Monthly Archives: June 2010

Room Size, Porches, New Modern Ranch

Measure for Measure

Room size is like air — you don’t think about it until you start gasping. Too small a space for a particular function and everything is constricted; too large and you feel lost.  Whether you’re planning a new house or remodeling your current home, understanding basic room sizes for different purposes is essential. However, unless you’re an architect or designer and have access to technical resources, it’s hard to find useful measurement information. But help has arrived with Right-Sizing Your Home: How To Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle (Northwest Arm Press, 2010) by former Home magazine Editor-in-Chief Gale Steves.

Gale is an articulate, wise, and eminently practical Ariadne who leads us expertly through the house design maze (remember it was Ariadne’s ball of silken thread that allowed Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur — that early and unscrupulous mortgage broker). She includes a very helpful Dimension Guide for every major room

like this one showing the minimum small bathroom size (top left layout) at 60- by 90-inches; and recommended size  at 66- by 108-inches. The book helps you think through the function, size, and character of every room (and how furniture choices affect each space) with so-called “Audits” or brief questionnaires that you complete for things like your cooking style, relaxing style, or even comfort style (for people thinking about Universal Design). I like her no-nonsense advice: “Magazines show images of impeccable tiny spaces for a home office, but the question is, who really works there–or could? It is time to get real.” This is the book to have on hand as you browse our house plan collections.

The Useful Porch

Room size reminds me of one my pet peeves: porches that don’t pull through. In other words I want a porch that’s not just some vestigial dead-end bumper, or decorative accessory, but one that can function as a real outdoor room, with space for sitting or even dining, the way this front porch on our Vacation House Plan 443-1


does: it’s ten feet deep.

443-1 plan

And so is the porch off the master bedroom, providing comfortable room to expand in good weather.

Rebooting the Modern Ranch House

I’d like to welcome award-winning architects Gregory Walker and Hank Houser to our Signature Plans Collection. Gregory’s Master of Architecture is from Harvard University; Hank’s is from Georgia Institute of Technology. Their Courtyard Plan 488-1

updates an L-shaped ranch house,


with the living-dining area occupying one wing; the kitchen and bedrooms the other. The garage shapes a separate entry court off to one side. The architectural aim is straightforward: take advantage of an open site, maximize daylight and cross ventilation, and use locally standard construction techniques and materials for efficiency and minimum waste. It’s a fine recipe for easy indoor-outdoor green design.

House Models and Three Dimensions

Speaking Volumes

In London last week I toured the “Introduction to Architecture” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and was instantly drawn to the architectural models on display.

Architectural models are both more realistic than two-dimensional drawings — as a way to represent three dimensional space — and more imaginary because they inevitably have a dollhouse quality. They provide serious information and a latent sense of play at the same time. Take this model of a Tudor style house,

neatly packed in its own traveling case. It’s compelling because it presents a bird’s eye view that immediately communicates the character of the design and seems to pop out of the box in a magical way:  it’s the tool as toy. Scale models also

make it possible to analyze closely details like columns, window and door proportions, and materials. The beautiful wood model of the iconic modern Villa Stein of 1927 at Garches, by Le Corbusier,

quickly illustrates the design’s innovative interplay between flatness and depth.

See how the planar front and rear facades with their flat ribbon windows contrast with the cut-away corners and larger, deeper openings on three sides. Contemporary photographs tended to show the house straight on

from the front

or rear, accentuating the planar quality (Both photos courtesy Oklahoma State). These images communicate the design’s graphic light-catching qualities — just as  two-dimensional floor plans usually do — but tend to obscure the way volumes interconnect. Unless you are already an architect or can read plans quickly, models just make a design easier to understand.

Long ago when I was in architecture school we spent a lot of time making cardboard models and sketching axonometrics or “axons” (perspective drawings) to explain our designs. Well that’s so, like — 19th century. Now, thanks to the exponential development of 3-D modeling software like Google’s Sketchup and Autodesk’s BIM (Building Information Modeling), 3-D drawings that can spin, turn, and tilt or that you can fly around are ubiquitous. Google’s 3-D Warehouse online is itself a fascinating resource where you can play with Frank Lloyd Wright’s early machine-age modern Robie House in Chicago

or his marvelous stone yacht of a house

on the beach at Carmel, California for Mrs. Clinton Walker (misidentified, incidentally, in the Sketchup model as the Martin house).  Or, if castles are more your taste, take a look at the Chateau Azay le Rideau,

with it’s many turrets, or Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s Schloss Neuschwanstein,

said to be one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. You can see that this website quickly becomes addictive. All of the computer models are created by different individuals (many are designers and architects) to demonstrate what the open source software can do.

At Houseplans, 3-D images of houses are available for many designs, like Dan Tyree’s modern so-called “15 Degrees” Plan 64-166 for a sloping site,

which is drawn in a perspective view to highlight the way the design takes advantage of the hillside. Bud Dietrich’s drawings for his  Prairie Style Meadow North Plan 481-3

resemble models with the roof off so you can easily see how one room relates to another.

Our ultimate goal is to have as many plans as possible in 3-D presentations. Watch us evolve and revolve!

Maps and the Modern Home

The Lure of the Layout

Maps always capture my imagination — they’re a way to travel without the expense of actually going anywhere. And they can turn any room into a destination resort or a learning center.  I have noticed an increasing use of city maps — or  city plans — in everyday objects. I like these paper place mats showing


New York,

and Tokyo, for example. They’re from A+ R Store. What a great way to explore the world while you’re having breakfast.

Wall maps remain a popular decorating feature, and not just for a child’s room. Historical views of cities and towns often included street maps along with streetscapes, like this 19th century view of Marysville, California


complete with vignettes of commercial and residential buildings. It’s from the extraordinarily rich collection of images and manuscripts chronicling the history of the western U. S. at U. C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and is available at Zazzle.  Frame it and you have an instant curiosity.

One of the most famous urban maps of all is the so-called Nolli Map of Rome from 1792, drawn by an architect named Giambattista Nolli,

including the floor plans of all the major monuments. Here’s a detail from it showing Michaelangelo’s  layout of St. Peter’s Basilica

and Bernini’s colonnade reaching out to embrace and define St. Peter’s Square. The Nolli map is a particular favorite of mine and has now been reprinted by Raven Maps with the University of Oregon – so it’s easy to own.

In a somewhat different, but no less structurally-oriented vein — my mother, who once worked for the American Red Cross as a disaster relief coordinator, is fond of weather and seismic activity maps like this one

from USGS recording the history of earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area and has one in her kitchen (all those yellow dots are epicenters — no wonder we’re a family of fast eaters…).

Such maps are, to my mind, all related to floor plans. In fact, some of our designs,

like Daniel E. Bush’s Modern Plan 460-6, are definitely worth framing! Keep them in mind the next time you’re looking for a conversation piece.