Sunday, October 23, 2016

Patios vs. Decks

Outdoor spaces are very important to a home. Almost every home has some sort of space where you can go outside and enjoy some sunshine or shade, grill some hamburgers and maybe enjoy a cool drink.

These spaces are typically patios, decks or balconies. Patios are most often have a stone or concrete surface. Decks are typically raised wooden structures supported with posts and balconies extend out from a home with no external support posts.

Regardless of what type of outdoor space you have, it's placement is fairly important. Anytime I am designing a home for a customer, I have a discussion with my clients about outdoor spaces, what the options are and how the sun will interact with the space.

As outdoor spaces are typically most used in summer months, the west side of a home can be a very, very hot area. If the sun is beating down on your patio and it is 10 or 20 degrees hotter than the actual air temperature, you are going to be less likely to use the space. I try to locate outdoor areas on the East or South side of the home. The East side is ideal as it will get lots of morning sun but the house will provide shade by early afternoon. The South side is a good choice for sun lovers or a more northern/cooler climate.

Maintenance of the outdoor areas is very a important issue. One of the main reasons I favor a patio constructed with some sort of paving stones is the lack of required maintenance after it is built. Since a patio rests on an earthen base, it is common for that base to have to be raised or built up from the natural slope of the ground and may require some sort of retaining wall. This along with the cost of the paving stones can make a patio more expensive than a deck. This initial cost may offset by the minimal cost of maintaining a patio. Stone and concrete patios are forever! Patio maintenance typically consists of some week killer and a broom. Another advantage to a paving stone patio is that the materials do not wear out and the configuration of the patio can be changed at any time in the future. Simply pull up the stones and move them to a new location.

Decks on the other hand are not maintenance free. They require regular cleaning and periodic staining. And the decking material will age and deteriorate over time requiring replacement. A wooden deck structure may only last 15 years before having to be replaced. Despite these issues, decks are more appropriate in some instance where a raised patio is impractical. The main reason for this may be height. Building a tall retaining wall and filling it with compacted material to support a stone patio may be impractical and/or too expensive.

In this case a wooden structure built safely and to local building codes may be the answer. There are a number of decking and railing materials that can be utilized, each with it's own advantages and disadvantages. These may include, initial cost, longevity and required maintenance.

I found myself in this conundrum last year. I have designed my home to have 2 patios, one on the East side and one on the south side, with the living room window wall obscured in the middle. BTW, I borrowed this design arrangement from FLLW and Fallingwater. Our home is situated on a pretty good slope. While building the retaining wall for the East patio was not too difficult. doing the same for the South side was not so simple. The walls would need to be about 10' high and 50' long. I had at one point considered building an ICF room with a suspended concrete floor, but the cost for this was just too much. So, in the end I decided to simply build a nice deck in order to get the project completed.

The deck I built is of good size, 15'x24' and is free standing (not attached to the house). We live in an ICF house and I chose to make the deck free standing rather than deal with attaching ledger boards to the ICF walls. The posts and framing are made of CCA lumber and we chose cedar for the decking. I finished the decking material today and I will apply a good quality stain in a few weeks after the boards have had a chance to age a little. Soon I will be adding the railing system for safety.

We are looking forward to spending some afternoons next summer on the new deck.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A new Modern home design under construction near Kansas City

A client's home is under construction in the Kansas City area. I have been keeping tabs on the progress and should be posting more photos soon. As many of my designs are for other parts of North America, I rarely get to see my designs under construction.

This home is a fairly large and interesting design. It started out as a single story with a walkout basement, but we had to redesign it midway through to move 2 bedrooms upstairs and reconfigure the basement. But we liked the main floor and mostly left it unchanged.

The owner is using lots of high end lighting, textures and sound throughout the home, so it should be impressive when completed.

Here are a couple of pics of the home before siding. More to come soon!

Monday, August 15, 2016

More modern furniture

I had a little spare time today so I decided to visit a local retailer that offers a selection of modern style furniture, Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, KS.

