I love the beginnings of a project. The existing conditions tell you nothing of what the remodeled space will look like. You have to squint and imagine. I scratch out plans and show them to the clients, but the project tells the better story. Piece by piece, we remove the old structure. Element by element, we weave a new architecture. We plan on a warm contemporary feel. We want to choose green materials and energy strategies. Still, the reality of the project is the actual work. Only the studs and openings feed back to our sense of space. They inform us on what to do next. They lead my design in new directions. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses!
Archive for the ‘built work’ Category
The rental apartment behind the house does not have to be second hand architecture. Here is one design that takes the small living space of an apartment attached to the garage, and makes it into a modern garden pavilion.
This was behind my house in Houston. Originally, the apartment was dark and dank. I wanted an architecture studio and guest house that was green and lush. We opened up the bathroom and kitchen with floor to ceiling windows and wrapped it with a fenced garden. Now, light pours through the windows onto the shiny new materials of the bathroom and filters through the sleek kitchen into the open plan living room. On the floors we installed cork to make the space warm and soft and cozy. In the bath, we installed black tile to contrast the brightness and in the shower, we used polished river washed pebbles to massage the feet and give you more of a feeling that the bathroom is outside and spa like.
- EcoHouse has just finished a remodeling of a brick home in Houston, Texas. It needed some updating and general repairs and some basic painting. The old windows were leaky and needed badly an energy upgrade to Low-e Argon filled vinyl windows and the doors needed weather striping. We insulated the attic and made a variety of weatherization improvements. Mostly, we gutted the kitchen and bathrooms and built new kitchen and bathrooms. The quarters or garage apartment needed serious work. We gutted the entire apartment and added a new kitchenette, fenced yard and fully glassed bathroom.
- The house is for sale now . See listing.
We are trimming out a bungalow in the Capital View neighborhood of Little Rock and want to keep the original and traditional trim style, but want to use the economical and green materials of modern construction. The proportions of a simple trim for a window and door gives the openings their elegant appearance. We place a 1×4 on the jamb casings, a ledge trim and a 1×6 header casing. The change in width of material gives the doors and windows a taller look. The edges are square to give a more strong, less frilly look. The ledge trim hides the joint between materials, and allows the eye to overlook minor imperfections in an old remodeled wall. Trim carpenters have always sought to make the best of aethetics with the most economic means and materials. Being green follows the same historical trend.
The difference between age-old and modern trim carpenters, besides their awesome tools, is their use of modern manufacturer’s materials to help in the process. Instead of consuming large stands of old growth forest to harvest high grade wood to make the door jambs, smaller rapidly renewable trees are used for smaller pieces of wood that are finger joint cut and glued together. This conservation practice is both green and economic. The casing trim is even finer bits of wood compressed into medium density fiberboard, MDF. It has the benefit of not warping or having knots. It takes the intended paint very nicely.
We have installed traditional 3/4″ wood hardwoods to match the existing front rooms. The boards are laid first, so that the trim and doors are placed precisely and level. We will come back later, after the painters have cleaned up their mess, to sand and finish the hardwoods. Overall, we will achieve a handsome traditional look to match the historical neighborhood, without much fuss or unnecessary expense.
Stone is a powerful material to use on both the exterior of your home as well as the interior. It recalls castles and tide walls, but remains touchable and warm. On this fireplace wall, there are many uses of stone that give depth and functionality to the room.
When selecting an appropriate stone material for your home, determine what style or feeling you want. Each stone choice evokes a particular place. When designing, remodeling or building a home in Little Rock, Arkansas, perhaps select a local stone, such as Ozark brown or blue stone. This fireplace is made of stacks of real Ozark stone. The colors were varied to give the maximum color range. The individual stones were selected to blend and contrast for visually effect.
The roughness of the stone wall was selected to enhance the acoustic properties of the room. A rough wall like this breaks up noise reflection, since sound waves refract differently off the various planes and surfaces, in the same way that the curved ceiling varies the reflection of sound waves and prevents the repetition of echos from reinforcing themselves as they do in a rectangular room. This living room was designed for acoustics. It houses a grand piano for the owner, a pianist with sharp ears for how architecture can affect sound.
