Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Style Banter: Re-purposed Objects

A neglected vinyl record finds new life. The record was found in a thrift store, 5 for $1.00, placed in the oven until soft enough to mold, and voila-- a stylish bowl, for objects or for decoration.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays from D+A Studio

Spheres of Christmas lights, Seattle Center

Monday, December 21, 2009

Would you live in a cave?

Daily Green Cave House Slide Show

The slide show features:
Caveland Home in Festus, Missouri.

The Cave House in Bisbee, Arizona. This house is currently for sale for $1,950,000. The "Pools and Patios" Gallery is amazing.


Friday, December 18, 2009

World's Strangest Houses

From Popular Mechanics: this is a great slideshow of the world's strangest houses.

The Monte-Silo by Gigaplex Architects is a great example of adaptive re-use. Two grain silos were combined to create an 1,800 square foot residence in Utah. The house combines one of the most basic and rudimentary concepts of shelter with high tech heating and entertainment technology.

The Steel House is a great marriage of sculpture and shelter by artist and architect Robert Bruno.

I have wandered by the Mushroom House many times during walks around Hyde Park in Cincinnati. The neighborhood is an urban treasure of early 20th century homes, and this house certainly sticks out. I was saddened to see the for sale sign. I believe that re-sale should not be the most important consideration when creating a custom home. If you love what you are creating, chances are there is another person out there who will love it. But building a house like this definitely limits the pool of future inhabitants.

I have never lived in a "strange" house, so I wonder: would the novelty wear off? Would you just sometimes wish that you had a straight surface to hang a picture? On the other hand, most of us live in dry-walled boxes. Some of these womb-like homes in a way provide a much more intuitive and natural form of shelter than the standard home of today. They are less about sheltering the person's "stuff", like their dining room table or car, and more about sheltering the person.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Hare House Phase One Photos

Anna recently took photos of the competed interior of the Guest House. More new photos will be added to our web site soon.

This project was completed last year. The clients are living here while the main house is under construction. Phase 1 (the Guest House) has a first floor office, second floor residence and third floor loft.

Contractor: Ravenhill Construction, Consultants: Geotest, Peter A. Opsahl Structural Engineering.

7 new photos

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Importance of a Feasibility Study

When purchasing property to develop or build on, it's important to know the legal parameters of the property. This also applies to adding on to an existing structure. Some of these are not readily available without a deeper look into the city or county code. This is also known as a code or zoning review. We regularly provide these services at the beginning of each project. Some things to look for when considering a property:
  • Setback Lines: how far back from the property line can you build on the front, rear and sides?
  • Are there limits on impervious surface? What controls are required for the amount of impervious surface you would like to add?
  • Height limits: how high can you build, and how is the height determined? Are there any incentives that allow for extra height (for example, a steeper roof pitch)?
  • Is your property located in any overlay zones that may affect your development, like a Historic zone?
  • Are you in a zone that will require more extensive review or more restrictive setbacks, such as an environmentally critical zone or shoreline? Is there a wetland on your property, or a bald eagle's nest nearby?
  • Can you include a guest house or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on your property? With the call for greater density and more options for smaller and affordable housing, cities are continually updating their codes to keep pace with the public sentiment. An ADU or guest area can provide flexibility and income generation through rental, if the jurisdiction allows.
  • Are there restrictions on the size or style of building? For example, some home owners associations require minimum areas (to maintain values in a neighborhood), certain materials, or layout restrictions (such as whether or not the garage door can face the street).
Don't make assumptions about what you can do on a property based on what you see on neighboring properties. Zoning restrictions change over time and new development may be subject to more restrictive regulations than existing development, even though they are in the same zone or even next door to each other. Considering these factors along with considering the price and location of a property will eliminate unwelcome surprises down the line.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Inspirational Movie Worlds

I love constructed movie worlds. The set designer's imagination is the limit, and these worlds exist absent of building codes, fire departments, accessibility, and most noticeably absent, cars. So much of our built environment is built around the car, while these constructed movie worlds are built at human scale, and I believe the reason these worlds are so attractive is that we are naturally drawn to a world that is built at our scale, not the fire truck's standard turning radius.

