Meet George Jetson…

31 07 2013

Has anyone noticed that much of residential architecture remains solidly in the realm of traditional styles that have been around for centuries? Most of our subdivisions and developments are filled with gabled Tudors, Victorians, Classicals, Colonials, Cape Cods, Bungalows, Mediterraneans, Salt Boxes, etc.; or, oft-times, schizophrenic mixtures of those styles. Yes, there are many advances in materials and techniques but no real (visible) advances in style. If you review any architecturally focused journals or web sites, you will see examples of some architects pushing the design envelope but our hearts (and wallets) seem to be firmly entrenched in what the developer’s marketing gurus see as Home. No doubt, psychologists can weigh in on our need to hold on to the romantic notion of what home is and there is also, perhaps, security in the notion of a simpler time and place. But, there was a time, not too long ago, when many of us embraced the concepts of a quickly evolving society and saw a different future, I know I expected things to be different by now. So, allow me to digress a bit…

One of my favorite cartoons, growing up, in the 1960’s, was The Jetsons. Some of you oldsters may remember:


With the world solidly caught up in the space race, many facets of our society revolved (or, orbited) around what our world might be like in the not-to-distant future; the media was full of predictions and, I for one, was fascinated by the thought of flying cars, saucer-like houses and apartments, robot maids, capsule meals, etc. So, when The Jetsons aired in September of 1962, I was naturally drawn to glimpse into our future and being 8 years old, at the time, may have been convinced of its relevance. Now, to be fair, The Jestsons originally aired as a prime-time, adult oriented animated sitcom about what family life might be 100 years into the future or, the year 2062; and, if you looked at the proliferation of new gadgets and advances in science, could The Jestsons lifestyle have been that far-fetched?

Well, it has been 50 years since the 24 original episodes of The Jetsons initially aired and I see no signs of saucer shaped houses perched high on pedestals, much less flying cars, or robot maids serving capsule-like meals. Certainly, since the early 20th century, there have been numerous examples of the International Style which exhibited clean lines, flat roofs, monochromatic color schemes, and minimalist decoration but the style is still not prevalent in mainstream America or, the rest of the world for that matter.

Early modernist architects, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius introduced the International Style in European residential architecture as a response to an advancing and changing society. And, as the movement crossed the pond, they were followed by Americans Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, Philip Johnson (and others) who, during the mid-twentieth century, proffered hard-edged, stark modern interpretations of home but, many examples were fraught with pragmatic construct-ability issues not to mention extremely limited acceptance of the general public.

Today, we continue to see limited examples of a more modern style but these remain limited and seldom appear in our American developments and sub-divisions; they tend to be seen in the realm of prefab housing or multi-family complexes. Although these designs may not seem quite as edgy,as their 20th century predecessors, with a more varied palette of materials and textures and colors; many of these designers are also address issues of circulation, wasted space, and scale rather creatively because they have broken-out of the proverbial traditional house box. I, personally, would like to see  this movement gain traction in mainstream residential developments and progress toward a more modern aesthetic because, after all, it’s not the container that makes it home, it’s the family that lives inside that keeps those home-fires burning. As I have said, before, home is in our hearts and we express that in the container.

And who knows, in another 50 years (2062, to be exact), my grandchildren may be living in a “Jetson-esque” world of flying cars, saucer-like houses and apartments, robot maids, capsule meals, etc.; perhaps they can even teleport” me back, just for a moment, to have a peak.

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Our House…Part Six…The Epilogue

23 07 2013

Two years can fly by at the blink of an eye…most of the time…

When I started this series two years ago, entitled Our House, I really didn’t imagine the twist and turns that this little adventure would entail. I’ve already provided you with the background regarding why Judy and I felt compelled to take this journey and, I’ve provided you with photographs of the finished product. Now, I want to share a bit about the process that we went through, from that first swing of the sledge hammer to the last turn of the final screw.

Now, having an Architect in the family is always a double-edged sword (as Judy will attest). I was able to develop the overall concept, to understand the budget and scheduling process, to order certain material and coordinate deliveries, make decisions regarding unforeseen obstacle in demolition, and to coordinate contractor work. The flip side was that I was also constantly designing and suggesting enhancements to our project which will always cause scope creep ($$$$$) if you’re not careful.

