Filed under: green

trends in residential architecture

A few days ago, Kyle sent me this from the American Institute of Architect’s website. The article mainly talks about a modest turnaround beginning to take shape in the residential sector (woohoo!), but it also looks at specific trends and patterns that have been gaining in popularity. Since many of the items directly relate to what we’re doing over here at chezerbey, we thought we’d bring up the topic up and see what others thought.

1. Houses are getting smaller – not a shocker, but it makes us feel better about opting not to add on to our 800 SF footprint.

2. People want accessibility and flexibility – the most significant decision we’ve made at chezerbey is to knock out walls and open up the floor plan. Now…I’m hesistant to say that any ol’ open floor plan is successful though. While it’s nice to have visual connection between the “public” spaces of a house, it’s also a good idea to use materials, light and volume to provide distinction or a sense of hierarchy. For instance, at our house we felt that keeping a consistent ceiling across the space would produce a bit of a “bowling alley” effect. By vaulting the ceiling over the kitchen and dining room, we were able to bring in more light and provide more volume in a space where you’re mostly standing up. For the living area, we chose to add some richness and texture to the space by exposing the wood joists. Additionally, the lower ceiling height (as compared to the adjacent vaulted ceiling) gives people a sense of coziness and refuge, which makes a lot of sense for the area with the most comfortable furniture!

Along with an open plan, we’re also designing for flexibility. By doing a series of sliding barn doors instead of swinging doors, we can easily change the feel and function of the spaces depending on our needs. The new room we created from part of the old living room will have a generous doorway and direct connection to the living area which means it could serve as overflow living space, an office or a guest bedroom. The new loft space could also transform as needed.

Although our house’s main spaces are all on one level, it’s not exactly accessible (and granted, this trend is likely a result of the aging baby boomer population). While we probably won’t be leaving our construction ramp up long-term, there are some options to create better accessibility in the event it was needed.

3. People want to spend more time outside, but not maintaining fussy yards – Ok, so we haven’t really done much in the way of property enhancements besides take stuff out (shrubs, decrepit picket fences and excessive amounts of concrete), but we definitely have plans to address many of these topics. Seattle loves its low-maintenance, drought-tolerant landscaping (it usually doesn’t rain at all during the summer months) and we’ll be more than happy to minimize our lawn/mulch and embrace the natives. (And once we actually have things that need watering, we can easily add a couple of rain barrels to our existing downspouts.) We also have big plans for a deck in the back (and, if our friends had their way – a hot tub), with a grill, seating and maybe even an approved fire pit for those cool nights. We’re also big into blending the indoors and outdoors – which drove our decision to install 4 skylights and open up the back of the house to the backyard.

So what do you think? Does the AIA have it right? We seem to be addressing most of these issues in our own home as well as our professional projects. I would have been curious to see a poll regarding the growing trends in efficiency – something that looked at the demand for better windows, higher r-value insulation, more efficient appliances, renewable energy, etc.

All images were found here.

re-nest blogger

Hi everyone…just stopping by to say that I am trying out for a blogger position for re-nest (part of the Apartment Therapy family) and they posted one of my sample posts today! Check it out and if you like what you see, leave a comment!


safety first

A few days ago we were browsing through photos from last summer (finally getting around to posting some tools and extra supplies on craigslist!), when we came across this:

And we laughed. Taking a break from paint shaving the house (not a cameo scene from a sci-fi movie),  Kyle sports a full range of safety gear. Almost any house project has the potential to be dangerous and/or messy so it’s important that all the right precautions are taken. In this case, it was eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands.  And as an added bonus, a certain entertainment value to our neighbor with the freshly painted house.

Three years ago, we went full face mask to protect against flying chunks of concrete as we cleared out our “planting” strip.

One of our first projects we undertook was to install a wall heater in our bathroom (yes, the bathroom that we eventually gutted). This is also when we discovered the hell that is lath and plaster.

In 2007, a roof harness  prevented any mishaps while Kyle shoveled off shingles. [The worst. project. ever.]

I’m not kidding, the roof was intense. Unfortunately, it is harder to protect one’s self against dirt and grime.

