Category Archives: Lighting

News from the 2011 Dwell On Design Expo

From Hobo Lanterns to Infinity Drains

The yearly Dwell On Design expo in Los Angeles took place last week: it’s an important venue for innovation in home design and always has surprises in store. We asked architect Sarah Sobel to scout it and give us a report. Here are her top new product picks.

Nature Nurtured. These eye-catching pendant lights inspired by brain coral are the “brainstorms” of David Trubridge. They’re available through Ford & Ching in a variety of colors — like a modern version of the classic lightbulb-as-idea metaphor (this is Dan talking).

Trubridge calls them“kitset lightshades” and they’re made of painted bamboo and plywood with nylon clips. Something for the dining room or the lanai, as shown here in a photograph by David himself.

Fencing that Fans the Imagination. Harwell Fencing and Gates shows how a fence can be more than just a barrier. 

It can be a backdrop that draws the eye and creates a dramatic frame for outdoor living space and plants. Precise horizontal spacing makes all the difference — these fences are built like furniture and carefully sealed against the elements.

Simpler Sinks. Undermount sinks are easier to clean because there is is no rim where dirt can build up along the seam. Duravit’s vanity basin is a simple clean design that works well.

Flexibility and the Disappearing Drain. A traditional center drain — for a shower, say — requires that the floor be pitched in four directions, which limits tile size or slab material. Enter the Infinity Drain making it possible to pitch the surface in just one direction so there’s no  limit on tile size or slab.

The drain comes in a variety of lengths to suit different shower sizes.

One version can even be camouflaged with the shower floor material for a sleek seamless look. Can you see it along the edge of the shower above the sprayer?

Everyday Objects Transformed. Molo Designs is an exceptionally creative industrial design firm specializing in re-imagining furniture and lighting. Sarah says: “The studio of 18 from Vancouver makes beautiful, ingenious, flexible furniture /walls from paper, Tyvek, felt, and LED’s.” I could not agree more! I am especially taken with their “Softwall and Softblock” space partitions, which turn the screen into a form of animation.

The partition is made of pleated kraft paper — like a giant accordion/paper slinky — and expands in serpentine arrangements. According to Molo, it’s a modular system that connects flexible honeycomb elements of various heights, colors, and material to one another simply and seamlessly with concealed magnets to create continuous lengths of wall.

When compressed for storage it takes up little space. The material can also be stacked vertically “like stretchy lego blocks.” The “Softwall” suits a loft or great room  — say, to create intimacy within a larger space for Plan 64-183, below.

Molo’s Hobo Lanterns use an LED light in a felt bag.

It’s both a tote and a lantern — or is that a lote or a tanturn? Thanks, Sarah for lighting our way to all these innovative home products.

News from Pacific Coast Builders Show (PCBC)

Looking Forward to Cargo Containers, Sliding Walls, Skylights, and LEDs

The tagline for this year’s Pacific Coast Builders Conference (PCBC) was “The Beginning of Next,” which either sounds like a clever adaptation of the title of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, or the start of a talk by a Zen tea master. I guess the beginning of Next is really the end of Now – and for many builders and developers that would be a good thing. In any case, the conference was smaller and more intimate than previous ones. Here’s what caught my eye.

The most compelling display was the Cargotecture C Series by Hybrid Architecture, a fascinating design firm based in Seattle.

This clever living unit made from a steel cargo container appeared earlier in the month at Sunset magazine headquarters in Menlo Park as part of their Celebration Weekend — the following images are from there, courtesy Hybrid Architecture.

You can see how the container has been opened up on three sides — and how important a deck is in expanding the unit.

The view above is looking toward the kitchenette and the bathroom.

The living/sleeping end opens to the entry deck.  At PCBC there was a balcony on the other side.

The unit is basically three spaces: a living/dining/sleeping area, the tiny galley kitchen, and an equally small shower cabinet that includes the sink and toilet – like a bathroom on a motorboat. You can just make out the toilet and the sink — and the redwood boards covering the drain pan — in the photograph. This micro cottage would work well for a guest house or pool house. The HyBrid Architecture firm offers a variety of models; the base specifications include the recycled cargo container, soy-based spray insulation, aluminum clad wood windows and doors, Duravit bath fixtures, Summit appliances, and IKEA cabinets. Options include solar panels and retractable shade structures and modular foundation systems

Sliding glass door/walls continue to evolve. Marvin Windows and Doors has produced an impressive “lift and slide” example.

