21 03 2011

HUEARCHITECTURE has entered the internet age!!!

So, here we go; after 4.5 years of pledging, assuring, guaranteeing, promising, even swearing and threatening, our website is online.  Who would have thought that a website, which is seemingly so simple, would be such a hassle to get up and running?  During this 4.5 year period, I have worked with multiple professional companies and spent several thousand dollars with nothing to show but an “under construction” page (which has been up, off and on, for at least three years).  I, as a designer myself, had visions of grandeur each time I started working with a new group of the greatest architectural firm website ever created; even got close a time or two but, was always thwarted by these groups going out of business, giving up, losing interest, etc.

So, what finally happened, you may ask?  One day, about a month ago, my “significant other’s” college-student-son said to me, “You know, this ain’t rocket science; we can get a template online, tweak it a bit, do a bit of creative writing, add your portfolio in and, presto-chango, you have a website!”

Is this site as polished as what others would have created? HELL YES!

Is this site as slick as what other firms display online? HELL YES!

Am I proud of this site? HELL YES!

Will this site increase awareness of our firm?  HELL YES!

So, to you, Mr. Andrew Campbell, owner of Campbell’s Computers and college student and entrepreneur and friend, thank you; you accomplished, quickly and economically, what the others merely promised (and failed) to deliver.

And now, I owe you that incredible, gourmet dinner that I promised!!!

Now, check us out at:


TV Homes…Our Homes

18 03 2011

In my evolving discussions and thoughts regarding residential design, and the concept of home versus house, I gave some thought to where I might have developed some of my ideas of home.

As with many growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was glued to the TV.  And, as I stated in an earlier “Note”, I had always wanted to be an architect so I was drawn to the homes that some of my favorite characters lived in.  A little search on the internet brought images of some those homes back to life and I surprised myself by remembering a lot about the layouts.  What did these homes have in common?   The entrances were simple without soaring window ceilings, and gaudy lighting; each had a family room with a fireplace and comfortable seating for family gatherings; there was a more formal dining room where evening meals were usually shared; the kitchen was the work center for the stay-at-home mom and had a breakfast/ lunch area; many times, there was a study for home work activities (and discussions when you were in trouble); then the upstairs had cozy bedrooms and bath areas.  Most were modest, middle-income homes in quiet neighborhoods in which a sense of community and belonging seemed to exist.  Of course, you could argue that these were props for the show and, as such, were limited in scope. But, I believe it was more, I believe it was a picture of warmth and caring amongst the families, there were few places for a person to get lost in the house and start to fade away.

And then, I started thinking about the home where I grew up.  It wasn’t a great layout and had been renovated in a haphazard fashion, but it did possess many of the aspect that I speak of and miss.  One of the fallacies of the house was that it did have a formal living room and it was an unused space from the start.  My parents, of course, purchased the obligatory formal furniture and stated, “We would only use the room for special occasions or visitors”; this seldom happened and the room collected more dust than memories.  The rest of the house worked nicely though, our kitchen door (the main entrance for family and guests) opened from an inviting breezeway and visitors were greeted by an open plan with the kitchen opening to the dining area which opened into the family room; all of our time was spent in those areas with most meals occurring at the kitchen bar of dining table where we could relax and discuss events happening around us.  The bedroom were separated to allow for privacy and the 4-bedroom, 2-bath house  was only approximately 1,600 square feet.  There were no soaring ceilings or over-sized rooms, just a warm, comfortable family home.

So, remind me again, why do Americans feel this need for the “MacMansions” that fill the modern subdivisions?  Think back to your past, what kind of home did you grow up in?  What was your ideal vision of the family home?  For many of you, it might very well be some of these TV homes that I’ve selected.  With each, I’ll share some of my memories; if you’d like, share some of yours about these or others that you remember.  In any event, enjoy.

The Cleaver home from Leave It to Beaver.  Many afternoons were spent watching this show and I remember the layout implicitly.  You entered the front door and, to your right was the family room where many Cleaver moments were shares; to the left was Ward Cleaver’s study where Beaver of Wally would have those serious discussions with Dad; and before you was the stairway leading to the private sleeping areas.  And, of course, June’s kitchen was just beyond the dining area which was the hub of daily activity.

