Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ranch House Rides Again

From the Archives

We’re excited to present our new FLEXAHOUSE plan, commissioned from San Francisco architect Nick Noyes and inspired by his recent AIA-Sunset Western Home Award-winning ranch house in Healdsburg, California, shown below, photographed by Cesar Rubio.

Below is a view of our  FLEXAHOUSE Great Room looking in the same direction, from the kitchen to the  living room.


Note how Nick kept the vaulted ceiling, window wall, French doors, and general feeling of airiness, while adding  a brand new feature we call the “Flexawall,” which provides storage and display along one side of the Great Room. It’s a flexible feature because it can open toward the Great Room and to the entry hall behind it.

FLEXAHOUSE is  a “kit-of-parts plan”  because the key elements — Great Room, Master Suite, Bedroom and Bath Unit, Guest Suite, Garage, Flexawall, Entry, and Trellis — combine to form three different layouts (I-shape, L-shape, and T-shape) to suit various lot configurations.

Start with the core of  the plan, which is the Great Room,

Then add the Master Suite,


Bedroom-Bath Unit,


and Garage


and you have the basic house. Here’s the T-shape example in elevation (for a wider lot),


and plan.


FLEXAHOUSE comes in 3- and 4-bedroom variations for a total of 6 different plans, ranging from 2,254 sq. ft. to 2,580 sq. ft. You can change the orientation of the garage to enter from either side, instead of the front. Exterior siding options include stucco, shingle, and board-and-batten.


Roof options are standing seam metal and composition shingle. The plan starts at $2,500. It has been engineered for seismic, snow, and hurricane zones.


“The idea,” says architect Nick Noyes, shown above, “is to create a design that’s almost a custom home plan because of the many options you can select. All sites are different and require different design responses. The opportunity with FLEXAHOUSE was to create a design that was flexible enough — with three different arrangements of the basic elements — to conform to varying site conditions such as local solar orientation, views, and other particularities. By adding more bedrooms, changing the orientation of the garage, or choosing siding and roofing options you can create still more variations.” It’s also an eco-friendly house: Nick designed it on a 16-inch grid for maximum construction efficiency and minimum construction waste.

I think it’s an ingenious contemporary reinvention of the ranch house, bringing easy indoor-outdoor living ideas from the past into the 21st century. The design is informal and elegant at the same time, like Nick’s Healdsburg house,


with it’s warmly inviting kitchen at one end of the Great Room (Cesar Rubio photo), which was our muse.  Let’s wrap a FLEXAHOUSE up for you!

Popular House Plans

What’s Selling Now — An Amenity Punchlist

Once in a while it’s good to take stock and see what house plans seem to be striking a chord. Our most popular plans still tend to be three bedrooms two and a half baths, ranging from around 1,500 to 3,000 sq. ft., but now they often include built-ins or outdoor living features like screen porches and loggias.  Here’s a selection of recently sold designs that offer a range of amenities worth considering as you think about your new home.

Cape Cod style Plan 497-19 by Freegreen has a summertime vibe with an

497-19 front

elevation showing the house nestled among seaside sand dunes. The airy


interior shows how to use the threshold between living/dining area and kitchen for storage and display.

Modern one story Plan 491-5 by Braxton Werner and Paul Field is a simple I-shaped layout, with carport at one end and the great room at the center


bracketed by bedrooms and baths. It suits a mild climate since the great


room opens to a long covered exterior gallery through a sliding window wall.

Sarah Susanka’s Home By Design Original Plan 454-7 includes a parlor, a living room, and a space that seems especially appropriate for the hottest time


of the year — a generous screen porch, at the center of the garden facade. This


spacious room functions as a kind of lanai, with areas for sitting and dining.

Plan 449-8 by David Cox includes a casita with its own bathroom at the

449-8e-4032-w1024x683front of the house — it’s behind the three small square windows to the left of the front door in the photo shown here. The casita can double as a guest or in-law suite. At the back of the house facing the garden is a loggia with its own outdoor fireplace — which makes it


perfect for barbecues and summer entertaining. The plan suits a suburban infill lot.

Plan 461-2 by Brooks Ballard is a traditional two-story design that fits a tight


urban lot while offering a butler’s pantry between the galley kitchen and the

461-2mf-2520-w1024dining room. See how there are no dead-end rooms in the ground floor layout so circulation can flow smoothly from area to area without backing up. There’s also a screen porch that’s accessible from the family room and the breakfast area.

So there you have it — each plan has individuality yet they all share a thoughtful attention to detail. To see more of our most popular plans click here.


The Versatile Barn Idea

Harvesting History

I recently attended a wedding in a restored hay barn. The spare interior consisted of a long, central, nave-like space flanked by side aisles where the feeding troughs would have been. It was a very moving event — see

2013-07-06 21.23.07 HDR

the outline of the barn to the right of the tent in this evening view, after the barn had been converted to a dance hall for the reception. It’s a perfect example of the form’s versatility, not to mention the barn’s use throughout history for both secular and sacred purposes. The barn form is said to derive from the Roman basilica or law court (although it isn’t exactly clear which came first, barn or basilica). There were at least two basilicas on the Roman

basilica at popeii from

Forum. This plan of an early basilica at Pompeii shows the basic longitudinal layout (image courtesy The drawing below shows how the layout evolved into early Christian churches though sometimes with two aisles on

BasilicaPlan2 from

each side of the nave instead of one (needless to say, the wedding barn was a little smaller). But you can quickly see how a building type that originally served Romans as a public, commercial, or governmental meeting place could become a basic church plan, with its strong central axis and simple gable roof (image courtesy

Such forms are perfect starting points for anyone dreaming about a new home. And converting a barn into a living space, as shown here in a beautiful


example by Northworks Architects and Planners, is one way to start. This is a type known as a bank barn, that is, built into a hill so that the two or three


levels can use gravity flow for storing and moving the harvest. The warmth of the restored wood and the new tall window wall accentuating the soaring interior make this a very compelling living space. Another project by


Northworks shows how the architects used the barn idea to create a new house, with a dramatic outdoor living room under the extended gable (photos courtesy Northworks Architects and Planners).

Ranch house designer and popularizer Cliff May once said “You never see a bad barn. But you see all kinds of ugly houses; that’s because they’re built without considering function. A barn is made to spend not a nickel more than you need to house the horse or the cow or the feed.” Cliff appropriated the

house by Cliff May at Alisal Ranch from

basic gabled barn shape often, as he did in this house near Santa Inez, California — only naturally, Cliff added a few twists like the pool, and a roof made of grape stakes. But you can see how he lined up the gable on the view — and maybe the pool is just a very large baptismal font! The point is that a barn’s simple outline and straightforward yet noble spaces provide a remarkable springboard for the imagination. And they always have.

Staying Cool in the Garden


There are myriad ways to beat — or at least distract yourself — from the heat of a mid-summer day. Some take planning and building, like this wonderful “water rail” for a terrace in Arizona, by Phoenix landscape architect Greg Trutza. The

railing-spillway-mescaleraAgua-generalife-1 from alhambradegranad.orgstream of recirculating water follows the curve of the deck and spills into a small spa at one end (photo courtesy Sunset Magazine). It’s inspired by Continue reading