The four panels slide into a pocket at the side.

I also saw some very sleek electronic sliders that stop when they meet resistance – like elevator doors. They are manufactured by an Italian company called Apexfine; the US distributor is the Albertini Corporation.

Apexfine also makes what they call the “Guillotine” window – a large glass panel rises out of the floor.

The one shown above is positioned a little over halfway up, to create an instant balcony or glass half-wall – very cool!

Builders are beginning to take advantage of the Web in new ways. One impressive app that was introduced at PCBC is Imfuna’s Punch List.

This app makes it possible to manage the final stages of the home building process — when changes and updates are especially difficult to keep current — from your I-Phone. It avoids the need for paper-based, time consuming documentation; makes it easy to assign sub-contractors and immediately deliver tailored reports to them for completion; allows you to view, approve or reject updates on the punch list from your phone or laptop — and keeps files current so everyone sees the latest updated documents; makes it possible to edit the data collected in the field and add more details such as plans or schedules, without specialized hardware or training; and keeps records safe in a secure online environment (i.e. “the cloud”). This program is tailored for contractors but would also be useful for homeowners acting as their own contractors. Imfuna is an interesting company co-founded by Jax Kneppers, a forensic engineer. The Punch List grew out of the company’s experience inventing an app for building inspections that increased efficiency by 70%.

There is news in skylights. Velux introduced its ingenious “Lovegrove Chandelier” option for their “Sun Tunnel” skylights.

This ingenious device is a reflective globe that suspends from the bottom of the skylight funnel and “uses the sun as the bulb.” The top of the globe bounces sunlight light up, washing the ceiling with a natural glow.

LED lights (light emitting diodes) are competing more strongly with compact fluorescents.

I saw these LED examples from Viribright – the bulbs last up to 25,000 hours, use 80% less energy than typical incandescent bulbs, and are available in warm, natural, and cool light. They also switch on instantly – just like conventional light bulbs. Even the most advanced fluorescents have a slight delay before reaching full brightness, so these lighting products are a compelling alternative. I guess the beginning of Next really starts with a light switch!

New Products at KBIS


At the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas last week I had the feeling I was watching a market in transition. Overall, I saw an emphasis on new ways to deliver products and product information such as  via iPad aps  but  fewer new introductions and exhibitors. Here’s what caught my eye.

This  “Image-in Motif” tub from Wetstyle.CA , a Canadian firm, is seductive.The calligraphy pattern is part of the design. I like the Zen-like simplicity of the oval shape (also available without the lettering), which would be a nice upgrade for my bathroom!

For something a little different in the bathroom, especially for the younger set, how about turning your tub into a fire truck. Perhaps something Salvador Dali might appreciate…It’s possible with American Standard’s FunBath Temporary Bath Conversion. The solid molded acrylic tub deck and front panel apron fit over your conventional tub. They can easily be removed when the truck no longer appeals. Ingenious!

Turning the closet pole into a lighting system is a clever idea — and puts the light right where you need it most — along the bottom of the pole shining on the top of the hangers. I can see this Sempria Illumirod from Task Lighting becoming especially useful for smaller, darker, narrower closets.

Solid surface countertops with quartz crystals saw expanding color and pattern choices. Dupont Zodiaq introduced  five new colors

inspired by spices, bringing their total palette up to 59 hues. Korean solid surface producer Hanwha added a little “life” to their introduction of new Hanstone quartz colors by using people dressed in skin tight body suits to  call attention to several new designs including Indian Pearl (left),  Grigio (center), and Sabbia (right). Cambria also unveiled new colors.The trend in all these colors seems to be toward a little more veining and figuration in the pattern, approximating various granites and marbles. These materials are  smooth, non-porous, and exceptionally hard.

Italian design is always worth seeing and the Colombini Group presented its new City line of Kitchen cabinetry — a sleek minimalist dove gray/beige (like an Armani suit), with doors faced in melamine for easy cleaning. I like the way the table extends at right angles from the island: an alternative to the typical breakfast bar. Finally there seemed to be more toilets at this show than any other product: every possible size and flush ratio was represented as the Japanese brand Inax showed.Toto introduced their Aquia high efficiency toilet,which is an all-in-one fixture. Kohler’s big splash was the Numi, the sculptural modern rectangular fixture that does everything imaginableincluding greet you when you walk into the bathroom (motion sensors make this possible). It also provides music. Another novel feature is its flushing sensor: if you remain aboard for longer than a set period,a stronger flush ensues. This reminds me of an inscription on a public bench in Denver: “If you wish to rest, rest not too long.” The Numi took years and many engineers from various disciplines to produce and is an impressive technological achievement.

