Wednesday, April 13. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

Living in a trailer isn’t so bad. That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway. I moved into my first one in 1975, a year after my mother died and my brother saved me from foster care. A step up from the low-income apartments we lived in (all seven of us), it was a “14 x 70”; i.e., a single-wide designed to fit snugly in one highway lane, towed over Independence Pass by an experienced, weathered, snuff-chewing trucker, no doubt. One who knew how to traverse the Continental Divide without slipping over the edge.

Mine Water Poses Danger of a Toxic Gusher

Losing a mother early shapes a woman’s emotional terrain for life

Assessment of blood lead levels in children living in a historic mining and smelting community.

Ozzello explained the blood lead program Lake County had initiated and their successes in just the first few years. They were targeting areas where the danger was highest – the east side of town, Stringtown, and the Lake Fork Mobile Home Park. Blood lead levels were already dropping. At Lake Fork, the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels had dropped in half since 1993, and more than eighty homes had already had or agreed to have their soils tested.

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

It was parked at the foot of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in a state called Colorado and a town called Leadville and a neighborhood called Stringtown and a trailer park called Lake Fork. My “rich” friends lived in trailers, too. Around the corner in double-wides and man did I envy their extra girth. More bedrooms, bigger kitchens, nicer finishes. Depending on your vantage point, living in a double-wide constitutes either the lap of luxury or the depths of despair.

Lake Fork

The entrance to Lake Fork Trailer Park in Leadville, Colorado, where I lived as a child from 1975-1979.

So when I tell you that this visit to the architect was one of the most disheartening experiences of my life, I tell you in the context of having lived knowing far more fundamental, less privileged problems.

On the east side of town, in Stringtown, and at the Lake Fork Trailer Park at the confluence of California Gulch and the Arkansas River the numbers reached 22 percent. The average blood level for the entire town was only 4.8 micrograms, and the highest blood lead hit just 16.7 micrograms. The EPA, ASARCO, and the town all claimed victory. Nine percent was much lower than the EPA’s original prediction and the state’s previous results, and Leadville felt vindicated.

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

I used to play in the Arkansas River at California Gulch. Wandered down as a lithe, trusting nine-year old, hair as rusty as the mineralized water, exploring alone on the metallic banks, passing away many a cold summer afternoon.

Their town wasn’t the diseased community the EPA and the national media made it out to be. “This is nothing compared to what you see in inner cities,” a Lake County Health Department employee told the USA Today in 1994. “Of course there’s no one to pay the bills there. The EPA sees a mining company with deep pockets here.”

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

Will got laid off three days before my birthday. Six days after I’d picked out the bathroom tile. One month before we were scheduled to start construction. One week after we’d written a $10,000 non-refundable check to the builder.

So the shoes I wore to meet the architect this time are the shoes I wore to table a dream. For now, this project is on hold. Again. But, to put it all in perspective, I lived in trailers off and on for the bulk of a motherless childhood and a chunk of a penniless first marriage. I’m sure I can handle life in an old, small house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in one of the nicest cities for a little bit longer.

And the drawings. The drawings are done and we will always have the drawings. I’ll be goddamned if I’m giving up on this house now.

Frye Loafers, purchased on Zappos, 2015.

Saturday, March 26th. The shoes I wore to meet the builder.

Numbers are scary. Numbers signifying your weight, your blood pressure, your bank account balance, your age. Numbers, as it turns out, more often than not highlight more of what you don’t have than what you do. Numbers, as is often the case, focus on what’s left out rather than what remains.

We received a significant set of numbers yesterday and went over them this afternoon at our long yellow table. These numbers in particular, list the costs associated with building our house. Five thousand dollars to demolish the garage, ten thousand to demolish the house. Fifty eight hundred for the French doors (WTF?!), but only eighteen hundred for the tub.

We chose Treebird Construction on the advice of our architects, Campie and Steve.

