Category Archives: Uncategorized

Architect-Designed Home Products

Design for Living

Architects have been designing fabrics, furnishings, and fixtures for the home since the pharaohs (some of whom could well have been architects in their own right — or at least major developers). I am thinking of England’s Sir John Soane, whose wonderful London house from the early 1800s functioned as a kind of architectural laboratory as well as a showplace and storage locker for his many collections. He invented a clever swing-out panel system for storing and showing

Soane painting gallery via Time360_tga_museum_0117

multiple paintings in a small space, as shown above (courtesy Time: Gill Allen/Bloomberg News/Getty Images). In 1965 Philip Johnson updated that system on a grander scale at the underground art bunker on his estate in New Canaan, Connecticut where the shulmanpaintinggallerypaintings are stored on huge panels that pivot around a circle (courtesy You rolled out the Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly so you could contemplate it for a while from your stool, and then pushed it along so you could see the next one on the carousel. Frank Lloyd Wright was perhaps the most famous American designer of home products, with his

wright_artscraftsroomcompelling but notoriously uncomfortable furniture — like the dining room set for the Husser house of 1899, shown here, and now in the collection of the Huntington Museum in San Marino, CA (courtesy the Huntington). Wright’s chairs were really small buildings for your bottom and back — not necessarily a place to sit. If he could, Wright would design everything in your house, from furniture to lighting to tableware so it’s no wonder Wrightiana is a thriving business. You can see examples of this omnivorous design appetite in the shop of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

All the great modern architects designed objects for the home, from Aalto’s bent wood tea cart and swoopy glass vases to Mies’ uber-luxe Barcelona chair to Frank Gehry’s cardboard furniture to practically everything listed in the Design Within Reach catalog. In the last few years Seattle architect Tom Kundig — of Olson Kundig — has launched a robust line of steel hardware to complement his door_hardware-tknocker-02-lg_large

firm’s inventive machine esthetic — like this distinctive door knocker. The line is available from Avenue Iron. Most recently, well-known New York architect

RAMSA Willow

Robert A. M. Stern has thrown his hat (or is it upholstery) into the ring. His firm has developed textiles in multiple arresting patterns, like this circular design, based on leaded bottle glass windows of the 16th century. And at the home builder show in Las Vegas last month I saw examples of his latest line of classically-inspired wall tiles for tile and stone manufacturer Walker Zanger. IMG_7034The Ionic pilaster example makes me wonder if you could just order the capital pieces to make your own version of a cornice — a heretical view, I know. The Robert A. M. Stern tile collection was actually announced in 2014 but won’t be available until later this year.

The home continues to be a rich mother lode for architects thinking inside the box. To read more posts on home furnishings click here.

More Barn-Inspired House Plans

Three-Part Invention

One good barn deserves another! I have written about this house type as a rich source of design ideas before, and here is the latest Farmhouse Modern variation designed by architect Nicholas Lee, AIA. It has the

888-15classic three-part organization of a vintage barn: tall central gable flanked by lower side shed-roofed wings, but here those wings are deep porches running the length of the house. The additional twist is the tall window wall at the fireplace end of the vaulted great room, as you can see above. The expanse of glass adds a modern element to the traditional sheltering porches and rustic board and

888-15 main floor

batten siding. The simple but very contemporary layout includes a vaulted great room containing an island kitchen at one end under a loft office. The master suite forms the opposite end of the house. The stairway occupies the center

888-15 upper

of the house and additional bedrooms and baths are behind the office on the second floor. The great room, kitchen, and master bedroom all open to both

888-15 side viewporches for graceful indoor-outdoor flow. The design suits rural sites and temperate climates. If insects are a problem one or both porches could be

888-15 other sidescreened. Depending on orientation, views, wind, and other site conditions, one porch could be for use in the morning and the other for midday or evening.

888-15 great roomThe light-filled, open rooms — with minimalist modern touches as shown in the glass railing in the loft over the kitchen — contrast with the dark woodsy quality of many vintage barns. It’s the kind of design that allows easy adaptation. Bravo Nick!

To see other discussions of barn houses, click here. To browse more variations on the barn idea click here.

