December 31, 2012

Last, but not Least for 2012.

Strolling down Brick Lane in London you will find the clever workshop Unto This Last. The one design that caught my eyes was the sheared sphere CD rack. Like most great designs it is simple, easy to assemble, transport and very attractive.

Unto This Last specializes in practical design products, mostly constructed of sustainable harvested Birch Plywood that is easily laminated in a large array of colors. The ethos here is “On-demand, High Street Micro-Manufacturing”. They have over 2,000 designs on file with a portion pre-constructed and on display.  But more then a showroom, the Brick Lane space is a workshop (including a CNC machine!), where they easily manufacture any of the designs to order.  Lowering overhead and inventory, they are able to offer high design and a good price.

The design house is aptly named after John Ruskin’s 1860 Book “Unto This Last”, where the art critic exposes and denounces the devastating social consequences of capitalism and the industrial revolution while advocating for the local craftsman: a manifesto that inspired the arts and crafts movement.

November 22, 2012

Chalet in the Air

A cell phone is stolen and a wallet the following weekend.  Bad juju. What more can be lost (besides faith in humankind).  The dispirited former owner wants to know. "They're just things," the buck-up voice says reassuringly.  And they are, with the very drastic distinction that they are yours.

In other settings, a voracity for more is just as criminal, but for those who live in a world of design, the collecting and procuring of objects is a pure pursuit, and losing them feels unavoidably personal.  

An interior is not just a refuge; it is the place to be unlike everyone else.  Not a place to manically shop for and fill up, but a fascinating accumulation of artifacts that represents our cultivated, ornamental DNA.

Whether the accessories are pedigreed or found, the furnishings new from the trade or bruised, familiar and comfortable, the houses we can't resist looking at are always the ones that feel like their owners, bearing the specific imprint of those individuals, like or unlike ourselves.  Acquiring things with no meaning seems to be a cruel abandonment of taste (and a terrible misuse of square footage).

I remember the first time I saw chalet “Gryffindor” I was instantly smitten.  The house had been built for an artist. But that was a very, very long time ago and by 2011 the place was in need of restoration. 


November 13, 2012

Greetings from?

© Milos Zivkovic

“All Generic Cities issue from the tabula rasa; if there was nothing, now they are there; if there was something, they have replaced it. They must, otherwise they would be historic” ~Koolhaas

People are rooted in time, whether they accept it or not. Who is the Generic City home to, then? To whom does the Generic City belong? Who belongs to the Generic City? A city without identity is also inherently without people – people bring with them history and culture, and though the Generic City may contain that of the present, it contains only that of the present. Obviously the Generic City is an idealistic argument and would certainly alleviate a variety of unsavory urban conditions – but in reality, it is unrelatable, distant, and belongs to no one. No resident of any city identifies completely with his airport – and doesn’t expect to. But in terms of an entire city, any identity is better than none.

It has been a little over a decade since Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas unleashed his concept of “the generic city,” a sprawling metropolis of repetitive buildings centered on an airport and inhabited by a tribe of global nomads with few local loyalties. His argument was that in its profound sameness, the generic city was a more accurate reflection of contemporary urban reality than nostalgic visions of New York or Paris.

Perhaps Dubai was the inevitable place for the realization of Koolhaas’ ideas. It is the capital of an economic and political New World Order. A city-state without income taxes, labor laws, or elections, it is ruled by a corporate oligarchy of hereditary rulers, accountable only to themselves and their investors.

Built up rapidly over the past few years on the wealth gotten from the world’s need for oil—and more recently as an unregulated sanctuary for cash—it has no depth of history or indigenous culture, no complexity, no conflicts, no questions about itself, no doubts, in short, nothing to stand in the way of its being shaped into the ultimate Utopia.

Quite a model for our global future. 

November 4, 2012

Way Out

Aesthetes in mass turned out for what turned out to be a swell party when Queen Elizabeth II — with 1,000 guests (hope you were among them), the Royal Philharmonic, and masses of champagne — declared the magnificently restored St. Pancras train station open.  London had gained something as significant as New York’s Grand Central Station because the terminus has given the city a great new public space that is much more than a station. It is a destination!

The station is a triumph as an engineering feat and as a meticulous restoration of a Grade I Listed Building, which puts it in the same category as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I visited with an architect friend, a railway man through and through.  This quiet man has an instinctive grasp of 19th-century railway architecture and has a miraculous gift of understanding how to adapt, and enhance it for the 21st century.