We have a few items from them in our home, the couches and coffee table in the living room and my (and everyone else's) favorite recliner in my office. Everything we have purchased from NFM has held up well and we have had no problems. The coffee table is 15 years old, the couches 12 and the recliner about 6. None of these items is showing any wear to speak of, however I find it difficult to keep our large lab off the couches. All of these items have survived our 3 children growing into young adults which says something about the durability. I am not saying NFM had much to do with the quality of the products, just that the products we have purchased there have held up well. Maybe that does say something indirectly.

I was at NFM in part just to see what they had new. I also took the opportunity to send some pics to a potential client.

There were a number of interesting pieces there, but 3 caught my eye. The first was a very cool chair that not only looked great, but was also very comfortable. The second was an interesting chair that looked good but really, was not very comfortable. And the last being a couch that I liked the look of which I would consider buying to replace my current couches that don't really need to be replaced.

Here is a pic of the chair. The style if very cool and modern. The frame looks like bent plywood with a sort of white pickled finish. It seems to be loosely modeled on the Eames lounge chair. The chair and the ottoman both had a nice cast aluminum 4 prong base. The leather was black and fairly thick. It seemed durable and was comfortable. The back reclined with the use of a cast aluminum lever on the right side. The head rest articulated and locked in to one of 3 positions. I am 6'-1' and it is difficult to find chairs that I can nap in and have my head supported. This chair is large enough to suit me. I like this chair enough to drag my wife there to see if she likes it too. I could not find the manufacturer name on it, I will have to look again. This chair was $800

The other chair simply looked modern and was sort of a Egg chair knockoff. It looked nice, but really it was not all that comfortable. This chair was $400.

And finally there is the couch. I like the style and the leather. Soft and comfortable. The back rests hinged down to lay flat giving the couch a lower profile, but hinge up to provide support for lounging. Hopefully this mechanism will be durable and last. The couch cost about $1000.

I know these are not any of the classic modern furniture designs that many of us tend to lust for. But as I have said in previous posts, the classic designs are simply out of my budget and I suspect they are too expensive for most other people too. I still require a sleek modern style to use and decorate my home, but on a more modest budget.

I had not really gone to NFM to buy anything, but there may be some very serious consideration given to the reclining chair.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Revised website published

It is something that is a bit overdue, but after much work, I have moved my website to a new software application. The app I had used in the past fit my needs fine, but technology had passed it by and it was no longer being supported by my provider. This created a situation where I could not update the site.

Moving the site required a lot of work to copy and re-link all the pages and pictures. One good thing about the process is that it allowed me to clean things up. So today I launched the new site. It is very similar to the previous one with a few changes. I still need to update the Designs and Projects pages and hope to get that done in the next few weeks.

As far as other news, I have been fairly busy with local projects, more so than has been the case in the past. I recently finished up 2 designs for local customers, have another in the works and agreed to take on another project yesterday. One of these is a contemporary earth bermed home, another is distinctly modern, and the one in the works is a Prairie Style. I will post information about the progress of these projects as it becomes available.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

More Modern Furniture Reproductions

As I have said before, I very much enjoy a modern aesthetic in buildings as well as furniture. And like everyone else, I can't say that I like every form of modern architecture and the same goes for furniture.

When it comes to furniture, my most important requirement is that it comfortable! Form follows function. If furniture is not comfortable (in regard to any type of seating) I basically see no purpose for it. There are numerous "classic" modern furniture designs that are pretty uncomfortable to sit in for any length of time. And I know there are many people who love or desire them, but I personally cannot see any use for them, even if they do look really cool!

I have been surprised numerous times when I have encountered one of these modern classics, and I sit down and think, "Wow, this is awful!" On such design is the Womb chair. I can hear some people screaming as they read this. Blasphemy!! A few years ago when I had a chance to try out the Womb chair, I eased myself into it and just said, Uhg! It was hard and didn't support my body well. The seating position was poor also. The big pillow at the base of the back pushed me away from the back of the chair so it offered no support at all. It was just bad. Nice looking chair, but not a good seating position. But then it looks really comfortable! As I am writing this, I am thinking that the next time I see one of these, I will test it again just to be sure.

But now to the purpose of this post. I recently bought a couple reproductions of the Eames plastic armchair. No, it is not an authorized reproduction as I simply cannot justify the cost. These cost about $75 each, delivered.