Even the Cartwright’s house, on Bonanza had a great family layout.  Yes, it had a soaring ceiling in the main area but, the spaces were opened to one another with the living, dining, and study all sharing space. Many important moments in the drama were played out between the family members in this warm and comfortable space.

Darren and Samantha Stevens played out many episodes of Bewitched in this home.  Again, modest entry with a guest area to the left; stairs leading to bedrooms in front of you; a cozy family room to your right; and then the formal dining area which led to the kitchen.  One may remember that Samantha could have conjured up any house imaginable but, her desire for her family to be the typical American family resulted in this wonderful example.

Who can forget the house that a man named Brady designed?  The Brady Bunch lived in a great example of a modern interpretation of home.  Again, it contained soaring spaces, that were being experimented with in architecture, but the family core remain somewhat unchanged as the entry had the stairway in front; a study to the right (where serious discussions, again, occurred); and the family and dining room to the left.  A new twist was that the kitchen had a small area for dining and watching TV in addition to the cooking areas.

Another home that many of us stepped into each week was that of the Partridge Family.  Without a lot of explanation, its layout mimics much of that described above and is again, emblematic of family.

And of course, the home that many fond memories of the Cunningham family in the home they shared in Happy Days.

Old Customs House Remake

16 03 2011

Today I am showcasing a conceptual project that Hue Architecture has been involved with, off and on, for 2+ years.  The project, in Wilmington, Delaware, is known as The Old Customs House.

As downtown Wilmington continues to evolve from an 8 to 5-and-escape-to-the-suburbs-area this property was envisioned to create a mixed-use urban center that could include office, dining, shopping and residential components.  The site, adjacent to the new Federal Court House, offers potential residents many options regarding employment, entertainment, religious, recreational, and educational venues, all with walking distance of the property; not to mention the fact that parking and other support facilities exist and are increasing rapidly.

Building as it currently appears.

The existing building, a splendid example of Greek revival, was completed in 1855 and, in addition to its Customs House function, also contained a Federal Court and Post Office.  Prior to being purchase by our client, the building had also functioned as a bank and satellite college campus.  Through its history, the building had also remained intact with many of its original features, such as a gorgeous cast iron staircase, brick groin vaults, fireplaces, wood treatments, etc. providing many examples of the quality craftsmanship of that era.  An additional feature is that of a site that slopes down, from front to rear, affording exterior access to lower level.

So, with this beautiful structure as a starting point, our solution was rather simple; create a complimentary structure the “kisses” the rear facade and ever-so-lightly embraces the sides.  This approach allows the front facade to maintain its regal, street-side appearance and also allows the side facades to remain visible while creating private and public plazas in between.  The existing main entrance becomes more ceremonial with the primary entrance to offices and residential units occurring at the rear facade, along a secondary street and walkway; entrances to eating and shopping venues would be at plaza and perimeter locations.  The new structure is designed with a flat roof, no higher than the existing eave to again maintain the prominence of the historic structure.

For Hue Architecture, this was an exciting project and a chance to juxtapose the original architect’s approach to public architecture with our modern approach to mixed-use design.  Though the project has been on hold, a large body of design work and research make it a great candidate for further development at a future date.  So, stay tuned, you may just see this project coming to life in beautiful downtown Wilmington, Delaware.

From an aerial perspective one sees the new building gently wrapping around the existing Customs House as well as providing glimpses of plazas between existing and new.  The new building follows the irregular shape of the property and allows for open views of the historic buildings side facades.  The new wings are designed to be either office floors or residential, dependent on demand, though the wing to the right supports a double loaded corridor which is ideal for residential while the wing on the left offers wide open floor plates for creative office arrangements.


The street level view of the right facade indicates the complimentary massing of the new compared to the existing as well as the new buildings respectful homage to the historic Customs House.  Wide pedestrian ways along the main facade also provide an open feeling in the urban fabric of downtown.

Moving up the street and looking at the left wing addition, one again sees the new building opening up to allow the historic structure  to maintain its prominence on the site without sacrifice to the major expansion.

A closer view of the left wing highlights the saw-toothed wall which maximized floor area, provides significant, focused views to the street-scape, and creates an interesting rhythm.  A landscaping wall, along the pedestrian way, gives a level of privacy to the garden court that opens to the lower levels.

