shoes

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.

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.

pumps

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, Fema.gov

 

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.

Weimaraners.

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.

J. Crew Sandals

Friday, August 21. The shoes I wore to meet the architects.

A set of Copic markers is not cheap. But good tools are valued in the Office Design studio, where we have a large, colorful set; we are, after all, toolmakers.

Adobe Says Drawing Should Be Like Writing—A Skill We Teach Everyone

If only I used them more often.

We met last week with the architects for our first design session, at their studio on Western, mullioned windows dividing Elliott Bay into a choppy grid. I was jealous. Jealous of their sketches and the markers that preceded them. I learned to draw in design school, but not like an architect.

“The sketch, then, despite often being the size of a stamp or a pack of matches, is neither the representation nor the embryo of the idea but rather, as Franco Purini said, “the DNA of ideas”. It is the idea’s genesis because it tends to solve, within the context of the inventive kernel of activity, every complexity of what is still outside that kernel, however temporarily.” – Paolo Belardi, Why Architects Still Draw

and

“Sketchbooks are not about being a good artist, they’re about being a good thinker.

Obviously, some people do bring the practice of sketching to a higher art form, but to me, it’s always been about visual brainstorming and record-keeping in a format with a ridiculously low barrier to entry. My drawings look like shit, but fidelity doesn’t matter as long as I can convey my ideas to others or to my future self.

We should revel in not caring how good or bad we are, and by knowing that we hone our creativity with each stroke of the pencil.” – Jason Santa Maria, Pretty Sketchy

 

How To Think Like An Architect: The Design Process

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IMG_7169

IMG_7167

IMG_7166

The sketches produced made us happy, with many of the divergent ideas we’ve been struggling to realize, finally visualized in graphite form. We are close to a finished design. Very close.

blue shoes

Wednesday, July 29. The shoes I wore to meet the architects.

Would have been these shoes, except that I didn’t meet with the architects (note: it’s plural now). I was busy hacking in Redmond.

So Will met with them, Campie and Steve, architects from mw/works, a small Seattle architecture firm. And with the builder, Ian. Who came to the house to provide input on what we can do with such a tight budget. And to climb on the roof and look at the views and gauge how light filters into the house.

Before the whole problem is defined, solutions can only be partial and premature. A designer who can’t wait for a complete, carefully prepared program is like the tailor who doesn’t bother to measure a customer before starting to cut the cloth. – from the 4th Edition of Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer

Afterward, I answered programming questions (posted in their entirety for posterity):

Neylan-Dixon Residence

Program Summary:

Please briefly list/adjust the different spaces that will be required (i.e. Kitchen, Mudroom, Master Bedroom, Two Guest Bedrooms, 2-car garage, etc):  

If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.— Einstein

Carport/Garage (310sf per survey):

Existing Garage or rebuilt in same location depending on construction access requirements

Main House (1400-1600sf):

Front Entry (transitional space)

Entry closet

Living

Dining

Kitchen

Powder room

Mudroom/Laundry Room

Master Bedroom (Ideal 14’ x 18’)

Master closets (Walk-in? Yes!)

Master Bathroom (shares with upper guest room)

Guest room/Office

Mechanical Room

Stairway

Storage

Outdoor spaces: Decks/Patios

Basement Options

Full Crawlspace

or

Basement Option 1 (separate exterior access for continued rental income) 625 sf

Bedroom

Bathroom

Storage

or

Partial Basement Option 2 (interior access for storage) 400sf

Storage

General

How many people are in the family? Who will be the primary occupants of the home?

comments: Two adults, full-time. A young child for frequent overnight visits.

Do you have any pets? Do they have any special requirements?

comments: Two Weimaraners + four chickens. The dogs will drive some of our material choices and door hardware. The chickens will affect the landscaping.

What would be the general pattern of guests? How many to accommodate?

comments: We don’t have guests that often. But having a comfortable, separate place for guests (two) would be good, but can be combined with an office space or other private area.

