.

Available in seven colors: American white wood, Cherry, Beech, Yellow, Orange, Red, Green, Grey (13.3” high; 9.4” in diameter): $365.

Recycled Seating

Loll Design is known for outdoor furniture made from recycled HDPE, a plastic resin used in detergent bottles, margarine tubs and other packaging. Loll expanded its collection this year with the addition of Coco, a modern lounge chair with contoured slats.

Each chair is made from 184 recycled milk jugs. Available in six colors: black, white, apple, chocolate, leaf and sky (29” high; 21”wide): $350

Trees Not Required

Hammy is a hammock by a group of young designers who call themselves Plywood Office. It can be used indoors or out.

Materials: powder-coated steel, vinyl mesh and cypress wood. (40” high; 8’6” long; 36” high): $1850.

Beautiful Snarl

The artful tangle is one of the more conspicuous design trends of the moment, particularly in lighting design. Rachel O’Neill, a designer from Northern Ireland,

fashioned Polka from strips of Velcro woven around an aluminum frame. (23.5” high; 15.75” in diameter): Price to be determined.

Large-Scale Prints

Trove is a wallpaper studio with an emphasis on photographic imagery used in unusual formats.

This year the company introduced Fuoco, an oversized black and white image based on a historic photograph of the interior of the Venice opera house. (153” high; 67” wide): $13 per square foot.

Reissued For Summer

Richard Schulz, who his best known for his work with Knoll in the 1950s, designed the Fresh Air outdoor furniture collection in the 1980s, but it was never produced.

Available for the first time this spring, it is made of powder-coated aluminum. Available in sixteen colors. (34” high; 27” wide; 24” deep): Price to be determined.”

Thanks for keeping us current, Mike!

Public Plazas: Permanent to Temporary

Macro to Micro

What makes a vibrant and memorable  gathering place? In architect Robert Gatje’s visually compelling and insightful new book Great Public Squares (W. W. Norton, 2010) — a collection of his drawings and writings —

it has to do with material, pattern, scale, and spatial dynamism, not to mention history and complex socio-economic forces. Bob forces us to think more deeply about why certain public places are so memorable to us. He has drawn forty public squares to scale so you can compare each central place with its surroundings. His cover image of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, essentially a remodel by Michaelangelo, is especially seductive. It captures the force field that is the swirling oval pattern at the center appearing to pull the two flanking facades off kilter, crimping them toward the entrance even as they appear to slide past the building at the center. This intense play between space and structure, which is a function of all great public spaces, has always interested architects.  Bob makes these ideas visible in vivid new ways.  Look at his drawing of St. Mark’s Square in Venice:

and you immediately see how remarkable the square’s long sweeping flank is, both as a rhetorical gesture and as a virtual demonstration of civic power, clearing away the clutter of urban density while making a virtue of it at the same instant. Also see the way St. Mark’s Cathedral thrusts into the square instead of simply forming a boundary to it; how the island that is the campanile lets space — and often tides — eddy around it; and how the colonnades wrap the square in a layer of theatricality that connects everything to the  Grand Canal itself. It’s all so vividly expressed in the  modeled shadow, light, and vibrant color.  You’ll find similar visual analyses of such landmarks as New York’s Rockefeller Center, the Place Des Vosges in Paris, and Prague’s Old Town Square.

I asked Bob how this book came about. Here’s what he said:

“The inspiration is in the small black and white plans of Camillo Sitte (late 19th century Austrian architect and city planning theoretician) that he drew at the same scale to let architects get a comparative idea of his favorite squares.”

{NOTE: Here’s an example of Sitte’s drawing of the Place de l’Etoile in Paris, courtesy Cornell Library.}

“I just quadrupled Sitte’s scale to 1:1000, added color and shadows, and there we were.” A great idea, Bob!

OK, so if you don’t have five or six hundred years, a cultural renaissance or two, a sovereign treasure, and ample travertine and other long lasting materials — what can you do? The little town of Hercules, California, north of Oakland, might offer a lesson.

Here’s the ribbon cutting ceremony for their new market place/food hall/shopping/event park. Hercules — where dynamite was once manufactured — had evolved into a bedroom community with no central place for public events. Enter The Red Barn Company, an enlightened Newport Beach-based developer of new communities, which persuaded the city to provide a temporary use permit to convert an undertilized transit parking lot into a miniature multifunctional gathering place called Hercules Market Hall.

Here’s a shot of the market place “spine” where each boutique is made from recycled cargo containers.

