Monthly Archives: October 2013

Small Home Success Story

Contemporary Cottage Living

Meet our latest cottage plan by Bay Area architect Cathy Schwabe. It’s only 840 square feet but  thanks to a wide deck, soaring ceilings, large windows, and strategically placed built-ins, it feels much larger. Recalling the “Hedgerow Houses” that her former mentor Joe Esherick designed at the Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast, this shed roof design suits a sloping country lot.

891-3 fence view

Plan 891-3 is rustic and contemporary at the same time, thanks to the board-

891-3 view from below

and-batten siding and the crisp angular outline. The layout is eminently

891-3 plan

practical: one bedroom, one bath plus a study-guest room and a kitchen-living

891-3 entry

area off the deck. The small entry has room for coats and boots; the glass front door adds spaciousness. The kitchen doubles as the dining room with a table at

891-3 kitchen

the center. It’s compact but functional and welcoming: sink under the windows, ample counter space, warm wood floor, walls, and cabinetry to complement the white ceiling, which amplifies the daylight. The living room has  windows on

891-3 living room

three sides and opens to the deck through sliding doors, all of which makes the space feel like a separate pavilion in the air. A cylindrical Rais wood stove

891-3 bedroom

occupies one corner. The focal point in the bedroom is the window bay containing a low counter and built-in shelves for book storage and display.

891-3 study

Nearby is the small study with its simple built-in desk under a row of pendant lights. (All photos by David Wakely)

One of the things that makes this little cabin so compelling is the carefully studied proportions of  the windows — they line up, are set low in the wall — to allow you to see the ground outside even when you are sitting down — and are consistent from room to room. It’s the little wood cabin that conjures getaway dreams, and joins Cathy’s Studio Plan 891-1 in our Signature Plans Collection. Thanks, Cathy!

To see other Cabin Plans click here.

The Other Eames House

At Home with the Powers of Ten

(Note: this post was written for, and first appeared on

The Charles and Ray Eames house in Santa Monica of 1949 is justly famous as an exemplar of innovative design thinking. It was both a design studio and a home for the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. An extensive restoration with the help of the Getty Museum is nearing completion – visit the Eames Foundation for details. But there is another Eames house and it is the Northern California home of Eames daughter Lucia, and granddaughter Llisa Demetrios and her family. Naturally, both Lucia and Llisa are sculptors. Designed by William Turnbull, one of the original

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architects of The Sea Ranch, this extraordinary barn-like compound is both a treasury of Eamesiana and a hard working artists’ studio. Llisa gave me a tour. It was a ride through the imagination — like entering Powers of Ten, the famous Eames film about scale. Open those marvelous ornamental blue steel entry gates — designed by Lucia —  and follow me into a Design Wonderland.

The house itself is a kind of art stockade — white board-and batten walls wrap around a large rectangular central courtyard. Enter the

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portal and you see the living room ahead and the bedroom/library tower to the left, combining references to the towers of San Giminiano in Italy and early Bay Region designs by William Wurster. As you would expect in an Eames house, there are several lounge chairs,

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not to mention plenty of other places to sit, though most of these chairs — like the ones shown below with Lucia and Llisa — are historic early

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examples. Indeed, as Llisa recounted, when her mother was a student at Vassar in the 1950s she had an unusual dorm room: it was full of Eames furniture. Charles always sent her the latest prototype signed

2013-09-18 11.59.51“With love to Lucia” on the seat bottom, which gives second-hand furniture a whole new meaning. Some of the rooms in the house

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are devoted to aspects of furniture production, as here in the array of early molded plastic and fiberglass seat samples showing configurations and colors. One room functions as a lofty gallery and

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contains tables covered with letters, illustrations, and other memorabilia under a sheet of clear plexiglass. What a great simple idea — turn any dining table into a collage of family history! Something for

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your next birthday party. Here and elsewhere in the compound are objects from Eames-designed exhibits like Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond — commissioned by IBM for the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. Storage was a big deal for the Eames office — with its vast array of collections of found objects — and

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you can get a sense of what it was like to preserve images before the digital age in this rolling cabinet designed to hold slide carousels.

Some distance away from the house is the workshop, in another expansive barn, where examples of sculptures by both mother and

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daughter are found, like Lucia’s “In the Curl” steel tables evoking her childhood body-surfing in Los Angeles, and Llisa’s “Core Sample”

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series in bronze, which abstractly explores themes of geology and time (a fitting subject for a family enterprise that daily builds upon its remarkable legacy in new and exciting ways). I was especially

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attracted to Llisa’s studio with its wall of maquettes: the plank shelves and the diminutive wooden sculptures together form a very compelling visual whole — the supported and the support — telling an hieroglyphic story about invention. After spending time with the Eames family

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(Ray and Charles shown above) you begin to see everything in new ways. For example, it suddenly struck me that from a distance the

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Eames house/warehouse really is a modern board-and-batten version of an Italian hill town: the house as both archive and living laboratory of invention.  In 100 Quotes by Charles Eames, a delightful little book published by the Eames Office, I found a statement that seemed to fit my tour: “The house must make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for life in work. This house acts as a re-orienter and shock absorber.”  I agree — in other words,

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I think you could say that the best houses are frames to set you free (metal sculpture by Lucia).

