Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Color Banter: Spruce up your Space

Are you tired of your space? Do you want a change, but don't know where to start, or can't afford a major redecorating project? Here are some affordable, easy ways to bring new life into your space with color.
Think about paint colors like you think about clothing. You might like a color, but it might not look great on you. White looks good on everyone. However, white can easily look dirty, and may not be the most soothing color. In the main area of our condo, we have many pieces of artwork, so white walls work well as a backdrop for the paintings. In a smaller space like the bathroom, however, the white walls felt like a college apartment, and a bright color makes it feel like home. 

Paint is an affordable way to bring color into a space, but does require labor, supplies, and prep time.

Throw pillows are a great way to add color or change up a style (Pier 1 Imports pillows shown below). If you already have pillows and don't want to buy new ones, simply cover throw pillows with a standard pillow case and tuck in the ends. Or, create new custom pillow cases with fabric. If you are extra crafty, hunt for embellished shirts at thrift stores with sequins or jewels and create custom pillow cases.

Adding a center piece your dining room table creates a touch of sophistication. This creates a focal point for the room and can keep you from using the table as a dumping ground for stray clutter. Pick a statement vase in a bright color (Pier 1 Imports Red Bamboo shown below) or a medley of chunky candle holders. Fresh flowers are ideal, but don't be afraid to use silk flowers or fake floral accents like twigs. Or, a large clear vase can house colorful seasonal items, like lemons in the summer and holiday ornaments. 

A boring lamp or tired piece of furniture can also be painted a statement color. A coat of paint bring a natural wood early American piece up to date. Try this on dining room chairs (who says they have to match the table?), buffets or side tables. Replace an old coffee table with a functional storage ottoman topped with a colorful serving tray. A rug under the ottoman is also a great way to add a low-commitment splash of color (below: Storage Ottoman with West Elm Wood Tray in Clover and Ikea Andrea Rug in Yellow-Green).


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Washington State Green Building Standards delayed

Implementation of the new Washington State Green Building Standards is being delayed, as reported on KUOW earlier today. You can listen to the report here. Ross Reynolds interviewed Tim Nogler, the Managing Director of the Washington State Building Code Council, who says this is an unexpected delay, as the council has been working on the revisions since the beginning of 2009.

Governor Gregoire asked for the implementation to be delayed from July 1st until next year. Currently, the new implementation date is October 29th pending public hearings in September. There are concerns from the building industry about the cost of implementing these changes while the industry is already struggling in the economic downturn. The new standards will apply to both single family and commercial construction, so extra costs depend on the type of building. The standards include rules for more efficient mechanical systems, lighting, and air leakage control from ducts and the building envelope, which will require testing. Nogler estimates the extra costs at $1 per square foot to $2 per square foot depending on the occupancy. 

The delay should allow for stabilization of construction industry and time for public testimony.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review: "The Great Reset" by Richard Florida

OK, so it's not an architecture or urban planning book, but "The Great Reset" does touch on some ways that the built environment can respond to the "new way of living." 

Florida looks at two key previous "resets:" the Long Depression of the late 1800's (1873-1879) and the Great Depression of the 1930's, and how these have spurred innovation and changed our ways of living and working. This is a great read, especially for us demographics junkies, with talk about cities mixed in with sociology and economics.

One of the changes that Florida anticipates is the move away from the emphasis on home ownership as the end-all be-all of the American Dream. He observes that home ownership has been a hindrance to many, especially since it has not turned out to be the ultimate investment that can be easily liquidated for a profit, as a home was thought of a few years ago. According to Florida, "Mobility and flexibility are key principles of the modern economy. Home ownership limits both."

Florida notes that areas of the highest home ownership also have the highest rates of unemployment, which he thinks is due to the fact that people who own homes cannot readily move to another area for a job opportunity. In that situation, if the economy is bad enough that there are no jobs to be found, chances are the real estate market is not great either. This is especially true of areas where the construction industry became a boom unto itself--places like Phoenix, Las Vegas and areas in Florida where the main industry was real estate and construction-growth spurred construction and construction spurred growth. 

Florida envisions a future of "plug and play housing" where a large rental company owns property in many cities. You choose your paint colors and fixtures to customize your rental, and then when you need to move for a job you transfer your lease to another city and your preferences will be plugged in to your new place.