It is hard to imagine that back in the 1960s, the Midland Hotel of George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) and the amazing single-span iron-and-glass train shed of William Barlow (1812-1902) and Rowland Ordish was under threat.

A few years earlier, the grand Euston Station and Arch had been cynically sacrificed on the altar of railway modernization at the whim of the then prime minister, Harold Macmillan. It was only the efforts of John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner and a great public campaign that saved St. Pancras and secured for it the Grade I listing that have protected it to this day.

Listing alone was not enough. The station went into the doldrums for years and the Hogwarts-style Gothic hotel remained closed. It was the decision to bring a high-speed link to St. Pancras that changed everything.

The key has been to bring together all the new uses for the whole site and to give them an architectural character that is of an appropriate quality to rejuvenate the buildings. This is not a facelift. It is a three-dimensional architectural exercise that established the quality of the total environment.

There had to be new concrete platforms for Eurostar beneath the great roof; a complete new station extension for the regional Midland Main Line; a new Thameslink station; a Marriott Renaissance hotel in the Gilbert Scott Gothic fantasy, with new rooms to harmonize alongside designed by architects RHWL and Richard Griffiths; new shops and flats developed by the Manhattan Loft Corp. in the upper floors of the original hotel.

The greatest architectural triumph is Alastair Lansley’s brilliant stroke to create theatrical openings from the undercroft, so that you will glide on escalators that take you up to the platforms under the soaring sky-blue iron-and-glass roof.

In the undercroft — the space beneath the platforms — you will now wander between the processions of Victorian cast-iron columns dealing with tickets, luggage and security as an elegant prelude to the splendor of the station itself.  The finishes are superb: wooden floors with slate surrounds newly made Gothic doors and everywhere the glow of original brickwork, Minton tiles and granite and carved-stone decoration.

The station clock is back and beneath it a giant sculpture by Paul Day of an embracing couple, sentimental perhaps but poignant too. Is he going off to war, was it a brief encounter, will they meet again? 

It overlooks the longest champagne bar in Europe, where you can drink and watch the arrivals and departures.  

St. Pancras revives the romance of rail. 
Why fly? 

October 1, 2012

A Highland bastion

When I drove to the house for the first time so many years ago, I was enchanted by the beauty of the estate - the approach threads through rolling parkland and ancient woodland - and by the position of the building close to the river against a backdrop of Highland scenery. But I was not prepared for how exceptional it would prove to be close up. We all know houses which would be 'perfect' but for the odd drawback - perhaps a poor outlook, an undesirable location or proximity to a busy road. Here, I could find no such flaw. This seventeenth-century castle has all the appealing characteristics which have made tower houses so popular.

The early seventeenth century has been described as the indian summer of Scottish baronial architecture, which was inspired as much by native tradition as by foreign influences. Local masons erected these wonderfully rich and ornate buildings at a time when there was still turbulence in the Highlands: lairds (landowners) required an element of protection against attack. As in all such castles, the walls here are therefore plain, designed to withstand assault but, above, the roof line breaks into a profusion of towers, turrets, corbelling and all the rich architectural detail so typical of these buildings. The European influence is obvious to anyone who has visited the chateaux of central and northern France. Inside, on the lower levels, the ornamental plasterwork, panelling and vaulted rooms remain unchanged, but the castle will be made more convenient for modern habitation by the installation of a lift.
One of the attractions of these tower houses is their internal layout. Since the number of rooms on each floor is limited by the small ground area, rooms tend to be located in order of practical priority from the bottom up. Hence the kitchen and its attendant offices occupy the ground floor, the main reception rooms are on the first floor and the bedrooms on the floors above. In some respects tower houses imitate townhouses, with the same benefits of vertical plumbing and heat rising to warm the upper rooms.
The library is through a door hidden in the panelling. It contains some of the finest plasterwork in the castle. The ceiling is typical of the work of itinerant Italian plasterers who visited Scotland in the seventeenth century; high-relief floral strap work and figurative detail are common characteristics of their work.
Riddles Court, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, 17th century plaster ceiling.
The climate in Scotland is kind in summer but winter brings short days and long evenings. It also brings the most wonderful evening light, as those who know Scotland will attest; this streams through the deep castle windows flooding the interior with light as if in a theatre.