From the movie "City of Ember" (the inspiration for this post)

From "The Goonies" (my favorite movie world as child...I would have given anything to go down the waterslide in the cave)

(Photo: Teapots Happen)

I always wanted to hang out in the caves "down in Fraggle Rock."

(Photo: MuppetWikea)

Whoville from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"

(Photo: JimCarreyOnline)

And of course, the original color movie world: Munchkinland

(Photo: La.MetBlog)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Box Banter & Book Review-Part 2

The subject of empty Big Boxes is one of many touched on in John Wasik's 2009 book, "The CUL-DE-SAC Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream." View his blog, the Cul-de-Sac Syndrome.

Among the many interesting stats in the book, Wasik states that in 2008, there were 4,000 abandoned (I would say "empty," as obviously someone owns them) stores, and that before the bust there was about 20 SF of shopping space for every person in America (the number is 2 SF in Great Britain). Decay of central (or even just older) shopping centers "fell prey to the American obsession with newness and giantism."

The first few chapters are informative but somewhat painful, with generalizations, assumptions, and too many "we's". ("We" did not all decide to buy huge houses we could not afford and buy cars with the equity line of credit). And the negative role that government, codes, and zoning have played in the landscape of America, the dominance of the car and affordablity is barely mentioned in the multiple chapters that cover the subject.
I enjoyed the case studies towards the end of the book, but as much as I love to read, as a designer I would like to see more color photos and maps of areas he is referring to.

Overall, the book is good, in-depth overview of what has happened to the "American Dream."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Big Box Banter & Book Review-Part 1

We've all seen it: the once "big" box plat left for the new "bigger" box. Julie Christensen's 2008 book, "Big Box ReUse,", explores ways that these buildings are finding second life.

Disclaimer: as a designer and admitted city snob, I don't love the aesthetic affect of of Big Box stores on a town's landscape, and there are many ways that these developments could be done more sustainably, beautifully, or city-friendly. BUT, that said, these stores are successful for a reason, and I love cruising the aisles at Target as much as the next person. Besides, I am only speaking here of aesthetic considerations and not trying to bring up any political or economic issues related to Big Box Stores.

An example of a city-friendly Big Box (some may argue if there is such a thing, but let's say the most city-friendly) is the South Loop Target in Chicago.

Example of pedestrian entry to a big box store (follow link for photo credit)

Ideas for Big Box Reuse from Christensen's book include a spam museum, a library, a charter school, a church (with the old garden section as a basketball court court) and indoor raceway. See a slide show of images here.

The empty canvas for reuse is large: Wal-Mart Realty lists all of the buildings for sale or lease (for example, regular stores no longer needed after a super store was built nearby). This is enough to get any architect or developer's creative juices flowing.

A theme that arises in the book in the notion of the new Main Street, which is not the romanticized pedestrian mom and pop town center, but rather the main strip or drag, which today is more, if not entirely, oriented to the car. The advantage of an empty Big Box store, as was the case with a K-mart building turned public library in Missouri, is that it is located in this new "center" of town (and has plenty of parking spaces).

More ideas:

The Big Box Reuse website has links to projects around the country.

Indoor urban/suburban agriculture from Reburbia. Big Box Agriculture: A Productive Suburb by Forrest Fulton

"The example presented is a reversal of a function for a big box grocery store, from retailer of food – food detached from processes from which it came to be – to producer of food. The parking lot becomes a park-farm. The inside of the big box becomes a greenhouse and restaurant. Asphalt farming techniques allow for layering of soil, compost in containers on top of asphalt. The big box store’s roof is partially replaced with a greenhouse roof. Other details, such as the reversal of parking lot light poles into solar trees that hold photovoltaics can be implemented. One can imagine pushing a shopping cart through this suburban farm and picking your produce right from the vine, with the option to bring your harvest to the restaurant chef for preparation and eating your harvest on the spot. As other types of businesses become obsolete, out of fashion, they may need to imagine themselves as part of a productive suburb."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tax Credit News

From Homebuyer Credit Extended to April 30, 2010; Some Current Homeowners Now Also Qualify

WASHINGTON — A new law that went into effect Nov. 6 extends the first-time homebuyer credit five months and expands the eligibility requirements for purchasers.

