Tag Archives: form follows function

The ABC of Architects

30 Jan

As a follow-up to my previous incredibly geeky primer on architecture, I have to share this wonderful video on The ABC of Architects from Ombu Architecture.  So fun.

Who’s your favorite and why?


Ice Cube Celebrates the Eames

9 Dec

Thanks to Rex Kelly for sharing Ice Cube’s take on the Eames.  Brilliant.  ‎’This is going green 1949 style, bitch. Bleedat.’  Maybe I am just kind of mad I don’t live there.

In other Eames related news, be sure to catch the documentary ‘Eames: The Architect and Painter’ airing on PBS American Masters December 19th at 10pm. I know I will be watching it.

Geeking out

14 Nov

Yesterday was one of those rare and glorious days that I spent indulging my inner nerd. After a Saturday feeling under the weather, it was good to get out and be amongst people…by myself. (Weird, right?) I am a social creature and enjoy spending time with the people and if you know me socially, you might categorize me as an extrovert. However, I find that I need just as much alone time to replenish the social stores that get depleted and find that time to be incredibly gratifying.

So with my alone time, I indulged my geekiest passions: literature and art. I went to see Anonymous, the wonderful film with Rhys Ifans that questions the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s authorship and paints a very disturbing picture of the possible true author’s relationship with Elizabeth I.  Fiction, of course.  I think.

(This of course led me straight to Island Books after to buy the new novel Elizabeth I by Margaret George, a big juicy dive-right-into-it book. Island Books is now selling e-books as well, a wonderful example of commerce adapting to society and a sure sign that my favorite store will be there for many more years.)

I also visited the Bellevue Art Museum to see the George Nelson exhibit.  Nelson, one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, believed that design reflected the whole cultural landscape and said, ‘Design is a response to social change.’ He was of the era of architects and designers that looked to an aesthetic that represented a value system, which I of course am enamored with. I love the idea of design reflecting what’s happening now versus what happened 80, 100 or 1000 years ago.

Needless to say, the Nelson exhibit inflamed me with furniture lust, the clock wall and the storage wall being especially seductive. I sneaked a photo or two before the guard threatened to throw me out. I checked the gift shop with the hope of buying the catalog for the images, but at $105, it was a bit precious for my pocketbook. There was a Nelson swag-leg desk there that I coveted and checked out at Herman Miller (the company for whom Nelson designed and which still sells much of his work).  Retailing for $1949 on their website, I think I will keep trying my hand at thrifting to find something similar.

Seeing all these wonderful designs that defined a generation does strike one with a bittersweet kind of nostalgia. Punctuating that nostalgia was another haunting exhibit by Cathy McClure entitled Midway. An almost surreal multi-media installation (bordering on carnivalesque nightmare) with mechanical metal and plastic toys, a merry-go-round with metal elephants rising and falling and a light flashing on it like a zoetrope, it has both an enticing and unsettling. There was a Calliope kind of melancholy music that played the same lines over and over again making the entire experience feel both real and dreamlike.

What resonated in association of the George Nelson exhibit as well, was the statement below about inspiration for the Midway installation from a poem, Pyrography by John Ashbery which expressed the mood she sought to convey, ‘…And midway we meet disappointed, returning ones, without its being able to stop us in the headlong night toward the nothing of the coast.’

Such an interesting commentary appropriate for the mid-century sensibility of both hope and disappointment, so popularly examined lately in works like Mad Men or Revolutionary Road.

And in my head I still hear that droning Calliope which may now always be associated with George Nelson for me.  I hope not.

Meet my husband, Carl Spackler.

22 Jun

“License to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations. Man, free to kill gophers at will. To kill, you must know your enemy, and in this case my enemy is a varmint. And a varmint will never quit – ever. They’re like the Viet Cong – Varmint Cong. So you have to fall back on superior intelligence and superior firepower. And that’s all she wrote.” – Carl Spackler, Caddyshack

Most of the land around our house is wild. (Read: overgrown and unkempt until we decide what to do with it.) Brett pushed the lawnmower over the wilder patches this week to even things out and allow the girls to tromp around in the back. But let’s face it, it’s still just mowed weeds. We will conquer this problem eventually when we get to thinking more about landscaping, but for now the wildflowers and tall grass doesn’t bother me so much.

