Monday, January 23, 2023

 Waterfront Homes

Waterfront homes present a special challenge as the owner typically wants to capture the water view from as much of the home as possible but this presents issues with privacy, glare, energy efficiency.  Wind and water forces are often magnified because of the exposed location and with all those windows we still need to design a home that doesn't fall over in a earthquake!

Monday, November 28, 2016

What to do with a 1970's split level

A split level plan can have some really great features.  No REALLY!  We often call this type of plan an "upside down plan" with the main living areas on the upper floor with the view and the bedrooms, media and family room on the lower floor.   

 With a set of french doors this bedroom now can be a wonderful Den / Office space.  A nice place to cozy up and watch a movie with your sweetie.

This home had a great view with a really really marginal master bedroom.  It had 4 bedrooms on the upper floor and 1 bedroom and a large family room on the lower floor for a total of 5 bedrooms.   My client didn't have any use for 5 bedrooms so we converted one bedroom into a den / office and another bedroom was used as walk-in closets for two adjacent bedrooms... the result: 3  bedrooms total with a large master bedroom.

 The vanity cabinets were hand made by the Owner. The light wood is spalted maple from the Owners WOOD PILE!  spalted maple is maple with dark lines in it created by a dark fungus.   It makes an interesting pattern in the wood that is hard to beat for someone looking for a unique vanity.  

The master and adjacent bedroom now have huge closets (something often lacking in 1970's architecture) along with a nice large Great Room and Dining Area open to the kitchen.  While we were at it, the exterior got a face lift with new windows, siding and trim.  WOW what a change!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jewelry Boxes

A good friend gave me some special wood to make some Christmas presents.  I made these dovetailed 
jewelry  boxes. 

The figured wood is Spalted Maple and the dark wood is African Mahogany.

Spalted Maple is actually a fungus that forms in the wood often while the tree is still alive.  It creates these wonderful black lines in the grain.  Like a snow flake, every piece of wood is different.  So the end product is truly a one of a kind item.

The box was built with hand cut dovetails.  I cut these with a hand saw and the wood is removed with a coping saw and final shaping is with a simple hand chisel.  The work goes pretty quickly but it is unforgiving.  Any sloppy cut will show in the final joint so everything has to be as perfect as possible.  When finished, the joint is so tight, it hardly needs any glue to hold it together.  Final assembly is with a large hammer.  If you build the joint too tight, the dovetail pins will break when you put it together, if they are too loose, the joint will have gaps and look sloppy. 

The face frame is a mortise and tendon joint, cut with a table saw and finished with a simple hand saw.  The Spalted Maple panel fits loose into the frame. This allows for the panel to expand and contract over the years without warping the door. 

When everything is finished, it all looks so simple, just like it should.  The cabinet has hooks inside to hold lots of necklaces so they are displayed together. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Spec Housing Vs Custom Homes

Although our firm designs mostly custom homes, we design homes for builders and developers too.  This type of home is by its very nature less specialized and more generic but our stock home plans are all designed with many of the same design principals as our custom homes.   

We have designed entire sub-divisions as well as individual homes for a special infill lot.  The important difference is the home is not designed for a specific family or couple.  This presents a great design exercise for our office as we design homes in all sizes and price ranges to meet the requirements of each specific market or neighborhood.

Typically when we design a whole sub-division, we will design 4-6 floor plans with two differing elevations for each plan.  So this way, it appears that the development has a variety of 8-12 different homes.  This makes for a wonderful streetscape as the homes each have an individual look to them.    

The cost for our stock plans is also much less as the plans usually simpler and less detailed.  This is a real advantage to a developer or builder as they can purchase plans for their development for less cost than a custom home.  They often use the same finish specifications for millwork and cabinetry and even the fireplace mantels so we often do not take the time to draw these details for production housing. 

Unlike most stock plan services, we do not charge a “use fee” for our plans so many of our clients use our more successful designs in more than one development. If one plan is a huge seller, we often will be asked to develop different elevations or floor plan variations so a developer can get more use out of a runaway best seller. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Outdoor Living Rooms, a great idea for entertaining

Ahh summer!  What a fun time of year.  For us in the Pacific Northwest we spend a lot of time waiting for summer to finally "happen".  While our climate is pretty mild in relation to the rest of the country, we do get a lot of days where the weather just doesn’t cooperate with our plans for getting outdoors.  For some, the solution is a gore-tex coat, for others, the Outdoor Living Room is a smarter option. 

