Monthly Archives: January 2013

New Products from the 2013 Home Builders Show

Karaoke Showers: Or How Home Building Is Picking Up the Beat

A new tune wafted through the convention hall at the Home Builder Show in Las Vegas last week: it was a little bit Adele, as in “Let the sky fall/When it crumbles/We will stand tall/Face it all together/At skyfall” and a little bit Christina Perri, as in “I have died every day/Waiting for you/Darlin’ don’t be afraid/I have loved you for a thousand years/I’ll love you for a thousand more.” In other words, everyone seemed tempered by the downturn yet recommitted to the future. Keynote speaker and former Disney chairman Michael Eisner captured that spirit by showing clips from the film Cool Runnings about the improbable Olympic bobsled team from Jamaica who suffered a disastrous crash but then picked up their sled and carried it over the finish line to wild applause. Here are the products that caught my eye (and ear), with more to come in the next post.

Kohler launched their very cool, clever, and sleek Moxie shower head: it has a built-in wireless speaker and plays up to 7 hours of music and news (you should

be very clean after that…). The magnetic speaker pops out of the shower head for easy recharging of its lithium-ion battery. It pairs with Bluetooth-enabled Continue reading

More Courtyard Plans

Power Patios, Part Deux

Last week’s post on courtyard houses prompted some great suggestions from readers. Sydney, Australia architect and heritage specialist Matthew Devine told me about the house that mid-century modern Melbourne architect Roy Grounds

designed and built for his family in 1953, shown above as a model in the collection of Museum Victoria. Every major room in the almost square house Continue reading

Courtyard Houses Then and Now

Holding Court

A well executed courtyard makes a house memorable as well as more livable. The strong indoor-outdoor connection is a powerful lure but also the geometry of the space, its openings and wall surfaces, and paving materials play important roles. One of the most alluring courtyard houses that I can

think of is the home designed for silent film director Fred Niblo in Beverly Hills of 1927 by Wallace Neff (photo courtesy Propertypal). The dramatic curve of that entry court clearly celebrates automobiles and a theatrical sense of arrival by

literally sweeping them around to the front door (image courtesy Stefanos Polyzoides of Moule Polyzoides Architects). The rest of the house falls into place around it like a perfectly drilled chorus line. The design is a silent movie in its own right — see  how the oval hall between living and dining rooms echoes the motorcourt, a Mini Me echo of the main event. At a house in California’s Central Valley from the early 1980s architect William Turnbull

deftly turned the veranda outside-in and opened up the roof at the same time

— so that the wood-framed courtyard becomes a grand open-air hall at the center between two wings — almost like a small piazza shaded against the summer heat. (photo courtesy Open Buildings). But a smaller home on a

tighter lot can also boast a central courtyard, as this Eichler tract house by architect Claude Oakland from our Signature Collections shows (Plan 470-6).

Architect Gregory La Vardera has reinterpreted that atrium design for today, as shown above (Plan 431-11).

At a lecture recently I met Jawed Umerani, a talented structural engineer who very graciously gave me a tour of his wonderful new courtyard home, which was designed by Apple Stores architects Bohlin Cywinksi Jackson. Of course

Jawed, whose firm Umerani Associates  is a frequent consultant for the Bohlin firm, did the engineering and contributed much to the design. It shows how to fit an exciting light-filled, outdoor-oriented, one story house onto a tight suburban

lot. From the street, it’s impossible to tell what lies ahead — you see the garage, a ribbon of walkway leading to a sheltered entry. That remarkable stone-paved

outdoor room awaits just beyond the front door, on the other side of a small sitting area. The elegant U-shaped house puts the bedrooms on one side and the

great room on the other. Light floods in from all sides. The Umeranis treated me to breakfast and it was hard for me to sit still because the center of the house became the center of my attention — another film about to start.

Storage Ideas and the Urge to Purge

Container Zen

It may be a cliché but the new year makes me feel – if only for a moment – a new determination to simplify. Take books for example: what I really should do is edit down my library to whatever fits one bookcase, like this clever “reading ring”

sculpture by Danish architect David Garcia, founder of MAP Architects. According to the artist  the work, titled Archive II, “is a circular library for the  Continue reading