Category Archives: House plans, layouts

Build Our Sea Ranch-Inspired Gingerbread House

Edible Architecture

To celebrate the holidays we decided to make a gingerbread house based on our exclusive and historic Plan 447-1 by William Turnbull, which was originally designed as a cottage for The Sea Ranch, the famous second home community on the Northern California coast. Here it is — the simple gable roof (standing seam

metal out of royal icing) and porch evoke the quintessential mountain cabin. Snow on the doorstep (more royal icing) indicates an unusual weather event for the Sea Ranch and the chocolate mint pathway pavers and gumdrop shrubs give new meaning to the term “edible landscape.” The view below shows how the Continue reading

Home As Idea Lab: David Baker

Adventures in Urbanity

Every home is a kind of idea laboratory, though its experimental nature may only develop gradually — as dry rot in the master bath makes you (I mean me…) think about upgrading the tile backsplash, or when the refrigerator dies and prompts you (me again) to start shopping for a more energy-efficient model. But time and the desire to experiment, or at least improve, speeds up for an innovative architect like David Baker. Known for his award-winning, sustainably conceived communities  in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s now in the fourth home he has designed for himself. He’s in good company: Frank Lloyd Wright designed at least three for himself (though Taliesin East and West probably count as more than two) and ranch house popularizer Cliff May did five. I just toured David’s

latest home, a compact urban row house that preserves historical details on the  Continue reading

Rethinking The Simple Home: Leon Meyer

Perfecting The Clean Well Lighted Space

I’m excited to present our latest exclusive plans from Melbourne, Australia architect Leon Meyer. They’re all about an artful and yet very practical simplicity. By concentrating on a few strong ideas — such as maximizing views, daylight, and connections to outdoor space — and by using a limited palette of materials Leon shows how to provide extra livability and character within an appealing modern esthetic. For example, in the kitchen of Plan 496-21 a long

narrow window band behind the sink turns what would have been an ordinary Continue reading

What Will It Cost To Build Your House Plan?

The Devil is in the Details

First, add ten or twenty percent to your budget! Seriously: How do you figure out what it will cost to build the house of your dreams? It’s an age-old question, with many variables and many answers, though the assumption is that the building

process will not take longer than a thousand years, like, say, Windsor Castle, shown above — built, rebuilt, and successively expanded since the late 11th century (photo by Peter Packer courtesy royal.gov.uk). Cost estimating is an inexact science and actually more of a “liberal art.” It involves balancing quality Continue reading

New Departures for the Airplane Bungalow

Now Arriving: the Libertyville Not So Big® Showhouse

OK. The term “airplane bungalow” could refer to an airborne dwelling, like Dorothy’s tornado-twisting home in the The Wizard of Oz, or to something more

literal (grounded, maybe?), like this crazy/wonderful example from Costa Rica (photo courtesy Youlivewhere.com). But the term is actually historical and refers Continue reading

Architectural Real Estate and Home Office Ideas

 

 

Architecture Road Show

When I studied architecture in college it did not occur to me that the residential landmarks I was learning about — works by Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Kahn, for example — could be sold or even changed. They existed in lectures as immutable ideals, much like paintings in a museum. So it’s exciting to realize how many architecturally significant houses are for sale at any one time. Here are three gems I just found on architectureforsale.com, a remarkable resource.

La Miniatura, in Pasadena, California, above, is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous houses from the early 1920s, after his return from Japan and work on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Designed for his client Alice Millard as a way to take advantage of a difficult (and therefore inexpensive) site in a small ravine, it

was built of ornamented or “textured”concrete blocks in conventional mortar. He was evolving a less expensive version of masonry, aiming for an architecture that seemed to grow out of the land. He ultimately perfected a system of steel reinforced “textile blocks” that would be a way of knitting together engineering and architecture. The house has been beautifully restored, for at least the second time. I remember visiting during an earlier refurbishment and being struck by the way the house stepped down the slope to create a hidden indoor-outdoor world. You can have it for $4.495 million.

