Monthly Archives: May 2011

New Patio Furniture and Home Plans

Designed for Outdoor Living

Memorial Day marks the official start of life outdoors — another form of “rapture” for many, including me — so here are a few patio furniture suggestions, prompted in part by my friend industrial designer Eric Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Lab, who has just debuted an outdoor version of his famous bent plywood Mag Table. It’s the Metal Mag 3, made of steel in a brilliant orange and produced in collaboration with Offi & Company and Loll Design. With his steel Fire Ring that doubles as a coffee table with a resin-based top when not burning wood  — also produced in collaboration with Loll Designs and  also new — the outdoor room is definitely warming up. Other designs that caught my eye after a quick Web search include the elegant Valencia Teak Chair from Viva Terra, which is inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona Chair (the name is clever, referring to another Spanish coastal city). Using wood that’s sustainably grown and harvested, the chair deconstructs to fold flat for storage. For the recycler who can’t stop dribbling — wait for it — what about this coffee table from Uncommon Goods that uses part of a gym floor for its top. Worth a free throw at least! If you are a do-it-yourselfer, why not bring back the classic picnic table-and-bench idea using reclaimed wood painted white to give a fresh contemporary twist (this example designed and built by Houseplans’ own Stephen Williamson). Paired with white-painted antique metal chairs the effect is summery and sophisticated. Classics are definitely in this year — at ICFF in New York last week (the International Contemporary Furniture Fair) the Editors’ Award in the Outdoor Furniture category went to an Eames outdoor furniture design from 1958 — for the Miller house in Columbus, Indiana by architect Eero Saarinen — retooled with new materials for today (image courtesy theoutdoorstylist.com). The chair is produced by longtime Eames manufacturer Herman Miller. 

New Home Plans that Celebrate the Outdoors

The latest additions to the Houseplans.com inventory include a range of designs that deftly incorporate outdoor living. Plan 484-5 is a small two- bedroom house organized around what’s called a “Chill Deck,” which is really the outdoor living room.

 Plan 519-1 is a small cabin designed for a sloping site and

includes a view deck off the living area and kitchen. 

Similarly the focal point for Plan 449-2 is a seductive pool patio, complete with waterfalls. Time for a dip!

Historic Modern Houses to Tour, Garage Storage

The Architect’s Imagination

I recently attended a private benefit for U. C. Berkeley’s  Environmental Design Archives at an extraordinary Mid-Century Modern house. Designed by architect Ernest Born for himself and his wife Esther in 1951, the simple board and batten exterior (shown at left, photo by Morley Baer, courtesy EDA) literally draws a redwood curtain across the front of the house. See how the top rail reaches across the driveway to complete the geometric composition — like a curtain rack itself. The house is in a windy location near the ocean so the wall functions as a wind break as well as privacy fence. But what a surprise inside! You pass a galley kitchen under a balcony (that’s part upstairs hall, part study) and enter a sensational loft-like two story living room overlooking an expansive rear garden — this view is from the balcony. The monumental two-story square window wall functions as a gigantic lens for looking out and looking in and effectively doubles the size of the indoor world. The fireplace is treated as a geometric sculpture –  — the brick firebox resting on a cantilevered hearth and fronted with vertical wood strips below the cylindrical chimney. It’s clear that Born was influenced by Casa Luis Barragan in Mexico City of 1948 with its iconic square window, mentioned in earlier posts, but there’s also a strong resemblance to the loft-like living room of the Charles and Ray Eames house near Santa Monica of 1949, shown at left  — though in the Eames house the window wall is treated as a more complex grid, steel ceiling ribs extend outside to form a canopy, and a wall of books extends along one side (image courtesy Gabriel Ross Blog, which covers modern furniture, lighting, and home accessories). Experiencing the Born house – which also has a beautiful and deftly composed contemporary addition by Aidlin Darling Design – see the three-story addition on the left in the photo above (by Dwight Eshliman, courtesy the architects) — made me look for significant modern houses that you can tour by appointment. Spring is the best time to explore — here are my current top five (not including the Eames house and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, discussed in previous posts).

Los Angeles, California. The Schindler House (part of the MAK Center) by Rudolph Schindler of 1921 is really two living units and was built for Schindler and his wife, and his engineer colleague Clyde Chase and his wife. The tilt-slab  concrete-and-glass construction was both forward-thinking and historically minded, with outdoor fireplaces and roof decks. The entry fee includes a visit to the Fitzpatrick-Leland house of 1936 also designed by Schindler (however, only on the first Friday of every month — photo courtesy MAK Center).

Dearborn, Michigan. Futurist-engineer R. Buckminster Fuller’s famous round steel Dymaxion House of 1947 (though initially conceived in the late 1920s) is one of the exhibits at the Henry Ford Museum. The name was invented by a publicist who followed Bucky Fuller around and eventually combined parts of words that he seemed to use a lot as he was speaking about his inventions: “dynamic,” “maximum,” and “tension.” The shiny metal structure — a sort of cross between a spaceship and a souffle — was meant to be a prototype for efficient modern living, though only one was built. Two prefab bathroom units and a kitchen pod are at the center, ringed by living areas and the two bedrooms.