Are there any special needs that the home should accommodate now or in the future? Is wheelchair accessibility required in any areas? Is an elevator required now or in future?

comments: None at this time, although we do plan to grow old here.

What kinds of materials are you interested in for the interior/exterior?

comments: Simple, true, low maintenance ones that age well. There’s siding on a house on 2nd Ave W that we really like.  Marble for kitchen countertops. Combination of concrete, wood, and tile floors. Transom windows.

Are there certain materials that you know that don’t want?

comments: Low quality, ugly crap. Also, canned lighting (unless used for task lighting in kitchen and baths). I hate canned lighting.

Many beautiful materials require some degree of maintenance on the exterior and a limited number of options exist that require almost no maintenance. How important is maintenance when considering material choices?

comments: It’s a very important consideration, but we’re okay with some maintenance.

Describe in general terms how your ideal house might look, feel, or be organized?

comments: Light, airy, simple, tall. Uncluttered, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing.

Do you have certain stylistic traits in mind for the house? Are there certain projects by Mwworks or others that seem particularly relevant as a reference?

comments: See Callie’s Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/neylano/a-house/ The house we like on 2nd Ave W. We also like the design philosophies Tom Kundig employed for the Rolling Huts.

Site

Describe what you see as the site’s primary advantages? Disadvantages?

comments: Advantage: the view, light, alley access and location. Disadvantages, the narrow lot and neighbors behind us with money but ZERO taste.

Are certain views more important than others?

comments: The view of the Olympics to the west is most important, but we would like to build for views of the Cascades to the East and Mt Baker to the north if feasible.

Ideally, what rooms would be most important to orient to a view?

comments: Probably the kitchen, as we’re in the kitchen all the time. Then the living room. I would be okay with our bedroom highlighting the Cascade views.

Is morning sun or afternoon sun preferred for certain rooms?  If so, which ones?

comments: Morning sun would be great in our bedroom. Afternoon sun (and/or morning sun) everywhere else. Currently, the way the light comes in to the living room in the evenings is absolutely beautiful. We would also like to take advantage of southern light coming into the house, even if diffused and indirect, that would be nice.

Which rooms do you see having the strongest connections with exterior spaces?

comments: The kitchen and living spaces. The mudroom.

How do you see the larger site being used – gardens, yards, pool, hot tub, BBQ/outdoor fireplace? Can you identify any activities that you would expect to occur on the property?

comments: Having a fire pit would be ideal. We would also like to plan a space for an endless pool to be added later. We are both avid swimmers. We love to entertain outside, too. And garden. And raise chickens. I would like automatic sprinklers both on the property and plumbed to the garden between the street and sidewalk. Also, bike shed built into retaining wall. We would like a fully enclosed yard to contain the dogs, but also want to be open with our neighbors. I don’t want my landscaping to scream “Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.” with ugly hedges. I want a good balance between open and private.  

Technical Items

Do you have a preference for the primary fuel source and heating system for heating the home? Oil, natural gas, propane, electricity, wood? Forced air or hydronic radiant? Or hybrid?  The vast majority of our projects use either natural gas or propane with hydronic radiant heat in the floors but older homes typically have forced air heating,

comments: Radiant heat powered by natural gas. We would like a woodburning fireplace. Mechanical systems offer an opportunity to conserve energy. Are you interested in sustainable systems like solar hot water, ground source geothermal, photovoltaics etc.?

comments: Yes.

Are there particular sustainable design practices that are important to you? Would you like to consider integrating systems/products, non-toxic finishes, recycled products, rainwater catchment, energy efficient equipment, advanced insulation systems, etc.?

comments: Yes. In fact, I was just reading about toilet/sink combos.

Should the house have both heating and cooling(AC) or would you prefer to avoid AC if possible?  

comments: Avoid AC in favor of natural ventilation. We love ceiling fans.

Do you want a security system?  If so, fairly basic (motion and door breaks) or something that has video and can be tied into a home automation system?

comments: Undecided. The dogs have worked very well so far, even in Baltimore (!!).

