Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's Masterpiece!

I have visited Fallingwater twice so far. And I have little doubt that I will visit it a couple more times in the next twenty years or so. I have always admired the home for it's astounding beauty and elegant design. I have studied much about it's construction and history and had wanted to visit it long before I was actually able to do so.

At one point about 12 years ago, I found myself in Detroit with a free weekend on my hands. I knew the Weltzhiemer Usonian home was in Oberlin, OH, and not too far a distance. I made it to Oberlin and enjoyed visiting the home there, and I was seriously considering driving over to Mill Run, PA to visit Fallingwater. But a blizzard was pummeling Western Pennsylvania and I decided it would be smarter to wait for better weather. Although, it would have been beautiful to see Fallingwater in the snow.

It was a few more years before I was able to visit Fallingwater. My father's family hails from West Virginia and I was visiting the area with my mother and my siblings. Since we were going to be in the general area, I  told them that I had one request for our trip and one request only, that we visit Fallingwater. My family has little interest or knowledge of architecture and none of them knew what Fallingwater was. But, they all agreed to go.

It was a spring day when we were there and it was raining lightly. But the facility is well prepared for the weather and supplied everyone with umbrellas. I like that you cannot see any part of the home from the visitor center and it is only revealed when you walk the winding path down the hill through the forest. The beauty of the location is simply amazing. As the building came into view, my family was in awe of it's beauty!

We spent the next two hours on a guided tour of the home and guest house. Once finished, they all thanked me for introducing them to Fallingwater as they probably would not have known about it otherwise.

Myself, I loved the tour. I took over 100 photos of the home, inside and out. On the extended tour, you are allowed to take photos of the interior, on the shorter tour you cannot. The house is actually smaller than you might think and the ceilings are quite low. The living room really isn't very large. However, the balconies on each side add quite a lot of usable space.

There is no one thing that I specifically or particularly like about the home more than anything else. It just all seems to work together, how it works with the site, clinging to the side of the hill and extending out over the stream. I have wondered what Wright's inspiration was for the design? He had always emphasized horizontal features in his designs. In the picture above you can see the mass of the rock ledge under the home and how each floor or balcony and parapet mimic the mass of the rock ledge. Maybe that was his inspiration. But it is still very interesting, like a spark of genius that propelled him to conceive the design.

And it is a masterpiece! If you have ever wanted to visit Fallingwater, I strongly reccommend you take the steps to make it happen. You won't be dissappointed!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Modern furniture reproductions

I have spent the past couple hours on Amazon, looking at various types of modern furniture. Just browsing, but there are a few items I would like to add to our home.

This kind of started yesterday when my wife and I drove to Kansas City to do some window shopping. I do want a new coffee table for our living room. There is nothing wrong with our current coffee table. It is a nice modern style table that is a mixture of wood and glass. It looks good, we have had it for about 10 years and it has held up very well. But I am just a little tired of it and want something different.

We went to a couple of stores, just to browse, but kind of looking to see if we could find a replacement coffee table. We did see one coffee table that we liked. It looks nice and would certainly be a good replacement. But then, it is not exactly the style I want.

That is the main reason I have been looking at furniture on Amazon for the past two hours, I couldn't find what I wanted at a local store. One of things I like about Amazon besides the available selection are the customer reviews. I rarely purchase anything expensive from them that does not have a number of positive reviews. You kind of have to base your decisions on an average basis. But if half the reviews for an item are negative, it is probably not something you want.

The coffee table I really want is a Noguchi table. It is such a timeless classic! Beautifully simple and elegant and I have been in love with this design since the first time I saw it! You can buy the real thing from Herman Miller today for just under $1700. With most things in life, you get what you pay for and I am sure the table from HM is of the highest quality. But really, I simply cannot justify $1700 for a coffee table. I just can't. As much as I love modern design, classical modern design and I understand the value of the designer's idea, inspiration and execution, I can't spend that kind of money for a coffee table.

So, I am in a quandary. Do I buy a reproduction and live with the thought that another company is profiting from the original designer's work or do I buy something that is less beautiful than I want? I have this same dilemma when I consider buying any reproduction mid-century modern classic furniture.

I guess I might find some solace in the fact that most of these classic pieces were designed in the 1950's and the designers are no longer with us. Their designs are just being sold by a company. Does a portion of those sales revenue still go to the families of the designers? I don't know. I guess I would hope so, but realistically, I doubt it.

Anyway, I am considering buying some reproduction classics from Amazon. Primarily I am looking at a Noguchi table and a couple Eames shell chairs. Could I afford the real thing I wanted, Probably, but I just too frugal for that. I am just not at a financial level to be buying true designer furniture. I have a feeling that there are many people in the same boat as me.

Someday I hope to own a few original pieces, but for now, I will just have to settle for a reproduction of the real thing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Small Modern Houses

I have been thinking more about smaller homes. Homes that while functional, have significantly less square footage than a typical home built today.

There are many examples of small homes in our past. Many variations can be found even today if you look around. It is only in the past 30 or 40 years that the homes most of us know have gotten larger. My father was a builder and a businessman, and I grew up in a fairly good sized home. But when I think of my grandparents house, it always seemed smallish. It was simply 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a living room and kitchen. They had added an addition, I guess I would call it a great room. But it was only about 20' square.

I am contemplating creating some smaller designs to offer customers, smaller than what I currently offer. Many people in large cities live in tiny apartments of only a few hundred square feet. I guess I am probably just piling onto a small trend of sorts. There many designs currently available from a variety of sources, but almost none of these designs have a modernist style. Why not build home that meets all your needs for bedrooms and dining areas and living rooms ect, just with a smaller footprint. A smaller footprint reduces your initial building cost, reduces your taxes and reduces your energy bills. A smaller home will also typically reduce the maintenance and cleaning required.

I believe there are a number of people that smaller homes might appeal to. Singles or young couples with no children, empty nesters, etc. Maybe a smaller house could function as a 2nd home or vacation home away from the city.

If you happen to have access to old plan books from the 50's and 60's, you will find a number of small modern designs. Below is an image from such a plan book. It is really a simple and small modern design. With a few tweaks, something like this would work very well today.

The biggest question for most people is what space do you take away from a typical design to create a small home. The answer is really, everywhere. You simply start with the idea of reducing the square footage in every room. You also eliminate duplicate spaces.

A living room can typically be reduced in size but it still needs to be large enough to accommodate guests when needed. The kitchen can be small and still remain functional. Maybe a galley style kitchen. There should only be one dining area, even better if it is integrated with the kitchen. Many space efficient designs utilize a large kitchen island that integrates the dining table. These areas can still be open and stylish, just smaller than the typical home.

Bedrooms can also typically be reduced in size. How big does a bedroom really need to be? The essentials for a bedroom are room for a bed and space for dressers etc. You don't want your bedroom so small that you can't walk past your spouse without turning sideways, but you don't need it to be 25' square either. Can you still have a master bath or en suite? Sure, I think most people want a private bath in the master bedroom. If you don't, then you can reduce the size of the home that much more.

Smaller homes may not be for everyone, but there is certainly a section of the population that sees appeal in what they offer. Look for some smaller stock plans to be added to my selection in the next few months.