I am quite pleased with the chairs. The plastic of the shell is thick and solid. I chose the dowel legs over the Eiffel chrome legs, just a personal preference. The chairs arrived well packed and padded to prevent damage. The bases came pre-assembled so all I had to do was install the four bolts and washers that attach the base to the shell. They are quite solid and comfortable to sit in. I have always like the style of these chairs and the bright green color adds to my decor.

Before I purchased them from Amazon, I read all the reviews by other consumers. The vast majority of the reviews were quite positive and that is mainly what I based my buying decision on. I intend to add my own positive review in the next few days. Of course there were a few negative reviews. But none of these were about the quality of the product. They were typically complaining about having to attach the base to the shell and how they didn't know how to install a bolt or something just as silly.

So I continue to add more modern style furniture to my home. This time it was a reproduction. But I continue to keep my eyes open for that rare, original classic piece at an estate sale or in a second hand store. Maybe someday I will get lucky!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is a love of architecture out of place today?

I have said for many years that I was born at least 30-50 or more years too late. I have always loved old sports cars. If I had been an adult when the Porsche 911 was first introduced, I am sure I would have purchased one straight away! And I would have loved to have been a young adult in the late 40s, 50s  or early 60s when there was so much going on in the architectural and design world. I love so many products from that era, cars, modern furnishings and modern buildings.

I love modern architecture, residential and commercial. That was not always the case. I think as I became more involved with architecture, my tastes matured and I was able to appreciate modern design in ways that I had not been able to earlier in my life. In some ways, I feel that my appreciation of modern architecture grew in part from a distaste for the boring and repetitive home designs that you see everywhere. Although I have lived in conventional style homes for much of my life, I have no desire to do so again.

While I can appreciate the simplicity of a Cape Code home, I can't say I have any desire to live in one. Instead, I built the home of my dreams in the country. Modern lines, lots of glass, every space well thought out. It took me many months to finalize the design. During that time I had a couple of epiphanies, which in all modesty, I have to say are pretty brilliant. I really can't say that I have ever seen a home design quite like it. My wife and I love the design and the flow of the home. I designed it for us to be able to live comfortably in while we have young children as well as for when they have moved on with their own lives. Several times I have thought about how I might have done something different that would have improved the design, but as of yet I have not come up with any changes that would have improved the design considering the location and our lifestyle. I have had many, many people complement me on our home, but I think maybe some of the comments I have enjoyed the most have been when I have overheard teen age friends of my children remark "You live in the coolest house!"

So from all of this comes my question, Is a love of architecture out of place today? Very few of my friends and acquaintances enjoy architecture to any extent. Nor do they care about the design aspects all that much that I can tell. They live in the suburbs in nice conventional homes. But if you took the numbers off the sides of their houses, I question if they could find their way home.

I was recently describing a road trip we took to the east coast to some friends recently. I told them that our very first stop was Fallingwater. They had never heard of it. Most people tell me that they have never heard of FLLWs masterpiece. When I show them a picture, some people recall seeing something of it before, but most do not. I took my children to see Fallingwater because I wanted them to experience truly great residential architecture.

I guess maybe my question is: With all the information we deal with today from entertainment, activities and online, outside of a very small percentage of people, is there really much interest in architecture by the general population?

BTW, I plan to very soon purchase that Porsche 911 that I have desired for over 30 years! I can barely wait!

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I have to admit that I am a fan of IKEA. I was first exposed to them several years ago when I visited a store in Frisco, TX. Being interested in modern design, I could not help but be attracted to much of the furnishings they have to offer.

If you have never been to an IKEA store, you may not be familiar with their products. IKEA is based in Sweden and they have stores around the world and many in the US. Until recently, the stores in the US were mainly located near the coasts, the exceptions being in Chicago, Minneapolis and Frisco. However, if you happen to live in the vast center of the country as I do, there was really not a convenient option for visiting a store.