A close-up view of the right wing focuses on the transitional stairway that moves down into the public court offering access to shopping and eating venues as well as access to the primary entrance lobby.  Again, one also sees the new facades nod to the historic gem.

Winter Garden

14 03 2011
Where we plan to plant our garden.

Where we plan to plant our garden.

So, during our last snowstorm, and in the middle of shoveling the driveway, Judy gazed out over the frozen tundra, formerly known as our yard, and said, “Over there is where I think we should put our garden.”  Sensing the seriousness of her voice, and being weary of holding onto the shovel, I, without hesitation, went over and stepped off a sizable plot so that the planning could begin.  OK, perhaps I’m being a bit facetious; but, we have talked, many times, about putting in a garden this year and now is the time to start dreaming and planning.  As I’ve been discussing in many of my posts, I am a huge fan of sustainability and buy local so home gardening is the perfect way to further the premise; and, there are few better pleasures than working the garden on late summer evenings and sneaking nibbles of some of the ripening delicacies.  Late that afternoon, with a hot toddy in hand, I started my internet search into concepts, products, systems, etc. in order to design the perfect garden; after all, a designer can’t just wander out next spring and start poking seeds in the ground.

One of the sites that I hit initially was Humble Seed, I happened onto their site through facebook link sometime back, and was impressed by their philosophies and simple, organic logic.  In one of their facebook entries, they had a nice article on planning and layout of a garden (as seen below) so, I was off and running.

Courtesy of Humble Seed.

The above layout is a nice one for those of us starting to approaching the over-the-hill group as it allows for raised beds that can easily be reached from the paths and limits some of the bending over.  There was also a lot of great information on preparing the beds in order to create the most organic scenario for healthy, wholesome produce.

With my layout started, it was now time to consider what we might want to grow.  In the past, Judy and I have kept a nice herb garden, just outside the back door, as well as great spring greens for healthy salads so I knew those items were definitely on the list.  In past years, we’ve also planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant; but, wait a minute, those past experiences were never successful because of the deer population in our neighborhood (and the tomato loving Doberman) so it was back up to my layout to think about fencing to protect the fruits-of-our-labor.

Courtesy of Humble Seed.

OK, back to determining what to plant.  Judy and I decided we wanted a nice kitchen garden that we can enjoy throughout the year and it would also be nice to have a few thing to put in the freezer for next winter but, we also knew that we needed to be mindful of our busy schedules and, as such, need to be prudent about how much we take on.  Besides, we are in South Jersey, the garden state, and have access to some of the best produce stands anywhere.  Having thought through that, I again returned to Humble Seed to select a nice variety of herb and vegetable seeds that will complement our tastes.

Now we were making progress; we’ve designed a great layout, we’ve considered protecting our growies from the foragers, and we’ve selected a great variety of seeds to provide our planned bounty.  The next item on my list was to think about watering of the garden; while we planned to grow produce indigenous to our area, sustainable by local rainfall averages, we occasionally hit a dry spell and don’t want to stunt our garden’s growth. This, I decided, was a great way to introduce another concept that I feel strongly about, that of rainwater

Courtesy of Rain Well. fttp://

harvesting.  Again, I had come across a great link that I’ve shared, from a company, Rain Well that produces a wonderful variety of rain harvesting systems, from home versions to larger commercial varieties.  The product, pictured here, will provide a nice backup to Mother Nature (and also has a Texas star on the front); and, with this product, I can simply run a hose from the barrel or tie to a simple drip irrigation system to keep our garden hydrated.

And now, with the groundhog having not seen his shadow and the weatherman predicting milder temperatures, we can start putting the wheels into motion for our garden and start pre-ordering some of the materials so that we can hit the ground running (when the ground thaws) this spring; sure, there are a lot of items that still have to be taken into consideration but, we’ve made a good start.  So, if you find yourself in South Jersey this summer stop by, help pull a few weeds, taste some of Mother Nature’s delights, and then sit out on the deck overlooking our garden and enjoy one of Judy’s killer summer cocktails.

Smaller Vs. Bigger…Tale of the Tape!