We do have a nice patch of lawn extending out from the side porch. This is my favorite porch and view. I like to sit out there with a glass of wine after work or a cup of tea before breakfast. (Those are in order of priority, of course, but at least it’s not a glass of wine before breakfast.) The vista is of the lawn and the field of tall purple foxgloves beyond it.

When we first looked at the house, we noticed a few patches of dirt on the lawn. We assumed it was from a dog because that is where the temporary dog run is located. We thought nothing of it at the time. However, over the past few weeks the lawn is turning more dirt patch than grass and we realized that we have a problem.

Now I have never seen patches like this in my life. I grew up in South Texas and I am not even sure that furry animals can live down there because of the heat. I’m sure they can but they didn’t tunnel in my neighborhood. Even if they did, I strongly doubt they could push up a mound under that thick patch of St. Augustine grass. My husband is no expert on tunneling varmints either, so we both assumed it was a mole and those were molehills. We began researching and investigating possible remedies.

Killing the rodent is a last resort and one that cannot be mentioned in front of the kids, especially one kid. Ainsley is the sensitive soul and cannot bear the idea of killing animals.This is the child who became vegetarian at the age of nine and who is deeply disturbed by our installation of an electric dog fence.  She even put on the collar and tested it on her wrist and is encouraging me to do the same. Uh…no thanks Ains.

This investigation is turning my husband in Carl Spackler.  The appropriate word is becoming obsession.  Without the option of killing the rodent for now, Brett is trying a mixture of pureed garlic and hot water and pouring it in the new mounds at night. This seemed to be working for a few days, but two new mounds appeared this morning. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him. I need to get him one of those hats Bill Murray wore as he wages his war.

Even more appropriately, I have learned that it is not a mole, but a gopher. (Hide the explosives!) Apparently, moles leave behind evidence of their tunnels, creating a pattern of lines on the lawn. Gophers just leave mounds that are turns in their underground tunnels. Also, getting rid of gophers is requires different methods than getting rid of moles. For moles, I have read everything from castor oil and water to high frequency sound generators to stuffing human hair into the tunnels. (Yuck!)

Gophers are altogether different culprits. They like vegetation and will often tunnel and eat your plants and bulbs from the root. We don’t notice this yet because we have no new plantings around the yard nor any vegetation that we pay much attention to right now.  And there are only two ways to get rid of them: kill them or repel them. A lot of sites I investigated said to learn to coexist with them. I will happily coexist with them. My lawn will not. I did also learn that the top four methods LEAST recommended for gopher elimination are: drowning them, blowing them up, gassing them and gumming them. That’s right, blocking their intestines with chewing gum. Some people have a lot of time on their hands. I would have thought that Molly and Baker’s presence as predators would have scared them away but apparently they already have Molly and Baker’s number.

For gophers, rodenticide is recommended.  Jenn, who has the same issue, told me yesterday that they sell it in gummy bear forms at True Value. I worry about kids and dogs though. I worry about me. What if I give the gophers the gummy bear vitamins and the kids the gopher poison! Trapping is another method and that one I will definitely have to leave to Brett because I can’t imagine dealing with a dead gopher. (See where Ainsley got it from?) There is another natural method for gophers which involves castor oil, Tabasco and peppermint oil that may be worth trying before poison or trapping. Also, mothballs. That may work as well.

We will not be shooting them, as one site suggested. ‘Just as effective as a trap and more fun.’ Perhaps there are gophers in Texas.

P.S. Brett aka Carl just came into the house singing that old camp song ‘Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts’.  Yum.