Norman, Oklahoma. An organic original. The Bavinger House of 1950 by the brilliant and eccentric Bruce Goff, who studied for a short time with Frank Lloyd Wright and developed new versions of the quonset hut during World War II, is one of the most unusual modern houses in the U. S. In concept it’s a spiraling stairway under what feels like a tall tent. A series of living and sleeping platforms are suspended on cables along the stair like giant candy dishes. The modernity is in the openness of the interior, the free-form structural conception, and the novel use of materials.

Plano, Illinois. The levitating, mirage-like, glass and white steel Farnsworth House, by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, takes modernity to an extreme. As Marc Myers wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal piece: it’s “part fishbowl, part tree house, and part transparent time capsule.” It was built for doctor Edith Farnsworth as a country retreat; only the bathrooms are enclosed. 

New Canaan, Connecticut. Architect Philip Johnson’s justly famous Glass House  of 1949 was heavily influenced by the Farnsworth house, but here, instead of floating over the landscape the structure is firmly grounded in it — in fact becoming an artful rearrangement of it. Again, only the bathroom (the cylinder) is enclosed. Johnson told the story of a visit by Frank Lloyd Wright: Philip met Frank at the front door. “Well, Philip” said Frank. “Am I inside or am I outside? Do I keep my hat on or do I take if off?” Johnson kept the building/landscape dichotomy front and center by prominently displaying an important 17th century landscape painting by Nicolas Poussin in the living room. Now part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the house is open for tours by appointment from May through November. The house is one small part of Johnson’s large estate, with many other buildings by him, including an underground art gallery and a lake pavilion, which can also be toured. (Photo courtesy The Glass House.)

Spring Cleaning

It’s interesting to note that few of these landmark modern houses have garages — apparently architects didn’t like dealing with the automobile (some still don’t). But spring is a good time to think about reorganizing. I saw these garage storage systems by Gladiator Garageworks in KBHome’s Greenhouse at the Home Builder Show and was envious. The units free up the floor space so there’s room for all kinds of tools and sports gear as well as cars. Brackets supporting the shelving click into horizontally grooved wall panels. Cabinets on casters add flexibility. Gladiator also has a new 66.5 inch bamboo-topped modular workbench with leveler legs for uneven floors.

So maybe this is how a modern architect would at least organize a garage, if not design one from scratch!

FLW Anniversary and Spring Plan Sale

75 Years Young

It’s incredible to think that the most famous modern house in America — Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania by Frank Lloyd Wright — turns 75 this year. I have toured it twice and it still looks contemporary and forward-thinking today. Thanks to Fallingwater (Rizzoli 2011) a book of essays and sumptuous photographs edited by Fallingwater’s director, Lynda Waggoner, you can take an engrossing armchair tour. Those cantilevered decks still inspire — though they have been strengthened over the years — but after three quarters of a century suspended over a waterfall anyone could use a little help!  In fact, the chapter by the engineer Robert Silman, who did the artful and seamless strengthening job with post-tensioned concrete (he was part of the team that helped first responders to the World Trade Center analyze the stability of surrounding structures)  is especially fascinating reading. (Wright photo courtesy Water history.org) Silman even quotes a letter from Frank to his client Edgar Kaufman, who had hired an engineer to second guess Wright’s own calculations: “You seem not to know how to treat a decent one [architect]. I have put so much more into this house than you or any other client has a right to expect that if I haven’t your confidence — to hell with the whole thing.” Don’t mess with Texas, er Taliesin! Spring is a glorious time to tour the house.

Spring Plan Sale and More Siting Advice

Though Fallingwater raises residential architecture to a high art, the principle of uniting structure and site should be an important part of every home design. One of the common refrains of this blog — and of Houseplans.com — is that every ready-made house plan should suit its lot or be adapted to it. Here’s an example, the two-story Garage/Studio Plan 498-3 by architect Matthew Coates, which could easily become an in-law suite or backyard cottage. It’s a simple gabled box with a shed dormer but see how it is dug about four feet into the hill on the entry side so the car has a level pad. As you walk around it you see how each side responds to a different context, from the far side, where it’s not dug into the slope and it’s possible to have a straight path back to the entrance for the studio stairs. At the rear you can see how the stair takes advantage of the corner to bring  light not only to the stair itself but also down to the garage and up to the studio. The shed dormer takes it from there offering a private view into the forest. Our Flexahouse Plans 445-1 through 6, make a similar point. Architect Nick Noyes designed the Flexahouse , which is a type of ranch house, in three configurations so it can suit different lot conditions, from long and narrow to short and wide.

Orientation to the sun is key; in the northern hemisphere a southern exposure is usually best for warmth in winter and cool breezes in summer; west-facing glass needs to compensate for hot afternoon sun with insulation or shading of some sort. A northern exposure offers cooler indirect light and is the classic orientation for an artist’s space. A breakfast area often faces east to catch the morning sun. In a way you can think of the house as a sundial: analyze each room — where will the sun be coming from when you think you’ll be occupying it most often? It’s easy to modify a plan by replacing a window with a door for more convenient outdoor access, say, or by adding a window to capture a view. And our Modification Department is happy to help! A good house plan is only good if it takes advantage of its site.

New Products at KBIS

Showtime

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.