When we built our house, I knew what a wanted as far as cabinet functionality. I wanted large drawers for pots, pans and cookware. I also wanted a modern look, good quality hinges and drawer slides. In addition, I needed to keep to a tight budget. IKEA cabinets seemed to fit the bill from the information I could find online. But you can bet that I was not going to buy cabinets for our new home without my wife's approval. And I wanted to her to touch and feel the cabinets so that I would be assured she would be satisfied with them. (can you tell I have been married a long time)

So one weekend, my wife and I made a quick road trip to Texas to visit the IKEA store and for her to get a good look at the cabinets. She gave me her blessing to use them in her kitchen. A month later, I drove a truck back to Texas and purchased all the cabinets for our new home as well as some lights, book cases and furniture. It has now been 9 years living with our IKEA kitchen and we are very pleased. They have held up very well to lots of use and three young children! I really would recommend them to anyone. Thankfully IKEA has now put a store in Kansas City. I was there today over lunch and bought a new comforter for our bed.

IKEA carries much, much more than cabinets. They sell couches, tables, chairs, dressers, linens, kitchenware, appliances, kids toys, lighting, counter tops, sinks, beds................. Lots and lots of things! Really pretty much anything you need to furnish and outfit your home. I guess I would say one of their main goals is to provide products that are very cost effective. Most of their furniture requires assembly. I have quite a few of their products and I am sure I will continue to purchase more in the future. I am currently considering an additional dresser and perhaps new living room couches in the not to distant future.

One thing they do with their display areas that I really like is to setup model rooms or apartments and kitchens so that people can visualize how to mix different products together. I think this is very helpful for many people.

Their products there are not intended to be high end, but I think many of them are very well made. I also think there are some items that probably will not hold up to daily use for very long. So you just have to analyze what you want to purchase, just like anywhere else.

The stores are quite huge affairs, almost always with two levels. If you visit one, plan on being there a few hours. And if you get hungry, they have a nice cafeteria that offers some traditional Swedish foods as well as more American style dishes.

Go and have fun!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Prairie Style in Wichita

I am a fan of FLLW and I have toured several of the homes he designed. I even had the opportunity to visit with one of his clients in 2003. That was a treat! Mr Schaberg gave me a tour of his home and we sat and visited about his experience as a FLLW client.

There are only a few FLLW homes in Kansas. The lone Prairie style home is in Wichita. It is one of the last Prairie style homes he designed.

The Allen-Lamb home in Wichita was built for Henry J Allen and his wife. Allen was a prominent politician in Kansas.

The home is a beautiful structure located at the corner of Roosevelt and 2nd St. Tours are available by appointment, I was in Wichita a few weeks ago and stopped by the house just to walk around and enjoy the architecture. I have done this many, many times. When I lived in Wichita, I would make a point of driving by the house several times a week on my way to work.

The Allen-Lamb home is a large two story, L shaped structure. The main floor is set above street level much like the Robie house in Chicago. You enter from a door located in the port-carche into a smallish entry hall, then step up into the living room. The living room is fairly large and ornately detailed as his homes of this period typically were. The brick used in the home would best be described as yellow roman. In the living room, Wright had gold leaf applied over the deeply raked mortar joints, something he never did on any other home.

The living room opens onto a beautiful patio with a large lily pool in the center. I can see sitting on the patio, listening to the sound of the small fountain and enjoying a cool drink on a warm day. There is no step down from the interior of the home to the tile of the patio. The only thing separating the two spaces is the threshold of the doorway. I very much like this feature, but, I can imagine there was always an issue of rain and melting snow entering the home from beneath the threshold.

The home was designed for wealthy clients with servants. The servant entrance and quarters are in the West end of the home while the owners access to the 2nd floor bedrooms was from a stairwell located in the East side. There is really nothing very remarkable about the 2nd floor or the bedrooms.

One other unique aspect of the home is the garage. Cars were a relatively new invention when the home was built and they were a bit of an unknown quantity. Either Wright or the owners had some concern of the cars catching fire and burning the home down. So Wright designed the garage to be entirely concrete and thus fireproof, even he ceiling.

So if you happen to be traveling through Wichita and you would like to see one of the finest examples of a FLLW Prairie Style home, make a detour and swing by the Allen-Lamb home. Even if you cannot arrange a tour, it is located in a beautiful neighborhood and you can walk around it and enjoy the architecture.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My process for designing a home

The home of one of my customers in nearing completion and I am anxiously awaiting the final pictures. The home is located near Carthage, MO.