From Pantone’s 2016 Color of the Year: Rose Quartz and Serenity Color Pairings

We will watch these numbers like a hawk over the next year, sweating the details, looking for creative ways to keep them as low as possible. Will, in particular, will do most of the sweating.

I am too busy formulating the residential color palette.

color palette

For three hours, we sat with Ian, our builder, going through his spreadsheet, line by line (“How do you like working in Excel?” I, of course, couldn’t help but ask). Then we walked to that house on 2nd Avenue to show Ian the siding we like – what a coincidence! he built the kitchen in that house – and then to Top Pot.

Good! he said. Those blonde shelves aren’t too complicated. In fact, I will build them myself.

We feel really good about Ian. Our dogs love him; he’s a Colorado native, too; and he and his wife were married at the Rolling Huts, one of our favorite places in the world. mw|works also designed Ian’s house, which won a design award. Winning design awards isn’t that important to us, but if it happens, we won’t mind.

Reviewing the pricing spreadsheet with Ian, our builder.

Ian holding the permit drawings for the new 1934.

Ian holding the permit drawings for the new 1934.

The chickens will be fostered out. What about the chicken coop? Can we move it to the corner of the front yard? It’s heavy.

He looked at it.

Let’s just disassemble it. That thing will be a pain in the ass to move around.

We have the financing secured from Washington Federal, a loft lined up in Ballard, and an estimate from Door-to-Door for storing our stuff. If all goes as planned, this number will become a pivotal one: 05 15 2016. The date we tear this house down.

Second Sundays

A Second Sunday. A first month.

I didn’t know of Jim Haynes until I read about him this week in Leo Hollis’s Cities Are Good For You: The Genius of the Metropolis. He’s an American in Paris who, for almost 40 years, has held an “endless dinner party” in his apartment at 38 Rue de la Tombe Issoire in Paris, inviting anyone and everyone, a salon for the world.

There’s no prior screening, no invitations, “Mr. Haynes, 78, said. “I just say the first 60 or 75 that call can come and that’s the mix.

More about Jim Haynes: Sign up for his dinner!

Inviting the World to Dinner

Jim Haynes: Godfather of the Supper Club

My goal for Second Sundays has been to create community around food like this, albeit with more structure. But structure, which can often be freeing in its application of constraints, can also be limiting, binding, onerous, and suffocating: perhaps it’s time for the structure to go, the strings to loosen, the lid lifted off. Perhaps it’s time to approach this dinner series like Jim does: Open. Trusting. Que sera, sera.

Q. How does your supper club operate?

A. We have a volunteer chef system. I have a Rolodex of 12 cooks. I just call them up and ask who’s ready for the next one. The food changes. The woman cooking this weekend is Russian; last weekend, the chef was Macedonian. The meals are almost always three courses, and there’s always a vegetarian option. There’s a suggested donation of 30 euros, but you give what you want. – Dinner? Paris? Invite Everyone!

John Locke said that ‘trust’ was at the heart of any society; and this notion of ‘trust’ has too often been ignored in the discussions of how to make a happy city. –Leo Hollis

Our last supper club was hosted at Andrew’s house in the Central District, including Andrew, me, Debra, Chris, and Aaron. Debra plans to host our next one (in April). But after that, I’m loosening, billowing, opening this supper club up to the world. Jim has the irresistible draw of hosting in an atelier in Paris and Seattle is no Paris, this is true. But Paris is no Seattle, either. There are beautiful, interesting people where ever you go.

Will you spread the word and cook for us?

Generalized trusters are ‘happier in thier own personal lives and believe that they are the masters of their own fate. They are tolerant of people who are different from themselves and believe that dealing with strangers opens up opportunities more than it entails risks. –Leo Hollis

Second Sundays

Andrew, Deborah, Aaron, and Chris. Sunday, January 10, 2016. Seattle.

Second Sundays.

Chris and Aaron. Sunday, January 10, Seattle’s Central District neighborhood.

