Monday, August 30, 2010

Redesign without the Remodel: Formal Dining Room Library Conversion

Although the bread and butter of our residential work is working with homeowners who are building or remodeling, our design expertise applies just as much to arranging furniture as it does to laying out floor plans.  In September and October, each Monday design.banter will feature "Redesign without the Remodel", with tips on how to "remodel" your home using furniture and items you may already own. Your home can have a brand new feel without ever lifting a hammer (well, except to hang a picture), since the vast majority of us are not currently remodeling our homes or building a new one. It also goes without staying that the greenest design is adapting your current home to your changing needs.

Make use of a formal dining room: do you have two dining areas, one of which is rarely used? Have the formal dining room do double duty as a library. This can help get visual clutter out of other rooms while adding to a room that may need a breath of life.

The Royal Bookcase from Dania is formal yet provides ample storage for books and photos. Place antique books and classics in the glass cabinets. Place books that are tattered in the closed cabinets or a storage bin placed on the bottom shelf. 

Hide old or unattractive books in a storage bin fit for a formal room. Bladis Basket by Ikea, Knos CD box by Ikea or the Skubb box by Ikea can be used for small paperback books.

A glass front cabinet keeps the room formal and makes any book or DVD look more attractive. Home Decorator's Collection Oxford Shelf on Amazon.

A snappy yet formal chair like the Dixon Accent Chair from Dania provides a place for reading in your new Dining Room/Library. It can also be placed at the head of the table for dining.

A storage ottoman like this one from Moshya Home Furnishings on Amazon
 can replace chairs on one or both sides of the dining room table and provides lots of hidden storage.

Adding function to a rarely used room will in turn add another room to your house without the hassle of a construction project. Next week: Is your formal dining room too small to be converted to a library, or you don't need a library? Do you rarely use the second dining area? We'll look at turning your breakfast nook into an office area and homework hub.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Green Building Myths

    Here is a list of Holladay's Ten Myths: 
    1. New York City is an environmental nightmare
    2. Walls have to breathe
    3. Renovation is less expensive than new construction
    4. Spray polyurethane foam creates an air barrier
    5. Caulking the exterior of a house reduces air leakage
    6. R-value tests only measure conductive heat flow
    7. Air conditioned homes don’t need a dehumidifier
    8. Efficiency Rating Labels On Appliances Account For All Types of Energy
    9. In-floor radiant heating systems save energy
    10. Green building helps save the environment 
    He mentions David Owen's latest book, "Green Metropolis," as the latest evidence for #1. I just finished this book and will review it in a coming blog entry.  Per ca pita, rural areas have higher carbon footprints than dense cities like NYC, which is arguably the most important metric when considering what's "green". But a rural area may seem "cleaner" because of the lack of air pollution (which can be concentrated in cities), green spaces, clean water, and the general aesthetic and aromatic pleasantness that comes with a lower population density, like lawns, gardens, and contained trash.

    We also just touched on #10. Green building done correctly can reduce the building industries' impact on the environment, but it's still just a lesser evil. A mostly necessary evil, unless our population growth slows and there is no need for new housing stock, which is doubtful-and not desirable for those of us in the building profession! 

    In an ideal world (a perceived ideal world based on Holladay's myth #10), everyone would grow old in the house they built over the years with their own hands. But, most of will live in a few developer/production builder produced spec houses over the course of our lives. And with the trend of green building, our kid's homes and our next homes will have a little less detrimental effect on the environment than they would have. Yes, we can do better. Maybe within the building industry we have been patting ourselves on the back too much for marginal improvements, or improvements that are inevitable at best. This is only a problem if it causes complacency. If the industry is excited about green building, and consumers want it, innovation will be spurred, technology will improve, more efficient products and processes will be developed, and we can be a lesser and lesser [necessary] evil. 

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    The Buzz Banter: Small Houses

    The buzz words the past couple of weeks have been small houses, micro houses, and today, the death of the McMansion announced on Yahoo!: "Death of McMansion: Era of Huge Homes is Over."

    From "Living in a Mini House." A 360-square foot carriage house in San Francisco. 

     A True Carriage House, from Photo credit.

    Tammy Strobel gained national attention in the past few weeks with her blog devoted to living small, Rowdy Kittens: Social Change Through Simple Living Her blog places an emphasis on car-free, urban living, and downsizing using the 100-things rule

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Green Product-from EcoHome Magazine

    From EcoHome Magazine: 12 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Green Building Product, By Rick Schwolsky, Editor in Chief.

    Schwolsky says: "As a former high-performance home builder, I know what this feels like. You’re stuck in a gray area between innovation and risk, caught between a commitment to build high-performance homes and your responsibilities to ensure those homes still perform their most basic functions without creating problems—or liabilities."

    Here is his list, from the the article:
    1. How will it perform its basic function as a building material or product?
    2. How does it compare with products I use now?
    3. Is it code approved?
    4. Is it third-party certified?
    5. Will it contribute toward project certification?
    6. Is it available?
    7. How will it affect my pricing?
    8. Will it increase my level of risk or liability?
    9. How will it improve the level of performance of my homes?
    10. How will it contribute toward sustainability?
    11. Will it require new sequencing or installation skills/trades?
    12. Is it worth the investment for the benefits?

