kitchen remodel – part III

The design process on any project, whether big or small, can simultaneously be one of the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of what we as architects and designers do. Usually when it starts to become a frustrating process is when every conversation with the client starts with “well, what if we….(insert your favorite statement that leads to major design changes here)”. When a client first comes to you, they typically have some kind of image in their head of what they “think” their project should look like. Then they get a look at the first conceptual sketches based on conversations with the client, programmatic requirements and just general “architect-ness” and suddenly there are all sorts of things they never thought of before that are suddenly very important to the success of the project. You know you’ve been there.

Well, this little kitchen remodel has been a little like that. It began as a little kitchen remodel – some new cabinets, perhaps opening up to the dining room, but not getting too crazy with the demo and put-back. Then of course started the “well, what if we…”, and now, 8 conceptual floor plans later, we’re down to 2 winning candidates (seen below). Both are identical with only one change between them – the entry closet. Having lived in older homes for the last near decade I’m not a huge fan of having closets and storage for the sake of having closets and storage. It’s really just a place to hide the crap you never use, so why incur the expense? But I digress.

In each plan, the laundry area has been pushed into a small addition to the rear of the home adjacent to a storage/mechanical room behind the garage, creating a larger mud room. By removing the door and wall between the old laundry room and kitchen, I’ve created an opportunity to enlarge the kitchen and create a more open and direct flow from the garage into the kitchen.

Conceptual Floor Plan No 7

Something new was to take the east wall, between Family Room and Sitting Room and shift it south to enlarge the Family Room. Again we also removed the two closets at the entry in favor of the single coat closet only. This keeps an open and free flow between entry, kitchen, dining and family room. By adding discreet built-ins at both the formal dining room and family room we can easily make up for any lost storage. The addition of the kitchen island will greatly add to the function and flow of the kitchen allowing for more informal family dining and entertaining.

Conceptual Floor Plan No 8

This final conceptual plan, with small closet removed, is my personal preference. The only difference I’d like to see is to move the Family Room to the Formal Dining space and allow dining access to the rear yard. A planned change to this plan is to enlarge the island and add column supports at the header creating a soft division between kitchen and dining.

This project has been another in a series of interesting processes for me lately. As I continue taking on new clients in new and interesting places, the process of designing via remote (skype, phone, email, etc) can be challenging. It is always much preferred to be local and be able to physically inhabit a space to get a feel for how the design should take shape. But I think in an increasingly digital age, as with all things, we must find new ways to approach our clients and market our services. This is one way that has been fairly successful for me. Now if I can just keep the “well, what if we” emails and phone calls to a minimum. 😛

manic monday – sketching utensils

A while back my friend Brinn penned a post about pens. And recently my other friend Bob Borson penned a post about sketchbooks. Recently I also penned a post about the connected path between brain and paper for architects. All of this penning got me thinking about pens and sketching. What are the best pens, pencils, and markers for architects and sketching?

For me one of the most critical qualities to look for in any sketching instrument is LINE. Is the line uniform? Is it easy to control? Can I change the quality of the line with pressure or angle? In the case of pencils, will the line get chunky and smudge if I use too much force? Or will it be barely visible on the page?

I went through my bag and grabbed a few of the pens and markers that I keep constantly on hand for sketching, writing, drawing, whatever and did this little sketch to demonstrate the various qualities of line that most architects will work with.

The chosen sketching utensil for any artist, more often than not, can be almost as unique as the artist. At the end of the day, as architects and designers, whatever you sketch with should feel comfortable; it should just feel right. But ultimately, what you sketch with is not nearly as important as the simple act of sketching. They say a photographer is only as good as his last photo, or a writer on as good as his last book. Well, an architect is only as good as his/her ability to translate ideas into discernible reality on paper.

sketching: a challenge!!

M.C. Escher - "hands"

Today, I was sitting at my desk, compiling record drawings for a large school project I’ve been working on for the better part of 2 years now, and I got a brilliant idea!

You’re sitting on the edge of your seat, I know.

I’m sending out a challenge to anyone and everyone who might come across this blog to design a single family home out of 2 40′ high cube shipping containers. Dimensions are as follows: 8′-0″ wide x 9′-6″ high x 40′-0″ long. The idea is to generate a floor plan for mom, dad and one child. However you want to make that happen is fine with me. Arrange the containers in any fashion: side by side, staggered, stacked, whatever tickles your fancy.

And this is a sketch contest. I want hand sketches with pen/pencil/sharpie/crayon/whatever and paper. No 3D models, no photoshop collages. Let’s flex that “brain to hand” connection a little and do something fun. Please send your sketches to me via email with a small one paragraph explanation of your design and a quick bio. I’ll post every design that comes in individually. This will be a never ending contest and I would like to post one sketch each week.

There are no cash prizes, but you will receive world renowned fame and recognition on this blog in big bold letters and fancy italics. I might even underline it. How sweet is that!?