What a wonderful place, just a few steps from the kitchen but it seems to be miles away.  A great respite from the pressures of work or a place to gather and entertain your friends and family. 

We design this type of space for more than 80 % of our custom homes.  But every one is different as there are many important design considerations for this type of space.  The space you see in this picture, doubles as a sound barrier to stop unwanted traffic noise from a nearby freeway.

If the space is going to be attached to a home, then it is important to understand how this space can affect light and view from inside the home.

If capturing an extra special view is really important, we sometimes situate the outdoor living area on the side of a home. 

This gives people who are inside the home as well as those in the outdoor living area an equal opportunity to enjoy the view.  This option does not block any sunlight from the home either.

For our Juneau Alaska home, sunshine and view are so important that we used a glass roof for the outdoor living room.  That way, rain or shine, wind or snow, there is still a sheltered spot outside to go whenever the owners want a bit of fresh air.  From their protected perch, they can enjoy watching the neighboring eagles feasting on their latest catch. 

For our project in Sedona Arizona, we have an outdoor space that opens directly up to the home.  But if the wind comes up, then a series of doors quickly slide closed to provide protection.  When the weather allows, there is no place on earth more beautiful than a moonless night as the stars dance across the sky. 

Sometimes, the view is not out and away to a distant mountain but from the house to the outdoors ... and from the outdoors back into the house.  Just a few quick steps away but Oh so different!  After a brisk swim in the endless pool, why not relax out on the covered deck and let the birds lull you into an afternoon nap. 

What a great addition to any home.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Updating a Craftsman Home

Craftsman style architecture has such a rich architectural vocabulary with great moldings and woodwork but what do you do if the floor plan no longer supports the way we live and entertain on a daily basis?  This home is a perfect example of the issues that architects face when asked to update a vintage craftsman. 

The real issue is today’s homeowners entertain from and around the kitchen.  When these homes were built, guests were not even allowed into the kitchen.

Today, we live, work and entertain from the kitchen.  The real issue is the stairs are right in the middle of the house.  This is the most efficient way to lay out the upper floor bedrooms as it reduces the amount of wasteful hallways but on the main floor, it is right in the way of things. 

This is not an impossible issue, it just requires some creative design to provide for a more modern floor an.  The solution is to move the dining room out to the existing living room area and push the living room into the sun room area.  This helps in two ways.  It allows for the dining room to work as a “buffer” area between the living room and the kitchen.  It also allows for a large spacious dining room that is directly visible from and to the kitchen. 

An added bonus is the living room is now a “dead end” room that no longer has traffic flowing through it so it effectively is now larger and provides for easier furniture layout. 

The rear entry door now has a larger entry vestibule with a convenient coat closet to provide for a place to hang coats and store boots and shoes.  The Kitchen is larger and more open with a gracious island to provide a great place for guests to gather.  The seating is great for a quick meal with family or for a great place to work on schoolwork before dinner.

The Stairs are still in the center of the home but instead of being “in the way” they provide a little buffer area that makes the open plan seem more organized with different spaces for the kitchen, dining area and Living room.  While these spaces are all connected, they have a series of openings give each room the comfortable cozy feeling that is such a wonderful part of  the craftsman style.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Traditional vs Modern Home Designs

Many of our clients are excited with the new modern style homes but are concerned with how they will blend into their established traditional neighborhood.  This is a great question and the answer is as varied as our clients tastes.  For one of our projects, we went to the exercise of developing both a traditional and modern design for comparison.

The great part is we were able to use the same basic floor plan for both.  It only took a few hours to develop and present both a modern and traditional exterior elevation for this site.  This was quite a revelation to us (and our clients) as it was very helpful to be able to quickly and inexpensively see how the different styles would look.  While both of these homes will have a very different character. The changes are really only skin deep.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How We Use Antique Tools In Our Designs

Antique tools are a great inspiration for our architectural designs.  They are useful in many ways.  First and foremost, many of the molding profiles and shapes can be traced back to Greek or even Egyptian times with surprisingly little change over the centuries.  The most dramatic source for change is the materials we use for moldings and the tools we use to make them.  Instead of just stone or wood, we can now produce moldings from concrete, stone, wood and even plastic.  They all achieve the goal of providing interest and pattern to our designs.  Often accentuating a window or providing more visual interest to a room or space.  So our antique tool collection offers an insight into what wood moldings looked like say 100 years ago. In addition, the limitations of these tools offer lessons for why molding shapes and profiles are shaped the way they are. 