9 03 2011

Today I realized that I have been on a journey, of sorts, these last couple of weeks.  What I believed was a singular blog expressing my brief thoughts on the “super-sizing” of the American house became a two-parter with my discussion of the over-building that has occurred.  I am now driven into a triptych with this conclusion discussing dollars and cents (or is it sense?).

As I wrapped up my last blog and was sharing my findings with Judy, I was not surprised by her question when she asked, “But what is this costing our country, based on your argument of ‘over-building’”?  So, it was off to the internet, yet again, for a little digging; and, with little effort, I came across 40+ years of Average Sales Prices of New Homes. With that information, coupled with previous data on average square footages for the same period (and my trusty TI calculator), I was able to quickly ascertain that, for the period from 1980 – 2010, the average construction cost in the US was $82.14 per square foot (note that it started at $43.90 in 1980, peaked at $124.40 in 2007, and ended at $111.12 in 2010).  Now, based on my supposition that we have, since 1980, overbuilt by 760 million square feet per year, and at the above cost of $82.14, my trusty TI and I calculated an excess cost of $62,426,400,000.00 (that billions, friends) per year; but wait, after punching in our 30 year period, I was blown away with the figure $1,872,792,000,000.00 (can you say almost $2 trillion?).  Again, this is a raw number that does not take into consideration additional costs of support systems, negative effects of lost farm and scenic lands, depletion of natural resources, etc.; and to be fair, it doesn’t take into consideration many other factors that other factions might argue (for and against this theory).  But suffice it to say, we are talking astronomical figures!

Having said all of this, I’m blown away by the enormity of this excess.   As a matter of fact, I needed a frame of reference and, with the help of the internet, I found a one; unfortunately, one of the few measures that deal with numbers this large is the US National Debt which, currently stands at (are you ready for this?) just over $14 trillion.  OK, my estimate is less than the National Debt but, isn’t this just another sign of the excess that we’ve allowed our culture to gravitate to?  While mulling these facts over, I, serendipitously, came across a blog entry posted to Sarah Susanka’s (The Not So Big House series) Facebook page that, poignantly, discusses this issue of our culture of excess.  So, forgive me for heading on this little tangent; but, I’ve included a portion of this blog, posted to the site, Ten Dollar Thoughts and written by Gale, to bolster my point (the entire blog can be reached through a link following the exert):

There’s something off about the American dream.

[…] I’ve been thinking about this intermittently for the last month and I’ve finally put my finger on it.  The American dream is too simple.  It is not nuanced or multi-faceted.  It is plain, and brute, and a little crass.  Quite plainly, the American dream is financial […]

[…]   A few years back architect/author Sarah Susanka wrote a book about home scale and design called The Not So Big House.  In it she described how the American dream has eradicated everything we love about our homes.  New houses traded thoughtful design, charm, intimacy, and attention to proportion and scale for carelessly conceived vaulted ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and giant open floor plans that leave us feeling unmoored in our own homes […] Susanka points out how much of our lives are crammed with obligations and activities that we have piled onto our existence without consideration for what value they bring (or what value they destroy) […]

[…] I wonder how our cultural evolution might have been different if the American dream weren’t about success; or perhaps rather if success were measured by some yardstick other than the dollar sign.  Might we live in homes that were designed with more regard for our needs and less regard for our reputations? […] If the American dream didn’t drive us to prove our success to the rest of the world would we find ourselves happier, and with less?

Ten Dollar Thoughts: Dreaming the Wrong Dream

So, where do we go from here?  Can we, as a nation, turn the tide of excess?  Will we rediscover the true meaning of the American Dream? The author above, Gale, does end on a positive note of hope that America can and will “get it”.

And now, back at the ranch, I must return to the main focus of this series; that of creating homes for families, not cavernous status houses.  There are movements, all over the country, just like that of The Not So Big House series that are advocating a return to our core values of home and hearth and taking a more sensible approach to a sustainable future.  And, this is not a plea to reduce square footages as much as it is a plea to think carefully about real living needs and design appropriate homes that fit our lifestyle not our egos. I’ve mentioned a number of times, that “right-sizing” is my new mantra and that I will work closely with clients to create their true vision of the family home; work with me on this issue, work with architects on this issue, and work with your fellow Americans!  It’s good for us, it’s good for humankind, and it’s good for Mother Earth!