Coming of Age in SOMA (South of Market)

Aging in Place

Holidays and the end of the year make me think about ritual and renewal and continuity and change — I am beginning to sound like an alumni magazine!

My office recently moved to San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) tech zone, where I met the future — for a while we were in a glass cubicle on the fourth floor of an “incubator building” full of ambitious web developers near Second and Mission. The five-story 1910-era structure has a cool modern vibe with exposed brick walls, bamboo-topped steel desks, a basement Fussball lounge and the odd Saarinen potato chip chair. It’s Google-lite in miniature.

It and the surrounding streets are teeming with young men and women, occasionally on skateboards or pulling suitcases, or waiting at the entrance to the venerable Palace Hotel as black SUVs, Mercedes, and Town Cars come and go. An urban planner friend tells me that the Nob Hill hotels are now scrambling to compete with SOMA hostelries like the Palace, which are closer to tech hubs like Pinterest, Salesforce, and Twitter, “where everyone wants to be,” as the VISA ad says. At noon the buffets at local Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese eateries are full, while lines for taco trucks parked at the curb start forming by 11:30 with nobody apparently minding the wait because it’s a chance to talk with colleagues and check emails or play Candy Crush Saga.

And suddenly I have realized that I’m a lot older than my neighbors. Indeed, one day the 30-something maintenance worker who restocks the kitchens and bathrooms  on every floor turned to me  – not having spoken to me before – and said with all earnestness: “It’s so inspiring to see a man of your age still working.” Receding gray hair. Still vigorous; not yet stooped. Well, I can see how I stand out – Rip Van Winkle in the middle of freshman rush.

I had never given my age much thought until that moment, except for the time I thought I was a year older than I actually was and my wife kindly corrected me — which was a delightful gift! But now it occurs to me that of course your environment is a powerful determinant for shaping your world view. Duh! And I can remember thinking the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead — who wrote the influential Coming of Age in Samoa — did look awfully old as she walked up the aisle of the Yale Law School Auditorium leaning heavily on her crook-shaped walking stick to lecture our introductory anthropology class. Which reminds me, when our younger daughter was two years old we visited a small state park. In the visitor center the ranger turned to a child near us and asked: “And how old are you, little boy?” The boy replied: “I’m two.” Whereupon our daughter rushed over to him and said: “You’re not two. I’m two.” I guess part of growing up is realizing that there can be two twos, or put another way – that there can be more than one monoculture. Exposure is definitely broadening.

My 94 year-old mother recently settled into a retirement home after more than sixty years living at the end of a long and winding country road. She said: “The really interesting people here are the ones over 100.” (I can only hope…) That was before she started complaining about the food and had one of her sons find her old copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking to give to the chef. “Here,” she said, “This is how you make creamed spinach.”

So what’s next? I’m not ready to leave home yet! But someday, if necessary, it ought to be a place that’s well designed, feels genuine, and is easy to move around in for young and old alike. With good design and decent planning there ought to be a way for younger families and retirees to occupy the same complex. Good light, a stimulating outlook, places to be comfortably together and easily apart — with practical sound-proofing where needed — are among the basics. Such a place certainly doesn’t need a hotel ambience, gurgling fountains, or white marble statues of Hebe, the goddess of youth. There must be a better way. So, as the tryptophan kicks in after your feasting maybe you will dream it up! Meanwhile,

holidayphotoWe’re in the caves at Kenzo Estate, the elegant new Napa Valley winery by Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects. Hey, now that I think of it, a winery is actually a form of “assisted living”! We toast you and the future!



Architecture To Buy Or Eat

Holiday Houses

Time to think about the architecture enthusiasts on your gift list. Luckily I have some suggestions! In 2011 British brothers Robert and Gavin Paisley founded a business called Chisel and Mouse to make a few plaster models of significant buildings. Fast forward to today and the business has burgeoned so that now their offerings include a wonderfully wide range of designs, from Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki train station to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House. My kind of company! Their architectural sculptures are made of  plaster with fine details like window frames etched in metal. According to their website: “We combine traditional sculpting with CAD and 3D printing to produce our collection.” (Aha! This is the clue to the name of the company!) Models are priced around $215