It is easy to overdecorate rooms like these.  The architecture is so powerful and the furniture and pictures so arresting that soft furnishings and curtains, though they should be complementary, are not central to creating a balanced interior. They should not fight for attention in surroundings of this quality.

The house is an architectural gem, of ideal size and scale, in a perfect setting and, nearly 400 years on, still as suitable for family occupation as when it was built - nonwithstanding the departure of the prisoners and the arrival of the lift. 

September 12, 2012

What Drives You?

Oh! you thought, its just another factory manufacturing Automobiles…

VW Chattanooga manufacturing plant has become the first and only automotive manufacturing plant in the world to receive Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) green building certification program. Platinum certification is the highest level of performance in the green building certification program.
Aspects of the plant that earned LEED recognition include:
Superior insulation provided by six inches of mineral rock wool, resulting in 720,000 Kilowatts per year savings.
Green power from the local hydroelectric dam
Use of LED exterior lighting results in 68% less energy used, up to 262,500 kWh per year and a reduction in light pollution.
Collected rainwater is reused to flush toilets and cool the welding machines
Highly reflective white roof, which minimizes “heat island effect” by up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Natural flowing creeks to capture heavy rains and restore a natural habitat
Low-flow water fixtures and no-touch sensors throughout the plant reduce water usage by 30%.
Plant was built on a brownfield property with no destruction of untouched nature.
Protected 100 ft. wide creeks and wetlands were established to create natural habitats with low impact on natural habitats.
“Volkswagen Chattanooga’s LEED Platinum certification is the fulfillment of a promise that Volkswagen has made around the world and in this community that we will work in harmony with the environment,” said Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga.  “Our commitment to building a LEED certified factory began in the planning and design stages.  I believe that this not only helped insure that we would achieve Platinum status, but was actually a very cost effective way to implement environmentally responsible building methods,” he said.
The Volkswagen Academy was also certified by USGBA as a Platinum LEED facility. The primary purpose of the Volkswagen Academy is to prepare new employees for work at the Volkswagen plant.

September 3, 2012

Be it ever so humble...

Long bumpy drives, terriers racing out of a front door to greet you, worn granite steps, gleaming mahogany, that faint smell of damp and woodsmoke, windows looking out on a timbered landscape…

There is something evocative about the Irish house.  It can be a mansion or a modest cottage.  The living history of Irish houses yields vital clues to the understanding of a land and its people.  In their isolation, Irish houses have evolved without design, so that the layers of the past remain.  Aside from the big houses, there are country hideaways-stone cottages, Georgian structures, romantic Gothic revival castles, strongholds in the southwestern counties; and elegant residences in town designed to impress and there is the inevitable resident ghost. 

But then they’ve seen it all before-from the Vikings to the 21th century tourist.  As a sign on a remote Irish gateway puts it:  BEWARE OF THE STALLION.  SURVIVORS PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE.

July 22, 2012

For the love of ‘Hicks’ and glass

“So what am I hiring you for?” asked the client when I wondered out loud if he had any of his own ideas.  “Just make it kind off ‘Hicksian’, he mused, “and lots of room for a private space.” 

Men.  Often forgotten in the world of interior design, and I acknowledge that I am a big fan of them, have the most unusual requests and ideas for interior spaces.

In fact, the bigger the challenge, the better I like it.  David Hicks has not been around for several decades.  We were lucky to find old resources and work in a place that is renowned for its expert craftsmen.

Style can vary enormously, depending on the requirements of the situation.  It can be both modern and formal as demonstrated here.  We took a few of the family’s antiques and gave it a contemporary and even minimal look, proving once again, that antiques can live harmoniously in modern spaces.  We added dimensions to old rooms by painting the walls in solid colors and installing new geometric carpets in the ‘Hicksian’ portion of the apartment.

The second challenge was to find the back splash for a supremely beautiful glass collection.  Streamlined colors and subdued textures suit glass better than any other decoration.  Delicate details are pointless, for they would be overshadowed by the effect of the dazzling material.  Patina is undesirable, it would only look shabby and worn-out or make the overall space look gaudy and garish.  Not many objects have these requirements, glass certainly does-especially when it is of the highest quality.  The magic of baroque breaks out with only a few objects spread out in a modern interior.  With a color range in perfect harmony, they bring the sophistication of the collector’s objects into a modern apartment without disturbing the basic stylistic unity.