Earth Day Ideas and the Fountains of Rome

Common Sense Conservation

Earth Day is Friday, April 22, 2011 — a good time to remember that building sustainably is the right thing to do (see the Earth Day website for events and activities.). Begin with a thoughtful design that suits the climate and the site and aims for longevity. The choices you make for the shell of your house — including the foundation, walls, windows, and roof — and in how you orient your house to the sun, will result in the greatest savings in energy, natural resources, and money over the long term. Health is another consideration — i.e. use formaldehyde free insulation and no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint — such as Yolo Colorhouse, shown here. The U. S. Green Building Council’s Green Building Guide provides a good introduction to what’s possible. Here you’ll find information on a vast array of eco-oriented topics. The section on bathrooms  is 

especially useful in explaining what to look for in low flow-fixtures — since the bathroom is one of the most resource-intensive rooms in the house. The Green Building Council website is also where you’ll find the LEED rating system (an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the useful LEED for Homes Scoring Tool, where you can find out if your home qualifies for LEED certification.

Another important resource is the website for the Environmental Protection Agency’s  ENERGY STAR® program, which lists all the home products — from LED (light emitting diode) lights  to dishwashers to fans — that meet national environmental standards. This is the source for those appliance labels that say ENERGY STAR® and give you a quick calculation on, say, a particular refrigerator’s energy use and savings on energy bills. The EPA’s   WaterSense® programs is a similar labeling system for water-conserving appliances and fixtures.

More Efficient Building Shells

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) — like those manufactured by Premier (shown here) are an energy-efficient building system made from thick expanded polystyrene (EPS) sandwiched between oriented strand board (OSB). The high-insulation value is built-in and the panels allow for faster construction time. Many of the designs at can be converted from conventional 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 framing to SIPs by Premier. Another possibility is to use the Vitruvian system of panels made with EPS and light gauge steel (diagram shown above). We have a range of plans designed for Vitruvian panel construction. A sampling of SIPs plans can be found in our Energy-Efficient Plans Collection.

Ancient Aqua

Talk of conservation, especially water, brings to mind the role of water in defining the shape and character of our life. In Rome, for example, it has been a powerful design force for more than 2,000 years. A fascinating and important book by Katherine Wentworth Rinne — The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains, and the Birth of the Baroque City (Yale Press, 2011) — explores this  subject in depth and I recommend it highly. Here you’ll learn how the city’s aqueducts got built, how the waterworks work,  and why, and how each major fountain became an expression of power by emperors, popes, and the most powerful Roman families.  It’s a waterwise whodunnit by a true scholar. This where resource cultivation and conservation began in earnest!

Inspired In-Law Cottage Opens

Backyard Living, Part Deux

The Inspired In-Law Cottage designed by Larson Shores Architects opened as part of the West Coast Green expo and conference at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. The cottage took only eight days for Eco Offsite, the green modular builder, to construct, and a day to install on the Bay-side site. The modules arrived yesterday at sunrise.

The crane hoists the first module into place beside the pier. See the three foundation outlines ready to receive their units on the right.

Later in the morning, the three modules have been connected to form the cottage, and the furniture is piled up in the parking lot, ready to be installed.

By sunset the buttoning up work is almost complete; The Inka Wall Garden by Inka Biospheric Systems is by the front door; Two Rainwater Hog vertical cisterns are against the house at the far right.

Just after dusk Room & Board has completed the installation of all the furnishings and the home is ready for its close-up. A ten-foot high ceiling, and deftly placed windows make the living room feel spacious.

The kitchenette side has room for a small table and two chairs beside the under- counter refrigerator and storage cabinet.

The  shower is surfaced in elegant Hakatai mosaic tile made from recycled glass. The floor tile (from The Tile Shop) also uses recycled material. Thanks to the Kaldewei shower tray it’s a roll-in shower.

The bedroom has room for twin side tables,

and a built-in desk with a roll-up counter and an artfully placed  window to preserve privacy.