Winslow Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.23.59 PM (2)

apiece. And they can even model your own home! Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow house from 1893 caught my eye — an early example of his Prairie Style with hipped roof and recessed band around the eaves. The model is 4 inches high, 10 inches wide, 4 inches deep and weighs roughly 5 lbs. Something for your desk as

Buckingham 2 Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.55.25 PM (2)

you plan your dream house! Or why not dream big — in a diminutive sort of way — and acquire a part of Buckingham Palace, at 10 inches high, 7 inches wide, and 4.5 lbs. I myself am rather partial to the house that modernist architect WilliamLescazeScreen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.59.03 PM (2)

Lescaze — designer of the famous PSFS skyscraper in Philadelphia — built for himself in Manhattan in 1934. It’s probably a little too minimalist for me to live in but would be fun to live with!

If you’re not house-hunting but still a little hungry for something seasonal, how about building a gingerbread house. CEO Jamie Roche and his two children found inspiration in our Plan 896-2 by Jay Shafer and his


Four Lights Tiny Houses, one of which is shown above, and made this version.

Gingerbread tiny house

The gum for the roof is a good idea — otherwise known as a neoprene sealer — and the candy wheels make me hungry. The truck is extra and not edible. To follow the templates for building it click here.

Check out Jamie’s previous design based on a Sea Ranch cabin from last year. Or if you


are even more ambitious you can build the Beach House Plan 479-1 designed by Peter Brachvogel, AIA and Stella Carosso. Architectural designer and Gingerbread_2 photo

Houseplans staffer Monika Strunk made this version. Delightful and delicious! Why not take yours to the Planning Department — maybe it will help expedite things!…You can follow her Templates and Directions on Time To Build. She also offers a few tips: The gingerbread house is drawn at 1/4″= 1’0″ scale, which in real life-scale will yield a 0.25-inch gingerbread wall. (Keeping the gingerbread thickness consistent while rolling out the dough was the biggest challenge). She used pre-made frosting that came with two different decorating nibs (star-shaped and basic); and 1.5 batches of gingerbread dough from a Martha Stewart recipe. It took approximately 2.5 hours to assemble and decorate — most of the time was spent baking and cutting.

So are you ready to fire up the workshop?! Maybe have a little rum-infused eggnog while waiting for the oven to pre-heat…that’s the spirit!

Selling Sunset Headquarters: A Landmark of Environmental Design

Time Inc., the owner of Sunset Magazine, has just announced it is exploring the sale of Sunset‘s historic seven acre campus in Menlo Park, California. I can understand why — the land, which is in the very heart of Silicon Valley, not far

47 Sunset Joe Fletcher patio view

from Stanford University and just a mile or two down Willow Road from Facebook — is undoubtedly worth surpassing Silicon sums (photo by Joe Fletcher). But, speaking as Sunset‘s former senior home editor who wrote a book

24 Sunset cover

about ranch house popularizer Cliff May, the designer of the building (here’s an early Cliff May ranch house on the magazine’s cover), I very much hope that whoever purchases the property understands its significance as an early and influential example of environmental design. Here’s the back story.

43 Sunset buliding garden plan

The original building, from 1951, is at the corner of Willow and Middlefield Roads. Owner Larry Lane told Cliff May: “The building itself must be definitely WESTERN in its general structure and in the material used and in the feeling and atmosphere which it creates. It must give the feeling of belonging to the site. In short , the kind of building that an easterner having read Sunset for a long time and making his first trip to California would expect to see.” At the same time Lane hired San Francisco’s most famous landscape architect, Thomas Church, to design the gardens and specified he wanted an emphasis on native planting and informality “so that the whole area has the appearance of having naturally grown that way.” The result was a remarkable early example ofIMG_6650environmental design — the corporate campus precursor to Apple, Google, and Facebook. (And at Sunset we had in-house kitchens and even a wine cellar decades before Pixar’s “Cereal Bar” or Twitter’s “Micro Health Kitchen.”) The building is an over-scaled, roughly 30,000 square foot ranch house that wraps around a huge lawn extending toward San Francisquito Creek, which is the border between Menlo Park and Palo Alto. The gardens loop around the lawn (like a well thrown lariat, naturally!) following the creek, creating a metaphoric Pacific Coast with plantings representing each of the magazine’s editorial regions


from the Northwest to the Southwest. The front door is in a closed facade — open it and you “are almost outside again” with a view that runs through the glass 44 Sunset lobby

walled lobby to the very edge of the garden by the creek: a seven acre living room that’s mostly outdoors. Test gardens, test kitchens, and an entertainment wing 45 Sunset patio with table

(shown here) were all added over the years — each element extending the ranch house esthetic and Sunset‘s mission to be both “the magazine and laboratory of western living.” A similarly detailed courtyard building for the books division of Lane Publishing was added across the road at 85 Willow in the 1960s (photos above by Joe Fletcher).