    As I read through these, numbers 1 and 8 struck me as the most basic and important. For those actually living in the home, 8 could also be translated to "Is this as water tight as a conventional product? Is the warranty comparable? When will it need to be replaced: 10 years, 30 years, 50 years?" With few exceptions, it does not matter how "green" the product is if it will not last.

    Instincts will also go a long way in evaluating a new green product: does it seem like a gimmick, someone who is taking advantage of the green bandwagon by selling me something I don't need? Or is this a quality replacement of something I am using anyway? Will this replace a product that would have been more resource intensive to make, or make an energy intensive product more sustainable (like using concrete containing fly ash)? Will it replace a material whose manufacture is dangerous to the environment and to those who are making it (i.e., choosing FSC certified wood windows over vinyl)?

    If you have doubts, ask the manufacturer directly. A few years ago, we were working with a client to develop townhouses, and we suggested bamboo floors. He expressed some concern about the use of product without much of a track record for durability. Through internet research, I found many homeowners who were disgruntled. This is just a warning about internet research in the form of chat rooms and comment pages: they can help alert you to issues with a product, but keep in mind that people don't go to chat rooms when they are happy with a product. However, this research did alert me to a few things to look for when choosing bamboo floors: as in most cases, you get what you pay for in terms of durability. To get the environmental advantages of bamboo (rapidly renewable), it should be certified (i.e. FSC) to ensure that a forest was not destroyed in order to produce the bamboo crop.

    Also look for BuildingGreen Top 10 products, and stores like EcoHaus, which has a knowledgeable sales staff and vets products before they are sold, so you know that if it's sold there, it's most likely passed the "green" test. 

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Rural Studio Movie Coming August 23rd

    The American Institute of Architects supported the production of the new movie about the Rural Studio, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio. The movie premieres August 23rd on PBSThe mission of the Rural Studio, a part of Auburn University's School of Architecture, is to improve living conditions in rural Western Alabama while teaching practical skills to architecture students.

    The AIA reports on this in an article about the Rural Studio: Rooted in Place: Citizen Architect Documentary Chronicles Samuel Mockbee, FAIA, and the Rural Studio, by Zach Mortice.

    “Sambo never talking about solving social ills,” [Rusty] Smith [associate director of the Rural Studio], says. “It’s just more humble than that. [It’s] a family at a time, or a community at a time, or an organization at a time.”

    Here is a preview of the movie, and some background of the Rural Studio (I recently discussed one of the houses shown in the video, the Lucy/Carpet House, in The Carpet Conundrum): 

    Rural Studio website 
    Book: Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Green, green, green

    By now, we are all probably tired of hearing that word, and it has lost a lot of its meaning, if we even knew what it meant to begin with. We are also guilty of over-using the term, and I understand why some may be skeptical of our use of the term for custom homes.

    We are very proud of our first full design build project that is currently under construction, the Hare House, Phase II. But it is understandable that some may balk at the "green" labels this house is expected to achieve (Built Green, Energy Star, WaterSense), given its size (just under 4,000 SF) or just given the fact that it is a new house. 

    But we are not claiming to solve the environmental crisis. We are providing a dream home for the clients, a life long culmination of what they want in a house, and the house will be more energy efficient, water efficient, and material efficient than it would have been. Yes, it would be more "green" to move into an existing house, but is a home for retirement and the clients first custom home. The clients have relocated to the island to be closer to their children and grandchildren, thus cutting out dozens of air travel trips. 

    I am not writing this post because of any negative reaction to our work. I just want to put it out there that we know that there are people who are skeptical of the whole green building movement. I totally understand and even agree to some extent. There are many different ways to be "green", from making a few moves of conservation to building a completely off the grid house out of salvaged materials. As architectural designers, it is our job to walk with the clients down the path they envision, helping them make sustainable choices along the way. We choose to look at the positive, viewing any "greener" choice as a victory, while still looking to push the limits wherever possible. 

    That said, if you want that off-grid, all salvaged material house, give us a call!

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    More D+A Home Plans: 3 Plans Under 1,100 Square Feet

    D+A Studio has a stock home plan collection, featuring plans ready for permit and construction. All of the plans can be viewed on our website, as well as pricing information.

    Many of our homes are perfect for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's), backyard cottages, or alley flats. Most plans come with both modern and traditional options. Below are some examples of home plans below 1,100 square feet.

    Oak Cottage: 1,005 Square Feet

    A charming classic cottage. A large covered porch welcomes you with both formal and casual entrance areas. The plan features an open living area for dining, entertaining and relaxing. The cozy kitchen offers a built-in breakfast area with abundant natural light. The second bedroom can also be used as a flex space, with double pocket doors that open up to connect the main living area with the back porch. The flex space can also serve as a home office with a separate entry for a live/work scenario.