If you have any interest in a particularly high level of whole home controls or automation please describe here.

comments: Integrated stereo system, automated sprinkler systems. We’re not that excited about touchpad entry or an iris-scanning front door if that’s what you’re asking. Analog is good!

Do you have any special lighting requirements?  Do you want standard light switching or a lighting control system such as Lutron Homeworks?

comments: Yes, especially if we decide not to go with a security system.

Do you want a central vacuum system?

comments: No.

What level of audio/visual system do you want to plan for?

comments: Integrated. Sonos and built-in projector screen somewhere.

Which spaces require window blinds/shades? Do you have a preference toward motorized vs. manual?  Fabric curtains or roller blinds? Do any areas need to be black out (completely dark)?

comments: Manual is preferable. Blinds are preferable to curtains in most cases. Definitely in the bathrooms and bedroom(s). No black out necessary.

Do any rooms require window screens?  If there are large sliding/folding doors in the primary living spaces, do they require screens? (A common solution is screens in the bedrooms/bathrooms only)

comments: Screens are good. P.S. Will’s dream is to have his own private screened sleeping porch like the ones common in his native Maryland, but we realize this may be out of scope.

Living Area

How separated should the living room be from other activities like cooking, eating etc.?

comments: I like how you separated the living and kitchen at Ian’s house in Montlake. The push/pull of open vs private.  

Would you like a fireplace? Wood or Gas? Decorative or used as heat source? Materials?

comments: Yes. As heat source. I have long had this idea of taking a mold of a marble fireplace very common in Baltimore rowhouses and then casting a replica in concrete to be used in our house here.

Can you think of any furniture, artifacts or art that would need to be planned for in this space? We have two chandeliers from the Baltimore house. We also bought a double-hung front rowhouse door complete with an originally numbered transom window. Additionally, there are a couple of doors in the Seattle house that we would like to repurpose: a pocket door and storm door.

comments:

Will you watch TV here? If so would you want to hide the screen when not in use? Approx TV size? If you will not watch TV in this space, what other spaces might accommodate this activity?

comments: We do not have a TV but would like to integrate a drop down projector screen into the living area.

Other thoughts or comments on this space?

comments: I like crown moulding for the living space. High ceilings. Tall pocket doors if feasible. We also like interior windows (the Baltimore house had transom windows for every interior door which we really loved).

Dining Area

How many dining areas should be provided? Do you expect you might want a casual eating space as well as a more formal dining space? Can dining be associated with the kitchen or living room rather than set apart?

comments: We like the dining area at Sitka & Spruce. A long communal table that can easily be formal or casual. We also like a dining space at a bar in the kitchen.

Would you want the dining space to open out onto an exterior terrace or deck?

comments: That would be nice.

Please describe the sorts of dining experiences you would like in the home? Large formal dinners, breakfast in the morning sun etc.

comments: Morning sun. Communal table for everyday and formal dining purposes.

When entertaining, how many guests might be typical? What would be the most you might want to accommodate?

comments: The most would be 20-ish for a non-sit down party. Typical dinner party is 6-10.

Are guests involved in food preparation and serving or would you prefer these activities are screened from guests.

comments: Guests are involved.

What size dining table would you expect to use in this house? Is it a table you already own?

comments: Long communal table. We have one, but I imagine buying a longer one than what we have.

Is outdoor dining important? Outdoor cooking?

comments: Yes. Yes.

Where/how much storage if any should be provided for formal dishes etc.?

comments: I want built in bookshelves throughout the house, which could also serve as dish storage.

Do you require a buffet type counter near the dining area for serving?

comments: That would be nice, but maybe lower priority than other things, especially if the kitchen and dining area are well-integrated.

Kitchen – general questions

Describe elements of an ideal kitchen. Is it the center of the home or more removed?

comments: Center. Marble counter tops. Simple. Industrial. Miele or Viking stove. Easy to keep clean.

Would you like to connect the kitchen to an outdoor space?

comments: Yes.

Is storage in upper and lower cabinets or would you prefer a more open kitchen with no upper cabinets but additional storage in a pantry?

comments: Open kitchen with pantry storage.