Frank Lloyd Wright toured 80 Willow in 1954 on his way to lecturing at Stanford. Here he is in his signature pork pie hat on the doorstep being

48 Sunset with FLWright

welcomed by Larry Lane’s sons Mel, at far left and Bill at far right, with editor Proctor Mellquist in the striped tie. Later at Stanford, after dismissing the building’s uneven terra-cotta tile floors and the use of adobe for some walls as sentimental, Wright remarked: “It’s well planned, and the ideas are good, and the proportions are simple and I would say it’s one of the best efforts I’ve seen in modern times.” Needless to say the Lanes — and Cliff May — were very pleased.

So, with all that land seemingly almost empty in a time of rapid change and superheated real estate value, how can such a place survive? Even if it became the headquarters for a major foundation, an enclave of Stanford University, or a satellite extension of a high-tech company, pressure to maximize the acreage would be intense. But thoughtful, even extensive, additions and updates that respect its history are certainly possible. An imaginative owner and city administration working with a talented design team should be up to the task. The alternative would be dismaying and a terrible loss. One solution might be to make a deal somehow to sacrifice the north building at 85 Willow in order to save key elements of the main building and grounds at 80 Willow. And then there is the realization that the magazine itself will probably need to move! Lots to think about. I hope you can visit this California landmark before it’s too late. Sunset’s garden is open to the public 9 a.m. to 4 p. m. Monday through Friday.


Making An Entrance on Streets and Stoops

Arrivals, Public and Private

A World Series parade changes the urban experience. The passage becomes the plot. Streets fill with people and become vast open-air rooms. This all became apparent today as I joined the crush of fans along Market Street to watch the San Francisco Giants ride by. The constant high-spirited clamor broadened into a roar every time an open-topped bus  — one for every two baseball  players –

IMG_6517appeared. Buster Posey got a big roar but when Hunter Pence, arms outstretched and visible just to the right of the passing tree in the photo above, led the entire intersection around Montgomery Street in a big booming Giants cheer it was deafening. Though he was gliding along everything stopped as the crowds on

IMG_6520sidewalks and those who climbed stop lights, newspaper stands, kiosks, and

IMG_6514trees, along with spectators on the roof terraces and cornice-level balconies of surrounding buildings, joined in. The eminent architecture critic Paul Goldberger has said that ultimately a city’s streets are more important than its buildings — and today that rang especially true. It was the street that celebrated the sense of arrival, in a pageant as old as Ancient Greece or China. It’s not just for defense and toll-taking that great cities like Paris and Rome built grand gateways across key streets; these streets celebrated the culture’s triumphs and occasionally their tragedies.

Houses also celebrate arrival, or passage, though obviously on a more private scale in the way they address the street and shape or shelter the front door. And as we move past Halloween and on toward the holiday entertaining season, front doors become especially important. So here are some entries that make crossing Charles Barnett entrythe threshold something to celebrate. The doorway of this courtyard house in Northern California’s wine country, by Charles Barnett, is part trellis, part open-air gallery, with a vista right through the house to the other side. In a very sleek 

Plus-Node-UID-Architects-1geometric modern house at Fukuyama, Japan, by UID Architects, the large

Plus-Node-UID-Architects-5 plandiagonal arm of the carport doubles as the front gateway. The automobile scale of the carport — which is also very finely detailed — lends grandeur to the pedestrian entrance just inside, noted as “E.” on the floor plan.

Arrival need not be elaborate; sometimes an elemental canopy will do, as Melbourne architect Leon Meyer shows in this design, which is our Plan 496-18.

496-18Everything is in its place, with an open door protected from the weather, and a design that simply say welcome. You’re a winner — do come in!