In any event, and with a clear head,we began this process the week after our farm purchase fell through (late November) when we met with the Steve Matteo, a kitchen and flooring consultant from Matteo Family Kitchens. First, we talked about our wish list and talked about what we absolutely needed and what we dreamed about, if the budget would stretch far enough; next, we reviewed drawings and renderings, selected products, talk about schedules, and met with contractors who would provide the actual installation; and, finally, we agreed upon a design and a price, ordered materials, and established a start date in mid-January.

With a start date established, Judy and I started our prep work. We reduced our usual Christmas decorations to a minimum and, the day after Christmas, started packing up everything in the affected areas of the first level including emptying out all cabinets, removing pictures and art work from the walls, removing or staging furniture, and establishing a temporary kitchen. Our temporary kitchen consisted of moving the refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker into the Dining Room and stocking it with plenty of disposable dinnerware. Now, this arrangement worked out nicely for a week or two but, it gets old fast; we tired, rapidly, of microwave cooking and takeout; the process was also more of a disruption to our normal activities than we imagined, it’s funny how much our habits control our day to day activities.

Finally, on a cold day in mid-January, contractors arrived and started ripping our first level completely apart. Of course, one thing that you can always bet on, in any renovation project, is that you will inevitably uncover hidden challenges. During the first week, we discovered that a blind header would definitely be required (as suspected) for walls we were eliminating, that plumbing drains were not where we thought and would have to be relocated, and that several previous renovations (before our time) would complicate electrical and HVAC (heating and air conditioning) work. We were lucky, though, the kitchen consultant recommended a fantastic lead contractor, Bob Fisher of Fisher and Sons and they communicated well during every step (and miss-step) so that everything went as smoothly as possible. I was able to contract with an electrician whom I had worked with before, Jim Pratta, so that process also ran smoothly. We also found a great local painter, Blossom Painting, and they did a great job of repainting the entire first level walls and ceilings. Unfortunately, though, we contracted with a recommended plumber that did not perform well at all; as a matter of fact, I was so disappointed in their performance that they will remain unnamed in this post.

Going into subsequent weeks, new construction and installation went well, we solved many problems during that first week of demolition and that paid off. The contractors worked hard to re-establish as much functionality as possible but so many items, in a major renovation, hinge upon the completion of support items and coordination of different trades. We completed the Laundry Room but needed hook-ups of plumbing and electrical; new cabinets went in quickly but it took time  to measure and install countertops; countertops had to be installed before the sink and dishwasher would be hooked up; painting had to be done before flooring could be started; flooring had to be installed before appliances could be put back in place…And, it only takes one hiccup for a cascade of delays to start; our cascade involved delays with countertops and plumbers. But finally, on a fine Spring day in early April, we reached substantial completion; that meaning that there were still odds and ends that needed to be addressed but we were now functional and could really start to enjoy our new spaces.

The final toll was that we were several weeks behind schedule and several thousand dollars over budget. What we had, though, was a beautiful new First Level that finally addressed our Pattern of Living.

Would we do anything different? Sure; even though I am a part of the construction industry and understand it’s nuances, I would maintain tighter control on the design, budget, and schedule; the counter to that statement, though, is that the final product should be done the way you want it because you don’t want to be disappointed in your results. Remember, it’s always a balancing act.

Would we do it again? Absolutely; we still have dreams of renovating our upstairs bathrooms and and screened porch when our funding allows.

Any parting thoughts? Always; do your homework, ask questions, hire the proper people for the work including architects, designers, suppliers, and contractors. But more importantly, don’t be afraid; the process is kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid, it only hurts for a moment…





Our House…Part Five…Cat House, Dog House

16 07 2013

When last we heard from our fearless couple, Judy and Hue, they had just debuted their new kitchen in Our House…Part Four.  Yes, after many months, they finally moved forward with addressing their Pattern of Living.

Of course, a major part of our Pattern of Living also involves the lives of our four-legged children and the work we do with animal rescues. How could we create new living spaces without thoughts on how to make the spaces more conducive to everyone’s needs; surely we needed to consider all beings Pattern of Living. At any given time, we may have multiple Spaniels and Cats, as a part of our immediate family, and may also be fostering one or two Spaniels from one of the three rescues that we work closely with. As a matter of fact we currently have a foster mommy who is raising her two pups under our care. Of course, these fosters will all be adopted, into their forever homes, once the pups reach the proper age and mommy gets that desperately needed spay and dental; but, for now, they are also a major part of our family.