These tools come from a time when a craftsman was judged by the tools he used so they are often very beautiful.  Here is a great example of how to make a simple bull nose plane look rich and interesting.  A great lesson in simple relief ornamentation. 

The wonderful tiger maple handle on this huge jointer plane was the inspiration for a set of bookshelves that we built for one of our projects.  The original finish was probably just simple linseed oil and then burnished by years of use and a sweat from the hand of the craftsman. 

For our bookshelves, we used shellac finish instead of linseed oil.  this finish is a little more durable than the linseed oil but it is susceptible to damage from alcohol so the owners need to be careful that no one leaves their cocktail sitting on the shelve or it will leave a white ring in the finish. 

Moldings for these bookshelves were patterned off profiles from our antique hand planes. They were great resource for the traditional detailing used for this design. 

This matched plane used to produce a tongue and groove joint in the edge of boards is pretty boring to look at.  But the wonderful patina in the wood is another great inspiration for some wood cabinets.  For now, we do not have a client who needs a period correct craftsman cabinet but when we do, the rift grain oak used to make this plane will be a great starting point for a future family heirloom.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Modern Architecture

We are seeing a lot of modern architecture built lately.  It will be interesting to see how it stands the test of time.  With Modern Architecture, the detailing is restrained and usually visually clean.  For this reason, the detailing becomes really critical to the overall look of the home.  We are  beginning to notice homes that are experiencing water intrusion issues as new techniques and finishes are being tried.  In the Northwest, with such a lot of rain and wet weather, it is important to still really think through any building penetrations. 
Ice and water shield has been installed behind the finish panels to provide a waterproof sytetm.
This is not to say that fresh and clean looks are not possible, just that like anything new, there are always going to be a few architects that ignore the laws of nature and have issues with water.  This seems to be a lesson that we have to learn and relearn over the years. 
I personally love the change of pace that modern architecture provides.  This is one of  the things that make the business of architecture so fun as styles and tastes continue to evolve and change. 
This trellis does not actually penetrate the building wall so we do not allow water to enter the wall cavity.
Even with a more restrained modern aesthetic, there is still lots of room for those special places to take time our of your day and enjoy the beauty of the pacific northwest.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How we communicate architectural concepts to our clients

Today, architects have a variety of tools to communicate their design ideas to clients.  Many architects have left the color sketches and renderings and gone the route of computer generated 3D models.  These models are not really Three Dimensional as they are presented on a 2D computer screen.  For many of our clients this is a difficult way to visualize the final product.  More often than not, this is not an effective way for us to communicate our ideas to the client. 

For this reason, our office often produces quick "study models" these are cardboard models built to scale to show our design ideas to our clients. 

Models can be simple or complex just like our projects.  The beauty of this technique is the client instantly can grasp the design concepts.  It is rewarding to see our clients faces light up when they see their model for the first time and watch their smile broaden as they begin to understand what the finished product will look like. 

This technique is especially effective for remodel projects as it is difficult to "erase" the vision of what the existing home looks like. I am convinced that this presentation technique works so well because the model is not complete in every detail, many of the colors and textures have to be imagined as the client needs to "fill in the blanks" with the model. 


This is an important part of the process as we often still need input from the client to fine tune the concept to really tailor the design to suit the tastes of the owners. 

We like to think of the design process like a good book.  We write the first few chapters to introduce the characters, set the story direction but leave room to add the special things that personalize a home for each of our clients.

Many of our clients take their model around to show to their friends. We have even heard of the models traveling to thanksgiving or Christmas dinner so everyone in the family can see the new project as it is built. 
It is pretty fun to watch our client try to explain how a bit of turkey gravy ended up on their  model.  We don't mind as this model is a great way that we engage our clients in their new project. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Finished photos from the spiral stairway project

Any of you who are following our blog have seen the wonderful spiral stairway under construction in our Juneau Alaska project.  We as a final treat, check out the photos of the finished product!  The stairway was built on site around a huge spruce log that was harvested on the building site to make room for the new home.  Timber frame inside and out was provided by New Energy Works.  They fabricated the frame in McMinnville Oregon and packed everything into a container and shipped it up to Juneau.  The timber framers even provided a crew to erect the frame on site.  Everything had to fit just right and the owners could not be more pleased with the result.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What to do With an Aging Tri Level Home