We started with some drawings supplied by the customer and modified these into what became the final floorplan over a period of a few weeks. The basic layout changed fairly significantly and we added and subtracted to suit their needs. My design process usually proceeds in this manner; we start with a sketch and some ideas, discuss their "must haves" and other factors such as their building lot and orientation of the home.

Once I have this preliminary information, I then set about creating a first draft of the main floor which I send to the customer for review and feedback. They will send me back ideas on what they like or dislike. When a customer identifies a feature they don't like, I try to drill down on that issue and try to understand their desire better. I am practical about incorporating a client's desires. Some things can be added to the design, but then, some ideas are simply not practical. In the latter case, I have a discussion with the customer explaining the implications or cost of particular design element, what would have to be changed, etc.

Regardless, as the design progresses, I exchange several design drafts of the floor plan with the customer, each becoming more refined and closer to the final version.

At some point during this process of the main floor design, I will add additional floors as required. This may be a basement or second floor, or both. Again, I start with a rough draft and have my customer review it and let me know their thoughts. At the same time, I am again designing with the structure and mechanical requirements in mind. All the building loads have to be passed down from each floor to the foundation. Where will the HVAC system be located? How can we eliminate a post in an inconvenient location? How can we arrange the rooms for the best efficiency? There are lots of things to consider as the design progresses.

Once we have the various floorplans basically complete, I start sending elevation views to my customer. From these, we refine the type of siding, the sizes and configurations of windows and doors. Elevations are typically a two dimensional view, so I also generate various 3 dimensional renderings to help customers get a better feel for the design.

Once the customer is satisfied with the design of the home, I have to set about adding all the details that are required for their contractor to build their home. Again, I am incorporating or detailing the many items that create the structure into the plans. These can be foundation walls, beams, pier pads, grade beams, bearing points, bearing walls...... These details and many structural notes are included in the plans in order not only to guild the builder, but also to satisfy the requirements of the local building code officials.

Once I am finished with the plans and my customer has paid the remainder of the design fee, I email them PDF files of the plans from which they can print as many copies of the design as is required for the building code officials, contractors and sub contractors.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

3D printing and architectural design

I recently bought a 3D printer kit off the internet. Before doing so, I did some research and spoke with a co-worker who had recently purchase one also. My research gave me a good idea what type/style of printer I wanted. My co-worker actually pointed me to a supplier who I eventually purchased my printer from.

Before making my purchase, I did some research on the supplier to see what kind of reviews people had given them and their products. In this case, both of these turned out to be quite positive.

The printer I purchased ended up costing me just under $400 including shipping, pretty cheap by 3D printer standards. The kit arrived in a large box full of parts and individually labeled bags. Nice!With their instructions, I spent a few days assembling the printer. I then needed to download the software, install it and begin the process of getting the printer to communicate with my computer.

Things went pretty smoothly until I started trying to set the endstops for the print head. It just wasn't doing what it was supposed to, at least according to the documents I had. Luckily, I do have some experience with computers and electro-mechanical equipment. After some time, I discovered that I had 3 wire connections that were faulty from the factory. I fixed these problems fairly quickly and was ready to make my first print.

As you might expect, my first attempts at printing were only marginally successful. There are some settings that need to be modified in order for everything to work properly, but after a couple failed attempts, I was able to print a good piece. As I sit here typing this, my printer is connected to this computer and is working away on my third attempt at my second printed item. I did say there was a learning curve.

So how will I use my 3D printer in my architectural design business, I don't really know at this point. I envision being able to print 3 dimensional models for customers at some point. Or maybe I will just use it for helping to visualize design ideas. I am limited by the size of an object I can print, only about 7 inches cubed. I can possibly break a design into 2 or 3 sections, print them and then put them together.

Now that I have one, it turns out the operationally, they are pretty simple. Programmers have done all the hard work for us. Creating printable designs is also pretty easy as there are several free programs that you can download and create your own 3D objects. On top of that, there are literally thousands of 3D objects available for download on the Internet today!

I also wanted to get a 3D printer so that I could learn about and understand the technology. I also wanted my children to understand the technology and be able to use the printer for school and fun. 3D printing is going to change our world! People are already using them to print buildings! Google it and you will be amazed!

It is an amazing technology that is now available to pretty much anyone who has the desire. You will probably see some 3D models of my designs here in the near future.