Category Archives: Idea Houses

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

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 Houses in Older Neighborhoods

Urban Farmhouse and Roman Villa

While at the International Builder Show in Orlando I toured two new demonstration homes that were built in established neighborhoods. One, designed by architect Ed Binkley for Southern Traditions Development as Green Builder Media’s Vision House,

sits on a long narrow lot not far from downtown. I think it expressed a green sensibility very well in the use of eco-friendly materials like fiber cement siding and ICF construction (insulating concrete forms using Arxx blocks, example below: reinforcing bars are added, then concrete).

However, energy-efficient materials alone do not make a house green. The key for me is how this design thoughtfully maximizes the tight infill site (house photo above by Andy Frame courtesy Green Builder magazine) and deftly incorporates outdoor space. It does an excellent job.

With its generous double decker front porch facing the street

and the semi-detached rear garage/studio shaping a small courtyard, it allows  the house to live larger than it is. The welcoming and usable front stoop, simple gable profile, and backyard garage are all elements found in New Urbanist communities like Seaside, Florida or I’on, South Carolina — as well as the late 19th and early 20th century neighborhoods that New Urbanists emulate.

The innovative twist here is the lanai connecting house and garage:  it’s a private summer living room and barbecue center. The roof deck is accessible from the upstairs master suite.  The lanai opens to the family room beside the handsome island kitchen (Andy Frame photo, below). Ed Binkley calls his design an “urban farmhouse,” and that seems an apt description. Various details play up the rustic theme,

such as railings fabricated from hog wire fencing (I also like the bright, well-situated and multi-functional laundry/study just off the stairway) and

a trough sink for the kids’ bathroom (Interior design by Patricia Gaylor).

This house reminded me of designs in our inventory that would also work well on in-fill sites, like Plan 443-9,

which includes a carport beside the front porch or Plan 464-1 — suitable for a corner lot with wrap-around verandas. The other Orlando demonstration house told a very different story. Part of a long running program called The New American Home, it’s all about showing the latest products to builders. This year, to ensure completion in a tough economic climate, the organizers found willing clients (most demonstration houses are built before finding a buyer). The very large classically-inspired house was built on two lots near a lake — also not far from downtown Orlando.

A real estate columnist friend remarked, as we stepped off the media bus: “It looks like Embassy Row.” To my mind it recalls major classical monuments,

like the New Pavilion by Karl Friedrich Schinkel at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin of 1824 (shown above) or possibly the Huntington Library in Pasadena. The designer of the New American Home is classically trained  portrait artist and polymath Michael Curtis, who knows a lot about Greek and Roman precedents in architecture and sculpture and offers a range of scholarly American classic home designs as part of our Exclusive Studio, like Union Springs 492-4,

with its stately portico.

The New American Home was designed to reflect the client’s requirements (for health reasons all the building materials had to be hypoallergenic; hence the concrete and stone for walls and columns) as well as to showcase builder products — it’s not meant as an exemplar for future home designs, despite its name. So I overlooked the size and scale and concentrated on the very carefully articulated and beautiful architectural details, like the columns

near the rear patio, with their elegant and  accurate composite capitals; or the outdoor kitchen nearby,

with rustic stone as the backdrop, and used as sheathing for the base of the serving island. Now you might note the two flat screens — perhaps a case of product placement acceding to the law of symmetry — not necessary but certainly enthusiastic. You can watch the Super Bowl while I channel surf.

In any case the grand rooms, high ceilings, and pool courtyard (photo by James Wilson via Residential Architect) were fun to experience — like touring a very well preserved Roman villa, or was it the eastern wing of the Malibu Getty Museum. For complete design and supplier credits see the TNAH website.

Appliance and Fixture News from IBS

Fire and Ice, Tub Gates, & More

At the recent Home Builder Show in Orlando many new product introductions seemed to contradict the current state of the economy. In fact, the power of invention seemed to be energized, as if companies have decided that now is the time to rethink for allure, efficiency, and flexibility. Here’s a quick round-up of appliances and fixtures that caught my attention.

The Solaris 36 MR from Heat & Glo is a see-through direct-vent gas  fireplace. I saw it installed in Professional Builder magazine’s  “Sea Breeze” Idea House, which was erected in the parking lot beside the convention center.

The two-sided fireplace is circular — it was set at eye level in a partition between the upstairs family room and sitting room.

It can have different surrounds and mounts to a typical 2 by 6 interior stud wall. The “razor burner” creates a single flame in a line across the face for a very sculptural effect. Fireplace as moongate? Washer-Dryer as art piece? The hottest new digital camera??!! It definitely “ignites conversation,” as the press material says. Perhaps something to consider for your media or play room — Fire it up when you want to watch a dvd of The Lord of the Rings to set an appropriate “Eye of Mordor” mood.