July 15, 2012

The Impossible Quest.

If gardens are the one area available to each of us in which to create our own personal visions of paradise - why should the French be excluded?  We are annually bombarded by such a plethora of garden books inciting us to consider Form, Design, Patterns and Scent - the Classic, the Country and the English garden - that we browse through pages of photographs, become engrossed by captions, but in the end fail to distinguish one book from another. I know the British are said to be the only ones, that their garden style infiltrates to all five continents, but what happens just across the water? I wanted to find out.

About sixty million years ago a vast upheaval took place in France, which threw up the Alps to the south-east and the Pyrenees to the south-west, leaving the immense limestone tableland of the Massif Central where deep fissures fractured the rock to form valleys and turbulent water courses. Rivers flowed like life-giving arteries through the land mass of France; they passed from eroded uplands to pastoral sweetness, from forested desolation to marshy wilderness. And in between? In between, I felt sure, the French with all those centuries of creativity behind them must have made gardens.  The provocation was irresistible.  I was after French gardeners who made gardens with their own imprint, attitudes and ambitions gardens that would have a distinct Gallic urbanity.

The French passion for amputating trees, which makes the Romantic gardener wince, has passed down the centuries to the present day, when orderly plantings line the roads and decapitated trees form mutilated verticals in public gardens. My empathy had been aroused from the start when I discovered that what the English call a 'Ha-ha', the French call an 'Ah-ah'. Somehow there was a whimsical knowingness about the French way of pronouncing the word.

The discouragement I received was universal. A wet blanket was dumped on me by Frenchtoast, expert Francophiles, every travelled gardener, and every enlightened friend.  “France and gardens? Forget it!” Frenchtoast cynically snorted. “You're mad. The French and gardens? God, if they can't eat it, they won't grow it! Only doctors, dentists and notaires, make gardens” Rocher advised. Thank you, thank you all. Unadulterated negativity is a potent incentive. Your advice was invaluable.

And in a superficial way they were right; for the traveller passing through, French gardens do not exist, except for those mounds with a house on top and drooping conifers and shrubs dotting the slopes. But only up to a point.  When we visited the gardens, Clive had to reconsider his sweeping condemnation. 

There was another incentive I longed to listen to the voices of the gardeners. How can a garden and its gardener be separated - the one area highlighted, the other left shadowy? And yet book after book takes you through the layout, the design, the pH content of the soil; every plant is hammered home, every color and height scrupulously recorded; but where, in these gardens, are the gardeners?  Hidden!  Yet they are the creators; their sensitivity, adroitness, philosophy, moods or dedication are as indispensable and deeply rooted in their gardens as a tap-root is to the crown of a tree. One thing became clear, as I researched: French gardeners were far more generous and responsive in giving me their time than I had been led to expect by all the knowing cynicism I was offered before we set out.

My search for French gardens depended on instinct, not logic; so, to begin with, my suppositions were generated in the very nebulous region of my imagination.  I had no defined frontiers to the sort of garden I was looking for, but I hoped to unearth not only flower gardens, but parterres on a domestic scale. 

Gardens without flowers, which the French achieve with such masterly ease, where their skill with the shears creates pared and pure places in contrast to romantic prodigality, were what I anticipated. I was not disappointed.

In the Dordogne there is a green garden of such rigorous delicacy and distinguished architectural perfection it takes your breath away. The Manoir d'Eyrignac.  Its diminishing alley of hornbeam buttresses and black-green cylinders of yew is of such precision it is hard to believe that the plants are all hand clipped, and the accuracy ensured by use of that simple device, a plumb line. I mention it here because it is a brilliant example of fastidious gardening most eloquently expressed.

Then there are kitchen gardens. Potagers are intrinsic to France. Drive anywhere in the country, and in no time you will see examples of the French talent for prim uniformity from purple-leafed cabbages veined with crimson, lettuces the size of caliphs' turbans and blue leeks set out in rows of meticulous precision.

At their most fastidious they are not only practical, but a scrupulous art form as well. France excels in this. Both benefit from the French mania for control; for their geometric eye and native lust for docking every sprig of wayward greenery.

In spite of a friend’s cry, from her garden in Burgundy'... I love organizing plants, the roses, but - how I should like to disorganize', long may this instinctive Gallic deftness last. The results are fabulous. Who wants us all to sing in the same key? My romantic notions, seen in borders heaving with rambling rose luxuriance, is perfection to me, but when I come to France I am dead set on discipline.