Smaller Vs. Bigger…A Follow-Up…

7 03 2011

I’ve enjoyed a number of hits on my “note”, posted recently on facebook, regarding the ever-increasing size of the American house.  It also caused me to ponder the issue a bit more and to dig just a bit deeper.

I noted, in my previous diatribe, that the average American house, in 1980, was 1,740 sq. ft. and that, today is 2,500 sq. ft. indicating an increase of 760 sq. ft.  Now, to many, this does not appear to be a large increase but, let’s look at it from a different perspective; according to the US Census Bureau, there has been an average of 1 million housing starts per year since 1980 (though it has been half that over the last couple of years).  With that many housing starts, one could suggest that we’ve overbuilt, each year, by 760 million sq. ft. or 17,447 acres (not including associated area requirements for streets, etc.).  To further exacerbate the issue, this indicates that, over the 30 year period we have, perhaps, overbuilt by 523,410 acres or 818 square miles (the state of Rhode Island has an area of 1,214 sq. miles).  If you took this exercise back to post-WWII when the average house size was only 1,000 sq. ft., the numbers would be mind boggling.

Now, to be fair, some of the new houses were constructed to replace existing structures but, to ask the more important questions: how much of our agricultural land have we surrendered to “bigger”?  How much of our scenic open space have we surrendered to “bigger”? How much wildlife has been pushed toward extinction for “bigger”?  How much of our natural resources have been depleted for “bigger”?  As argued in the previous “note”, these houses have been built, in many instances, as cheaply as possible in order to remain affordable and feed our insatiable appetite for the “status house”. Unfortunately, these cheaply built houses will also have to be replaced sooner, will have more maintainable cost associated with them, and just simply don’t provide much more than shelter.  And, we are talking about extra square footage in this “note”; if we added in the cavernous volumes of space that we now construct with our soaring ceilings, etc, the true waste would be magnified several times over.

Please also keep in mind, that we are talking averages; yes, some families do need more square footage and space but, in the overall scheme of things, Americans have allowed this issue to become out of control.  Sure, due to an expanding population, we need to add to our housing stock, we just need to be mindful of “right-sizing” instead of “over-sizing”.  The “status house” has become a driving force in our culture and, if this issue doesn’t reverse itself, we will use up all that this planet has to offer.

As an architect, I too have been guilty of designing houses for clients that are too large; it was, perhaps, too easy to get caught up in the design and lose sight of the bigger picture.  I realize, now, that less really is more and that, by working together, we can reverse these detrimental trends of overbuilding.  It is not too late, I believe that Mother Earth will work with us to save our planet, and together we will create a better place for all of humankind’s future generations.

Smaller Vs. Bigger…

4 03 2011

"But Mommy, where is our house?"

We, in America, have become spoiled; since the Great Depression and the end of World War II, our houses have become bigger and bigger.  In 1950 the average house size in the US was 1,000 sq. ft., in 1980 the average was 1,740 sq. ft., and today the average is almost 2,500 sq. ft.; this is an increase of 250% over the span of 60 years during which time, the average household size has decreased from 3.37 in 1950 to 2.57 today or 76%.

Why do we need so much more space; the old George Carlin bit stated that, “Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. […]” In fact, I argue, it’s because our houses have become,predominately, status containers for all of our possessions instead of the homes where our families’ memories are made.  Furthermore, in an effort to control costs in this need for more space, these houses have become poorly built commodities that Americans can parlay on their upward climb instead of the finely crafted, humble homes of our past worthy of being passed on to our children.

Transcending generations...Home!!!

As an experiment, go out for a Sunday drive (another lost tradition) and tour a few open houses, both new and vintage; really examine the layout and its’ usage of space; and then, honestly, imagine yourself living in that space.  For many, I will wager that the older homes will actually feel cozier, will seem easier to maintain, and will contain the character that has been lost in the cavernous houses in today’s modern subdivisions.

And now, in this Great Recession, many are losing their supercilious boxes, and though this is a bitter pill to swallow, maybe it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate true housing needs with a chance to get it right this time with high-quality homes in lieu of high-quantity houses.

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