Friday, December 2, 2016

A Usonian style house built with SIPs?

I have written about this before, but I have long considered the viability as well as the desirability of an updated Usonian style home in today's market? I wonder how many people would be willing to do what it would take to build such a home? Arranging for financing, finding a builder, getting code compliance approval could be difficult. And then what kind of compromises would the owner want to or be willing to make as far as materials used inside and out would need to be considered.

I truly love Wright's Usonian houses! They are beautiful and unique. They were built in a time when skilled labor and materials were far less costly than today and allowed the creation of these architectural gems. I would love to live in one, or something very similar to one, But when we built our home, I felt it was simply out of the question considering my budget at the time and our building site.

Wright designed his Usonian homes to utilize a slab foundation with a central masonry core (fireplace) as well as other masonry elements at the perimeters to support the roof structure. Most of the exterior walls were either thin board and batten walls or window walls. While the board and batten walls and window walls supported some of the roof load, the majority of the weight and side load strength of the home was provided by the masonry elements.

A Usonian style home built with SIPs could probably do without the structural masonry elements for support. However, I feel that having some brick or textured concrete elements would add to the appeal of the home and could also be used in place of more expensive natural wood in many vertical areas.

SIP walls would work well with the slab foundation. And they offer the ability to erect the structure very quickly. With the slab and masonry core in place, the SIP walls could arrive on a truck and be erected in a day. The home could also be built with conventional stick framing but utilizing SIPs would add better energy efficiency as well as speed construction time. I believe FLLW would have liked the capabilities and features of SIPs if they have been available in his time.

SIPs could be used to simplify the roof structure also. However, Again, once the walls were in place, the SIP roof panels could be quickly craned into place. You could also utilize conventional flat trusses or some form of TJI for the roof structure. Utilizing SIPs for the roof would be more costly, but it would speed up the construction time.

The last major issue I see with this type of t a home would be the challenge of staying true to the original design intent while substituting exterior and interior finish materials for the copious amounts of wood that Wright used. This is something I need to put some thought and research into. I am just not sure what the answer should be. One example would be the windows and doors. Wright used wooden doors and windows, but then, that was the only option available other than steel frames. Today, I think you could use any number of jamb materials including anodized aluminum. This would look different than a Wright Usonian home, but you would not be trying to replicate it detail for detail.

In my mind I can see the genesis of the design. The structure would look very similar in nature, some materials would look the same yet others would be different. The goal would be to create a home where the materials work together along with the design to create a unique home in the FLLW Usonian style.

In spite of these numerous challenges, I am still intent on recreating a Usonian style design to offer for sale as plans. More to come in the future. My next task is to consult with a SIPs manufacturer regarding such a project.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A mid century modern style home, how much do you want to own one?

Just how badly do you desire to own a mid century modern style home? I think this is a fair question if you are reading this blog or if you frequent web sites such as, or if you have a subscription to Dwell magazine.

I did not always appreciate modern style homes. It is something that basically grew on me over the years. I worked for several years as a carpenter on the gulf coast of Florida and I am sure I have had my hand in a number of large, expensive modern homes. However as a frame carpenter, we rarely had the opportunity to see the finished product. And back then I can't say that I had a particular attraction to modern homes.

A little later in life I discovered Frank Lloyd Wright's work. Mainly his Prairie style homes. They were different than most anything else, and I had an opportunity to visit a few of them here in the Midwest. While I found these interesting, there was something about them that just did not quite fit for me. Maybe it was the formal-ness of the design and finishes, I really don't know.

But in investigating more of Wright's works, I discovered his Usonian homes and his masterpiece, Fallingwater. I love several of his Usonian designs and they have influenced some of my own designs. I still have this idea of creating a modernized Usonian style design to offer customers. And Fallingwater is incredible! If you have not visited it, you should. And don't skimp, take the longer more expensive tour. You won't regret it!

Along with Wright's works, I also discovered many of the other mid century modern designers of the 50s and 60s. Shindler, Neutra, Eichler, Lautner, Jones, van der Rohe.......... Far too many talented designers to list here. Their works also influence my own designs.

As a result of my interest in modern architecture, I knew I wanted one for myself! At the time I was living in a very nice split level home in a quiet little town. It was really a good place to be raising a family. But I wanted to live in the country and I wanted a modern style home. It took a lot of effort and time, but eventually we found 10 acres we loved and I designed and built our home.

This brings up the question that is the title of this post (finally)

How much do you want to own a mid century modern style home?

Most people are not aware such a thing exists or they don't care enough to do what it takes to own one. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is just not a desire or priority in their lives.

Then there are people such as yourself who do care and do desire to own such a home. This brings up the question of how? You really have just 3 choices: buy an existing modern home, modify an existing home to have modern character, or build new.

There are existing mid century modern style homes that come on the market from time to time, depending on your location. These days, most of these sell for a premium. But if the stars align and your budget is a adequate, maybe you can buy a cool modern home.

It is very feasible to modify an existing home into the modern style home you desire. Probably the most flexible design is the simple ranch design. A rancher is basically a blank slate, and you can dramatically change its appearance both inside and out. Change the windows, add a more modern entry door, add some modern accent pieces to the front and you will be amazed. On the inside, again, start with adding more windows to open it up and bring in more light. Then add other modern details such as hardwood flooring and lighting, then some modern furnishings and you will have a very nice, modern style home!

The other option is to build new. While this offers the most flexibility to get what you want, it is also the hardest because you have to make the financing work as well as make a thousand choices and compromises along the way. But, it can be done if it is what you really want!

Keep in mind that even if you have a smaller budget, you can have a cool, modern design home! The design just needs to be tailored to your budget so that you can get the home built.

So, like most things in life, if a cool modern home is something your truly desire, make a plan and pursue what you want! Set a realistic budget, buy some land, find a design you love or hire a designer, find a builder and have the home of your dreams!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

New design for a narrow lot

I recently completed a new home design for a narrow building lot. I designed this for a client who will be building it as a spec home.

The design is pretty simple and straight forward: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 car garage, kitchen, dining area and living room, with an open, modern aesthetic. The building itself with the 1 car garage is only 34 feet wide which will make it applicable for many narrow building lots. Total square footage is 1600 sq ft.

This version of the design features a low pitch shed roof on the home and garage. I will offer other variations such as a low pitched gable roof on the home and or parapet walls on the garage and home. Possibly even the option of a flat roof on both.

For a larger lot, the garage could easily be expanded for 2 cars. Either garage configuration could be built as a car port instead.

I will have this design available on the "Designs" page of my web site as a Stock Plan very soon.

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.