Or, on the same website, for much less money, how about Louis I. Kahn’s Esherick house in Philadelphia, of 1961, available for a bargain-sounding $1.25

million. This one bedroom, two story house has a monumentality that belies it’s

relatively small size, thanks to a rectilinear geometry, tall multi-faceted window walls, a double-height living room with balcony, and symmetrical chimneys. According to historians, Kahn used houses as a way to test his ideas for larger buildings; in this case there are similarities in outline and in the separation of “service vs. served” spaces with his Richards Medical Research Building of about the same time.

Another listing has special resonance for Houseplans –  it’s a mid-century modern Eichler tract house in Granada Hills, California by architect Claude

Oakland, shown here. It’s listed for $739,000 and has been carefully updated to meet current codes, not to mention appliance and fixture expectations.

I like Architectureforsale’s clever description of the wide gable design as a kind of airframe: “Like a B-2 Bomber’s absolute symmetry…seemingly as if lining up along a tarmac from one of the many Los Angeles area airports.” An apt description! (All above photographs courtesy Architectureforsale).  The significance for us here at Houseplans is that we carry copies of several original Claude Oakland plans in our historic Eichler Collection,

like this one, which is Plan 470-2, with its segmented gable organized around

a central gallery. Price? Only $4,500 — but you do have to build it.

Back to School at Home

Where do you work when you’re at home? In an alcove off the kitchen like this

one in our Plan 56-604. Or maybe at the dining table? Or perhaps in the

Oval Office? (Photo courtesy Whitehousemuseum.org) Wherever it is, you know home work spaces are evolving. They can be almost anywhere with a little help

from today’s shelving/storage systems, like this clever desk that converts to a

Murphy bed so you won’t miss an inspiration that strikes in the middle of the night — or where there’s not enough space for a desk. It’s called the “Harry” (sounds presidential!) by Smartbeds of Italy and is available from FlyingBeds. Sweet dreams.

 

The Flexible Home: Airstream Trailer to Rotating Villa

Wheels-Within-Wheels

What is flexibility in home design? Partly it’s about efficiency, as in the Airstream Sterling Concept Trailer designed by architect Christopher Deam (released late last year by the Airstream company), where multiple functions

are packed into every surface of the small interior. The cabinetry recalls the compact, every-inch-counts-ingenuity of yacht and jet plane interiors, as well as Fuller’s Dymaxion house (photo by Drew Kelly, courtesy The New York Times).

The walls become both moving partitions and storage containers, while the streamlined metal surfaces and overlapping spaces bring the Airstream’s classic, sleek, retro-mod exterior inside to accentuate the feeling of spaciousness (photo courtesy DesignMilk).

A more extreme example of flexibility might be the famous modern Italian villa

known as il Girasole (the Sunflower) near Verona, built in 1935 by civil and nautical engineer Angelo Invernizzi with architect Ettore Fagiuoli. It rotates to follow the sun (like a sunflower) and take in a 360-degree view  — a precursor to all those rotating cocktail lounges from the 1960s and 70s, only here the whole house turns, not just the top floor. It’s built on a massive three-story

stationary concrete drum that’s dug into a hill. Here you see the two story

L-shaped house on top of the drum after it has made a compete revolution: now the L faces the viewer, now it faces away. The house itself is supported on a chassis that runs on three circular rails, as  shown here in an aerial view.

According to architectural historian Colin Davies in his book Key Houses of the 20th Century: “Villa Girasole is more like a traveling crane or swing bridge than

a sunflower.” The great wheels are remarkable objects in themselves — like monumental kinetic sculpture. Electric motors can push the house through a complete rotation in about 9 hours. (OK — it’s 6 pm: that must be the vineyard! Time for another glass of grappa! Or is that the grappa and it’s time for another vineyard…) The house pivots around an axle connected to a large bearing at the

base of the drum through a tall cylinder containing a circular stairway wrapping

an elevator. It’s a surpassingly clever design and you can view a fascinating short film about it narrated by the engineer’s daughter at Flixxy, where she recalls: “Each time I lifted my eyes from the book I was reading I would see a different vista.” So –  il Girasole is quite literally flexible in the sense that it moves, but it takes a lot of effort to make that possible (images courtesy Loftenberg.com).