While we didn’t have a specific idea in mind, once we started planning the demolition, we knew that there had to be a use for the old cabinets and countertops; re-use always made sense and we discussed just sticking them down into the basement and using them for storage. However, during one of our arm-waving strategy sessions, regarding the old cabinets, Judy said, I sort of imaging a wall across a portion of the basement and creating a kind of work room…and, maybe this would be the perfect space to keep all of the animals ‘stuff’, feeding supplies, medications…

Well, that started the wheels in motion and created the first of several changes in our project (more about that in Part Six). Before you could say oopsy we had the contractor down in the basement marking off wall and door locations. Now we did restrain ourselves, to a degree; of the almost 1,000 sq. ft. unfinished basement, we only carved out a room measuring approximately 13′ x 14′ at the bottom of the existing basement stairway and installed doors, on each side, to access the balance of the basement. This space, though, allowed us to re-install almost all of the old kitchen cabinets and countertops and, not only created additional, much needed storage but also kept a significant amount of material out of our landfills. We kept the finishes simple; we painted the new walls and ceilings with a good, washable surface and put down an economical, interlocking rubber floor that can be removed and cleaned in the event of flooding (which only happens during hurricanes).

And that was the birth of the Cat House, Dog House. Of course we didn’t just fill the cabinets with pet paraphernalia (though we probably could have), we also now have storage for those seldom used kitchen tools which are now just a few step away from our shiny new kitchen. This also freed up space in the balance of the basement and is allowing us the opportunity to create more order in our storage system. The big thing, though??? It’s the fact that we now keep our upstairs cleared of all of the feeding bowls and cat boxes; we  have a small refrigerator for food, a microwave for warming, and dry storage for canned foods. Now, when feeding time occurs (the feeding frenzy as we call it), it’s all accomplished downstairs and the systems works nicely with clean-up being a breeze.

As I’ve said before, pictures are priceless and, though it’s a small space, I wanted to share our new Cat House, Dog House:

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What a great space!
The existing cabinets provide excellent, additional storage; the old Corian tops are a perfect, cleanable surface; the walls are scrub-able; and the rubber flooring wet-mops nicely. And, notice the little cat passageway adjacent to the cat tree, the cat’s are able to get to their litter boxes without the Spaniels grazing for snacks.

Perhaps these last blogs have reignited your thoughts regarding your Pattern of Living, perhaps you need a little tweak to your home, or perhaps a more major twist is needed. Whatever your needs, consult a design professional (this design professional); the process is not nearly as difficult as you might imagine (though we’ll talk about that, a bit, in Part Six) and you, too, can establish your personal Pattern of Living.





Our House…Part Four…Photos Say it All!

8 07 2013

Well, it’s official!!! Judy and I finally completed phase one renovations of our home!

As a refresher, (because this has been ongoing for a while) if you go way back to my April and May 2011 posts, I wrote a three segment blog describing our struggles to decide whether to renovate or add-on or sell and start fresh. At the end of that three-fold diatribe, I seem to remember determining that remodeling our current home made the most sense…

This was a great idea until…

We purchased another horse (number seven in our herd) and, we decided that we absolutely wanted a farm…

Without going into details:

  1. We found the perfect (we  thought) place and put in an offer…
  2. Two days before settlement, the second appraisal came in too low…
  3. Seller refused to to reduce the price further…
  4. Judy and I threw up our hands, blamed the events on fate, and realized that we should stay put!

So, with that 16 month cycle of events passed, we decided to start the renovations, in earnest. Our first thoughts, since Spring was approaching, was to revamp the Screened Porch into a year-round space; put in new windows, flooring, etc. and create an open transition from our Living Room to the great outdoors…This was a great plan until I asked the Kitchen & Flooring Consultant what he thought of our current First Floor layout and, did he have any ideas…

Fast forward, from January through March of this year and, Judy and I now have a beautiful new First Floor that finally reflects our Pattern-of-living (remember that term?). Yes, It took that long but, as you will see, the renovations were significant. During that time, we lived through all of the joys (???!!?) and tribulations of a major renovation. And yes, there are stories to tell but, I will save those as fodder for another installment. Right now, I just want to share our beautiful new pattern-of-living.