Second Sundays

Hot buttered rum, compliments of Chris. Second Sundays, January 10, 2016.

Anne Tyng

On starchitects, domestic violence, and the Stockholm Syndrome.

Le Corbusier. Frank Lloyd Wright. Louis Kahn. Great architects. Lauded visionaries. Master womanizers and manipulators. The film “My Architect”, a documentary about the life of Louis Kahn, provides a disheartening case-in-point.

The film summarizes Kahn’s life: immigrating to the US from Estonia as a five-year old, he grew up poor in North Philadelphia, moving around a lot, but showing an early talent for art.

See also: 10 facts about infidelity 

Laurie Penny on the sex lives of powerful men 

Many Mansions: On the centenary of Louis Kahn’s birth, a look at his legacy. And his secret life.

He eventually earned a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied architecture. He opened a studio in Philadelphia, but didn’t gain notoriety until reaching his 50s. By that time, he also had three children, each by a different woman. The first to whom he remained married; the second whom he ditched for the third; the third whom he strung along until his death in 1974 ((Anne Tyng, a renowned architect in her own right and mother of his second child, pictured above).

The combination of “Stockholm Syndrome” and “cognitive dissonance” produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended. In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and placed “all their eggs in one basket”. The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.

The Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser


For me, the film unfolded under the dark shadow of male power and naïve female subservience. What is it about women who tolerate, make excuses for, and madly love abusive philanderers, regardless of their own well-being, or that of their children (I ask as a statistic myself, having ended abusive relationships, but never tolerating or excusing, let alone continuing to love the perpetrator)? Do they derive power, prestige, and pleasure from the dysfunctional relationship? Was their 15 minutes of fame in a beautifully-made documentary worth a lifetime of deceit and regret, never mind being portrayed as pathetic fools? All three of these women appeared sad and tragic, not a legacy I choose to leave. But which makes me wonder: is loving someone great inherently more passionate and invigorating than loving someone ordinary? Does greatness require willing recipients for acts of abuse? Surely not.

How do we as a society evolve to expectations of more egalitarian, functional relationships? How do we empower girls to reject these outdated, mysogynistic relationship models? How do we educate boys of the same?

How do girls gain confidence and self-esteem, thus empowering them to unapologetically reject any man who treats her less than a full equal? And though one might argue that infidelity alone doesn’t classify as domestic violence, I argue that it does fall under the domestic violence umbrella, on one end of a long and complicated spectrum.

The types of behaviour associated with coercion or control may or may not constitute a criminal offence in their own right. It is important to remember that the presence of controlling or coercive behaviour does not mean that no other offence has been committed or cannot be charged. However, the perpetrator may limit space for action and exhibit a story of ownership and entitlement over the victim.

– In 2016, the UK expanded its legal definitions of domestic violence.

Being a hero of any discipline does not give license to abuse. While I may appreciate the design philosophies of Louis Kahn, he will never be one of my design heroes. His forms, while noble in theory, are ugly; his lack of personal ethics, reprehensible.


Friday, December 11. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

I like wood. Concrete. Tile. Marble. Steel. Mullioned glass. I especially like concrete formed to look like wood. Will likes wood, wood, and more wood. And canvas. Concrete, too (although that took some convincing). Copper metals. Granite. Silver. Tile.

“Perfect. It’ll just be a kick-off of interiors thoughts to make sure we’re headed in the right direction. See you then. Campie”

How materials in architecture can form a city’s visual identity.

Also, check this out: Light transmitting concrete.

We spoke of materials today. To inform those we shall use tomorrow.

Boden metallic t-straps

Friday, November 6th. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

You learn a lot about things you didn’t know you didn’t know when designing a house. Like shear walls.

Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling.The Really Big One, The New Yorker

We are grandfathered in to a house of cards.