Kitchen gardens are as old as the fourth millenium BC. In France the most illustrious must be that of Villandry, with its reconstructed ornamental layout based on sixteenth-century engravings, where graphic patterns are embellished with bright explosions from standard roses. The possibilities seemed limitless; all I needed to do was start.

One of my first sources of information was Asterix, although gardens are not his thing, he was most generous in giving me the names of particular cronies in the world of restaurateurs, who might know of gardens in their locality. Each introduction I was given was worth pursuing. Some led nowhere, others were unexpectedly productive. E-mails followed e-mails to France, in an effort to find the kind of gardens I was looking for.
Throughout my search two names came up over and over again: la Baronne de Waldner and the late Vicomte de Noailles; but their magnificent gardens are hardly 'unknown', nor are some others which were also recommended.

One date, around which everything else pivoted, was Courson. The advice I was given to visit the biannual Flower Show, held in May and October, proved indispensable. Here, I was told, I would find garden designers, landscape architects, botanists, writers, photographers, amateur gardeners and nursery owners from every province of France.

I was enchanted by Courson. I could not believe such ingenuousness existed in the jostling world of plant salesmen. Even so, some gardeners I spoke to were already lamenting the loss of the early years of innocence. 'It used to be a lot more intimate. Now it's getting commercial.'

My companions on the journey were Frenchtoast and Anja. Although having a creature with strong demands of his own slowed me up sometimes, the responsive welcome and the loosening of formalities as he caused mild turmoil along the way did add another dimension to our travelling. Gallic proprieties, which might otherwise have taken weeks to thaw, dissolved instantly.

We travelled for six weeks in May and June.  May in France is a lyrical month; it begins with the custom of giving bunches of muguet followed not many days later by the song of nightingales. Larks and nightingales pursued us throughout the countryside. And once, unexpectedly in Burgundy, we heard the reedy voice of cicadas. We were told they had only appeared in this part of France after hunters brought them in their cars from the south when they came to shoot in winter.

May is also the month when village houses are underlined by a stroke of irises the filmy blue of sky after rain; it is the month of Madonna lilies and of weed-killer - that brutal pogrom carried on against anything living such as charlock, wild lupins and of course small poppies.

The coquelicot - which is said to open when the cock crows - is almost the definitive flower of France. In one narrow valley flowers flowed like a tide of scarlet, tapering away into the distance so that I would not have been surprised to see a swimmer doing breast-stroke through them.

Guelder roses crowded the hedgerows; orchids, pink bush vetch and shepherd's purse grew along the verges of fields whose crops were indiscernible as they drowned in yellow buttercups sprinkled with ox-eye daisies. Stonecrop, house-leeks, rusty-backed and hart's tongue ferns trickled over roofs and in the cracks of walls, together with loosely meandering threads of ivy-leaved toadflax, that commonplace vagrant which strays so prettily. When you are in France in May you have no doubt that you have come at the right time of year: when you are there in October the same thoughts occur with the same conviction.

As we travelled, certain observations had a forceful, if sometimes transitory, impact; yet I should like to record them merely because they did seem noteworthy at the time. For instance, somewhere around mid-May all the ladies in the villages or countryside we passed through started wearing straw hats. Their appearance was an immediate signal that, whatever the weather, we must be on the brink of summer. Another trivial observation was how French gardeners seem to use gravel as we in the US use pre-cast concrete paving. Gravel was everywhere. It was the universal choice whether the gardens were in Picardy or Roussillon, in the Vendee or on the shores of Lac Leman. This seemed curious, considering the many sources of varied and different-colored stone in France. But how refreshing it was occasionally to find, in the arid parts of southern France where rain may not fall for months, the restful use of paving replacing grass.

 The world-wide addiction to lawns can sometimes be carried to extremes. In Greece a snobbish owner of a villa will go to any lengths to bring in tankers of water to maintain a vivid patch of Irish green, ignoring the possibilities for making an indigenous Mediterranean garden. In the Far East, British consuls in unlikely places will cravenly copy their Embassies in an effort to keep up the verdurous tradition surrounding a statue of Queen Victoria, in spite of water shortages during the hot season. So when in France we discovered gardeners who had abandoned any ambition to sustain a pelouse we found often that they had created such shady havens of repose, from stone and shadows, that the word 'garden' took on another dimension.