Don’t fence me in

21 Jun

It’s a beautiful morning…

I think I’ll go outside for a while…and just smile. At least, that’s what Baker and Molly are always wanting to do. I know I’ve mentioned them in these posts before, but for the uninitiated Baker and Molly are our four-legged furry children. They are just as challenging as the two-legged ones and often cuter. And sometimes, they even smell better.

Molly is a full-bred beagle, and Baker is a mix of a Brittany spaniel and…get this mouthful…Nova Scotia duck trolling retriever. Both are rescue dogs, as was our previous English cocker, Roark. (See what an architecture buff I am?) We love rescue dogs. Not only will we not support puppy mills, but rescue dogs are SO grateful to be in a good and loving home, they shower you will kisses and love and cuddles until you just can’t take it anymore. (This is, of course, after they adjust and realize that they don’t have to run and hide when someone removes their belt.) If you are ever looking for a rescue animal, check out Pet Finder.  Warning: Do not go to this website unless you have some serious time to kill, a heart to melt and possibly a spare dog bed lying about.

We have had Molly for over four years, but we just got Baker in December. Molly had been getting a bit lazy and chubby and we decided she needed a playmate. She, however, failed to see the wisdom in this choice and seems to relish in baying at her brother and protecting anything that remotely looks like food. Despite this behavior, she will often not leave his side and does not like him playing with any other dogs at the dog park but her.

In our previous home, Baker and Molly had a yard to run around. A very small yard, but a fenced yard nonetheless, where we knew they would be safe and not escape. With this house, all we have are wide-open spaces for them to run and run they will. Both bred as hunters, Molly and Baker will catch a scent and be off. We have contemplated how to deal with this but can’t bear the idea of fencing the yard and blocking out all the beautiful land around the house.  If you do end up fencing the land around your mid-century home, there are a multitude of options beyond traditional fencing.  I particularly like the options shown here on the Eichler for Sale site.  We may put up something like the cinder block retaining wall in the backyard.  Other great fences are shown on the Eichler Network with helpful thoughts on installation and care.

Since we have moved into this new home, the dogs have made a few escapes, usually to the neighbor’s yard to visit their golden retriever Bentley.  Once we found them both trotting down West Mercer Way like they were off to town for the day. However last week when I was overseas, Brett called me at two in the morning to tell me they were gone.  As in like gone GONE. They had never been gone for more than 30 minutes or so and it became hours.  He put up signs, he called friends, he drove for hours.  He walked up and down WMW with the leashes until someone stopped and told him that she had the dogs.  Apparently her kids were loathe to part with them and Brett said they could visit them anytime.  My deepest gratitude goes out to that woman for helping our errant pooches.  Just another reason why I love living on this island.

But now it was time to get serious, not just for our own sanity but for the safety of the dogs.  Clearly, they are not (nor will they ever be) well-trained enough to be trusted to stay on the property.  They are who they are, hunting dogs for centuries. The previous owner had rigged up a temporary ‘dog-run’ in the side yard and that has been our solution for now.  With numerous trips to the Luther Burbank dog park, they have stayed relatively happy. (So have the girls who love to run in the water at the park with the dogs at the end of a sunny day.  Last night, they taught Baker to fetch a ball in the lake with lots of coercing.) But the laundry-line dog run is temporary.  They need more room to roam.  Invisible Fence is the logical option. There is even an office here on the island. I had bought a house years ago that already had one installed and it worked great for Roark.  All we had to do was buy the collars. We thought we’d check it out.

But, cha-ching! Those things are expensive! We estimate our property would have been upwards of $2000 for installation and we could think of way better uses for two-kay, you know? We (ahem or Brett rather) started looking at other DIY electric dog fence options.  There are loads to consider:  Radio Fence, and even one at Lowes.  At the end of the day, we were still sold on the Invisible Fence brand because of the collar options.  Invisible Fence collars emit a stronger or weaker shock (I prefer ‘buzz’) depending on the individual dog’s age, weight and temperament. What to do?