So there you go, a sampling of all things safety. We even have a whole drawer in the shop that we’ve dubbed “the safety drawer”. Gloves, glasses, ear protection, dust masks, respirators…it may seem like a hassle at the time (and you may feel a little goofy) but preventing accidents and prolonged exposure to debris is well worth it.   

cork: things to consider

We’ve talked about our cork test in regards to durability, but we thought we’d share some more information about cork and what to look for if you’re thinking about using it in your house.

1. If harvested correctly, cork is an inherently sustainable material. Not only is it rapidly renewable, but it also contains a natural waxy substance called suberin, which repels insects and keeps mold and microbes at bay. It also has a little give, which makes it a great choice for kitchens or other areas where you’re on your feet most of the time.

image of cork harvesting found here.

2. With cork, you have two options: glue down tiles or a floating system. For older houses (like ours), a floating system can be advantageous since the subfloor or existing flooring that you’re covering may not be perfectly smooth and level. A floating system can “ride the waves” so to speak, while any ridges or inconsistencies would telegraph through with a glue down approach. Also, installation of a floating system might be easier for a DIY homeowner (but buyer beware, look for quality construction to ensure all the pieces will actually fit together). For glue down tiles, it is usually recommended to adhere the tiles with contact cement, which makes getting it right the first time critical. Also, for new construction or larger applications, glue down tiles have their advantages in that after the unfinished cork is installed, it can be lightly sanded to reduce the appearance of seams and then finished in place. With the plank system, a tongue and groove panel construction means you simply lock the panels in place, without a need to nail or glue it to the subfloor. However, if you’re thinking of using plank flooring, look closely at the build-up. Typically, the flooring sandwich is composed of a thick piece of cork underlayment, a layer of hdf (high density fiberboard), and then the top layer of compressed cork (with or without a cork veneer over that). The glue used in the hdf or between the layers of materials can sometimes contain formaldehyde so check with the manufacturer to be sure. The appeal of natural cork certainly diminishes if you’ve got all sorts of crazy chems and VOC’s underneath!

image found here.

3. Which brings us to finishes – there seems to be two camps when it comes to finishing cork. Some products come prefinished with a coating of polyurethane while others are prefinished with a hardwax oil (and of course some come unfinished). The polyurethane is durable but sometimes has that plasticky look. We’ve also been told that it is hard to spot repair if you get a deep scratch. The hardwax oil (Osmo is a popular brand sold at Ecohaus) has a bit more elasticity to it and can be spot repaired. In fact, if you’re good about repairing scratches and blemishes as they happen, you may never have to refinish the entire floor.

4. Now for the fun part, colors. These days, there is a huge variety of cork options. Of course, there are the standard “corkboard” natural colors but there are also some interesting darker colors that have been achieved by steaming the cork (similar to carmelizing food). The great thing about going this route is you get a through body color (meaning what you see on the top is the same through the entire top layer). For most of the other options, the pattern or color is achieved by a thin veneer over the natural cork. The disadvantage to a veneered cork is that if it does get a deep scratch, you would see the natural cork color below. We were concerned about this at first (since we really like one of the veneered options) but after our multi-month “scratch test” we’re feeling pretty confident. Besides, we hope to someday have a “no shoes” policy that would prevent any stiletto punctures.

Image found here.

After considering all these factors, we are happy with our choice from Ecohaus – a 1’x3′ plank floating system that is formaldehyde free with a hardwax oil finish. We also love that cork is noticeably warmer than most other floor surfaces (at the molecular level, cork has tons of little air pockets which make it a better insulator)!

So there you have it, the low down on all things cork. Stay tuned for the next segment in which we hope to talk about how ridiculously easy it was to install!


points of reference

During the last three years, we have undertaken a variety of projects on our house that required some advanced skills and know-how. Sure, it definitely helps that we each have 5 years of architecture school plus 5.5 years of professional practice under our belts, but when it comes to wiring outlets, figuring out your drain waste vent design, or other tasks that are typically dealt with by specific trades people, you need some backup. In our basement, stacked besides past issues of Fine Homebuilding and Dwell, we have a small reference library that is a compilation of old textbooks and DIY reference guides. [Yes, Kyle bought “Working Alone”. I was slightly offended at first but it’s more about how to do tricky things like carry sheets of plywood on your back while climbing a ladder to your roof. Really.]

Taunton Press has been our go-to source for great books on all aspects of home remodeling.

I’ve tried to coax Kyle into wearing a bandana while doing plumbing work but so far no luck.

Any other good reference guide tips out there?