The predominant home designs of the 1970's and early 1980's are split level and tri level homes.  These floor plan layouts have a lot to offer but they can look and feel pretty dated without a bit of rework.  The biggest thing that has changed since this time period is we now almost exclusively live and entertain from the kitchen.  Formal spaces are not used as much for casual entertaining.  In fact, the dining and living rooms are often only used for thanksgiving and Christmas while the rest of the year we all want to be near the kitchen.  This home had a kitchen that was completely separated from the rest of the house so right from the start we knew we needed to open up the floor plan and relocate the kitchen to a more central location.  The result is a wonderfully open plan with a spacious kitchen, a cozy dining nook and a new casual space to read, watch TV and relax near the kitchen. 

To provide some order to the room and to help define the spaces, we added a timber frame truss to the ceiling.  This truss was built by New Energy Works and is another example of their great quality and craftsmanship.   

Flooring is from New Energy Works reclaimed woods company Pioneer Millworks.  The floor is resawn oak fence posts that were originally used for thoroughbred horse stables.  It is neat to be able to use materials that have an interesting history but the color and patina if the flooring is spectacular too. 

Down a few steps is the new Living and Dining areas.  This space is a touch more formal in nature as the owners intend to use it for those special occasions like thanksgiving dinner. 

The fireplace has been updated to fit in with the rest of the remodel and to provide some wonderful ambiance for those cold evenings with family and friends.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Hire an Architect?

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It seems like everyone is working hard to pinch their pennies to try to make the money go as far as possible.  So why not just hire a contractor directly and eliminate the architect from the equation?   Well the first issue is DESIGN. Just take a drive around your own neighborhood and you can easily spot the homes and remodel projects that were not designed by an architect.  If your project is really simple, going directly to a builder may be your best choice.  More often, our experience is the homeowner think they have figured the best way to accomplish a remodel or design their dream home but they simply do not have the expereince to draw from to provide them with a good variety of solutions to the design. 

The doors open up to let the sun shine in!
It amazes me how many times, a client has spent hours and hours on the kitchen table with a pencil or some graph paper or worse yet with an on line home design program trying to figure out the solution prior to our first meeting. 

This can be really frusturating as the client often does not have a varied experience and background to draw from so they often come to our first meeting with a less than successful design solution.
This is a "Nana Wall" in shown closed
Architecture is one of the few professions where the learning never ends, new products, code requirements or changes to style added awareness to energy efficiency all represent an ever changing field of work.  In addition, each project adds more experience to the architects "bag of tricks" as they work with different clients and design goals. 

This blog entry shows several uses for a "Nana Doors" where the entire wall opens up.  Great for parties where there are people moving from the interior to the exterior of the home. 

They vary in size (and price) as each application is different.  Another way to open up a wall for the cost concious is to pair sliding doors or french doors.  this will not allow the entire wall to be "opened up" but then again this solution is almost 1/10th of the cost too.

As you can see, each one of these applications is very different.  Differnt locations, different views and different  price ranges too. 

This illustrates the advantage of working with an experienced architect as they have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from to provide your project with the best possible design.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Building for today’s economy

 Because by building smaller you can make it that much better.

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With the tight economy, a second home is a luxury that many of us now find difficult to justify.  But with our crazy busy lifestyles, the lure of owning your own private get-away is still a siren song that speaks to our soul. So how does one build the perfect, cozy place to relax when the chance arises? Our approach is to build small and sweat every detail.  Our client named the project early on, this is the “house of inches” so named because it’s diminutive size requires that every inch count.  Nearly every room has to be useful for more than one purpose.  The fireside nook doubles as overflow sleeping quarters when more guests arrive.  But when the guests leave, it is the perfect place to sit by the fire and read a book or have a long talk with a friend over a cup of coffee or a special glass of wine.

The home has wide comfortable decks on both floors to add versatility to the floor plan.  Plus on a clear day, the Mount Baker views are spectacular.  If it rains or the day gets a bit chilly, the main floor deck has radiant heaters to keep everyone warm. 

Since this is such a small home, no furnace is needed, the heat is provided with a gas fireplace.  There is even a gas fueled wood stove in the master bedroom to help on winter nights.  Whether entertaining a crowd or as a quiet respite for one, this little cottage does it all.