Once again, my super-in-laws come to the rescue. They just happened to have a spare Invisible Fence transmitter and two collars. All we Brett needed to do was purchase and run the wire, hook it up to the electric box thingy (a technical term) and train the pups. (Training them is a delicate matter and you should investigate the best methods or talk to a professional if you have never done it before.) How lucky is that! And it got me thinking that there are may be other people with that kind of equipment lying about for the cheap industrious DIY-er.  And there is!  Ebay is full of transmitters, collars and wire at prices way lower than an installed fence.  Many are the Invisible Fence brand too.  When Brett struggled with connecting the wires to the transmitter, he discovered that the Invisible Fence people on the island are more than happy to help with second-hand equipment.

We are in the midst of the training process and the pups are responding well.  But if you ever see them hitching down WMW, please give them a ride.  Home.

Sticky Subject

20 Jun

Talk about a sticky subject: Wallpaper removal. 

Disclaimer: I have never removed wallpaper before.  But say those words and you hear groans from anyone in the vicinity that has. Look it up on the internet and you hear even more virtual groans. Professionals won’t give final quotes on wallpaper removal until they get into the job to see what they are working with. Apparently the degree of difficulty depends on what kind of wallpaper you are dealing with.

Anything coated like vinyl or acrylic wallpaper or metallic foil looking papers are not porous and more difficult to remove. Also, methods differ depending on the kind of wall the paper is stuck to. Determining which method to use is a difficult enough task. Wait until you begin the back-breaking work of actually doing it.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are starting small. I needed a small victory to keep me inspired. After being off on business last week, I returned home ready to tackle my project. I decided this was the weekend of the bathroom. I became inspired by a Marimekko-ish shower curtain I found (at Target $19, thank you very much versus the $50+ price tag for Marimekko). I often find inspiration for a room in a fabric I am attracted to. I think this is because I know what I like when I see it. I just have no idea what it is at any moment before that. What I love about this fabric is the green of the poppy, very mid-century modern. (This green will reappear with frequency in our house, I think.) I also like the grays. I decided that I would paint the walls the lighter gray and the cabinets the darker. I visited the local True Value stocked up on paint and wallpaper removal supplies and got started. Brett also visited Home Depot that morning as well to pick up a wall-paper steamer to try as well.  He has had luck with that in the past and said works better than the chemicals.

We tried two different chemical solutions: DIF Gel ($4) and WP Chomp ($4.50). We also got a PaperTiger wallpaper scorer (photo with the round object and the shiny round teeth-like things) for $5 and borrowed wall-paper scrapers from our friend Jenn. Finally, we rented the steamer from Home Depot for $35 for the day. (We learned later that the local True Value has them for $25/day.  Shame on us for not shopping local first!)

For removing the wallpaper, the verdict was tied between the DIF Gel and the steamer. Both got it cleanly off the wall. My personal choice was the DIF gel, however. The steamer was big, unwieldy and hot! Areas that were higher up on the wall were more difficult for me to steam and with the DIF gel and a ladder, I made much more progress. Plus, the gel is significantly less expensive. The downside to the gel is the icky blue goo that gummies up the scraper. Keep a wet towel with you and wipe occasionally. The WP Chomp was worthless. Don’t bother. We succeeded in getting the paper down and need to give it a final wipe with TSP (trisodium phosphate $8/box) to remove the glue residue before finally painting. That is another post entirely.

My goal was a finished bathroom by the end of the weekend. (I am such a dreamer!) I realized, or is it rationalized, that when I watch HGTV or any other DIY shows, there are no kids around. The people on the shows go about their business working on their projects with no one needing a snack or a dispute settled or to be run to a friend’s house or to some kind of rehearsal. (In fairness, I had also forgotten that I was volunteering Sunday at the MI Farmer’s Market and that it was Father’s Day!) And because that isn’t masochistic enough for you, I also told Maeve she could paint her room and invite a friend over to help her do it. The answer to the question you are now thinking to yourself is YES. Yes, I am certifiably insane.