In addition to those manufacturers already mentioned, many others contributed to the success of the project, including: Cree LED Lighting; Kelly-Moore Enviro Coat paint; kitchen cabinets from Studio Marler; Swanstone eco-friendly counters; shelving: Rev-A-Shelf; solar energy: Sol-Solutions; Trex decking; cork flooring by Wicanders.

Early comments by the crowds who toured the home today were not limited to observations about aging in place. They ranged from”I’d like to put one on my warehouse roof” to “I want it for my backyard studio.”

I think several could be put together to form a compound or a small neighborhood, as this sketch showing the four different cottage styles begins to suggest.

Anything is possible when you start with thoughtful design: it’s not just aging in place, it’s architecture in place! 


News from ICFF 2010

New Furnishing and Lighting Products

Our fearless Manhattan correspondent,  former New York Times Home Section editor Michael Cannell, filed this report on the latest design trends.

“Furniture fanatics filled the streets of New York last week as the city hosted the annual designapalooza known as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. ICFF, as it’s commonly called, is this country’s biggest design exposition, mixing the best new American lighting, furniture, and accessories with introductions from big-name European outfits.

(The view above is of the Spanish pavilion, with blue “Agatha pendant” by Luis Eslava Studio.) The mood was surprisingly buoyant this year with an emphasis on the eco-conscious and a vibrant mix of colors. Here are some of the most noteworthy introductions:

Intricate Room Divider

Everybody loves big open loft spaces, but there may be times when you want to separate a living area from, say, a home office or media center. For this purpose the Dutch-American couple Mike and Maaike created Swarm, a playfully chaotic screen made of strips of wood connected with aluminum links.

Swarm is a porous divider, with plenty of room for light to pass through.

Colors include: natural, black, white, yellow, green (81” high; 38” wide): $1,425 (the two images above courtesy

Woven Light

Timothy Liles is a New Hampshire designer who puts a contemporary twist on regional crafts. His new collection, called “New New England,” includes Sweetser,

a lamp with solid ash legs and a woven shade made in collaboration with New Hampshire basket weavers. The cord is covered in red textile. (52” high; 16” in diameter): $375.

Ancient Perch Updated

Tatit is a pair of ergonomic stools based on the bathing traditions of Finland and Japan, but it could be used anywhere.

Designed by the Finnish architect Toni Kauppila, Tatit is made of lightweight laminated pine from a Scandinavian forestry firm known for sustainable practices. Tatit will be available this summer from the Finnish Design Shop. (17.7” and 9” high, respectively): Price to be determined.

A Classic In Plastic

In 1944 Emeco began making a basic aluminum chair for use on U.S. warships. The Navy chair and its variations have surged in popularity in recent years. This spring Emeco and Coca-Cola introduced the 111 Navy Chair, a version made from 111 plastic soda bottles.

Emeco estimates that more than 3 million plastic bottles will be recycled annually for the production of the chairs.

The 111 Chair will be available in June in six colors: Coca-Cola Red, Snow, Flint, Grass, Persimmon and Charcoal (34” high; 15.5” wide; 19.5” deep): $230.

Ambient Origami

One of the more attention-grabbing items at this year’s ICFF came from the Spanish designer Ray Power who created a table lamp (it can also be used as a sconce) called Air MP out of a single sheet of twisted plywood veneer.

Available in seven colors: American white wood, Cherry, Beech, Yellow, Orange, Red, Green, Grey (13.3” high; 9.4” in diameter): $365.

Recycled Seating

Loll Design is known for outdoor furniture made from recycled HDPE, a plastic resin used in detergent bottles, margarine tubs and other packaging. Loll expanded its collection this year with the addition of Coco, a modern lounge chair with contoured slats.

Each chair is made from 184 recycled milk jugs. Available in six colors: black, white, apple, chocolate, leaf and sky (29” high; 21”wide): $350

Trees Not Required

Hammy is a hammock by a group of young designers who call themselves Plywood Office. It can be used indoors or out.

Materials: powder-coated steel, vinyl mesh and cypress wood. (40” high; 8’6” long; 36” high): $1850.

Beautiful Snarl

The artful tangle is one of the more conspicuous design trends of the moment, particularly in lighting design. Rachel O’Neill, a designer from Northern Ireland,

fashioned Polka from strips of Velcro woven around an aluminum frame. (23.5” high; 15.75” in diameter): Price to be determined.

