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.

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,


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


“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





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




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



Outdoor spaces: Decks/Patios

Basement Options

Full Crawlspace


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





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



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: The house we like on 2nd Ave W. We also like the design philosophies Tom Kundig employed for the Rolling Huts.


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.


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?


Will you want a garbage disposal or trash compactor?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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!

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.

Rainier Tower.

On the yonic and the phallic.

I have never had any desire to go to Dubai. But that changed this week when I listened to this BBC podcast on why we build skyscrapers, and learned about the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I want to see it.

“Yonic – yo• nic, adj. –  a stylized representation of the female genitalia that in Hinduism is a sign of generative power and that symbolizes the goddess Shakti.” – Merriam Webster

Related: After Zaha’s “vagina” stadium, here are six more examples of yonic architecture

But why do we build skyscrapers, anyway? Power, ego, and from a practical standpoint, to make the land pay. Nothing increases the financial output of a piece of urban land than building up. But what if women were in charge of the built environment. Would we have skyscrapers at all? Architecture at this scale is, in essence, one big pissing match writ in tons of glass and gleaming steel.

On the competition between Chicago and New York for possessing the tallest building in the western hemisphere: “The two cities have fought continuously for supremacy in the skyline,” which continued with the debate on whether the spire of One World Trade Center should be counted in the overall height of the building, in competition with Chicago’s Willis Tower. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, who governs these issues, ruled in favor of the trade center, despite the fact that the council is headquartered in Chicago.

“People in Chicago are very secure about their architecture. They realize that being the tallest isn’t what matters. It’s being the best that matters.”

Size doesn’t matter? Don’t let that fool you, boys. Because in other contexts, it sure as hell does. Happy International Women’s Day.

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.


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.

Onitsuka Tigers

Tuesday, December 23. The shoes I wore to meet the architect….

weren’t worn to meet the architect at all. They were worn to meet the builder. The designs aren’t final yet, but they’re close enough to show schematic drawings to builders. So we’re interviewing builders now, meeting skilled craftsmen and professional construction managers to hear about design philosophies and methodologies and timelines and approaches to building a beautiful, functional house.

The immediate goal is to get estimates to take to the bank, where actuaries will pour over our financial history, joint income, age, education levels, and demographic profiles to determine how much they will or won’t lend to us. The future of a new 1934 belongs to an algorithm.

See also: No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

Hammer & Hand is one of the firms we’re interviewing. They are experts in “passivhaus” construction:

The term passive house (Passivhaus in German) refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint.[1] It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.[2][3] A similar standard, MINERGIE-P, is used in Switzerland.[4] The standard is not confined to residential properties; several office buildings, schools, kindergartens and a supermarket have also been constructed to the standard. Passive design is not an attachment or supplement to architectural design, but a design process that is integrated with architectural design. –Wikipedia

Passive houses are common in Germany and Sweden, but not so popular in the U.S. yet, due to the higher construction costs incurred here (an increase of roughly 10-20% of total construction costs). Neither public sentiment nor policy on this side of the Atlantic have evolved to require more stringent energy standards like those met with passivhaus methodologies. These factors, human sentiment and public policy, are what Dan Hill describes in his book, Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary, as “dark matter”, i.e., the invisible forces designers must influence for their work to have its greatest impact.

If it’s too easy to get an idea accepted, you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re probably not disturbing the dark matter enough.

He describes dark matter in relation to design like this:

Dark matter is a choice phrase. The concept is drawn from theoretical physics, wherein dark matter is believed to constitute approximately 83% of the matter in the universe, yet it is virtually undetectable. It neither emits nor scatters light, or other electromagnetic radiation. It is believed to be fundamentally important in the cosmos — we simply cannot be without it — and yet there is essentially no direct evidence of its existence, and little understanding of its nature.


The only way that dark matter can be perceived is by implication, through its effect on other things (essentially, its gravitational effects on more easily detectable matter). With a product, service or artefact, the user is rarely aware of the organisational context that produced it, yet the outcome is directly affected by it. Dark matter is the substrate that produces.


The dark matter of strategic designers is organisational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models and other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture and national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within.

Read this, too! Seattle passivhaus news.

We toured one of Hammer & Hand’s houses in progress last week, the Madrona Passive House, commissioned by one of the co-creators of Microsoft Excel, Jabe Blumenthal (what a coincidence, given Excel is the product I now work on at Microsoft). Alex, the project manager who lead us through the tour, mentioned how Jabe is on a mission to show others how feasible it is to build a passive house. In essence, he is engaging in a grassroots effort to design from the bottom up, attempting to influence the “dark matter” via a functional, living design: his very own passive house. More and more, this is starting to look like the route we are going to take, too.


Southern elevation for 1934. Via Mark Ward, our architect at UrbanAdd, October 2014.

South and east elevations for 1934. Via Mark Ward, our architect. October. 2014.