Hailey and Hannah also decided to join in the painting fun with Maeve and her friend and at one point we had four girls under the age of 13 with paint trays and rollers in their hands creating a god-awful mess. I did learn through this process that paint (lots of paint) does come off hardwood floors with a scrub sponge and Murphy’s Oil Soap. Getting it off me and the girls was another story. That is not premature gray in my hair. That is paint.  I swear.


Her room went from an unusual orange color to a lovely crisp white (her choice).  More photos later on that.  Brett also installed her new bamboo blinds.  We need some color accents in there and a new rug. (She wants poppy colored accents…yes, she said poppy. Not red, not orange. Poppy.) And then we will have one room completed!

And I thought it would be the bathroom.  But what do I know?

Rain, rain, go away!

8 Jun

Come again some other day. Or not.

Living in Seattle was an adjustment for me to say the least. There’s the weather, of course. The rain, the gray. The long summer days with sunlight until 10pm. The equally extreme short winter days surrounding you in darkness by 4. 

I moved to Seattle from Chicago ten years ago this September. I struggled through the transition mainly because I didn’t want to leave my beloved city.  I grew up in south Texas and moved to Chicago for college. I never looked back. Chicago was my kind of town. (Cue Frank.) I loved the history, the architecture, the museums, the restaurants, the people. Chicago has a small town sensibility in many ways, lacking the pretention of New York or Chicago, but having all the same world-class amenities and friendly genuine people to boot.  After all, what other city could be so enamored with a team like the Cubs?

Of all the transitions to Seattle, the weather affected me the least I think. Chicago weather isn’t a bowl of cherries either. Long brutally cold winters, gray clouds from November to May, blistering summers. Seattle seemed downright mild compared to that.

And mild is a good word to describe it. The people seem milder. So does the pulse on the downtown streets. Seattle has a restraint that Chicago could never conceive of. Association with Seattle:  rain. Association with Chicago:  Al Capone. Bang bang. Seattle has a sensibility that is more understated, reserved, an almost chameleon-like in the way it blends into the scenery versus screaming ‘look at me!’ Maybe it’s because I lived in Chicago in my 20s, but the quiet way of Seattle unnerved me at first. 

I also missed the buildings, the Sears Tower, the Hancock building, Water Place, Merchandise Mart, the Rookery.  My take on Seattle modernism was cynical. Where was the Minsk house, the Robie house, the Federal Building and all the other examples of International style that had defined modernism in my mind? Who didn’t love the Ferris Bueller house, which is now in danger of demolition?  We need a ‘Save the Ferris Bueller House!’ campaign.

Metal and glass and concrete gave way to shingles, glass and wood. I admit fully that I am nothing more than an admirer of architecture. I knew what I learned but had no idea what I didn’t yet know. (And I am still learning and hoping you enjoy this adventure with me.)

Recently I have begun to appreciate the Northwest take on architecture and the layer it places on top of the traditional definition of modernism. While one can see plenty of metal and glass and concrete downtown, residential architecture softens up. The sense of environment and its importance in the conversation of design separates it from anything I had seen in Chicago. Let’s be honest, how much does one need to take into emphasize that there is prairie for miles around?

I recently watched a wonderful documentary Modern Views on ‘The Northwest School’, the name they have given to the local style of modernism. I bought it after we found this house because I wanted to learn more about what we would be working with. I also bought it because it featured the architect of this house, Fred Bassetti. Some people, probably those that know more than I, aren’t fans of it. I have to say I loved it and learned much from it. It gave me a sense of the importance of land and surroundings. It helped me understand why the NW abandoned the flat roofs and cold structures I had known. (Rain travels downward and collects, duh!) I began to understand the Asian influences, the desire to be light on the land, to capture light with windows and skylights, to protect from the rain with overhangs. I saw the value in the softness, the tactile and sensuousness of all that wood.

But my favorite quote in the entire film was about the effect of rain on the beauty of the environment. It makes the greens greener, the bark on the trees are more intense and the stones and pebbles shinier.  Wow.  Who knew?

Rain, rain, go away.  Then again maybe you can stay.

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