Is an office area required in the kitchen? Desk, laptop, mail, phone etc.?

comments: Not really, although I would like a place to organize mail immediately when I bring it in the house from the alley, which may or may not happen in the kitchen depending on the final design.

Should counters be higher or lower than typical? 36” high is standard.

comments: Yes, because we are both taller than average.

How important is keeping the kitchen clutter free vs the ability to display interesting objects? Open shelves? Hanging pots or display areas?

comments: Open shelves on top. We love them. Closed cabinets on bottom. Bookshelves, too. For us, clutter is books and reading materials (both me and Will), and shoes (me). We HATE knick knacks.  

Kitchen – more specific (not critical information for the early design process)

For cabinets, do you prefer open shelving or solid doors or a mix?

comments: Mix. Basically, we love the look of commercial kitchens.

Are there materials you would prefer for cabinet finishes? Floor finishes?

comments: We want flooring in the kitchen that doesn’t show dirt and wears well, especially with dogs. We love the linoleum tiles in our kitchen now. They’re warm and forgiving if you drop a glass, but we wouldn’t do this in the kitchen again because they scratch and gouge very easily. We have stainless steel cabinets right now and really like them.

Do you have any special storage requirements for food or spices?

comments: Hmmm, not that I can think of, although I am planning to hire an organizer to help with planning my storage spaces, including the kitchen.

Do you have a strongly favored countertop configuration? Island, U or are you flexible?

comments: I want an island. I like the simplicity of two long, parallels counters, one also being a bar / island.  

Would you like to be able to eat in or near the kitchen? How many should be accommodated?

comments: Yes. Maybe 4-6 in this space.

Would you like to have a walk-in pantry? Is this a room or perhaps built into pull-out cabinets?

comments: Yes. The pantry needs to be a lockable room that we can secure from our recalcitrant, door-opening, drawer-opening Weimaraner, Mies. He is a gray devil.

How is garbage, recycling and compost handled? To what degree if any would you expect to separate these items in the kitchen? Mud room or garage?

comments: Small receptacles in kitchen with covered disposal area in the alley.

Fixtures and appliances

What type of sink would you like? Double or single bowl, features, size?

Big. Single bowl. Stainless steel. But we would like a separate, smaller sink (for hand and vegetable washing. We are always standing in line for use of the kitchen sink).

Will you want a dishwasher? Located left or right of the sink?

Yes. Right. Although left would probably work, too.

What type of cooktop is desired? Gas, electric or induction?

Gas.

Will you want a garbage disposal or trash compactor?

No.

What type of ovens are required? Gas or electric? Wall ovens? Microwave?

Gas. Very small microwave. Yes to wall ovens! So I don’t have to bend over.

What type of refrigerator would you like? Size? Will you need a separate freezer?

Warming drawer, wine fridge or other built-in appliance? I need to research refrigerators before answering this question.

What small appliances would you expect to have on the counter typically/in an appliance garage?

comments: Vitamix, toaster oven, semi-commercial espresso machine. Kitchen-Aid mixer, food processor.

Any other thoughts or comments?

comments: We really, really like to cook. The kitchen will be the most important room in the house in terms of form following function, so we will probably have more thoughts to add as the designs progress.

Entry

Describe how you would like the experience of entry to work for guests? For your everyday use? If I could transport an exact replica of the entry hall from our Baltimore house here, I would. I loved it for its elegance and the graceful way it greeted people. It slowly revealed the beauty of the house with each step you took into the interior. We want people to get the immediate impression that they’re walking into a place that’s been thoughtfully designed.

Do you imagine the entry is more ‘clean’ with closets and coat storage presenting a more formal experience for guests? Or do you imagine the entry is more ‘functional’ with mud room functions incorporated at the door or nearby?

comments: Front entry is more formal. The Baltimore house had a double-doored vestibule that stepped up into the entry hall. Back entry from alley is the entry we will use more often and needs to be very functional, mud room, etc.