A shear wall is a strategically-placed wall designed to transmit lateral forces caused by, say, an earthquake, into the ground. The city of Seattle requires seismic code compliance for residential architecture. Our current house, built in 1900, has no shear walls, let alone the required added redundancy for earthquake protection; we are grandfathered in to a house of cards.

But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.

Our new house, though, will be much safer. In addition to seismic building code compliance, we’re embracing post-modern design, with a focus on classic, symmetrical proportions, which are preferred for earthquake retrofitting. That and we’re embracing the constraints.

The architect should be prepared to accept structural forms or assemblies (such as increased size of columns and beams) that may modify the design character, and should be prepared to exploit these as part of the aesthetic language of the design rather than resisting them.

The architect and engineer should both employ ingenuity and imagination of their respective disciplines to reduce the effect of irregularities, or to achieve desired aesthetic qualities without compromising structural integrity. – Seismic Issues in Architectural Design,



A Second Sunday. An Eleventh Month.

Butter yellow formica isn’t a material you see everyday. Unless you’re at my house. Our dining room table is butter yellow formica, with metal trim and dark wood legs. We bought it at an architectural salvage store in Baltimore for $60. We love that table, and have had many a great conversation and hearty laugh around it. Here’s to many more.

A beautiful, related essay: The Families We Choose.

These days, tables have come to represent a surface where sustenance and creation come together – a place to wonder and to solve problems, to probe and to redefine our roles. It stands as a symbol of our connectedness with each other and with ourselves: We come to eat, we stay to dine. In this way, the table has become a site where our lives play out and where we draw ideas and narratives into existence. How we set the table, how we spend time at the table and who we choose to share the table with directly reflects the way we live away from the table – change one, and you’ll inevitably change the other. – Kinfolk, Issue 18: The Family Issue

Second Sundays, November 2015: Ann, Erika, Olga, Alex, Stacey, Jay, Aaron, Andrew, and Callie, Will, Oslo and Mies (Hosts). Video below also from Kinfolk, Issue 18: The Family Issue.

Parisians at a café on the Left Bank, engaging in the most Parisian of activities. Paris, March 2014. Photo by Callie Neylan.

Vive la France! Or why I fly the French flag.

Why would I go to the funeral of a friend or relative but not all of the funerals happening in my city that day? Why would I visit my own sick child in the hospital but not the hundreds of other sick ones, too? Why do I, an American, fly the French flag after the attacks of last Friday, and not the flags of other nations who’ve suffered similar tragedies?


Muslim girl on the Seine.

A young Muslim girl on the banks of the Seine. Paris, France. March 2014. Photo by Callie Neylan.


So Much For Freedom Fries: America’s New BFF is France

Because it boils down to this: personal, shared stories.

See also: A Brief History of Pierre L’Enfant and Washington, D.C.

Without the French, there would be no America. Without America, there would be no France. Our very first ally, they helped us win the Revolutionary War; sold us the Lousiana Purchase; lent us their architects inspiring the beautiful, classic, timeless design of our capital city;  housed and inspired many of our greatest writers, like Richard Wright, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and most importantly, provided many of the philosophical frameworks on which we built our American ideals.

Few terrorist attacks in foreign lands have seized the attention of this country like the carnage in the streets of Paris, a city an ocean away but glittering in the memories of countless American honeymoons, junior years abroad and bucket-list vacations. – The New York Times

In turn, we saved them from the Germans during World War I, saved them again during World War II, and cry more for their cities and their people when, all other things equal, tragedies happen on French soil. The first thing our earliest refugees saw when immigrating to American shores was the Statue of Liberty. Our first tangible face to the world, a French face: one of our most recognizable icons, a gift from the French people to a foundling, idealistic, starry-eyed democracy. Of course we pledge their allegiance first: that’s what old friends with these kinds of intimate, shared stories do.


Waiters on the Left Bank, Paris. March 2014.

Waiters on the Left Bank in the 6ème Arrondissement, Paris. March 2014.