An example he cites is Korman Communities,which offers flexible rental communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. According to their website, "Korman's original furnished apartment concept, conceived forty years ago short-term, furnished apartments in a traditional multi-family residential setting has evolved to an innovative residence hybrid embraced by both the corporate and private worlds of travelers and discerning investors." The AVE: furnished apartments and suites, offer hotel services and resort-like amenities, with month to month leases.

I don't exactly agree with Florida on all of these points--to me, a society of the transient creative class renting and city hopping to the next job opportunity is somewhat depressing.  There will always be people who stay in one place their whole lives and those who are restless, or want to explore, or try on cities like they are clothes. My husband and I could definitely be considered a part of the latter group-I moved away from my home state of Texas to attend graduate school in Chicago, where we met, and we moved to Seattle for his graduate school. But part of my sanity is returning the home my grandparents have lived in since I was born and the home my parents have lived in for over 20 years. 

The buzz word right now is definitely "community," and I think that there is something in all of us that needs to be connected: to our town, to our neighbors, to the land. There is something to be said for staying in one place. This won't be as easy for us Gen X-er's as it was for our parents, who could reasonably expect to hold one or two different jobs in their adult life. Staying put could mean making a sacrifice of the ultimate career or a larger salary. But it could mean lasting, dare I say, "community," and to some that may be ultimate lesson of this "reset." 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Harbor Permanent Farmers Market

D+A Studio is working with Elaine Kendall of the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild and Architects Richard Hobbs and David Waldron on ideas for the future of the San Juan Farmers Market.  

The Agricultural Guild has been looking for a place for a permanent farmers market in Friday Harbor. The farmers market would take place two days a week and the space would allow for community activities at other times. The farmers market currently takes place in the Courthouse parking lot Saturdays, April through October. This location is not ideal due to the lack of protection from the elements and its limited availability.

Site of the Friday Harbor Brick & Tile Company property

Sketch of the existing building

Friday Harbor Architect David Waldron has been working on the schematic design. His sketch appeared in the San Juan Islander.

Anna recently participated in a charrette for the future of the historic building at 150 Nichols Street, the Friday Harbor Brick & Tile Company property, touted to house the market. She worked with the group exploring a minimal approach of retrofitting the building for more immediate use by allowing a covered space for the booths. Another group looked at restoring the building and adding lofts or office space to the second floor and booth space below.  

The charrette focused on the key elements of define, design, implementation and action. The process has been in motion for a while, but "This brief, quick and intensive session can bring all together as you all move into final design, construction and use of this valuable resource for the community," according to Richard Hobbs, FAIA.

There will be another charrette to focus on the site on July 12th. We will post details as they become available. 

Read the Feasibility Report here:
Archives of articles from the San Juan Islander:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Your local farmer could be YOU!

Urban farming, or at least the idea of urban farming, is very of the moment. From the Obamas' Organic Garden at the White House to plans to fill the empty blighted spaces in Detroit with agriculture, the cultural zeitgeist of local, organic, accessible food is hard to avoid, and for good reason. Local agriculture reduces the environmental impacts of transportation (some statistics assert that the average food item travels 1,500 miles to get to our tables) and enables people to eat crops that are in season and are best suited to ones area. Fresh produce is often hard to come by in some urban neighborhoods, where grocery stores are either limited in space or even non-existent, and convenience stores are the most accessible places to buy food.

Here I must distinguish between types of urban neighborhoods. There are urban neighborhoods like mine, a mile east of downtown Seattle, which has a Natural Foods Co-op, Trader Joes, a weekly farmers' market, and conventional grocery stores offering plenty of local, organic produce, all within walking distance. Even with this abundance of available healthy food, the idea of urban farming is and has been popular in these types of neighborhoods, where there is bound to be a P-Patch every few miles and condo balconies overflow with container gardens. This surge is urban farming is brought on more by the desire to be healthier and more environmentally friendly than the actual lack of access to healthy food. Other urban neighborhoods, such as those in LA and Detroit (which, according to Richard Florida, author of The Great Reset, does not currently have any national grocery chains operating within the city limits) simply lack the access to fresh foods, and urban farming is one of the avenues that are being explored to correct this imbalance.

