Monthly Archives: September 2011

Man Caves and Other Magnets

Attractive Nuisance — or Not

Every home should have a place to relax on your own or with family or friends. For some this retreat is claimed by one gender and is often called a “man cave,” and is stocked with potables, munchables, and viewables. A current television ad for IKEA includes a minimalist modern example and the Sydney IKEA store even has one on the premises, which is cleverly described in The Week as “Manland: Day Care for Husbands.” Here’s an image of it, courtesy of Core77: amenities include magazines, free hot dogs, a pinball machine, and a Fussball table in a bright minimalist design environment. A more typical non-IKEA example might be a room where sport decor dominates, like this one.

I like the helmet wall but wonder about the barber  chair — for clipping penalties, perhaps? (image courtesy The Loss Column, Baltimore Sports). Some of the designs at Houseplans.com have rec rooms that could easily “evolve” with the addition of a wet bar,

like the sculptural modern one built into Plan 56-601 shown above.

Try googling “man cave” and you’ll find an entire industry devoted to this subject, with retreats that include everything from vintage jukeboxes and the odd firing range (“Don’t mind those muffled explosions — that’s just Borromir downstairs in the armory.”) to complete woodworking shops – as illustrated by writer Jennifer Matlack’s article on a handsome eco-savvy garage (shown below, courtesy Sunset Magazine.)


The entertainment here, aside from the vintage Mercedes roadster, is the workshop.

Designed by Harrison Architects, an imaginative Seattle firm, the garage includes a drought-tolerant sod roof planted with sedums and grasses, recycled newspaper insulation, and translucent polycarbonate wall panels — so it’s a retreat with a conscience.

Ergo, the man cave is not just about a basement, a keg of beer, and a behemoth flat screen anymore! Personally, I’d go for a more multi-purpose room – and I’d like to stay married — but I am intrigued by the range of invention displayed by these spaces.

Perhaps the ultimate man cave is on the island of Brac on the Dalmatian Coast. I visited it last week (in my constant search for bloggable items, of course). A relic from World War II, it’s a disused submarine pen or hideout.

Accessible only by boat, of course, it’s pretty basic — and only room for one sub.


But there’s space for essential supplies. According to our guide this where the local male population comes to chill out: I saw plenty of chairs and ice chests on the ledge…

No need to watch old war movies here…because you’re in one! You could say, as a brother just reminded me, that the “Hunt for Red October” is over.



Sod Roofs and Modern Plans

Green On Top

Our inventory of eco-friendly plans got a boost with the arrival of our newest design, Plan 525-1, which is by architect Karl Smith, the latest member of our Signature Studio. His idea was to design an 1,800 sq. ft. three-story, sod-roofed home to fit a tight lot.

The ground floor contains a covered patio, mud room, and guest suite-office;

the  living-dining area and kitchen are on the middle level,and the master bedroom suite is at the top. 

You can see how carefully thought each floor is, from the wood stove in the ground floor guest room to the walk-in pantry by the kitchen and the master closet with its own island on the top floor. A very elegant and urbane design. According to Karl the sod roof sits over a waterproof membrane of Bituthene (manufactured by Grace Company) and “provides an R-48 U value, and can be supplemented with a layer of rigid insulation in the roof sandwich.  The walls are minimum R-16, but that can also be increased, and with insulated glass in the windows, it will more than accomplish most environmental concerns.” I think his roof watering system is clever: it uses reclaimed water pumped from cisterns  below French drains.

Another only-at-Houseplans.com sod roof design — this one by Werner Field Architects, Plan 491-5 — takes an opposite tack and is long and low and the living is all on one level.


The green roof even extends over the carport. The plan is simplicity itself — with a bedroom at each end of the long bar-shape –

and blurs the distinction between the natural and the man-made as well as between inside and outside.

A dusk view adds to the  green roof although, as the architects explain, the design can work without this feature. We’ll keep adding more “green conception” plans — so instead of letting the grass grow under your feet, why let it grow over your roof!

Home Idea Hunting

Conceptual Drainboards Everywhere

Small ideas with large impact always grab my attention. For example, I just saw an early twentieth century farmhouse kitchen and I was transfixed — not so much by the kitchen as a whole but by the shiny wooden drainboard — which resembled part of the galley on a vintage yacht.

