Monthly Archives: July 2010

Melbourne Modern and Leon Meyer

Inside-Out Down Under

Australians are masters at shaping contemporary settings for casual indoor-outdoor living. In Melbourne a few months ago this realization struck me anew when I met architect Leon Meyer, whose practice specializes in residential work. His marvelous Linacre Plan 496-1 — which is our newest exclusive design — turns a compact linear layout for a narrow site into world of spaciousness and light.

See how the window wall folds away, effectively joining interior and exterior spaces. The deck becomes a true outdoor living room.

Now that’s where I would like to be — sipping a frosty mojito at the table overlooking the pool. Meyer ‘s skill at weaving together space and structure is especially clear in this image of the family room

showing how the dark raised hearth and floorboards appear to extend into the decking: the stripe as a figurative bridge.

It reminds me of the famous Southern California architect John Lautner, who with his project architect Vaughn Trammell used a black stripe — running from the sidewalk on one side of the house to a balcony on the other — as a way to draw an arrow toward  the view (photo at left courtesy Vaughn Trammell Architect).

This photograph of the Linacre design shows the casual dining area between the kitchen and the deck.

Meyer’s plan is long and relatively narrow and opens mostly along one side of the house.

The garage tucks under the front facade to the left of the front door. The plan is essentially the plan of the lot, which is the only real way to design a house in my opinion…Beware: Random Rant Alert!…I think that wherever possible and practical, a room should always know what’s going on outside it — otherwise you are living in a vacuum.

See how the family room and the kitchen/informal meals area open to the outdoors.

A particularly efficient feature is the sink and built-in desk beside the WC on the way to the laundry from the dining room. It can double as a butler’s pantry. Upstairs the floor plan is equally skillful.

There’s a walk-through — not walk-in — or is that walkabout! — closet off the master bedroom on the way to the master bathroom, which allows easy and independent access to both areas. You can even reach the master bathroom from the hall. Off the three other bedrooms is a generous activity area/playroom that opens to a balcony. Built-in desks add efficiency.

In short, this is a masterful design and I hope you enjoy exploring it further. We’ll have more Meyer plans up shortly. Meanwhile, meet the man himself,

who is sitting outside, of course! Welcome aboard, Leon (photo by Lucy Diamond Joyce).

House Plan Videos

Explaining Our Plan Collections

With the help of Houseplans Design Director Nicholas Lee I have been making some introductory slide-show videos to explain some of our plan collections. They’re now on You Tube (search with keyword One talks about our Exclusive Signature Studio Plans Collection,

which now includes twenty-five architects and designers from around the country and as far away as Brazil, India, and Italy.

I’m very proud of the variety of home plans in this collection — glimpsed in the collage above — and extremely grateful to the architects and designers who have joined. 

The Cottage Style Slide-Show explains the derivation of the style from

early pattern books like Cottage Residences by Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing of 1842, shown here. Another video describes the Ranch House Style and mentions precedents

like the Las Flores Rancho in San Diego County, from the early 1800s.

The slide-show on Craftsman plans explains connections to work

by the famous Pasadena brother architects Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene from the 1910s.

Nick Lee has also created videos describing key plan features. 

Garden Walls, Gabions, and New Modern House Plans

Geometry in the Garden

The ordinary garden wall has latent powers. In the hands of a landscape magician like Bernard Trainor it can provide enclosure, seating, and visual drama all at once. See how his low wall bending around a bowl-shaped water feature

draws us into the circle close to the reflecting pool — a liquid campfire! — deftly creating a simple but memorable outdoor room. View from the other direction

and you can see how the wall’s whiplash curve reels the rest of the garden into view.  Or here’s his use of the wall as planter.