The concept is coming to my neighborhood. My neighbor, an urban planner and all-things-urban enthusiast, contacted a local business whose green space was not being utilized. They agreed to loan the land for a neighborhood garden. The first work weekend to clear space was this Saturday. I am excited to see how the project progresses. (Disclaimer: I pity any plant that has tried to grow in my containers. I am hoping I have more luck in raised beds).

13th and Marion Community Garden Project

Why do you need a garden, one may ask, in a neighborhood with an already disproportionate access to fresh food? Besides the obvious reasons (getting your hands dirty and gardening is fun, we don't have a yard, and, in Guy Clark's immortal words, there's nothing like a home grown tomato) I believe there can be farther reaching benefits, like general awareness, an exchange of ideas, failures, and successes to provide a model for other urban farms, beautifying urban space, community cohesion, and promoting more dense living by showing how to live without a yard of ones own.

More information about our neighborhood project:

Email Wes Kirkman at to claim a spot or for more information.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To Burn or Not to Burn?

Martin Holladay explores the environmental and public health pros and cons of burning wood for heating a home in his very informative report. What's wrong with burning wood? one might ask. 

It seems so intuitive. While wood is an abundant and renewable resource, the burning of wood emits "some toxic air pollutants, fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOC), and a group of toxic air pollutants known as polycyclic organic matter [including] benzo(a)pyrene, which may cause cancer," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA reports that "Just 20 old non-EPA certified wood stoves can emit more than 1 ton of fine particles into your community during the cold months of the year." 

Pellet Stoves, which burn a renewable fuel made of ground, dried wood and other biomass wastes compressed into pellet, usually use electricity (unlike a fireplace or wood stove), but do not need to be EPA approved, because of their relatively low emissions. 

Mr. Holladay concludes that "The deleterious effects of wood smoke on human health are a serious concern. However, wood smoke is much less likely to cause health problems in sparsely populated rural areas than in densely populated areas.....Because of the health problems associated with wood smoke, wood burning is inappropriate in densely populated town and cities. Wood burning is also inappropriate in areas where forests are threatened."

Luckily, we may not need to worry about turning on a wood stove for a while (unless the Pacific Northwest's "June-uary" gets any worse) but if you are planning on building or remodeling this summer, here is where to find a list of wood stoves certified by the EPA. (An EPA approval is required in Washington State).

View the full article from the EPA "Reducing Air Pollution from: Residential Wood Burning." 9/12/05

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: Superbia!: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods

Overall, this is a fun book, easy to read and pleasing to the eye. The authors bring up many great ideas-many I have heard, many new-about how to move the suburbs into the future.  Suburbs have been built based on a world with an endless supply of cheap, abundant oil where no ill effects are caused by car exhaust. I picture Frank Lloyd Wright cruising in an old car around Broadacre City (his vision of spread out houses on large yards). He thought it was perfect, and it might have been if cars had no exhaust, there were no negative externalities related to fuel, and the suburbs were not directly or indirectly linked to modern social ills such as isolation, obesity, sprawl, and personal financial over extension.

They say that the suburbs will probably be rebuilt by "constructive demolition" to make them more dense and efficient, like small towns, since they are not currently built to last. A great quote from Peter Calthorpe, a leader in the New Urbanist movement, sums up our current situation:

"The old suburban dream is increasingly out of sync with today's culture. Our suburbs are designed around a stereotypical household that is no longer predominant. But we continue to build suburbs as if families were large and had only one breadwinner, as if jobs were all downtown, as if land and energy were endless, and as if another lane on the freeway could end congestion." (The Next American Metropolis) 

Ideas to create "Superbia" include:
  • Converting one existing garage in the neighborhood for the "recycling coordinator." One person opens up their garage to store give away items, distributes a list to neighbors (items available/needed), makes trips to the dumpster or has regular garage sales.
  • A community office (could be a converted garage or formal living area), could be next to a community daycare center
  • Use an elderly neighbor's yard for a community garden or pea-patch: they have their yard taken care of, people living in apartments or who don't have room can have access to a garden.
These are just a few of the 31 ideas, but I found that this book is much more than just the sum of its parts. Their experience and knowledge in the field of green building and community living shine through, making for an overall engaging read beyond just a list of ideas.

In closing, a goal of their book is that we need to "Start where we are, and do what we can."

The authors are on the board of directors for the Sustainable Futures Society: Fostering Transitions to a Global, Sustainable Society.