What could be simpler, or warmer in its honey tone and richly grained texture than this shiny slab and backsplash, with undermount sink and porcelain-handled taps. This kitchen, which was beautifully restored by Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects for the MacMurray Ranch vineyard, is a throwback but also perfectly contemporary in its use of a natural material as a thing of beauty in itself, without affectation. Such a drainboard is hard to do today — the various woods available are costly and maintenance around water is always problematic — but it is seductive nevertheless and reminds me of the counters made of sugar pine and other woods that early modern architects like Gardner Dailey and William Wurster used in kitchens, well before the explosion of new materials like Caesarstone or Zodiac. These latter materials are attractive in their own right but a little wood goes a long way toward warming up a space. The way to achieve a similar effect today without risking water damage might be to use wood on a kitchen island, as architect Jonathan Feldman does in this example.

Or simply purchase a wood-topped rolling cart like the John Boos Rosato Kitchen Cart (below)

or the Belmont White Kitchen Island (below) — both through Remodelista, one of my

favorite home resource websites, where co-founder/curator Julie Carlson has an exceptional design eye. Another way to use wood as a warm-up accent is shown in the house built from our Plan 508-1 by architect Nicholas Lee,

where the extended hearth — for display as well as sitting — is a length of recycled fir. Such a device not only warms up an all-white room but adds individuality.

Of course, paint is really the easiest way to personalize a space quickly. A new apartment complex called The Presidio Landmark in San Francisco – an elegant adaptive reuse of an old hospital by the architectural firm Perkins & Will – includes a model unit that shows a clever way to add character to a room without a lot of effort and expense: painted wainscoting, as shown below.

The green swath reaches to head height and draws the eye up, at once creating an intimate corner within the larger space. It adds personality without the expense of extra woodwork. Look around you — and keep that digital camera or I-phone handy — you never know when an idea for your new home will strike — or drain, as the case may be.

Backyards, Borders, and Bedrooms

Lines in the Gravel

Our tiny backyard has a ragged patch of lawn that is bordered by a narrow brick mow strip. It’s supposed to form a nice crisp line between lawn and planting bed, and occasionally it does — when I’ve done the weeding. I appreciate the way such a simple device can makes the backyard feel almost like an outdoor room. But here are a few somewhat more inventive ways to shape outdoor space…I’d rather dream than weed anyway. I’m a fan of devices that have multiple functions or “do double duty” — as readers undoubtedly know by now — so the idea that a stair railing could also be a planter is appealing, as shown by this elegant modern installation by Surface Design.
The planter borders the upper terrace, which creates a nice green visual

connection to the lower strip of grass. The stair and the railing/planter divide the backyard into two distinct rooms: one for outdoor dining; the other for greenery (photos courtesy Surface Design). Or here’s a way to combine terrace, planter, and steps in one form,

as shown in a garden by Arterra Landscapes (with architect Thomas Hunter; photo courtesy Arterra). The plants become a sort of green railing. Garden stairs have been combined with overflowing water since Moorish times, not to mention the Italian Renaissance, but what about with something a little warmer? Landscape artist Topher Delaney‘s “In the Line of Fire” garden does just that,

with ribbons of flame at the base of a central step in this unusual garden. If you miss a step you’re toast — but I guess you could say it keeps you on your toes! (Photo courtesy Apartment Therapy.) The line (back to my mowing strip) is the simplest design device but it can also be the most visually compelling,

as architect Jonathan Feldman demonstrates in the ingenious way he ties part of his Caterpillar House to the surrounding landscape with three stripes sliced into the concrete patio. They set up an almost rhythmic progression between structure and site while expanding the lateral view into a field of lupine.

The Patio Home

Architects Braxton Werner and Paul Field — part of our Signature Studio — have just updated the imagery for their designs, and several show just how important backyards are as extensions of the house. For example, in their Plan 491-2 the living room doesn’t stop at the sliding glass window wall –

it incorporates the pool patio on the other side of the glass. The layout is simple and shows how the overhang — the dotted line — also defines the outdoor space.

Here’s a view from the outside looking in, showing how the paving pattern forms a kind of rug. The same blending of inside and outside happens in the bedrooms

on the ground floor, though these are on the other side of the house. The Werner Field designs are new interpretations of the patio home idea popularized in the mid twentieth century by architects like Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler in Los Angeles. I guess I not only want a more visually ambitious backyard, I’d like one of these houses to go with it.