Is the entry near to the kitchen or does it bring you into a more formal room like the living space or present you with a view?

comments: This one is tricky because we’d like to orient the kitchen toward the front of the house to take advantage of the view. Unless there’s a way to have it towards the back with the view optimized? This question is TBD.

If there is a mudroom associated with entry what sorts of things happen here? Storage of coats, shoes, tools? Laundry or bathroom/shower? Dog washing?

comments: The mudroom would be near the back (or maybe side?) of the house. All of the above would happen here. Additionally, I have a lot of shoes and would like my main shoe storage to be in the mudroom so I can choose my shoes just as I leave the house. The mudroom also serves as a tack room of sorts for the dogs. We would like a floor drain and utility sink. The washer/dryer could go here, too.

Laundry

Is the laundry in a room associated with a mudroom, master suite, bedroom wing, or both?

comments: Mud room is fine. With chutes from upstairs bedroom/bathroom.

Is an ironing board desired?  If so, built-in or freestanding?

comments: We would die for a built-in ironing board!

What is the size and type of preferred washer and dryer? Stacking, front-load, etc?

comments: We have ours stacked now, but I would like them side-by-side instead. They’re only two years old, so we won’t be buying new ones.

How much table/counter space is required?

comments: Five or six feet.

Is an area for hanging clothes required? What size?

comments: Yes. Three feet or so.

Master Suite

How do you imagine this space to feel? Is it very private and dark or bright and open to the landscape?

comments: Bright and open to the landscape.

Do you imagine the bedroom to occupy a particular part of the site? Should it have a view?

comments: We’ve always pictured it facing the west, but can also imagine it on the back of the house to optimize the eastern views of the Cascades and north to Baker. But maybe integrating interior windows if the space is lofty would allow us to have both?

How much separation is required from more public spaces? Children/guest rooms?

comments: We would like the master suite pretty private.

IIs this a place you will spend time during the day? Would it be important to capture lots of morning or evening light or is a darker space preferred?

comments: Morning light is the most important.  

What size of bed do you prefer? Do you watch TV here? Would you like access to outdoor space?

comments: Queen. A small balcony and French doors would be ideal.

Would you prefer a large walk in closet/dressing area or would storage be limited to closets and dressers? If lots of storage space is important can you estimate closet size?

comments: Walkin closet. 8’ x 6’. The size of our current bathroom would work.  

Are bookshelves desired in the bedroom? If so, how much space?

comments: Yes. We want to integrate built-in bookshelves in every room of the house if possible. Because we love books and want them around us.

Master Bath

How do you envision this space? Tight and efficient or spacious and airy? Somewhere in between?

comments: Somewhere in between.

Is this a place you will go to relax or primarily functional? Soaking tub? Exterior deck?

comments: Both. We would like a big, modern shower but also a clawfoot tub. I had one of those in Baltimore and loved it on cold winter evenings.

Is it important this room has long views? Views to landscape?

comments: No. We want lots of light, but not necessarily views.

Would you like the toilet to be in a separate room? Any toilet preferences like heat, bidets or special controls?

comments: Yes. We could do the toilet/sink combo for a modern WC. This will be very practical, especially since this is likely the only full bath in the house. The WC would be accessible to guests if someone was taking a shower. I would also like the walk-in closet off the bathroom.

Would you like a shower in the master bath? Tub or whirlpool? Could the tub and shower be combined? Steam bath or sauna?

comments: Shower and tub, separate.

Do you have any preferences for specific materials in the bathroom?

comments: Last year when we were in Paris, we saw some beautiful tiles that we really liked.

Can his and her lavatory be in the same space? 1 or 2 sinks?

comments: Yes. We want double sinks.

Guest/Children’s Rooms

How many extra bedrooms are required?

comments: One if we can work it into the budget.

Can you describe how you would imagine balancing privacy/adjacency for extra rooms relative to the master bedroom? Does it differ depending on use, nursery, children’s rooms or guest rooms?

comments: The bathroom could be between the rooms. In the Baltimore house, the second-floor extra bedroom was also separated by a two-step descent.