The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extends the deadline for qualifying home purchases from Nov. 30, 2009, to April 30, 2010. Additionally, if a buyer enters into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, the buyer has until June 30, 2010, to settle on the purchase.

The maximum credit amount remains at $8,000 for a first-time homebuyer –– that is, a buyer who has not owned a primary residence during the three years up to the date of purchase.

But the new law also provides a “long-time resident” credit of up to $6,500 to others who do not qualify as “first-time homebuyers.” To qualify this way, a buyer must have owned and used the same home as a principal or primary residence for at least five consecutive years of the eight-year period ending on the date of purchase of a new home as a primary residence.

For all qualifying purchases in 2010, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.

A new version of Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit, will be available in the next few weeks. A taxpayer who purchases a home after Nov. 6 must use this new version of the form to claim the credit. Likewise, taxpayers claiming the credit on their 2009 returns, no matter when the house was purchased, must also use the new version of Form 5405. Taxpayers who claim the credit on their 2009 tax return will not be able to file electronically but instead will need to file a paper return.

A taxpayer who purchased a home on or before Nov. 6 and chooses to claim the credit on an original or amended 2008 return may continue to use the current version of Form 5405.


Continue Article at

Also, tax credits for energy efficiency extend to 2010.

Nonbusiness energy property credit. This credit, which expired after 2007, has been reinstated. You may be able to claim a nonbusiness energy property credit of 30% of the cost of certain energy-efficient property or improvements you placed in service in 2009. This property can include high-efficiency heat pumps, air conditioners, and water heaters. It also may include energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation materials, and certain roofs. The credit has been expanded to include certain asphalt roofs and stoves that burn biomass fuel.

Limitation. The total amount of credit you can claim in 2009 and 2010 is limited to $1,500.

Residential energy efficient property credit. Beginning in 2009, there is no limitation on the credit amount for qualified solar electric property costs, qualified solar water heating property costs, qualified small wind energy property costs, and qualified geothermal heat pump property costs. The limitation on the credit amount for qualified fuel cell property costs remains the same.

Qualified energy efficiency improvements must be new and expected to last 5 years. Improved insulation, exterior windows, skylights, exterior doors, or roof designed to reduce heat gain.

See Chapter 37 of the IRS's Pub 17 for more information.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sun in Seattle

In honor of this rare sunny December day in Seattle, here is an excerpt from Brian Clark Howard's article in The Daily Green, "6 Surprising Places Where People Are Choosing Home Solar Power: You don't have to live in the Sun Belt to take advantage of solar panels."

Follow the link the article to view the map.

"A look at this map shows some of the trends above (wealth and progressive values tend to correlate to interest in solar power in Seattle and Boston, for example, despite a relative lack of sun.) Also worth noting is the hotpots in New Jersey and Colorado, two states with incentive systems that promote adoption of solar technology, in addition to California. But there are also some regions that may surprise some observers. One note is that the interest map does skew toward regions with more dense populations, but even taking that important fact under consideration we think some trends are worth noting:

Washington State

While the Evergreen State does have a concentration of progressive, tech-savvy and green leaning folks in the Seattle area and Bellingham, it's interesting to note that interest in solar power is still fairly strong in rural areas and, to a lesser extent, the eastern part of the state, where incomes are much lower. Further, Washington is the cloudiest state, both in reputation and according to the data. In fact, the first 14 least sunny cities in the nation are all in Washington"

Read more:

More solar energy information.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Design Counseling

See our most current design counseling project on our Facebook page.

When a budget will not allow for a designer, we provide as-needed, hourly services. Anna has been working with a couple, both artists, who are constructing a modern addition to their traditional home. These sketches are a part of the process to provide ideas and inspiration for the project.

6 new photos