Flexibility can also refer to how a design, or elements of a design, accommodate different circumstances, which was the reasoning behind the development of our Flexahouse, by architect Nick Noyes. It combines the same great room, storage wall, entry, bedrooms, master suite, and garage in three different ways, from I-shape (Plan 445-3)

to L-shape (Plan 445-5 — this one doesn’t move!)

to  T-shape (Plan 445-5)

– to suit different lot sizes, from narrow to wide. In short, there are many ways to achieve flexibility. The trick is simply to plan for it!

 

Living Beside the Pool

 Taking the Plunge

It’s a compelling dream to live poolside – especially during the hot, waning days of summer. So let’s dive in! Think of the Alhambra in Spain with its

shallow pools and long water courses — though maybe no diving there (photo courtesy Viva-Spain). Here are some examples of more recent houses — if not palaces — with seamless indoor-outdoor poolscapes.

It was natural for the swimming pool to become an emblem of the suburban dream in sunny Southern California, with its culture of experimentation and cinematic glamor, but architects took it a step farther in the 1950s and 1960s, when they incorporated it into the house and treated it as a room in its own right (naturally the air could get a little thick). Los Angeles-based ranch house popularizer Cliff May, for example, made the pool part of the living

room in some houses, like this one in Rolling Hills from 1963. (That planter by the pool was important — you wouldn’t want your LazyBoy to roll into the drink during cocktails by the fire.) In a house May designed for Tucson the

pool is shaded by an extended gable made of ocotillo branches and has a stone table/island at the center — it’s a marvelous shimmering and shady mirage of a desert isle made real (both photos by Rochelle Kramer, courtesy RanchoStyle).

Los Angeles architect John Lautner turned the pool into abstract architectural sculpture, especially in his great Sheats-Goldstein house on a steep hillside, of 1963, where the pool resembles a solid block of glass inserted flush with the

patio, which is itself an extension of the living room under its concrete roof-riff on the triangle (photo by ARTJOCKS courtesy James Goldstein). This remarkable design is all about contrasting solids and voids, enclosure and exposure, and geometric shape expanding into space toward Downtown LA.

(photo courtesy Arcspace). Originally only a curtain of air separated inside from outside, but this was later replaced with glass. The pool also functions as a sort of aquarium for swimmers because windows look into it from the master suite on the lower level.

Today, architects around the world have put pools everywhere, even on the

roof, as this famous house in Paris by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) of 1991 shows (photo courtesy OMA). A recent design by the inventive

Singapore firm of Guz Architects keeps the pool on the ground but lifts the house over it in a dramatic acrobatic gesture. The structure floats while the pool supports — a wonderful reversal of roles.

Italian architect Lorenzo Spano, who is part of our Exclusive Studio, has

developed this idea in his Plan 473-2, shown here, where the bedroom floor

is above the pool. The living-dining-kitchen is at pool level. Part of the hallway

floor is glass, so you can see through to the swimmers below. Perhaps Lorenzo was thinking of the Blue Grotto on Capri! Swimming pools just seem to encourage “freestyle” home design.

Idea Collecting at Heath Ceramic’s New Tile Showroom

Beyond the Backsplash

I just toured the newly opened San Francisco showroom for Heath Ceramics — the famous mid-century modernist tile factory based in Sausalito — and found it full of suggestive ideas for storage and display, not to mention the vast array of products, from field tiles to tea pots, in colors and finishes that look positively edible. Husband-wife owners Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey have turned a former linen shop and laundry located in the city’s Mission