Large-Scale Prints

Trove is a wallpaper studio with an emphasis on photographic imagery used in unusual formats.

This year the company introduced Fuoco, an oversized black and white image based on a historic photograph of the interior of the Venice opera house. (153” high; 67” wide): $13 per square foot.

Reissued For Summer

Richard Schulz, who his best known for his work with Knoll in the 1950s, designed the Fresh Air outdoor furniture collection in the 1980s, but it was never produced.

Available for the first time this spring, it is made of powder-coated aluminum. Available in sixteen colors. (34” high; 27” wide; 24” deep): Price to be determined.”

Thanks for keeping us current, Mike!

Mind of an Architect

A Certain Sweep of  Space

Last week in Melbourne I was lucky enough to see the Walsh Street home of the late Robin Boyd (1917-1971), one of Australia’s most famous modern architects and critics. He ran Australia’s Small Homes Service (stock plans by architects) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, designed a wide variety of structures, and wrote several influential books including Australia’s Home: Its Origins, Builders, and Occupiers (1952), The Australian Ugliness (1960), and The Puzzle of Architecture (1965). He was what I would call a “flexible modernist,” especially adept at finding innovative solutions for particular site conditions. The home, built in 1957 and now owned by the Robin Boyd Foundation, is one of his most ingenious — maximizing indoor-outdoor living space on a narrow urban lot — with many lessons for today.

The model, from Museum Victoria (by Paul Couch, Carter Couch Architects, 1989) shows how the house is divided into two sections book-ending a central glass-walled courtyard: entry, living-dining area, kitchen, and master bedroom at one end; childrens’ bedrooms and Robin’s office above the garage at the other. The courtyard is the leafy, sun-filled heart of the house: a private, spacious, wind-protected outdoor living room.

This view is toward the living room. The wings are tied together by an upswept roof of planks supported on cables, like a suspension bridge, as shown in this section view, below,

(courtesy Robin Boyd: A Life by Geoffrey Serle, 1995). Famous examples like the Menai Straits Bridge (1825)  in North Wales (courtesy Wales Directory)

with its cables slung over stone towers, or Kane’s Bridge (1929) over the Yarra River in Melbourne’s own Studley Park

(courtesy spring to mind — Boyd would have known many such prototypes. The following ceiling detail

shows the cables supporting the boards of the roof.

At the top of Boyd’s catenary curve is the master bedroom (shown below)  over the living-dining area and kitchen. One of the clever twists here is that the main entrance from the street is through this space (called a bed-sitting room on the plan), which is treated as a floating indoor-outdoor platform overlooking the courtyard.

That’s why it doesn’t look like a master bedroom. Boyd Foundation executive director Tony Lee, who gave my wife Mary and me the insightful and inspirational tour, said that the Boyds always entertained guests in this space and then took everyone downstairs for dinner. (I guess they were very fastidious and always made their bed — it certainly sounds like something only an architect would do). Also the railings are mostly metaphorical (except  for the couch) so as not to interrupt views and spatial flow…or gravity, for that matter. Architects just love to levitate!

The living-dining area on the lower level extends into the courtyard through a wall of glass.

The kitchen is behind the stair and partially open to the living area — also note how the lighting is deftly tucked between the overhead beams. The plan (also from Serle’s book) shows how courtyard and house are extensions of each other,

making structure and site one supremely efficient unit. The key lesson here is that house is not a separate block plopped onto the lot; it becomes the lot. Every inch of the site is part of the plan; this is still an excellent way to design for tight urban sites. Precedents for such a patio-centric layout go all the way back to the Roman atrium

as in the plan for the so-called House of the Surgeon at Pompeii (courtesy AD 79). As a worldly modernist — who knew Walter Gropius, and in 1956 held a visiting professorship at MIT during which he met Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, and Eero Saarinen, among others  — Boyd might also have known the Eames House and Studio at Pacific Palisades near Los Angeles, of 1949.

It also brackets a courtyard (house on left, studio on right, plan courtesy Key Houses of the Twentieth Century by Colin Davies, 2006) though the site is very different and the structure faces a meadow across the long boardwalk. Robin Boyd seemed to absorb ideas like a sponge while addressing each architectural problem from a fresh point of view. His was a highly cultured yet agile imagination, firmly grounded and flexible at the same time. It was a delight to meet that mind at home.