NOTE: A few months after this post was published I learned the very sad news that our wonderful friend, the talented, generous, thoughtful, and kind Lucia Eames, died of a massive stroke. Our hearts go out to this extraordinary family. We shall always miss her and are so grateful for her way of opening our eyes to the world around us. 

Monterey Design Conference Meets Persian Cat

Why Brazilian Modern Purrs, and Other Insights

Last weekend I attended the Monterey Design Conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. Founded in 1979, it was a TED Conference before there was such a thing, only the focus here is always architecture. This year provided even more of a visual feast than usual, with compelling presentations by architects from across the US and around the world. For me the greatest revelation came at the end, with a marvelous presentation by Brazilians Marcio Kogan and Suzana Glogowiski of Studio MK27 in Sao Paolo. Marcio is renowned for his sensuous and ebullient modernism, and he brings his houses to life by filming them.

Toblerone House exterior evening

The one about his dazzling arrangement of horizontal solids and voids known as “Toblerone House” — named for the folding partitions on the upper level, which

Toblerone house master bedroom

mimic the zig-zag shape of the iconic chocolate bar — brought down the house, so to speak. The owners’ extravagantly fluffy and mightily bewhiskered,


architecturally curious, and virtually unflappable Persian cat takes us on a very personal tour. We see the son reading a book on the upper level while he

son reading on ledgecasually dangles his feet over the concrete ledge, which doubles as the cat’s usual walkway (I’d say the approach to railings is somewhat nonchalant here);

Mother  at Yoga and cat

the mother doing yoga on the roof terrace  and then dressing at the vanity while the father steps into the shower.  Like the cat, these are remarkable clients! We see how each serene, minimalist, indoor-outdoor space beats with color, nature, and life as the cat’s tail twitches to the syncopated sound track. It’s a kind of unabashed but generous voyeurism showing us how people really live — and how the house itself becomes a giant joyful veranda. According to the architects, such films are a way “to show the day by day life of one of our houses, where the architecture is not important.” This is very close to Bay Region architect William Wurster’s statement that “Architecture is about life, and work, and for people: the picture frame and not the picture.” A toast to Modernism at its warmest and most inviting. Marvelous! See the film on Dezeen, here.

Other Conference Connections

Materiality and light were important themes running through the major talks.  I concentrated on the residential work — though a wide array of building types and design processes was shown.  I liked Fayetteville, Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell’s remark that “architecture is larger than the subject of architecture,” which echoes the sentiment of Marcio Kogan. Marlon talked about how design often arises from where “the inadvertent meets the purposeful.” A good


example is his “Honey House for a Beekeeper,” where honeycomb suggested a


shape and then the color of the honey in the jar made everything come alive.

New York architect Thomas Phifer showed his exquisitely conceived and meticulously detailed approach to nature through his use of different materials that layer daylight — what I would call the eloquent Art of the Scrim —

Salt point house long facade

in such works as this  small house at Salt Point. Sited at the edge of a meadow, it’s an ingenious melding of opposites: both an aloof geometric abstraction for viewing the landscape through a ribbon window-as-lens; and an intimate

Phifer Salt Point house exterior

gesture of connection to the site through the tall living room window wall and screening wings.

San Francisco architect Anne Fougeron has taken a fresh approach to the bay window in her “Flip House.” This extensive remodel flipped the house’s key


functions — putting the main living areas at the rear  where the view was, and


switching the sleeping areas to the street front. You can see the new master suite on the top floor but there’s no hint of the surprise at the rear,  where she flip-house_p6

oriented the bay widow vertically instead of horizontally, dramatizing the height of the open interior while providing side views across the city (photos by Joe Fletcher, courtesy Fougeron).

Paris architect Odile Decq showed a wide range of building and product designs with a sleek metamorphic character. Her Wally Super Yacht caught my attention

Esense Wally Yacht

for the brilliant James Bondian re-invention of the tub-shower: when you want to soak you just slide the floor away! (photo courtesy Odile Decq)

Tokyo architect Kenzo Kuma, who has an extraordinarily diverse practice around the world, designed a villa near China’s Great Wall. The sense of continuous

kuma bamboo house porch

connection that is a feature of the Great Wall became his theme, only he made it

Bamboo villa kitchen dining levels

his own by using vertical bamboo, not stone. It’s the wall as both wall and screen, open and closed, part of the landscape while framing it. Now wouldn’t a certain Persian cat like to wander among those poles.