Monthly Archives: August 2011

Garden Spas and Tower Houses

Bubbles and Bromeliads

Summer’s end prompts one last grasp for outdoor recreation, say for this seductive, round stainless steel spa deftly set into a boulder-strewn backyard slope.

Thanks to the simple clarity of the design — a smoothly turned curve set into upper and lower decks that stair-step down the hill — it becomes an integral part of the landscape (unlike so many prefabricated spas that resemble huge plastic tub toys full of bubbling hot water). Rectangular versions can also become focal points instead of eyesores.
This one edges a patio close to the house and doubles as a garden seat.

Here the clear green-blue water stands out against the burnished steel of the spa and the red-brown of the wood deck, to make a serene reflecting pool when not in use (examples and photos courtesy Diamond Spas). Though custom-designed, these modern spas are less expensive than adding a pool, fit smaller spaces, and allow for year-round use. 

Rapunzel was a Ranger — and More

Small towers — with a room at the top for reading, sleeping, or just looking out – have been seductive since well before Rapunzel was asked to let down her hair. There’s just something very appealing about having your own retreat at least one story up with a commanding view across the landscape — especially to architects. Of course it helps to have a way in and out that doesn’t involve a lot of “product.” Montana architect Jeff Shelden of Prairie Wind Architecture designed a tower (Plan 547-1) as a weekend getaway, and patterned it after fire lookouts in national forests, complete with a walk-around balcony.

I visited it with Jeff  during the winter a number of years ago and I was entranced. It has everything: the lower floor is a country kitchen

complete with an old-fashioned range, and a dining nook. Upstairs is the living

area and the wrap-around balcony sheltered by the pyramid roof.

San Francisco Architect Lewis Butler ( of Butler/Armsden Architects, has designed a getaway for his parents in California’s Central Valley that harks back to 19th and early 20th century water towers, as well as early  work by William Wurster.

A lookout is where the water tank would have been.

The view across fertile fields is majestic: “Good Morning, Yolo County!”

Much of the interior of the tower is occupied by the soaring master bedroom (a circular stair in one corner winds up to the lookout). The kitchen/living space is in the shed roofed section at the base.

An equally seductive tower house by Andersson-Wise Architects overlooks Lake Travis near Austin, Texas. 

Each of the lower two floors has a bedroom with a dramatic corner window. At the top is a kitchenette and dining terrace where I think every meal must

begin with a toast to Lake Travis (images courtesy Andersson Wise Architects). Arthur Andersson was a design partner of the late Charles Moore, who was one of the architects of Sea Ranch and other modern regionally evocative designs and founder of distinguished firms across the country. Moore’s Quarry Road House,  also in Austin, is a magic cabinet of design ideas in its own right and can be visited by appointment.

At Houseplans.com we have several tower plans, including Plan 64-225,

64-225

which includes two bedrooms on the ground floor, kitchen-dining in the middle, and living room at the top. Tower Studio Plan 479-6, by Peter Brachvogel and Stella Carosso, mentioned previously, is shown here included in a larger house.


Using a small tower element to define some aspect of a larger house or compound is a clever idea. It can help define an entry or organize a composition. I have even seen a very elegant modern house that included two towers diagonally opposite each other, designed for an artist and an architect — a sort of Romeo and Juliet approach but with a happy ending. Maybe Rapunzel can find a compatible Prince architect someday.


Waterside Home Design

Coastal Compositions, Modern and Rustic

A week’s vacation on the east coast got me thinking about houses by the water and what makes some of them successful, like the famous Clara Fargo Thomas house of 1937 on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, shown below (photo courtesy Portland Monthly).

It was built for a painter/muralist  and was designed by the great Philadelphia modernist architect George Howe (also responsible for the early modern PSFS skyscraper in that city with his partner William Lescaze). I remember architectural historian Vincent Scully showing this house in one of his Yale lectures as a landmark example of regional modernism. It was regional in its use of wood and stone, the shingle hipped roof, and the way the house capitalized on the dramatic natural setting; modern is its strong simple, almost abstracted shape, walls of glass, and concrete support beams cantilevered over the rocks and making the house appear to float over Somes Sound.

