Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tandem Houses Full of Ideas


I just toured two brand new roughly 1,500 sq. ft. houses that demonstrate strong lessons in making small spaces live large and offer a compelling paradigm for  multigenerational living. Sold within a few hours of going on the market  — part of the “Facebook frenzy” that has turned San Francisco real estate into breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-at-Tiffany’s — the houses were designed by architect Jim Zack, whose design-build firm Zack DeVito specializes in infill developments. Jim explains: “This little courtyard compound consists Continue reading

The Make It Right Houses in New Orleans

Looking Up in the Lower Ninth Ward

While in New Orleans last week on a design jury, I checked the progress of rebuilding in the Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward. It’s several miles east of the French Quarter and Downtown, and just across the canal that connects Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi. You can immediately see some of the area’s

Map Lower 9nth Ward

disadvantages: it’s low land level and general sense of being isolated: only connected to central New Orleans by two small bridges; and there’s a high

Flood wallconcrete flood wall between the neighborhood and the banks of the canal (map courtesy NOLA Beez). From the west you still see swaths of empty lots, but now near Route 39, along Deslonde and Tenneessee Streets, a remarkable new neighborhood is emerging thanks to herculean community efforts spurred by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which has brought in big name architects like Frank Gehry and Japan’s Shigeru Ban and big names like President Bill Clinton and his Global Initiative — not to mention Brad himself. It is very exciting

Three Make It Right homes

to see  how much progress has been made. The Make It Right Foundation even offers a self guided tour. The houses are raised off the ground — some high

Concordia Architects

enough for a carport, as shown in the example above by Concordia Architects. There are a few designs that look more sculptural than functional (though community input was the starting point for everything) but I was impressed with how successful most of the houses seemed to be: with livable covered porches for

Billes Partners

natural ventilation in New Orlean’s humid climate, front stoops for hanging out, roof slopes designed for solar panels, among many other features — the house above is by Billes Partners. I was also impressed with the pattern book approach some houses exhibited — in other words I saw the same plan built in different ways: rotated or flipped depending on desired porch orientation, for example. This approach recalls how many American towns developed — with stock plans being adapted to different lots and site conditions. Some locals don’t yet appreciate what is happening here (I am thinking of the two taxi drivers I spoke too — not very scientific I realize!) and prefer the new row houses in the 


Musicians Village in the Upper Ninth, a laudable project of the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, which I also toured. These houses (shown above) update the old New Orleans shotgun house and they do look neighborly — the smaller lots put the houses closer together for a more immediate sense of community, though I thought some of the porches looked minimal. I can see how the more 

website street view

architecturally ambitious Make It Right houses — as shown here again in a long street view — are not for everyone. They are more experimental, for example, turning the top floor into one large outdoor living room, and to my eye that makes them especially compelling. Bravo to the Brads and Bills who are helping revive a community that builds on the past while looking to the future (all Lower Ninth Ward photos courtesy Make It




Reaching for Reclaimed Wood

Going with the Grain

Spring is about reinvention, which makes me think about reclaimed wood. I am reminded  of the timbers reclaimed from urban forests that the remarkable Zen priest Paul Discoe mills and then shapes into furniture like his Tenon Bench,

Paul Discoe, tenon bench, redwood IMG_4597where the joint becomes a simple but sculptural gesture of connection and  Continue reading

New Ranch House, New Fire Pits

Lining Up with the View’s architect Nicholas Lee recently gave me a tour of his most recent design, a contemporary 4 bedroom ranch house built on a 2+ acre site in Sonoma, California. As you can see, the single story house is long and

carriger exterior view

linear and offers views east to the Mayacamas Range and west to Sonoma Mountain. The newly planted rows of saplings and sweet peas reinforce the farmhouse/ranch house esthetic.  Huge picture windows flanking the fireplace  Continue reading

Walking On Wine: Mondavi Floor Boards

It’s All in the Oak

At the Home Builder Show in Las Vegas I met winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr. (grandson of the legendary founder of Napa’s Mondavi Winery) and his wife Lydia, who are launching a new venture in partnership with Georgia-based Authentic Reclaimed Pine Floors this spring. The name of the product is “Barrel Reserve,” which refers not to a chardonnay blend, but to the wood that might have encased it. The limited edition interior wood floor collection is made from Continue reading

Road Testing Your New Home

Try Before You Buy or Build!

Syndicated Washington Post real estate columnist Katherine Salant recently gave an insightful talk to our office about how she “road-tested” two developer homes. This is a splendid idea — contemporary cultural anthropology in action, and it reprises a field work technique she developed in Nepal while living with families and village architecture.  She lived with a family at Libertyville, Illinois, in the new School Street community of row houses. And she  spent several days and nights in the model unit of a townhouse development in Mosaic District, near Washington, D. C. Her revelations are fascinating.

At School Street, she found that there was a strong sense of community even though the development was very new; that every owner wanted his or her own Continue reading

2014 New American Home in Las Vegas

Suite Upgrades

The 2014 New American Home demonstration house in Henderson, Nevada, sponsored by Builder magazine, debuted during the big home builder show (IBS) in Las Vegas last month. I expected over-the-topness. At 7,440 sq. ft. — including a three-room master suite, “VIP” guest suite, in-law “carriage suite,” casita-office, outdoor bar and grill, lap pool, and extensive roof decks — it wasn’t as

TNAH exterior large 1-27-2014

as lavish as some, but did not disappoint. Design-wise, it’s “Desert Modern.” Aging in place was a priority — hence the secondary ground floor master suite and an elevator to the “carriage suite.”As I have mentioned before, despite the name, Continue reading

Kitchen, Bath, Garage, & Color Palette News

Sliding, Storing, Painting & More at the Las Vegas Home Show

Several home trends — from versatility to Universal Design — remain strong or are gathering steam, as evidenced at last week’s Home Builder/Kitchen & Bath Show in Las Vegas (also known as Design & Construction Week). Hafele, a company known for innovative connectors, hinges, and other cabinet hardware systems, used its booth to showcase several cool ideas with the help of noted


kitchen designer Mary Jo Peterson, CKD of MJP Design. She gave me a tour. Sliding and pivot-up doors (instead of the conventional swing-out kind) were much in evidence.