Genealogy and the Charleston Single House


There is something wonderful about opening what appears to be the front door of an early 19th century row house in Charleston, South Carolina — and finding yourself not inside, but outside on a gracious porch running the length of

Stucco front IMG_6329the home. The real front door is halfway down the porch. You have entered an historic Charleston “single house” — so called because these buildings are usually only a single room wide as they follow the porch back from the street.

Whiete pediment IMG_6353The house type developed in the late 18th century: a version of the French plantation house adapted to the street grid of long narrow lots and as a way to mitigate a humid climate — a form of “green building” more than two hundred years before the term was invented. It’s a very urbane approach: the porch doorway preserves privacy for the outdoor space while maintaining the street front. I toured several of these gems recently, while attending a symposium of the Custom Residential Architects Network, known as CRAN, where the presentations were about the influence of history on contemporary residential architecture.

The tour and the talks made me realize anew how richly suggestive the single house is for today. And Skip Gates’ current and very entertaining PBS program about genealogy called “Finding Your Roots” got me thinking about design DNA, so I started looking around and found some direct descendants — no saliva test required.

Genetics and Other Codes

It turns out that the Charleston single house forms the basis for part of the planning code at the iconic New Urbanist community of Seaside on the Florida Panhandle — written thirty years ago by influential planners and architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. In some Seaside neighborhoods this code permits a zero setback on one of the side yards, which allows part of the other yard to be developed as a covered outdoor space. “Natchez House” by Robert Orr Architects and shown here (photo courtesy VRBO — you can rent it!)Natchez house by Robert Orr Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 1.10.08 PM (2)is an especially fine example, with the front door opening to a stately columned porch, and a window over the front door preserving the facade across the upstairs porch as well. The so-called “Charleston Cottage” by architect


Scott Merrill, also shown here, is another (photo courtesy The Seaside Research Portal). Nearby, in Rosemary Beach, another community planned by Duany and Plater-Zyberk, are more Charleston-style houses.

Designer Eric Moser even offers an updated version of the Charleston single house as a three bedroom, three and a half bath floor plan on his website. Eric Moser Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.55.53 AM (2)Both the living area and the master suite, which are on the second floor, open to the side porch, as do the two bedrooms and gallery on the ground floor (Eric also has two plans in our Katrina Cottage Collection).

Other Cousins, Other Outdoor Rooms

In Plan 900-6 by architect Greg Huddy of C3 Studio, LLC the porch is open to 900-6 the street but runs along the side of the house. The layout shows how the porch is truncated to let the house widen, which makes for greater interior900-6 planflexibility and a connection to the rear garage.

Historic one-story variations on the side porch entry idea have appeared in other areas of the country — the Alvarado adobe at Monterey, California of the early 


1830s is one example. You can just see the door to the porch at the right edge of this photo (courtesy California adobes were also usually only one room wide with every room opening to the porch. Twentieth century ranch

8 early San Diego house planhouse popularizers like Cliff May adapted this idea for courtyard houses, where the front door opens to a covered walkway or gallery that connects the interior rooms, as shown in this vintage plan from the early 1930s by May.

San Francisco architect William Turnbull often found inspiration in vernacular traditions like the single house and one of the employee cottages he designed447-2 sea ranch cottage by turnbull for the Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast in the early 1980s is a much447-2 elevsimplified version — it’s Plan 447-2, shown here. The side porch is shortened but still acts as the entry and the house itself is stretched out while remaining447-2 planone room wide.  The side porch-as-entry is also a strong feature in architect Nick Lee’s design for a ranch house in Sonoma, California. In this house, Plan 888-2,

888-2 porchThe porch extends the entire length of the building. So we are almost back to

888-2 planwhere we started, except it’s a one story house and the porch is open at the front. Yet another interpretation of the side porch is this modern design byjensen architects street facadeJensen Architects, which puts both the porch and the adjacent interior on display as a seamless indoor-outdoor unit. Now Skip Gates would probably ask  Jensen Architectshis celebrity guest to “Turn the page.” But all I can says is that though resemblance to the Charleston single house may not be obvious, the roots are there — or maybe it’s just a great great grandchild on a sideways branch.