Inside, the view dominates and the elegant wood and glass doors slide away to unite the living room with the surrounding deck, as the descriptive page from an early article on the house shows (courtesy SaveWright.org). George Howe had a conversion of sorts in the late 1920s — he had been part of a very fine firm (Mellor Meigs & Howe) that produced elegant traditionally style homes around Philadelphia, but was starting to feel the need to express more of the Machine Age in his design. In 1930 he gave a famous speech to the AIA convention championing modernsim, which was a radical idea to a profession still steeped in Beaux Arts classical ideals. This house expressed a fine melding of past and future (as well as inside/outside) and became part of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

The mid- and late 1930s saw a burgeoning interest in modernity and nature with the building of such landmarks as the Villa Malaparte (mentioned in a

previous post) on the island of Capri, shown above (courtesy Panoramio.com), where the geometry is even more abstract — think of the abstract planes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, of the same period.

More recently, in the early 1960s on the California coast near Big Sur, architectural photographer Morley Baer and his wife Frances built a house that is eloquently simple in the way it complements its rugged setting just below Highway 1 at Garrapata Beach.

The stone-clad rectangle (over steel reinforced concrete block) sits at the edge of a field by a rock outcrop — like a restored stone barn from the 19th century somewhere in the Scottish highlands.

Only the very thin roof plane and the monumental window wall with its grid of twelve large square panes  framing the romantic vista — turning the big living dining room into the inside of a big box camera — expresses the modernity of the design.

Indeed, this window wall is very compelling. Long ago I remember looking through it and being totally mesmerized and thinking how fitting this design was for a nature/architectural photographer. The house sold recently for many millions — naturally (images courtesy John Gaar Real Estate).

Perhaps the ultimate nature-oriented designs — at least in the US — were built in the late 19th century in New York’s lake-filled Adirondack region. These super-rustic “Great Camps” for wealthy families escaping from New York or Philadelphia for the summer boasted elaborate stone and timber or log veranda-wrapped compounds, grand stone boathouses, and extensive docks.

A splendid new book — just in time to enjoy with the waning days of summer — describes the key examples in detail. Adirondack Style: Great Camps and Rustic Lodges by f-Stop Fitzgerald (clever name) and Richard McCaffrey with text by Lynn Woods and Jane Mackintosh (Rizzoli 2011,) tells the history of camps owned by J. P. Morgan, various Vanderbilts, and the Rockefellers among many others. The sumptuous photographs show how the builders reworked natural materials and forms into a form of Rustic Baroque. Something to peruse as you sit on your own porch! The book was developed in cooperation with Adirondack Architectural Heritage.

The lesson in these sorts of houses and this sort of design is how the site determines the shape and character of each project. Of course these are extreme examples of creative responses to distinctive natural settings. Most waterside sites today are not as distinctive — if they can be had at all — but the concept still holds true no matter what the site: nurture that nature and make it your own!

Storage and Display Ideas

Pegboard Potential

I recently saw pegboard used for the backsplash in a kitchen and it made me realize just how versatile this material is for storage and display. Architects and designers have been adapting it for years. Here are some examples.

This clever use of a single sheet of black-painted pegboard, by Margaret Oomen of Resurrection Fern, becomes the holder and the frame for a collection of wood spoons and spatulas — a perfect example of cuisine-art, pardon the pun (image courtesy re-nest.com). Painted white, a strip of pegboard works as a lively and useful backsplash, as shown below.

Note how the power strip seems to repeat the dot pattern for an encompassing composition. It’s from Margaret Simpson’s very useful blog My New Kitchen. It’s a reminder that the backsplash is where you can get very creative — I have seen large glass tiles that can be drawn on with special markers for a personalized touch that’s changeable (drawings can be wiped off), or blackboard paint (ditto), along with the infinite variety of tile, stone, and synthetic stones now available.

And don’t forget how Julia Child’s husband Paul outfitted her famous Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen with an entire pegboard wall — both easily accessible and artful — for her collections of knives, pots, pans, whisks, etc.

(The image above is courtesy Thomas Jayne at Interior Design Magazine.) Many folks use pegboard in the garage or  workshop — often with outlines to show where specific tools are stored.The elegant example below is from Plansnow.com.

I have even seen pegboard made out of stainless steel (custom designed, however) for a very sleek solution behind a stainless steel range. But there’s also a stainless steel product that’s designed to be magnetic, shown below.

It’s by Blomus, comes in a variety of sizes, and is found on Organize.com and Allmodern.com.

And here’s an innovative use for a narrow hallway, which do-it-yourselfers Derek and Lauren from Design Sponge call a “pegboard magazine rack/organize-a-majig.”

It’s the kind of multifunctional solution for small spaces that you might find on a boat. I guess you can organize your life with pegboard!