So, without further ado, I’ll let the graphics tell the rest of the story:

Drawing

Drawings

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Looking from the Garage entry into the new Kitchen; and, through where the old Laundry Room was removed.
Cabinets are a knotty birch, counter-tops are black granite,  and the flooring is a stranded bamboo. A blind header was installed to allow the ceiling to pass from the Kitchen, through to the Living Room, uninterrupted. The island was a purchased piece that we thought added character to the space; the top is a teak cutting board that I cannot bring myself to mar.

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Looking back into the new Kitchen from the Living Room.
The tile, on the bar top and front, is an Italian porcelain product, with a slate-like finish and “toothpick” joints to minimize grout lines. The new, compact Laundry Room is behind the pocket doors in the background, next to the Garage entrance. By the way, we replaced all of the interior doors with new, solid core, knotty alder and stained them on-site. And, yes, the Spaniels love the new bamboo floor which is 25 times harder than oak flooring.

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We covered the existing brick fireplace with the same porcelain tile and granite, for continuity. We also installed new baseboards and chair rails (to match the new doors), painted all of the walls and ceilings, and added new pleated window shades.

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Looking from the Living Room out to the Screened Porch.
Yes, our original goal was to renovate the Porch into a year-round space and, no, it didn’t happen. This area slipped down, on our wish-list, but will be addressed this Fall (we hope). Notice the creative awards ribbon rail that was created from left over chair rails and a spacer. And, again, a happy Spaniel surveying his new space.

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Although we didn’t change the Dining Room, much, we did refinish the existing oak floor, added new trim, and repainted all surfaces to complete our First Level makeover.





Chief Builder

1 07 2013

This past weekend, I spent a lot of time building various components for a Fourth of July float for Judy’s clinics. I had, at my disposal, my circular saw, jig saw, drill, hammer, and other assorted hand tools. As I was assembling the various components, it occurred to me  (as it has, so many times, in the past), that all architects and design professionals should possess, at least, a rudimentary proficiency in construction. And yes, I was only working on a float and not a multi-story structure but, there was a considerable measuring and sawing and drilling and hammering happening in order to create the stage set for our latest float (float number 10, if memory serves me correctly).

I’m not saying that other architects are inept when in comes to hands-on construction; but, a majority are now educated and work in climate controlled, sterile classrooms and offices and, only seldom get out to a construction site, much less actually work on one. Surprisingly, this state of the profession is actually a 20th century phenomena, as architects have gradually (then more rapidly) lost that important connection with hands-on construction expertise. Historically, most ancient structures, from pyramids to temples to cathedrals to palaces  to humble abodes, were designed and constructed by master craftsmen; whether they were masons or carpenters, etc.

As a matter of fact, the origin of the definition for Architect is:

mid 16th century: from French architecte, from Italian architetto, via Latin from Greek arkhitektōn, from arkhi- ‘chief’ +tektōn ‘builder’

Of course everything evolves and I’m sure that, at some point, architects decided that the profession needed to be streamlined and, those that wanted to focus on design held on to the title of architect while those that wanted to focus on building took on other titles such as builder or contractor. And, as we continue to progress through the computer age, this transition becomes even more pronounced.

I, on the other hand, refused college, upon graduation from high school, and went to work in the construction industry as a draftsman. While I honed my drawing skills during the week, I spent many weekends working on the various construction crews learning how things really went together (and sometimes, NOT go together). Even after entering to college, I never passed up an opportunity to work on a construction job-site in order to gain more of a perspective of what works and what doesn’t work.

I have often argued that all architecture students should be mandated to spend time working in construction, if not while in school, then as a part of their internship prior to licensing. There is so much to be gained from working with craftsmen (and getting your hands dirty) to really understand how buildings go together and that, sometimes, a seemingly brilliant design idea simply cannot be built or are too cost prohibitive.

To be fair, there  continues to exist a small segment of the industry, called design/build, in which architects and contractors team up, under one umbrella, for a cost-effective project delivery. Unfortunately, it is still a small component in our industry and many of the architects and designers still spend all of their time in the office.

In any event, I will continue to design and to build; I even have my eye on constructing various dream projects (and more floats) and am confident in my abilities gleaned from my varied background. So, the next time you speak to an architect, don’t just look at his stylish suit and tie, look to see if he has calloused hands and ask if he could build your next project.