Let the sketching begin!

design – a process much like childbirth

“Over the years, I’ve come to understand that all design has a natural flow to it.  You start out with one thing in mind, but if it goes in another direction, you cannot deny it that transition–or it won’t work.  You cannot bend design to your will, you can only bring forth what wants to be brought forth.  If in the end, it is not what you really wanted, then you accept what it is and start over, in a new direction.” – comment by Matt @ the tiny house blog

The above quote was a comment posted to the Tiny House Blog about a project that was posted there, but it struck a cord with me and got me thinking about the process of design.  This has even come up recently in some social conversations going back to the days of design studio and even in present day practice, so obviously the topic is being discussed on multiple levels – as it should be.

I’ve always been fascinated by the process of design, be it architecture or furniture or clothing or technology or those little shell-shaped soaps they put in hotel bathrooms.  In college “design” was simply what we did.  My alma mater was very concept oriented – very little attention was paid to “can this be done”.  The emphasis was always on exploration and creative problem solving, which is the essence of design when you get right down to it.  Now, to be fair, we were required to take the requisite courses in structures and environmental technology and construction technology.  But these were not Studio (yes, with a capital “S”), these were “core” classes – you know, the ones that you had to get through in order to get to Studio.  That was the goal – Studio = Design.  Little did we know this also meant way too many sleepless nights spent hunched over a drafting table (yes, we hand drafted and built real models with chip board and glue) or squinting into a computer monitor, but that’s a story for another time.  This exploration led us, naturally, to some very interesting solutions to various design problems that we were presented with….and well, some not so interesting, but hey, you live and learn right?


You might be asking “what the hell does any of this have to do with childbirth?  Well, in all of our Studios, Design typically began with the presentation of a particular site and a particular problem that needed a solution.  We were all bright eyed and full of joy at this exciting new prospect to flex our mental muscles – much like a young woman feels when she finds out she’ll be a mother.  The luster can tend to fade quickly when, like a pregnant woman entering the second trimester quickly becomes fatigued and “swelled”…uh I mean “glowing”, the design begins to stagnate or some key part of the design seems too not quite fit in for reasons you can not discover on your own.  Frustration sets in, you start to wonder what the hell you were thinking in the first place. You’ll never finish, the design is horrible and everyone will laugh at you.

Upon entering the third and final trimester of Design, you feel drained both emotionally and physically. You’ve been staring at your computer screen or chip board model for more than 24 hours and all the lines and planes are blurring together.  At this point you’re convinced your design is crap and should be trashed.  But as you continue to push through, you’re nearly at the end and you get that last burst of energy and inspiration.  Suddenly those elements that you had been trying to force seem to need just a  little shifting and massaging.  Finally the design comes together, you’ve created something that works, that at least solves the problem you’ve been tasked with.  It may not be the most elegant or polished, but somehow it works.  This portion of our little tale is especially clear in my mind from my thesis.  I was so drained, so despondent about my project that, two weeks before final critique, I dragged a trash can over to my desk and did one big arm push into the bin – I chucked it all and started fresh.  Perhaps not the smartest thing in the world, but hey, it wasn’t working and I needed to try something new to get at a working solution, one that could breath on it’s own in the real world of Design.

Then, the pain sets in – presentation/birth.  You’ve toiled, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve eaten every pint of haggen daaz within 30 miles…wait that’s not right.  Now it’s time to show the world (or at least the 12 students and 4 professors with enough energy left to sit through your presentation) your design solution, to make your case, to “birth this baby”.  You start out slow, the pain is bearable, as you walk through the initial stages of research and concept design.  But soon, much sooner than you want, you’re getting to the meat, the heart, the soul of your design, your baby.  There are some grumblings from the crowd.  You wonder if you can keep going.  Sweat is trickling down your back into your underwear, you resist the urge to scratch your butt.

Suddenly you’re at the climax of your presentation.  You can breath a little easier, there are smiles on the judges faces.  Some of your fellow students are now dreading their own birth experience that is suddenly one presentation closer to reality.  You turn around and stare longingly at your boards, your model.  You marvel at the hours, days, weeks and months it has taken to create such a masterpiece.  Now the students and judges have moved on to the next presentation/birth and you can finally scratch your sweaty butt. Oh the sweet joy of victory and accomplishment.  Euphoria.

And now it’s time to start all over again on the next project, the next presentation, the next painfully agonizing and torturous birth.

work fast, relax last – lets blog off

This week’s “Lets Blog Off” asks “What do you do to relax?”…. First, I don’t think many architects know HOW to relax, or maybe they just don’t have the right perspective, but I’ll talk more about that in a minute.  My first thought upon reading this weeks’ topic was something my current boss said to me during one of my interviews, and that was that “you have to have something outside of architecture so you don’t get burned out.”  I remember thinking, as I still do, that this was a strange statement coming from someone who owns and manages their own architecture firm (notice I didn’t throw in the word “design” there? we don’t do much of that here).  It seems to me that, in order to maintain yourself in any profession, especially a creative one, you have to have a passion for that profession.  It needs to be a part of you, a part of your daily life and not just your “job”. – feel free to stop me if you think I’m completely nuts-o –  Otherwise, very quickly I imagine, you will get burned out and wind up talking to squirrels and pigeons in the park wearing a foil hat….not that there is anything wrong with that *backs away slowly*

So what do architects do to relax?  Speaking for myself personally….well, “relaxation” comes in many different forms and unfortunately not very often.  I try to keep my “method” of relaxation open to interpretation.  This allows me to find down time in the most unassuming places.  But, no matter what I’m currently engaged in as my “relax” time, you can bet your ass my sketchbooks are not only CLOSE at hand, they are most likely IN my hand.

stacked, well worn and always at hand

Because “architecture” and “design” are part of who I am.  This isn’t a hobby or a job or even a career choice.  So “relaxation”, for me, is simply sitting quietly on a bus or a park bench or at my desk or on a plane or even on the john sketching or writing or just “doing” architecture.