2014-03-10 08.00.05 2014-03-10 07.57.20 2014-03-10 07.56.37

2014-03-10 07.17.26 2014-03-10 07.13.45
2014-03-08 13.43.43 2014-03-08 10.47.17 2014-03-08 10.39.33 2014-03-08 10.26.05 2014-03-08 09.27.22 2014-03-08 09.25.52 2014-03-07 03.23.46 2014-03-07 03.23.20 2014-03-06 12.52.31 2014-03-06 10.35.12 2014-03-05 08.15.55 2014-03-05 07.45.46 2014-03-05 07.01.53 2014-03-05 06.48.22


Photos taken by me during our trip to Paris in March 2014.

The first time I ever set foot on foreign soil, it was French soil. I’ll never forget that day I emerged wide-eyed in the gates at Charles de Gualle airport, July 1996, on my way to southern France to study for the summer. I’ll never forget the first time someone spoke to me directly in French and how in an instant, theory met reality and everything I learned in my years of French study alluded me for an instant, rendering me speechless as I struggled to find les mots justes.

I’ll never forget stuffing three Americans, four suitcases, and two French hosts in a Citroën not much bigger than a smart car, driving from Marseille to my French family’s apartment in Aix-en-Provence.

I’ll never forget the first time I walked down a French cobble-stoned street, presented with the golden ratio embedded in beautiful architecture, everywhere I looked.

I’ll never forget my little French room with the terracotta balcony overlooking a dozen more terracotta balconies in the Mediterranean sun. I’ll never forget the bowls of coffee every morning for breakfast and the paté-smeared French bread everyday for lunch.

I’ll never forget Corrine, Lauren and Astrid Machulka, my wonderful host family, who greeted me with a cheerful French “Coucou!” every morning when I woke up. I’ll never forget how she a single mother, and me, a single one too, used to compare notes as we drove her daughters along the sea to their father’s in Avignon for le weekend avec leur pere.

I’ll never forget meeting my dear friend Christina – my friend to this day – and how we used to make fun of the French and their condescending rudeness even though we both loved the French and everything about them. Nor how we used to laugh our brash American laughs as we imitated Texans speaking French on the curbs of the Cours Mirabeau. Our friendship, nee en France, is a true French citizen.

I’ll never forget my first French pain au chocolat and French crepe, my first topless sunbathing experience on a rock by the Coté d’Azur followed by my first cliff jumping into a deep sparkling sea. Nor my first ride on the TGV and that time in the Latin Quarter on my last night during that first summer in France, laughing and joking and speaking much more fluent French with a long table of French, who pulled us, les jolies Americaines! into their fold as we walked down the street.

I’ll never forget how that first travel abroad expanded my world and changed me forever.

#newyorktimes #peaceforparis

A photo posted by Guillaume Gouix (@guillaumegouix) on

Paris, je t’aime.

pink sandals

Tuesday, Sept 8th. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

In my life, I have been told I resemble a prettier version of Allison Janney; easily passed off as Katharine Hepburn at a Halloween party; most recently been compared to Claire on House of Cards. Which is not to say that we’re doppelgängers by any means, but the concept of resemblance is a notable thing.

In architecture, doppelgängers abound, with East Coast row house architecture an especially relevant case-in-point. Our Baltimore rowhouse looked exactly like the ones next to it and for blocks around, with the only opportunity for variation the design of the front door and paint color of trim.

Bolton HIll row house

Our classic, 1860s Italianate row house at 129 West Lafayette Avenue in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood, 2010 or 11.

East vs. West: Stark Coast-to-Coast Culture Clash Revealed

Which makes me wonder again (for I am always, always wondering) about architecture and how it shapes who we are. As residential architecture traveled West, it became less conforming, more open, more individual: the detached, single family home. Did this building philosophy, in turn, produce the freer, more open, innovative culture that the West is known for?

The culture that basically enabled the majority of modern-day technical and culinary innovation? Or did that spirit come first, influencing the architecture? I argue it was the latter.