They’re especially convenient for tighter kitchens with higher cabinet clearances. Most striking to me was the large kitchen island with

IMG_4826the Silestone top that extends on sturdy Hafele drawer glides to become an eating bar. In this photo it’s in the original compact position — forming a slightly raised counter  1- inch above the sink surface in the background — perfect for a

Hafele kitchen island extended

casual buffet. Now see how the top section extends to become a cantilevered eating bar (photo courtesy Hafele). Mary Jo made me realize that every trade show booth should be more like this idea lab that she designed — showing not just new products but innovative ways to use them.

In some ways the garage is becoming an extension of the kitchen — or vice-versa — according to what I saw at the Gladiator Garageworks press conference, where  IMG_4850the company debuted its new butcher block-topped rolling cart, which works well as a small kitchen  island or versatile counter extension. It will also come in stainless steel. Garageworks also launched new colors — including red, green,


and purple  — for its trademark diamond-plate pattern cabinet fronts. I think the company is beginning to realize that not everything in its line needs to have that heavy gray plated look. And their wall storage systems — with snap-in storage bags and other accessories — keep getting more versatile.

Universal Design — which is about achieving accessibility in the home and elsewhere — was well illustrated by Toto, the international Japanese bath products company. Toto’s roll-in shower mock-up at the show, shown below,


proves that sleekness and accessibility are not mutually exclusive, with elegant wheelchair-ready surfaces and grab bars complementing the overall design.

The big Kohler booth was crowded —  a Pinterest sign led me to their new “Damask” line of traditionally styled wood vanities. This 60-inch model comes


with many different drawer options, including a clever charging tray that slips around the plumbing, and various inserts for storing smaller items. I liked the way the traditional design offered some very practical contemporary storage options.

Selecting paint color for the interior of your home is daunting because there’s just too much choice — some color wheels have more than a thousand chips. What’s needed is a well curated selection to get you going — and Benjamin Moore has done just that with their 23 hue Color Trends 2014 paint palette, which

Benjamin moore rooms

they launched at the show. The accompanying text tries a little too hard to be poetic but the palette offers a fine range and all the colors work together.

Benjamin Moore

It’s billed as a “natural palette” and according to the company  “is a reaction to all the color cues that we have noticed popping up in the home furnishing industry… textiles, carpets, wallpapers, tabletops and pottery, as well as color schemes that emerge in landscape design, the auto industry, fashion, and graphics.”  You can see the cross-branding trend mentioned in the previous post at work here — some of these Benjamin Moore colors are shown at the Kohler booth in their vessel sink display. I guess the epigraph for E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howard’s End — “Only connect” — is now a corporate mantra!





2014 Home Builder/Kitchen & Bath Show

Consolidation and Collaboration

There was new energy and excitement at this year’s International Home Builder Show (IBS) in Las Vegas thanks to its joint presentation with the National Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). More than 75,000 attended. Collaboration and cross-branding were the order of the day. Indeed, the 3-day event is now called Design and Construction Week and is the start of a three-year association. This means that where there was trade show pain due to the Recessions, there is new potential. And it seems an overdue connection, since kitchens and baths tend to be popular features of most homes — one wonders why someone didn’t think of this before!


For the first time since 2007 exhibits seemed to be expanding and the convention floor felt crowded with customers. And companies have discovered the usefulness of social media sites like Pinterest — Kohler seems to be the early

Continue reading

Butterfly House by Feldman Architecture

Elegantly Back to Nature 

Let’s start the new year with a breath of fresh air — as expressed in this marvelous new house in the Santa Lucia Preserve near Carmel, California by San Franciso-based Feldman Architecture. I toured it last fall during the Monterey Design Conference. The setting  is what I would call “California Primeval” — a magnificent oak knoll opening to a wide meadow sloping down to a forested canyon, with vistas of more meadows and trees across ridges in the

Butterfly house in landscape -- Feldman Architecture

distance. The house is not large and divides into three separate pavilions: a one story guest suite, a two-story living-dining-cooking space with loft library

Butterfly house living room pavilion, Feldman Architecture

overlooking the dining room, and a one story owner’s retreat. Glass walls accordion away to connect each pavilion with outdoor living areas, blurring the

Butterfly house, living to terrace, Feldman Architecture

boundaries between structure and and site (previous three photos courtesy Feldman Architecture). Landscape architect Bernard Trainor reinforced this connection with plantings of native grasses that seamlessly weave the terraces into the meadow.

According to Jonathan Feldman, the clients imagined butterflies “landing delicately on the site,” which sparked both the idea for pavilions that would sit lightly on the land and butterfly roofs to capture rainwater runoff. Cisterns hold the water until needed in the garden. The expressive board-formed

2013-09-29 14.46.00

concrete walls, timber rafters, and expansive glass panels turn the house into a kind of nature gallery, whether you are looking inward to a corner of the kitchen, as shown above,  or outward to the view. And those Heath vases and bowls look great on floating shelves! It’s a signal triumph to have made the house fit such a remarkable site. I don’t usually identify butterflies with concrete but in this case lightness means a very deft hand at environmental design.

The house won a 2013 Design Award from the American Institute of Architects, Monterey Bay. Bravo one and all!

To see our Modern Cabin Plan 517-1 by Jonathan Feldman, click here.