One popular installation technique for stone today is a dry stack. Like a stone fence on the side of a pasture or field is the dry stacking by the farmer to use the stone he finds in his field, it avoids the use of mortar to hold the stone together. The natural stacking has a great deal of shadow and interest. These walls tend to be thick to compensate for their inability to handle heights. To get this effect and the height, the mortar could be deeply recessed and the individual stone each cantelevers a bit so as to not show mortar in the joints. The effect is expensive. Its growing popularity on developers’ houses and even shopping centers is a result of the development of precast concrete pieces that look like stone. This method is not used here, because we wanted the real mass and texture of actual stone in such an intimate room. The mortar is colored to match the grey base colors and allow the stone to show off its highlights.
The lintel is the dark beam of stone that spans above the firepit opening. It is also Ozark Blue stone, and reminds you that the stone is heavy and load bearing and must use ancient techniques to be constructed. (Ok, I’ll be honest. There is a steel lintel as well behind it, attached to the concrete block structure.)
I could have cantelevered the lintel beam out or added another mantel of stone, but chose instead to use a contrasting wood for the mantel to relate to the curved wood beams of the room. The mantel is a very special wood from a store called African Odyssey, a name that resonates with the themes of the house. This wood is from South Africa where it was first cut and shaped to be a railroad tie on the African railroads. When that railroad was removed, the ties were used by shippers as ballast to fill their empty ships for the ships’ return voyages. The ties ended up in a port warehouse in Houston, Texas, where an appreciative carpenter refinished them into wonderful beams, tables, and flooring. We took the longest raw tie beam they had and installed it as the mantel. Not only does the rich wood visually work well with the Ozark stone, but it gives the Owners a wonderful story to tell.
The hearth is flush with the floor and is covered in flat flame cut slate slabs that match the Ozark stone colors. The walls of the living room are more formal and black, though they have a silver blue sheen to it. From the floor to the top of the sliding doors, the African silver slate is matt finished, giving it depth and shadow between the wood and glass opening and setting the fireplace off as the major color, while above the doors, the same African silver slate is glossy sheened to give the wondows and height of the living room more sparkle and light. I chose to diferentiate the finishes on the black slate as a detail that the Owner’s and guests would notice only on reflection or second visits. A designer must not give away all his design’s secrets at first glance. The texture of stone or the sheen of the tile should be discovered by exploration. The real miracle of the design is how the light hits it at different times of the day and even different seasons. Without the material’s textures to capture the light, those subtle differences in light may tragically have gone unnoticed.
A rainscreen can be more than an awning or flat layering on your facade. It can be dynamic! Using perforated corrugated aluminum, a screen can be diaphomous, turning a house into a lantern.
These houses face west and want to enjoy the western sunset, but the harsh light of the evening sun prevents a casual view. No awning over the top of the windows is going to stop the evening sun which is already low in the sky by the time it reaches the western horizon and starts burning heat and light into a building. Vertical strips of awning might reduce the amount of sun that comes into a window, but only a screen across the entire window will allow view and light. Imagine placing a sturdy metal screen in front of expensive glass? This is not an idea that is received well by homeowners. Yet perforate the metal, and then the eye focuses on the lighter parts of the metal. When the sun reflects on the metal, the eye sees the metal and no further. When the lights beyond the metal are brighter than the surface of the metal, then the eye sees right past the holes and the metal which become transparent to the mind. Its a miracle of the one way mirror on an architectural scale.
Seen from the street during the day, the passer by cannot see into the building, but the occupant can see out. At night, when there is no light on the metal screen, both inside and out can see past the screen, the building becomes light and airy, and building cools. I like to invite guests to parties starting around 7 pm so that they can see the screen disappear as they approach the building for festivities.
The screen has other functions. It encloses a welcoming porch. While the intial steps up to the main living level start on the hot reflective side of the screen, the steps do switchback behin the screen, cooling the visitor and welcoming him into the front porch. From the chairs in the front porch, pedestrians on the sidewalk in front can be seen and heard without giving away the viewers presence.