District into an airy design lab and gallery. The building layout and renovation was designed by San Francisco architect Charles Hemminger; the showroom interior was done by the Los Angeles firm Commune. The palette of unpainted wood, concrete, glass, and tile evokes a spare Japanesque/Scandinavian esthetic, which seems very appropriate for the strong simple shapes and nature-based hues of the company’s products. The retail showroom wraps around a

clerestoried atrium that will soon house tile-making operations and a Blue Bottle Coffee cafe (dishware manufacture will remain in Sausalito). So you

will be able to sip from a classic Heath “Coupe” line cup while watching the tile for your backsplash emerge from the primordial clay. But here

it’s not only the tile that’s alluring — as shown by sample panels that swivel so you can see the colorful glazes in different lights — but also the ideas for

flexible and built-in cabinetry. The kitchen island is especially suggestive, with butcher block counters flanking the range  for easy food prep before cooking,

and open shelving for convenient pot and pan storage. The floating wall shelving (bolted to the studs) against the vivid blue tile backsplash creates a spacious uncluttered look. The unpainted wood makes a perfect foil for the

tile, ensuring its starring role. Setting the tile perpendicular to the counter edge so that it connects with the tile running up the wall creates visual continuity for a very clean and unified design. The display tables are on rollers

so they can be used to reconfigure the space or combine with other tables for larger arrays. Heath has also begun a program of rotating exhibitions here and is currently showing work by Japanese Master Akio Nukaga. In sum,

the space deftly combines art and commerce. In effect, everything in the space

is carefully curated to feed the imagination…Say, wouldn’t these tiles look great in an outdoor shower on a house like this one by architects Braxton

Werner and Paul Field, Plan 491-2. I can see placing it around the corner to the left, not far from the pool. On that panel by the last window — a tall accent wall of blue-green classic field tile, don’t you think?

Porches and the Primitive Hut

Dream Time

The idea of escape to a simpler more relaxing way of living is especially appealing right now. In my case that would mean lounging on a porch — like this

elegant screened version by In Situ Studio — my head buried in a good spy novel

(photos courtesy In Situ Studio). The Roman architect Vitruvius believed that all architecture began with the primitive hut, which I think you could say is in the DNA of most great porches. Later philosophers, like the former Jesuit priest Abbe Laugier in his Essay On Architecture of 1753, adopted this idea and visualized the first buildings as simple — but classical — lean-tos made from tree trunks. You can see the

roots — literally! — of the classical pediment in that triangle of twigs at the top. The big idea was that architecture evolved as a refinement of elemental nature, meaning that the tree is simply a column in its primitive state. Or, put another way — in the beginning there was a gazebo! (Remember that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is talking about man’s natural state at this time as well.) This elemental and romantic nature-based concept remains powerful — think of Henry David Thoreau’s back-to-nature shack on Walden Pond or the evolution of the camping tent  — especially among architects and designers and almost

anyone looking for rest or relaxation, as this wonderful recent example designed and built by Alan Brown on the Big Island of Hawaii — out of mostly recycled materials — shows. Note to Thoreau: Why build in the cold-climate east when you can enjoy balmy evenings with scents of  plumeria and ginger on the slopes of Mauna Kea?! (Photo courtesy Alan Brown)

Moscow architects Kerimov Prishin designed their Arbor 15 project as a

performance platform containing a dining area, fireplace, and sink. Panels in the slatted front unfold to reveal that everything is on stage. Curtains at the sides

reinforce the idea that the act of dining is itself a theatrical event — which seems

very logical when you think that conversation in the dining room is the subject of so many plays and film scripts (photos courtesy the architects via designboom). It’s the outdoor dining room as dacha…Chekov, anyone?

Perhaps the most extreme form of the porch as primitive hut is a unit at the famous Swedish Treehotel (another room was mentioned in an earlier post) in

the shape of a giant nest, as shown here — or is it a condorminium…(image courtesy Treehotel).

Though most porches are attached to houses, it’s also true that many rooms can grow up to become porches; it just takes a little education and the addition of a

folding window wall or two. Which is what happens in the kitchen of Plan 48-46,

shown here. The breakfast area opens up to turn the entire space into a dining porch. Trees and triangles have come a long way since Vitruvius.