Tag Archives: Louis Sullivan

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?


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.

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.

Avocado and Rust? Lime and Tangerine? Chartreuse and Sienna?

7 Jun

What problem can paint not solve in a home?  I thought I knew, but I am learning all kinds of things.  A friend (thank you, Jennifer!) told me the other day that you can even paint tile on a bathroom countertop.  Amazing.  Too bad paint can’t solve the missing sink or the seen-better-days carpet in the family room.  It’s good to have quick and easy options to improve things until we get to it on the list.  Because that project list is LONG, my friends.  But that’s another post.  Coming soon.

Right now, I am thinking about the fun stuff.  I have been fantasizing about color.  Also philosophically pondering but mostly fantasizing.  The choices!  Standing in front of a wall of paint chips is like trying to pick out a tie.  The options are dizzying and none of them really seem quite right.  And for me, they usually aren’t.

Let’s put a few things out there.  I am a mid-tone girl.  I am not into pastels or soft beiges.  I like a good beige or taupe or tan when it has other dimensions, but neutral isn’t my thing.  I like a variety of color and I like letting the kids pick their colors for their rooms…with guidance.  Heavy guidance.  (I still have nightmarish visions of my brother’s Kelly green bedroom.)  However, even I will admit that my tendency toward variety in a house gets a little out of hand.  No one wants to be in a house with rooms painted the rainbow of Skittles, if you know what I mean.  This is something I need to think through with this house.

I am also not into bright colors.  I once had a deep brick red wall in my dining room, which I liked, but which I will probably never do again because it was limiting and difficult to re-paint.  I can do bold or unexpected colors, though.  My last kitchen was bamboo green and a muted orange.  I loved it.  People complimented it.  They did not, however, say how well it looked next to the blue bedroom. 

And turquoise is off the table.  Completely.  If there is one color in the world that I cannot stand it’s turquoise.  I don’t know why.  I like it on ohter people and in their homes, but I’ve never seen a turquoise I would want to look at for too long.  (This is not to be confused with Tiffany blue, however.  Tiffany blue is just fine with me.)

For this house, I want to stay true to the time period, but I also want to be realistic about my our preferences.  I did some digging on mid-century modern paint colors and boy-howdy!  It must have been the cocktail age because only someone three-martinis-in would choose some of these colors.  But then, this is the time of the pink bathroom, so go figure.  Retro Renovation has a sister website called ‘Save the Pink Bathroom’ that is a hoot and will indeed make you re-think yanking yours out.

At the end of the day though, I think I am more interested in honoring the intention and philosophy of the design than preserving it for the sake of nostalgia.  I also want to be mindful of doing time-period retro versus making decisions specific to the type and purpose of our mid-century modern design.  There is a big delta between 60s brick traditional ranch and a 60s mid-century modern house.  I want nature to be our guiding palette with respect to the trends of the time period.  There may be some avocado and rust, but I also imagine some warm golds and browns and greens.  Given that we seem to be the modern-day Brandy Brady Bunch, I thought maybe Alice’s kitchen would be a good reference point.  Then again, maybe not.

We saw our inspiration for the exterior color scheme in Atomic Ranch, one of my favorite mid-century idea books.  They are coming out with a new one next year but in the meantime I satisfy my craving by subscribing to their wonderful magazine.  The original color of the house was a deep chocolate-brown and we want to add orange accents to the trim and door.  Maeve mocked it up for us last night and we quite like it.  We also referenced this original palette for Eichler exteriors and think we will go with a more muted orange, but her vision is the right direction.

The question now is where to start?  That’s the question for most of the projects on this house.  I would love to hear your thoughts/opinions/suggestions on what constitutes a mid-century palette and what you did for your home.

You like that? Really?

6 Jun

So why are we doing this?  I know people have opinions about mid-century homes.  I know that I did.  Ranch?  Boring!  (Unless you mean the salad dressing and then I have even stronger words than boring.)  Characterless, uninspiring, ugly!  Yes, some people are even so cruel as to call them downright hideous. 

Here’s the truth:  I was one of those people.  Every home I have owned as an adult has been almost 100 years old.  The 1920s were my sweet spot.  From my first condo in a renovated Chicago courtyard building to our last home in Seattle, I adored the wooden floors, crown molding, poky hallways and small cozy rooms of older homes.  The inconveniences be damned!  What they lacked in modernities, they made up for in charm.  I mean, who needs a pantry really?

I realize now that I was doing what we all do, to one degree or another, was carving my own identity.  I grew up in a mid-century house and I needed to break free of it, chart my own course, blaze my own trail and, ultimately, make my own mistakes while I crafted a life that was uniquely mine and as different from my parents as possible.  And then as time went on, I remembered things.  Things I would laugh about with my siblings and cousins:  the rust shag carpet, the white faux fur floor pillow, the built-in TV and hi-fi, the huge wooden swinging doors that led from the foyer to the living room.  And also things that would make me wistful:  the Hotai on the red Chinese trunk in the entry way, the chime of the grandfather clock, the smell of cedar in the hall closet where all the Christmas decorations were kept.

The house I remember as my childhood home actually belonged to my grandparents, who we called Nanee and Poppy.  Someone commented the other day that our new house looked like Nanee’s house and he was right.  Nanee was a force of nature, the axis around which we all spun and her home reflected that.  The layout, the materials, the sensibility.  I realized one of the reasons I love our new house is because it’s like my childhood home.  It even smells like my childhood home.  But it’s more than that.

I love beauty and beautiful things.  Who can’t help but look at structures like the Sistine Chapel or Notre Dame or the Taj Mahal and not be in awe?  But lately I need philosophy as well as beauty.  I need a reason for things beyond their visual appeal.  Louis Sullivan ushered in the age of modernism with his aesthetic motto that ‘form follow function’ and that speaks to me.  The beauty in an object can come simply from its functionality.  I like that level of honesty.

Modernism and architectural honesty gave us Frank Lloyd Wright with his Prairie style and open-plans.  It gave us Mies Van der Rohe with his ‘less is more’ aesthetic and a host of other straight-line German architects. (I swear you can hear a Teutonic accent when looking at their buildings.)  It gave us Le Corbusier and those wonderful chairs.  It gave us ‘truth in materials’. 

But Wright and Van der Rohe and Le Corbusier are all far above my pay-grade and most everyone else I know.  For the post-war masses in California, a real-estate developer and architect named Joseph Eichler made this level of design accessible to the everyday man.  It was modern, ground-breaking, innovative.  Houses like most Americans had never seen before:  bringing the outside in, walls of windows, post and beam construction, patios, atriums, swimming pools!  (Cue Dean Martin because I swear I can hear a martini being shaken poolside somewhere!) These homes came in the time of space travel and rock and roll, a time when the war had ended, anything seemed possible and the future was yet unwritten. 

For me, I like that mid-century modern reflects my personal values and beliefs, that honesty in presentation gives depth and meaning to life.  Authenticity, genuineness, lack of pretense.  I value these things in my life and in home.  And if you don’t think this style is cool, you haven’t watched ‘The Incredibles’ with your children lately.

(For all of you MCM design crazies, here are a few more shots of my childhood home.  Yes, the kid in those photos is yours truly.  Check out the pendant and table lamps, the wood paneling and the awesome furniture.  What I wouldn’t give for that stuff.  But I am sure there is some store in Ballard that will ask me for an arm and a leg and my first born for pieces like that now.)


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