Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rumford Fireplaces

view more at

For many of us, there is nothing that compares to gathering around a warm crackling fire.  In our fast paced world, kicking back and relaxing while spending an evening with your favorite someone or with a group of friends or family is something to be savored and enjoyed.   Fire is something that just stirs the soul and evokes a feeling of contentment.  Whether you enjoy fiddling and poking at your fire, watching the flames dance or just warming your backside, there is just no replacement for a good wood burning fireplace.  For many, the best way to enjoy a fire is with an outdoor bonfire.  Here you can see everything from the glowing coals to the tips of the flame as everyone gathers around the fire to enjoy its warmth.  As architects, it is important to be able to bring your fire indoors or in a sheltered outdoor area.  For this, we need a fireplace.  At Steven Dona Architecture we often suggest a Rumford style fireplace for our clients who want to incorporate a wood burning fireplace in their design.  This style of fireplace was first developed by Benjamin Rumford in 1795.  Yes, 1795!  The often forgotten art of a truly great fireplace is still possible. In addition, this type of fireplace burns much hotter and is one of a select few open fireplace designs that meet the EPA standards for clean burning fireplaces.  Some parts of the country restrict any type of new open fireplace so you will need to check with your local building official to see if they have restrictions that exceed the EPA standards.

But how does this all look and feel?   A Rumford style fireplace is tall and shallow.  The opening is almost square.  Because of this, you can see the whole fire, like a bonfire, from the coals to the tips of the flame.  In addition a Rumford style of fireplace takes advantage of the radiant heat from a fire.  So your fire is instantly warm, without a long wait to heat up a thermal mass such as the chimney.  It doesn’t use or need fans to blow warm heat out of the fireplace either. 

This type of fireplace is a perfect centerpiece for your home. It provides a great place to gather around and enjoy the company of your best friends, surrounded by the warmth, sounds and smells of a crackling fire.

For further reference make sure you visit Jim Buckley's great Rumford fireplace website at:

Jim has been very helpful over the years dealing with building departments and masons who have not yet been enlightened...

or visit our reference section (website at top of page) for Masons who we have worked with and build great Rumford fireplaces.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Bigger really Better?

view more at

Everyone has watched in wonder as our young children spend more time playing in the big box that came on Christmas instead of the new toy that was inside.  We all need to have quite cozy spaces where we can feel safe, or relax or just pretend or dream. 

Even with our projects that have really large rooms, we are always cognisant of the importance of small cosy spaces.  In addition, just big is usually not very comfortable, large spaces as well as more intimate spaces need to be proportioned properly to be effective.  We often love to have little tight spaces that are adjacent to our bigger spaces.  This offers a great cozy space to curl up with a good book on a rainy day or a quite place to relax. 

More often than not, our clients come to us looking for spaces that are designed to be used for large gatherings and parties.  These events may only occur once or twice a year so it is important that we can make good use of the room or area for the rest of the year.  This points out the importance of planning for a versatile floor plan that can change with us as we  and our needs change.  I often hear "we need our kids bedroom rooms to be near us because they are young..."  Well it is important to remember that your young kids will grow older and you will both need more privacy in the future.  As some point the birds will leave the nest too, so it is  important to plan for a use for these rooms when they are left empty.  A "spare" bedroom often will make a great home office or workout room.

With all the recent interest in energy efficiency and "green" architecture, it is hard to admit but the easiest way to achieve energy reductions is to simply have a smaller home to heat and cool.  This concept is so eloquently championed by Sarah Susanka in her "The Not So Big House" series of books.  She is not proposing that we all build tiny homes, just that we build our homes carefully crafted and designed for the way we live and entertain.  It seems like such a simple concept but a quick walk through the newest home on your block will illustrate just how few people realize this.  These homes often have rooms that we will never use (or even furnish) We then demand a "bonus" room that is located so far away from the core of the house that no child would ever play in it.  It is really important to have a mix of large and small spaces that flow one into another.   Isn't it ironic to have a huge room for entertaining and yet everyone squeezes into the kitchen for a party.  How often have you put the party snacks in the living room just to entice your guests to gather there?

For many of our clients, the best solution is to have a great room area adjacent to the kitchen that is surrounded with small intimate spaces.  (sounds complicated, but it isn't!)

This room has a great inglenook built around the fireplace.  It is easy to see from most of the room and it offers an inviting small space that is connected to the larger more public area.