    Ripple Cottage: 1,075 Square Feet

    A flexible, adaptable modern plan that offers many possibilities. A small family can spread out comfortably with plenty of space and privacy. An artist can enjoy extensive studio, display and living space. The space also lends itself to a live-work situation, with space for multiple offices and living. An outdoor or hobby enthusiast will find plenty of working and storage space alongside living spaces. Two ladders lead to separate loft spaces, flanking a large central space that opens completely to the outdoors. The plan also includes a convenient eat-in kitchen and an entry hall with ample built-in storage and closet space. Live-work option (Plan B): Stairs lead from the first floor bedroom to a private second floor loft. The bathroom is separated to act as both a powder room for the office and a full master bath for the owner.

    Long Cottage: 1,068 Square Feet

    All the essentials for modern living are included in this cottage. A functional entry way, including a powder room, utility room, large closet and built-in shelves and cabinets opens up to a living area and kitchen with built-in eating space and pantry. Upstairs are two bedrooms with multiple closets and cozy window seats with storage, a large bathroom with storage, and a landing space perfect for a small office. The modern exterior includes a dramatic gable roof and large windows.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    urban|design.banter: Why shouldn't the place you live be somewhere you would want to visit?

    A key topic of urban|design.banter will be making where you live a place where you would want to visit. Think of cities where people go to vacation or tour: Rome, London, Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Savannah, Charleston. People even come just for the day to downtown Friday Harbor. The urban core of these places share common traits, including:  older buildings mixed with new buildings; traditional neighborhood/mixed use development with zero lot lines and storefronts lining wide sidewalks; a variety of sizes and types of businesses, shops, bars, restaurants; well planned and maintained green space; and last but not least, the ability to walk or take transit to your destination, or to find the place so appealing that you don't even need a destination. When I lived in Rome the phrase I used for this was "You don't always have to go, you can just be."

    A place to just "be:" folks hanging out at a street fair in beautiful downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

    So why is it that we build the places that the majority of Americans live with exactly the opposite characteristics? Mostly because it is against the law to do otherwise, and because it's easier to make the numbers pencil on a large greenfield development of almost identical houses. 

    What can we do to begin to reverse this trend? First of all, we can support policies that increase or allow for increases in density: allowing for ADU's or backyard apartment, transit (or at least transit funding equal to roads), allowing zoning laws to be updated to allow for mixed uses and less parking, and notifying your city council person when a sidewalk needs repair. These are just a few suggestions, some so big they seem to be insurmountable. "Density" is a four-letter word to many, and many oppose transit because they don't want "those people" to have a way into their neighborhood. But the most expensive and desirable places to live in the country are also the most dense and the most heavily served by transit, and creating density allows for more services close by, thus increasing walkability, thus allowing for places to be more human-scaled, and more like a place you would choose to visit.

    When I lived in Chicago, I had to cross over Michigan Avenue on my way from the train to my office building. I would get annoyed as the tourists began descending upon the Magnificent Mile. So, I had to remind myself of a few things, the least of which being that I have been a tourist many, many times and have surely annoyed the citizens of the place I was touring, but also that I was so lucky to live my everyday life in a place where people save up their vacation time and money to come visit. I ran errands in the Hancock Tower and on the Magnificent Mile, and could walk home along the lakefront or through Lincoln Park (and the free zoo) if time allowed (I especially loved to do this when it snowed, as the park was serene and the train would be running behind anyway). 

    This subject is covered extensively in James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    More D+A Home Plans: 3 Plans Under 1,000 Square Feet

    D+A Studio has a stock home plan collection, featuring plans ready for permit and construction. All of the plans can be viewed on our website, as well as pricing information.

    Many of our homes are perfect for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's), backyard cottages, or alley flats. Most plans come with both modern and traditional options. Below are some examples of home plans below 1,000 square feet.

    Pearl Cottage: 822 Square Feet

    A unique plan that offers the best in simple, modern living. The main living space opens to the porch through two sets of large glass doors, flanking transom windows and a wood burning stove. A spacious kitchen offers a raised bar for eating and ample cabinet space. A shed roof and large knee braces complete the clean lines of the exterior.

    Bell Carriage House: 704 Square Feet

    A perfect addition to an existing property. This building can serve as an extra garage, storage and workshop area. The second floor apartment is a large bedroom with a walk-in closet and full bathroom for guests, teenagers, or for renting. Cathedral ceilings give an open feeling while also providing a loft/storage area over the closet and bathroom.
    Options for this plan:
    • The cottage is available with (Plan A) or without (Plan B) a kitchen area with a mini refrigerator and washer/dryer.
    • Loft can be accessed by a sliding ladder or a pull-down attic door.
    Craft Cottage: 871 Square Feet

    A charming cottage that is efficient and fun. A compact ladder leads to a large loft with cathedral ceilings. Soaring ceilings in the living space offer a spacious feel, while a cozy window seat provides a nook for reading and storage. Tall built-ins provide an entertainment center adjacent to a reinforced wall for television mounting. Additional optional storage space is also designated.