The rough-textured lower stone wall supporting the planter is wide enough for sitting and acts as a foil for the higher smooth-plastered wall behind it. The planter becomes a kind of dais for the plants and adds texture and intimacy to the gravel covered courtyard.  Or see how he turns a basic concrete block wall into something

eye-catching and new by running a trickle of water over a boulder placed at one end. I had the pleasure of working with Bernard Trainor on a project for Sunset — and I admire his pragmatic/poetic approach. He first studies the site to document water movement, soil types, vegetation, view shed, and seasonal dynamics. He says: “These site patterns are a repository of meaning — they do not lie…” Then he combines this new knowledge with the client’s program and starts to design; good advice for any garden designer.

Garden walls can be made of almost anything. In Phoenix I have seen examples like this one

made from gabions, which are wire mesh cages filled with rocks —  typically used in civil engineering projects to stabilize slopes and shorelines. In a garden they’re like works of environmental art. My friend and former colleague at Sunset, Senior Garden Writer Sharon Cohoon, is a fan of gabions and discovered a Utah company called Ore Containers that makes this

unusual tall water feature — see the curtain of drops in middle of the frame.

Meet Our Newest Exclusive Architect

In other news, I’m very excited to report that architect Matthew Coates has joined our Signature Studio. His designs celebrate a casually elegant brand of indoor-outdoor living.

In his MOD 57 Plan 498-4 the main living/dining space opens to a broad, sheltered terrace. The layout shows how the master suite can function as a separate wing. Note also the outdoor fireplace on the terrace.

Or here’s his Retreat House Plan 498-2, with its seductive double-height window wall at the corner of the main entry.

The floor plan is compact and includes extra storage beside the garage. The upstairs master suite boasts a two-person shower in the bathroom. This level also includes a generous home office. I’m jealous.

Welcome home, Matthew, of Coates Design!

Architectural Salvage

Find Your Inner Robber Baron

A Sunset magazine headline of some years back — Recycle, Restore, Reuse — is more relevant than ever in today’s economy. So, where can you find affordable but distinctive home products and building materials

like this Talaveras pottery sink for $50?  The answer is: at architectural salvage yards like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores across the US and Canada. ReStore is a home improvement outlet that sells donated, new, used, and surplus goods to the public at greatly reduced prices.

Profits  support the local Habitat for Humanity, a network of community volunteers who build modest affordable homes with the families who will live in them. Browser beware, however: you’ll need to visit an outlet regularly to catch the most popular items — that sink came in to the Sonoma County, California Restore outlet (entrance pictured) just after I arrived and had sold before I left!

These outlets and other salvage yards are where you can make like the insatiable artifact collector and San Simeon Castle builder William Randolph Hearst but without his billionaire budget. (Remember: a lot of the doors, paneling, and even ceilings in Hearst Castle came from Spanish monasteries and French chateaux — in those days Europe was the ultimate salvage yard for some people.) In addition to the sink shown above, I found

solid core paneled doors for $100, and a granite-topped

corner bar cabinet for $850.

If you don’t see what you want at a ReStore, google “architectural salvage” or check with your local building department to find recycle outlets in your area.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, Ohmega Salvage Yard now has some unusual Gothic-style oak panels saved from the old Carnelian Room

Restaurant on the 52nd  floor of the Bank of America building in San Francisco. Historic Houseparts in Rochester, New York boasts a large inventory of vintage plumbing and bathroom fixtures

and would be a good place to look for early twentieth century porcelain sink spigots. At Architectural Artifacts in Chicago you’ll find items like these Art Nouveau interior doors.

A Builder’s Recycle Sourcing Tips

Our in-house contractor expert Brian Garrison has some good advice for the home product hunter-gatherer:

On Older Windows  and Doors: “I would not recommend recycling doors and windows for the exterior because of the heat loss and gain. Older building materials and practices may not be worth the upfront savings. “

On Appliances and Fixtures: “Suppliers often finds themselves with opened boxes or damaged/imperfect products and these can be great buys. As long as the imperfections cannot be seen or do not take away from the beauty or function of the product there is no problem with using them in your new home.”

Thanks Brian — and Mr. Hearst — for showing us how to shop the recycle market.