This is a neat way to have your cake and eat it too. As a small space this inglenook is really too small to work by itself but it offers a great little corner to roast marshmallows or enjoy a glass of wine with the company of your family or friends. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Porch roof that dosen't make the house dark

OK, this is a really common question and the solution is really easy.  Lots of people want a covered outdoor area but they are worried that this great area will then make their adjoining room too dark.  While this is a real worry, we need to take into account the direction that the covered porch faces, the window location and how high the roof is on the new covered porch.  What we are doing here is determining the relative sun angle and how the new porch roof will block the light entering the windows.  Sometimes, the easiest way to achieve this is to locate the new covered outdoor space away from the primary building.

Another method for assuring that the sun will still shine into your home is to place the new covered area in a location that won't block the windows. This can be achieved by placing the roof beside a window or even pulling the covered area away from the home to allow light to flow into the adjoining room.

Often, the covered space can be used  as a means to create a courtyard or a sense of enclosure within an outdoor space that is open yet still intimate in scale. This provides an inviting area to look at from inside the home as well as designing gathering space outdoors.

Each and every project and building site can lend new opportunities for creating a special gathering space without impacting the quality of light or view from the main home.

It is critical to have your architect "walk the site" to be sure that opportunities are not missed.  The layperson often sees what is there now, while a trained architect can see how to best utilize what the site has to offer.  Do we have a view we are trying to capture, frame, block or enhance?  How can we enjoy this beautiful property each and every day? what is the optimum location on the site to best capture the hidden treasure that the property has to offer?  you and your architect should be having these conversations. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Real" stone vs Cultured" stone

view more at

Cultured stone has come a long way since it's introduction.  It is molded from actual stones and the colors are pretty hard to distinguish from the real thing.  So why would you use one over the other?  While cultured stone is often less expensive since it is made of concrete instead of real rock, if the project has a lot of corners, the prices difference is minimal.  This is because the "corner" stones are quite a lot more $$ than the standard stones. 

If the project has a large field of stones with few corners, then cultured stone will often cost less.  It is also lighter and therefore can be applied to a wood substrate unlike full size real stone which often needs to be installed over a masonry core. 

Cultured stone can be applied by a tile setter or a mason while real stone requires an experienced mason for application. 

Just to muddy the waters a bit more we now have "Thin Stone" which is a real stone cut into 3" thick pieces.  this is often similar in price to cultured stone with the same issues about corners and installation as it is installed in the same fashion as the cultured product.

We often specify real stones for two reasons:
1. If we need large sizes
2. The application is a high wear location.  This is because if a cultured stone is cracked or damaged, well  
    it then looks like a broken piece of concrete and the illusion is lost.

This project looks great doesn't it?  so is it cultured stone or real stone?   Our best clue is the uniform sizes.  because this is a cultured stone product!

It is pretty easy to see from the size variation that these are real stones.  This provides a looser less formal look as the stone sizes and colors have more variety. 

Either way you go, installation by a craftsman is critical to achieve the look you are after.  The real key here is to hire an installer who takes their "art" seriously!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spiral Staircase on Huge Spruce Log

view more at

The owner of our project in Juneau Alaska saved a huge spruce log to form the base of a spiral staircase in his new home.  This is one of those situations where experience really plays a role in making difficult things seem easy.  We designed a similar staircase YEARS ago for our client in Port Townsend Washington.  His staircase was a great focal point to his home.  So when our Alaska clients presented the idea, we were all ready on board. I remembered a magazine article about the details for fabricating and installing he treads and a quick trip to the library produced a copy of the article.  It was a bit embarrassing to realize that the article was written over 20 years ago!  (it seems like yesterday...)  This is one of the great things about our profession.  You just keep on learning, new concepts, but you also get to reuse valuable experiences too.
Here is the spruce log being stored, ready for use

The timber frame is then installed

The Owner Scott Jenkins Cuts off the top of the timber

The timber is ready for stair treads

We will be posting updates when we have photos of the finished stairs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whidbey Island Modern Architecture

view more at

We've been working on a concept for a client on Whidbey Island. The client wanted a modern shed-style home with clean, simple lines. After a trip to Wendy's and a few napkin sketches later, I came up with this.

At the office, Scott and Tim took a look at the concept and began working out some of the details of the design. The client is an avid gardener, and as such, we wanted to provide her with plenty of garden space without blocking the view of Puget Sound. To account for this, we designed a switchback pathway that curves down the hill in front of the residence.

An idea of how the landscaping might work.

Conceptual sketches for supporting the roof.

And finally, here is the concept modeled in SketchUp.