How large should the bedrooms be for children? Guests?

comments: 8’x10’. 10’x10’

Are views important for this space? Access to the outdoors?

comments: Nice to have, but not required. Good light and airiness is required, though.

How much storage is required in these rooms? Built-in furniture or beds or desks?

comments: Maybe a wall bed and built-in bookshelves. Small walkin closet arrangement. This room could double as an office.

Guest/Children’s Bath

Do you require a small powder room for guests near the living area?

comments: Yes.  

Would you like a separate guest bathroom for children/overnight guests adjacent to the extra bedroom(s)?

comments: No.

Should the guest bath have a shower or tub or both?

Comments:

Extra Rooms

Is a special space or room needed for family activities or children? How would this space work, what would be needed here?  TV, games etc.? Would this activity just overlap with the living room?

comments: No.

Do you envision needing an exercise room? How would this relate to other spaces? Does it need access to outside, views or natural light? Can it be below grade?

comments: No.

Do you need a special room to retreat to like a library or study?

comments: Yes.

Do you need a wine cellar or area to store wine? Is it purely for storage or more formal display? What size? Should it be specially temperature controlled?

comments: This would be nice, but could be in the basement / crawl space. Whatever the basement ends up turning into.

Do you need an office(s) in the house? Craft room or workspace/workshop? If so, please describe desktop space required, equipment (printers, etc) and storage needs.

comments: Yes. Could be a big tall work table in the office space.

Garage/Outbuildings

Would you prefer the garage be attached, detached or flexible? How many vehicle bays would you like in the garage?

comments: Detached. Our plans for the garage are to turn it into a studio. So the current size is good: one car.

If the garage is detached are there other rooms in the program above that may be a part of this building?

comments: No.

Is full weather protection required from carport/garage or can there be a short walk in the open?

comments: Short open walk is preferable.

Is the garage fully enclosed or more like a carport with enclosed and lockable storage?

comments: Fully enclosed.

What type of storage is needed in the garage?

comments: We need bike and tool storage, plus Christmas decorations, etc. But not necessarily in the garage. Perhaps a shed built into the front retaining wall?

List any other accessory structures or uses you would like to consider in the site design. Garden sheds, greenhouses, beach storage,etc.

comments: A little garden shed and greenhouse would be awesome!

Wednesday, June 3. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

My house is not a piece of software. It is not a computer or an application program. But it is a legacy system. An architectural program designed for an outdated lifestyle. It is a machine designed for a life I do not live.

“In computing, a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, “of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”[1] Often a pejorative term, referencing a system as “legacy” often implies that the system is out of date or in need of replacement.” – Wikipedia.

Initially built in the early 1900s, it has stood here on this hill on a hill, plugged into the city’s electrical, water and sewage systems. On a lot constrained to only 3,600 square feet, it has location going for it. And a spectacular view. But it has no idea what to do with my books or my shoes or my dogs or my bikes. It’s a house with Aspberger’s: greeting me awkwardly when I get home, uncomfortable looking me in the eye and asking what it can do for me today. A house with good intentions, yes, but a house that only either annoys me or gets in my way.

“In Europe, history is more apparent and tangible. It’s especially visible in architecture (schools, hospitals, town halls, churches): buildings are living things that evolve over time and according to the changing needs of people. Beyond architecture, a sense of time and heritage are everywhere in philosophy, cultural traditions, food, language. This is great and at the same time almost too much, as it can be a burden to innovation.

In France, a typical family dialogue could be something like this, ‘OK, let’s rebuild that house but remember, you’re inheriting it from your great grandmother (so it’s kind of disrespectful to demolish the building) and think of your great grandchildren who, one day, will come to visit your daughter in this house.’