Here’s the food hall, with Korean barbecue and Mexican taco trucks just visible parked along the wings. Every structure can be dismantled and moved. I visited on opening day and was impressed: hundreds of people enjoying a variety of activities and each other’s company. It’s the brainchild of  Red Barn founding partner Tom Weigel, who told me he was excited– and relieved — to see so many people enjoying themselves. It’s quite literally a moveable feast and might offer a template for other communities in need of central meeting zones. The Hercules Market Hall will move to another location when the housing development gets under way. The dynamite is in the temporary details!

Levi’s Remodel, New Plans, Mondavi

Stitches in Time: Design Inspiration

What are some of our designers and architects up to when they’re not creating home plans?  New York architect Ross Anderson, for one (Plan 433-1 and Plan 433-2), is completing a comprehensive interior remodel of Levi Strauss & Company’s headquarters in San Francisco, which I toured yesterday. His charge was to open up the floors for greater communication, to foster teamwork, and to express Levi’s uniqueness as a clothing manufacturer. His solution draws inspiration indirectly from the company’s fascinating history. Some of that history is preserved in the Levi’s archive, called The Vault (off the atrium lobby and open to the public).

The mini-museum highlights Levi’s changing iconography since its founding in 1853,  like the original Two Horse Brand, above, demonstrating clothing strength.

Garments from many eras are displayed, like this woman’s cotton shirt from the 1960s. One case

shows skeins of denim thread along with brad and button patterns.

Ross absorbed this history intuitively and then adapted aspects of it to three-dimensional design:  i.e.  architectural forms of layering. He has created a series of dividers that double as display systems. Narrow gauge stainless steel mesh covers the walls of the meeting areas so clothing

or other objects can be hung up for a constantly changing showcase. The mesh screen — woven metal is really a form of stitchery with very large thread! — has an alluring sheen as well as transparency, which exposes the supporting wood frame even as it provides a flexible wall for showing off the latest Levi’s fashions. Here are durability, toughness, construction-made-visible — all aspects of the jean esthetic translated into architecture. I think a version of this wall system would work well at home — say in a bedroom or family room as a changeable photo wall. Ross also designed the work carrels

to include a small display board covered in felt — the exposed bolts recall the brads on a Levi’s jean jacket. Other wall surfaces are covered in blackboards and whiteboards designed for writing; bamboo; recycled teak; and eco-friendly crushed sunflower hulls. This latter product was new to me. It  has a warm wood tone and densely figured patterning (image below courtesy Chartreuse, an interesting Sioux Falls, SD-based green product research website)

that’s more distinctive than wheat board but not as striated as Kirei board.

Finally, the many thousands of square feet of new insulation in the remodeling is recycled denim — naturally!

Our Most Recent Exclusive Plans

Braxton Werner and Paul Field are the latest architects to join our Signature Plans Studio. Braxton got his architecture degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and Paul graduated from Carleton University at Ottawa. Their wf2studio plans are contemporary and eco-oriented. For example, in Plan 491-5


the long horizontal sod roof dominates, providing a strong image of shelter even as it helps to lower heating and cooling costs. The two-bedroom two and a half bath layout is simple and would suit a long narrow lot. Each major room opens to the outdoors along a covered porch.

Here’s a two story design (Plan 491-3) suitable for a wider and shallower lot.


The stairway separates the kitchen/dining area from the living room and the master suite is on the ground floor.

Upstairs both bedrooms open to the long porch. Braxton and Paul have also designed custom homes; their Glenwood is an especially handsome example (below) and shows how compelling an indoor-outdoor design can be.

Pool, terrace, and living area are practically interchangeable — though one of them is somewhat wetter than the others…There’s even an outdoor fireplace built into one wall of the patio. The crisp geometric clarity recalls such icons of  Modernism as Mexico’s Luis Barragan and  Italy’s Carlo Scarpa — indeed, Braxton and Paul have carefully studied their work.

Cliff May’s Mondavi House

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Robert and Margrit Mondavi house designed by Cliff May is now for sale for $25 million.

(Photo courtesy WSJ) It’s a remarkable house —  three levels overlooking an indoor pool under a great spreading gable roof that opens to the sky. You can read more about it in my Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House (Rizzoli, 2008. Shameless Self-Promotion Department). And for considerably less than 25 million — i. e. for $2,500 —  you can purchase our exclusive Plan 64-172 by Dan Tyree

and inspired by Cliff May. See? You just saved $24,997,500!