All of the Above…

19 06 2013

Like many of my colleagues and contemporaries, I am a member of several local business associations and, as is a custom in many of those, we start each meeting with introductions all around. Unfortunately, a few months ago, I realized I had been taking more than my share of the spotlight by listing the many groups that I have involvement with and, I was feeling a bit self conscious. As a matter of fact,  I began contemplating what I might say that could concisely introduce myself, without a laundry list of activities. So, on that particular day, when my turn came,  I stood up and stated:

Good morning, my name is Hue Grant and I am a Homemaker!

Yes, as you might imagine, there were a few eye rolls and chuckles but, the great thing was, they gave me a few minutes, later in the meeting, to explain.

The thing was, I had, previously, always noted my association with my architectural practice and Judy’s veterinary practice, my position as the local Habitat affiliate President, and as a Realtor with a local real estate company; so, I explained:

 First, I am passionate about designing HOMES for clients, whether that be single family homes or condos or apartments; it gives me great satisfaction to create an environment for families to grow and nurture one another…

 Second, in support of Judy and her clinics, we rescue and foster four-legged dogs and cats in order to find them new, forever HOMES and families to become a part of…

 Third, as Board President, I lead our primary mission, as a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate,  to be the vehicle to provide affordable housing opportunities for qualified families to purchase their first HOME

 Fourth, as a licensed Realtor, my primary goal is to assist families and individuals realize the dream of creating “hearth and HOME” for themselves and their families…

 And, lastly (but so important to me), I also have taken on much of the day-to-day operation of mine and Judy’s HOME; yes, I cook and clean and do laundry and home maintenance and help care for children (two-legged and four-legged)…

So, absolutely, my friends; I, am a Homemaker!

A little schizophrenic,…maybe. Were eye rolls and chuckles still present…sure. But, more importantly, many understood and identified with my philosophy of the importance of  HOME.

As I’ve said many times, home is not only a building or a structure or a container; home is a destination and a feeling and a refuge to all that  we deal with in our daily lives; home is where family and friends (two-legged and four-legged) gather and celebrate and grieve and nurture one another; home is that special place, in our hearts, where no lock exists and the welcome mat is always out…

So, when you think about it, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we all engaged in a little “Homemaking”?





And, They All Look The Same…Part One…

15 03 2012

Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes

...And, they all look the same...

Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one…


As we all know, musical lyrics ofttimes reflects our culture. The preceding lyrics are a great example…

The other day, a facebook friend used the term ticky tacky to describe a photograph, that he had posted, of a local, typical, modern American subdivision. And, I thought, hmmmmmmm…

…The post reminds me of previous blogs in which I ranted about the out-of-control size of the current American residential boxes (and no, I don’t consider most of these homes), its proliferation in crowded subdivisions, and the resultant destruction of precious green-spaces…

…The post also reminds me of my previous discussions about the beauty, quality, character, and value of many of the wonderful, older homes of some of the great American neighborhoods of our past…

That same evening, I had a conversation, with a real estate agent, regarding the subject and, well, hmmmmmmm…

…We both agreed that most American subdivisions are a travesty and that there is beauty in many of the older neighborhoods…

…But, she said…many families, looking at the older homes, find it difficult to deal with small closets, not enough room for larger furniture, out-dated mechanical and electrical systems, etc…

All of a sudden, I felt a blog subject coming on.

…First though, I must digress…I had to look up the lyrics to the song and refresh my memory of what caused that recall. I was fascinated to discover (thank you Wikipedia) that the song was actually written, by Malvina Richards, in 1962 as … a political satire about the development of suburbia and associated conformist middle-class attitudes…   I, of course, knew this was not a  profound revelation;  the issue of urban sprawl, destruction of the environment, the degeneration of the American Home has been haunting us for decades. But, what a great, classic reincarnation from the age of real activism…

Now I was convinced. I knew that I must, once again, weigh in on the subject. But, I felt the need for a new angle…

…I’ve already written a pretty nice three-part series regarding the out-of-control sizes of the modern American house and its impact on our environment, economy, and culture…

…And, what I really want to talk more about the treasures of some of the wonderful, older homes that are still out there…

So here we go, this entry begins a multi-part series looking into the state of  American neighborhoods and homes. I plan to talk with a few of my contemporaries in design, construction, and real estate about the pros (that I’ve previously shared) and the cons of the these Old Homes that I am seem to be so attached. I also want to attempt to bring a little historic and cultural perspective to the subject. Lastly, and as always, i will try to balance the philosophical romanticized side with the pragmatic.

Stay tuned and, enjoy…










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