Europeans will keep, maintain, restore while Americans will easily restart anything—life, house, job, education, and relationships— at anytime. Both approaches have their own pros and cons.”– Julia Moisand Egea

As it turns out, Mark is a great architect and good friend, but accustomed to bigger projects, bigger budgets, and fewer constraints. So we talked and decided it would be best for us to work with another architect. One with more experience with houses in general and on Queen Anne specifically. One who lives on Queen Anne himself and really gets why we want to stay and design small. Because residential architecture is a different thing. A smaller thing. A fickle thing. A personal thing. At this point in the process, realizing our small budget, we decided to part ways with one and join forces with another. Less “No, because….”, more “Yes! How?” Bonus: there’s a woman on the design team and I really, really like her.

two shoes

Tuesday, January 13. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

Design is about constraints. Technical constraints, physical constraints, financial constraints, political constraints. We are at the stage in our home design where constraints are converging from many angles.

The shoes I’ve worn to meet the architect lately haven’t been worn to meet the architect. They’ve been worn to meet the builder and the money man instead. Because before we can finalize the drawings, we have to secure the cash.

Washington Federal Construction + Remodeling Loans (I think I need to download these eBooks).

We chose a builder – Hammer & Hand – mainly because they have a lot of experience with passivhaus technologies and energy efficiency. We showed them our drawings and they came back with a number: $874,000 for a 2,300 square foot house plus 400 square foot garage. Which comes out to about $360/sq ft (within range for custom construction). And a $5K+ /month mortgage which is not okay (our current mortgage is only $2,100/month; you can understand our reticence, no?). Even if we qualify for a loan that big, we don’t want it. We want to design a house below our means.

Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem — the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible — his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth. — CHARLES EAMES

Which means back to the drawing board. Keeping the essence of the house we initially designed, but thinking more industrial loft than row house, smaller rather than larger, modular over time, major remodel over tear down. The next time I don shoes to meet the architect, it won’t be to meet the architect. It will be to meet the structural engineer. The person who can tell us whether it’s worth it or not to keep any of the existing house and foundation so the job qualifies as a major remodel (which will make the financing simpler).

industrial loft

Industrial loft via the New York Times, April 2015.

To design and build a house, one must be dedicated. And working with architects and builders who love a good constraint.

Seattle Box House

On the Seattle Box and building a visceral house.

People who build their own home tend to be very courageous. These people are curious about life. They’re thinking about what it means to live in a house, rather than just buying a commodity and making it work.

–Tom Kundig

When I first moved to Seattle, I lived in a classic, beautiful “Seattle Box” (aka “Four Square”) house on Sixth Avenue West, two blocks from where I live now. Tom Kundig was my landlord for the last year I lived in that beautiful Craftsman duplex.

Architectural History: Four Common Seattle Home Styles

I didn’t realize my landlord was a starchitect until I opened the New York Times Magazine one Sunday many years ago, reading an article lauding the design of Delta Shelter, a house he designed for, coincidentally, my dentist, Dr. Friedrich. In this interview, Tom talks about his love of residential architecture, echoing what Will and I talk about all the time as we’re designing 1934: our new house will be a personal, intimate artifact, a beautiful, quality machine designed to function around how we live.

What should people experience in their homes?
Virtually life’s full range of experiences. This is the reason I’m so interested in residential work. The home is primal, it’s visceral, it’s our primitive past, it carries all the baggage of our cultural life. It has to have prospect, the sense of being in the open; but also intimacy and protection. It has to encompass open and closed, hot and cold, fast and slow, light and dark, yin and yang. That’s how we experience life, and that’s how we should experience a house.

and

It takes some sacrifice, doesn’t it? Most people are looking for sheer square footage.
Absolutely. But a lot of my clients are willing to do a 1,500-square-foot, beautifully detailed home. They don’t want the 3,000-square-foot empty box with colonial columns that makes some sort of pretension of success. I don’t want to make a value judgment on that, which I just sort of did, but it’s a different way of looking at how you want to spend your money.

This philosophy in direct opposition to the Seattle Box, a cheap, easily replicable floor plan created for the masses. Nonetheless, that house on Sixth Avenue West, along with my Italianate rowhouse on Lafayette Avenue in Baltimore (also replicable architecture for the masses), was one of the nicest houses I’ve ever lived in.