The National Journal on the spirit of the West Coast: “This re­gion is rich­er, has more res­id­ents with col­lege de­grees, and is more in­nov­at­ive than oth­er areas.”

Only the most fearless – those with guts, drive, and ambition – were brave enough to leave the East Coast traditions and establishment, to venture unfettered and free into the wild, wild, unknown West.

As we build our new house on a hill on a hill, we know that while it will contain recognizable elements of East Coast architecture – the classic proportions and stately grace – the core of our house, via the utilization of local materials and a certain je ne sais quoi, will reflect the beautiful, wild spirit of my home, our home, the birthplace of the Dixon matriarch, the cradle of our joining – to wit, the wonderful, magical, transpiring American West.

“Why did you come West, Will?” I asked. “To remake myself”, he said. “Everyone knows that in order to remake yourself, you go West. It is the mystical pull of the American existence.”

architectural rendering

Architectural rendering from our second round of iterations with MW/Works, integrating design influences from a classic Seattle Box and the Baltimore Rowhouse. September, 2015.


Oslo and Mies at the juncture between the living room and stately entry hall. High ceilings are a defining feature of row house architecture, a design element crucial to air circulation during the time before central heating and air, and one that we’re stealing for the new house. Baltimore, Maryland, 2010-11.

Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, front entry all, 2010-11.

Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, front entry all, 2010-11.

Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, front entry all, 2010-11.

Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, front entry all, 2010-11. We brought two chandeliers with us when we returned to Seattle, much to the chagrin of our Baltimore real estate agent.

Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, looking toward the back of the house via the front living room, 2010-11.

Interior transom windows are a design element we’ll be carrying over into the new 1934. Architectural detail of the Baltimore house, looking toward the back of the house via the front living room, 2010-11.

Will and Mies, standing next to the original marble mantle. Baltimore, Maryland. 2009-11.

Will and Mies, standing next to the original marble mantle. Baltimore, Maryland. 2009-11. I would like to buy a used mantle secondhand from a salvage lot in Baltimore, or perhaps have a replica cast in concrete for 1934.


On being subtle but not small.

Subtle. The difference between a male and female jawline. The angle of the forehead, the curve of the brow.

There’s an algorithm for that: an electronic tongue taste differences in beer.

Minor. The delta between the girl and boy nutmeg trees. One bears fruit, the other, the flower. In the beginning, differences so subtle, they’re almost invisible.

From the Smithsonian: Is the skeleton male or female? The pelvis tells the story.

Little. The crevice between red and pink. The flavor variation between oregano and thyme.

Tiny. It takes special tools to tell the difference between a zirconia and a diamond.

Subtle changes in ocean temperatures can mean the difference between life and death.

Hidden. Which is the truth, which is a lie? Sometimes, subtlety is intuited from the gut. Sometimes subtle is a clue.

Subtlety is often a synonym for the small and barely noticeable. But what does it mean to be subtle, really? What does it mean to sport a change so minuscule indicating a variation on the majuscule?

Climate, terroir, and taste in wine: “Geology and soil do not produce these broad differences, but they do produce the subtle expressions of these qualities within the same climate or region.” The same could be said for cacao and wheat.

In the absence of externalities, i.e., skin, hair, fat, and muscle, forensic scientists can tell the difference between male and female skeletons based on subtle differences in geometric angles of key human bone structures, like the jaw, hip, and brow.

In the absence of light, dogs can smell the difference between a healthy mole and a cancerous one. In the presence of tastebuds, slight differences in flavor profiles of single-origin chocolate, coffee, or wine can signify variations of thousands of miles, cultural deltas of distant peoples, and chemistries of entire continents.

That is to say, the drastic is often indicated by the seemingly small. Whisper. Trickle. Glance. Brush. Tap.

Subtle things are not little. Subtle things are big. Subtle things the signifier, big the signified.