Russell Page wrote in The Education of a Gardener, when talking about the many grand commissions he undertook: 'Each year I spent periods of weeks and sometimes months in France. I was fascinated by this contact with a definite and stylized culture new to me and clearer and sharper than the English tradition which has absorbed and modified and welded together influences from so many different countries ... ' Most pertinently he went on to say: 'In France foreign importations, whether of style or material, had only (it seemed to me) been absorbed if and when they could conform to French style.' When they could conform to French style! Oh, but of course - long may it last.

I feel that if Russell Page were to visit today and to discover just how deviant, innovative and personally idiosyncratic some French gardeners have become this might perhaps astonish and please him. Looking at French gardens, I felt more than ever that they proved that there are no 'right' ways of gardening - only alternatives.

July 7, 2012

Lost in a Labyrinth

Hedge mazes remain the classic construction material, for formal mazes in gardens and the landscape. 

May 26, 2012


The old layered with the new, palimpsest, an ancient term for parchment that was used and erased when the original text was unwanted, then reused.  Intriguing traces of the old text were always still visible-and often legible-under the new.  Being able to “read” parts of old structures underneath the new architectural “text” relates past and present in a visceral sense. 

Respecting the history of a building is key to a successful conversion, and when it works - when a balance is struck between saving the character of the old and adding the practicality of the new - the result can be far more exciting than anything new built.

At first client and architect debated whether to build a new house or an old one.  In the end the barn that stood on the property was made into a new cabin within the old barn.  To further diminish the environmental impact no clearing of land was required.

A solar thermal system fulfills the home's various heating requirements further reducing energy use.  It supplies ample hot water and keeps the hydronic radiant floor nice and warm without sending the electricity bill through the roof.

The natural wood finish was retained fitting seamlessly into to its surroundings and yet, giving the rooms a contemporary ambiance.

April 23, 2012

In with the old, out with the new.

The Spanish Colonial revival is really a catalog of styles, unified by the use of arches, courtyards, form as mass, plain wall surfaces, and tile roofs, all derived from the Mediterranean world. Designers were inspired by a number of sources: the adobe and colonial buildings of Monterey, California; late forms of Moorish architecture; medieval Spanish and Italian church architecture; Ultra-Baroque design of colonial Spain and Portugal; rural forms from Andalusia; Italian Romanesque and Renaissance revival elements; and southwest Hopi and Pueblo Indian adobes. This broad source base made it relatively easy to create a convincing harmony between the exterior image, interior space, decorative elements, and the building's function. Eclectic as the Spanish revival was, the purity of single elements was often retained, such as an Ultra-Baroque entry decoration. In some cases an entire style source, such as Andalusian, was virtually transplanted.  Richard Requa, an architect in the Arts and Crafts tradition, helped launch the Spanish Revival style at the landmark 1915 Panama-California International Exposition in San Diego, CA. The Dolgen House, built in 1926 on Coronado Island, typifies what Requa called his “Southern California Architecture” style, with such interior details as broad, sweeping plaster or stuccoed walls, a curved ribbed ceiling, wrought-iron ornamentation and a massive fireplace in the living room, which would be equally suitable in a villa or hacienda.

The Unmuddling Project.
Mark, the client, inherited a Spanish Colonial revival house. Built in 1921 located atop the Silver Lake hills in Los Angeles, California.  This small house had seen many upgrades and its original features had become unrecognizable.  The last remodel had bestowed a rather unbecoming Victorian flavour to the place.
When Mark and I first met, he said that everything new could go and he demanded only one thing;  “N O L A W N H E R E”!  A man after my own heart.

April 10, 2012

Dream Houses-the ghosts of Ireland.

The roads in southern Ireland nearly all look alike-adorned by green hummocky fields, low stone walls called poetically "Galway lace" and crumbling ruins.
But standing out from the soft countryside is the occasional monolith, a majestic landmark-like St. Clerans.