An old saying that comes to mind is “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.”  Does it really get any simpler than that?  I don’t think so.

My Genesis – LetsBlogOff

Where do your ideas come from?  Your inspiration for your craft?  Is it a place, a specific pen you like to use, a special kind of paper or canvas that just speaks to you?  For most artists all of these may apply.  But maybe none of them apply. Perhaps you’re just the most amazing artist of all and your inspiration just flows freely un-contained and unrestrained from your mind almost at it’s own will into physical reality.  So, you ask:

What is my Genesis?

Where does my “special something” come from?  How does my process start?  Strictly speaking, I’ve never considered this question and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked either.  So, please excuse me if my answer takes many twists and turns….hell, I may not even end up answering the question at all! You’ll just have to wait and see.

Architecture, being both the art and science of building, requires both an artistic and analytical mind working sometimes in tandem, but also wholly separate as well.  Architects like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid immediately come to mind as being the ultimate artistic architects.  I like to think I exist somewhere in the middle of this “bridge” between analysis and artistic exploration.

My process is sporadic at best.  Ideas come to me at the strangest moments – cycling to work, walking in the park, pushing my kids on the swing set, brushing my teeth…it really doesn’t matter.  The Genesis of an idea can come anytime because my mind is always trying to process what is around me, what I’ve experienced, where I’ve been and even where I’m going.  It is not linear, regular, symmetrical, predictable nor accountable.  I’ve sketched on post-its, cocktail napkins, business cards, sketch paper, paper plates, the back of my hand….any surface that will hold ink long enough for me to get “it” down and out of my head.

My process, my Genesis, is an obsession, a compulsion, a twitch, a tick, a social faux-pas, an inconvenience and a glorious expression of the chaos and conundrum that exists between my ears that can only be purged through the communication between brain, arm, hand, fingers, pen and paper (or whatever happens to be readily at hand that will hold a mark).  It is never-ending and ever-present, as much a part of me as any physical part or parcel of the me that you see.

And now, what is the genesis of your Genesis, the inspiration in your idea, the impetus of your expression?

the pod – prototype

Dekalb Market, in Brooklyn, has issued Not Just a Container Contest to design an alternate use for a shipping container to be used at the upcoming open air market.  From their website:

“The goal of the competition is to support the growth of Brooklyn’s creative community by helping a local entrepreneur realize his or her dream of opening a bricks and mortar location and to raise awareness of the Dekalb Market.

In the spirit of the Dekalb Market, Contestants will be judged on the following:

KEY CRITERIA. Design Quality, Sustainability, Community Impact, and Entrepreneurship.

SUGGESTIONS. Uses for the space could be, but are not limited to: a farm structure, store, art installation, work-sell space, restaurant, sports and music venue.

PRIZES. Our winner will be awarded with a container license (work/sell space) rent free for six months, $3K design/construction budget and free consultation, select construction materials from Green Depot, one year membership to 3rd Ward, one year membership to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, press exposure and online feature at”

The competition officially closed April 9th and now we’re waiting to see who is the lucky winner.  For my entry, I decided not to so much focus on a specific function, but rather focus on how to modify a container to be the most versatile and adaptable to changing needs within the Market as a whole.

copywrite 2011 r | one studio arch

As I’m sure these containers are not meant to house permanent tenants, but rather rotating vendors who may or may not be conducting all manor of business, it’s important that the container be designed to a minimum and remain flexible, providing a number of potential options.

By taking one long panel out and fabricating two horizontal “doors” we create both an overhang and a small porch that can be used for display or gathering or seating, etc.  The existing doors for the container can function as a default “entrance” or remain closed depending on the intended use.

copywrite 2011 r | one studio arch

The short rear wall of the container is fashioned with a solid surface counter, base cabinet and upper cabinet storage.  A sink and plumbing can be easily added if necessary with water supplied via hose connection at the rear.  The remaining wall is finished with studs and tongue and groove wood and attached are hinged tables, or platforms, at various heights that can be folded down in several combinations to create small work/display areas as needed.  Electricity is supplied by the two solar panels affixed to the top of the container and are hinged so that when closed the panels can fold flat.  The batteries and other electrical panels are stored in the upper cabinets.

copywrite 2011 r | one studio arch

Ultimately The Pod is a very simple design but with nearly unlimited flexibility to be adapted to almost any use: art gallery/studio, small music venue, office, shop, cafe, produce vendor, etc.  If you’d like to talk about designing and fabricating your own Pod, contact us here and lets get started.