Or, for something colder, how about the new GE Monogram 30-Inch Fully Integrated Refrigerator.

Fully integrated here means that the refrigerator doors are equipped with an articulating hinge, “enabling them to be completely out of sight behind surrounding cabinetry.” There are three compartments: upper for fresh food; shallow middle drawer for frozen foods and ice; and a lower tall drawer with a uniquely flexible function: its temperature can be set from 5 degrees below zero to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, if you don’t need a lot of freezer space you can use the lower drawer as your mini-wine cellar. Ingenious — and a good solution for smaller kitchens.  Glass doors are also available for top and bottom compartments.

GE was also demonstrating their “Home Energy Display” (part of their “Nucleus energy manager with Brillion technology”), which will be available later this year.

When connected to a smart meter it can show consumers how much energy they are using in real time. A very good idea.

For aging gracefully in place, Kohler is now offering its “Elevance Rising Wall Bath.” (The names of these new products are becoming more and more linguistically and subliminally inventive — “elevance” cleverly makes you think of elegance and lifting at the same time and yet is totally made-up and GE’s “Brillion technology” makes you think of “brilliant” without actually spelling it…).

The ADA-approved bath has a chair-height seat and a foot well. You sit on the seat and then swing your legs into the bath.

Then lift the lightweight wall until it latches — that’s when the seal inflates to make the wall watertight. It also comes with a hand-held shower arm and optional bubble massage.

Squeaky floors are a common problem in new construction and so I was interested in attending the debut press conference on Paslode’s new TetraGrip fastening system.

It’s basically an 8-penny nail with a “barbed helix design.” It is driven with a spiral movement like a screw — with a special pneumatic nailer, also invented by Paslode.

According to Paslode the system has been tested on 200 new houses so far and there have been no call-backs to fix squeaky floors. Someday these hybrid nails might be just the thing to silence our own ancient and reverberating stair. Next week: more product and idea house reviews.

Martha Stewart and the 2011 Home Builder Show

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the International Home Builders Show (IBS)  in Orlando last week was the worst of times and the best of times. Worst because of an economy that meant fewer exhibits and lower attendance and snowstorms in the southeast that closed airports and highways. Best because the smaller  size — only one vast convention hall

and a thousand exhibits to cover — made it easier to see everything and find time for several especially interesting show homes, like the net zero energy concept home produced by KB Home and Martha Stewart. The 2,667 square-foot, 3 bedroom, 2  bath subdivision house is slated to sell for $380,000. As you would expect from these folks, it’s full of great ideas and products, from the invisible glass-front, gas living room fireplace (Montebello by Lennox)

under the elegant round mirror that brings the entire room into focus (showing the media tour in progress), to the kitchen at the opposite end,

where cabinets, open shelves, and cubbies by Merillat allow for multiple storage and display options to make the rear wall both functional and visually compelling. The Dupont Zodiaq-topped island, 7 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 6 inches,

includes a wide, deep Kohler apron-front farmhouse sink, a convenient “drop-in” stainless steel compost canister by Blanco (want it!) instead of a disposal, pull-out recycle bins (to right of sink, not visible here),

and ample room for books. Nearby is the pantry,

accessible through glass-fronted double doors beside the microwave and wine storage. A built-in desk to the right of the pantry has space for a laptop.

Ten foot-tall sliding glass panels by Windoor open the kitchen/dining area to a spacious lanai,

with its own fireplace,

allowing the house to expand for entertaining in good weather.

At the media conference I asked Martha Stewart what her greatest challenge was in shaping the interior. She said it was “to keep it gracious, with good proportions, and high 9 foot 4-inch ceilings.” I would elaborate  that her team’s simple but sophisticated decisions — such as adding chest-high, white-painted horizontal wainscoting, setting windows low in the wall, using stone-like ceramic tile floor tiles and a refined pastel color palette (with AkzoNobel’s  Martha Stewart low VOC paint) throughout — made this house feel custom-designed.

Martha also said she was excited at the opportunity to make a production home so green that it uses less power than it produces — thanks in part to photovoltaic roof tiles (by SunPower)

and a solar water heating system (from Velux).

My only reservation about the house was with the exterior — I think the important lessons about simplicity and strong indoor-outdoor connection could have been expressed on the street front. But overall it’s an exciting project that shows how to be green, gracious, and give good value. A full description is at Builder Magazine Online; and a  virtual tour is at Builder Concept Home 2011. More idea houses and new product sightings from the Home Builder Show will be in my next post — so stay tuned.