"I lived there for eighteen years," reflected film director John Huston when I met him in 1973.  St. Clerans was a testimony to Huston's taste-and his love of Ireland. "I fell for the country before I knew about St. Clerans," said Huston. "I came to Ireland every chance I could get. Once I rode past St. Clerans, which was a real wreck; but I had to have it." He bought the ruin complete with its own mini-ruin the crumbling wall of an eleventh-century monastery. And he acquired Irish citizenship as well.
The house itself was built on the monastery site in the 18th century, and Huston remembered with a shudder what it first looked like to him. "It had an awful-looking layer of decorations-yesterday's Victorian icing-all over it." He had that removed, and what remained was the Georgian structure.
St. Clerans came complete with its own ghost story. A family called Burke owned the house for many years. Burke was a judge who sentenced a local man called Daly to be hanged. Daly's widowed mother put 'the widow's curse' on the Burkes and their house, swearing that never again would a Burke die in his bed or a rook nest at St. Clerans. Years after Daly was hanged, someone else confessed to the murder, and the local people put up a monument to Daly that could be seen from a certain window in St. Clerans.  This was a window cut especially so that the women of Burke's family could witness the hanging from afar; after the hanging, the window was filled in again with stone. 
Huston, advised not to open the window, went ahead and did it anyway, mainly for aesthetic reasons. And while he was never sure if the Burkes died in their beds' or violently, he was sure that rooks weren't living at St. Clerans while he was. Maybe that opened window let the ghosts in as well. Some people still swear they see a mysterious person in a brown velvet suit. 
While at St. Clerans, Huston's day began with a long morning in bed, a luxurious seventeenth-century Venetian baldachino affair. But it was never a morning of leisure. Huston received a la Louis XIV -his personal assistant, journalists, novelists friends, and friends of friends.  And he not only read the daily papers (sorting out off-track bets), but wrote and corrected film scripts. "I hate writing," he said. Then, the rest of the day, he pursued his various hobbies-especially painting -which he took almost as seriously as his profession. One of Huston's most impressive achievements was his art collection which made St. Clerans an informal and personal museum.

One of John Huston's most touching memories was of the time Carson McCullers came to visit before her death, when John had just completed Reflections in a Golden Eye based on the McCullers novel. "She was bedridden, and the only person we allowed to interview her was a leading Irish journalist. One of his questions was, 'What is the purpose of the artist or writer?' In all sincerity, Carson answered, 'to search for God.' There was a very solemn moment, and the old Sicilian crucifix just over the bed turned over, upside down. Carson saw this, and everybody was tongue-tied. Suddenly she began to laugh, and so did we. We literally had seizures and fits. She was a marvellous person.”
"Once when Sartre was visiting me," reminisced Huston, "I had a very eminent Catholic intellectual there at the same time-Monsignor Paddy Brown. Well, you know Sartre, suspicious of the clergy; he probably thought Paddy Brown came to proselytize him. I reassured him, but I think that he still didn't believe me. In any case, Paddy Brown told a really good dirty joke, and that did it. Sartre was sure he was to be converted!”
St. Clerans was full of memories like these, and I wonder if the new owners inherited some of these.
Huston would shuttle between the island of Lettermullen (part of Connemara) and California. Most of his time on the island he spent painting, he had only fishermen for neighbors and refused to have a telephone. As it's the westernmost point of Ireland, he said, "the next parish is Boston but I just can't leave Ireland for good," he said, "it's got me hooked."
And me.

March 17, 2012

Sustainability, reuse and adaptation.

Simply defined, sustainable design is smart design that looks beyond individual projects and considers the larger context.

I = P × A × T
Where: I = Environmental impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology.

This data allows us to measure our progress towards our goal of carbon neutral design in fulfillment of our commitment to The 2030 Challenge.

Clients are turning away from conventional houses for more imaginative spaces – spaces that suit their needs while reflecting their personalities.  One of the best examples is the conversion of older, nonresidential buildings into one-of-a-kind living spaces.

Sustainable use of materials has targeted the idea of de-materialization, converting the linear path of materials (extraction, use, disposal in landfill) to a circular material flow that reuses materials as much as possible, much like the cycling and reuse of waste in nature. This approach is supported by product stewardship and the increasing use of material flow analysis at all levels, especially individual countries and the global economy.

A conversion is never boring. It inspires and as we progress we see that nothing is impossible.

March 6, 2012

Granny got HER Flat

'Dawn On The Humber' by Roger Davies

This Humber Keel barge was an abandoned ‘Yorkshire bonnie wee lass’ who found a new home and purpose in Northern California.  Here she will be refurbished, refitted and converted into an unconventional Granny Flat for an unconventional granny.