House Design Tips

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a critique for fourth year architecture students at our local university – Kent State. Seeing the student’s project work, talking with them, faculty and with fellow reviewers was inspiring to me as a designer and a homeowner. The university houses their architecture program in a brand new building that recently opened with the start of the school year. I had seen photos of it in the newspaper, and had driven by it during construction. It was impressive and rewarding to see the building completed and in person. The scale of the building is a bit juxtapose in my mind. The exterior looks grand in its simplicity – conceptually it reads larger but physically my first impression was that it was smaller than I anticipated. Like 7/8th scale. Inside its wide open, which makes it almost seem smaller and large at the same time. Ultimately there is a lot of “unexpected” since the design transcends decades of traditional big university building design thinking – or at least the buildings I’ve had experience with.

So let’s talk about today’s topic. At the end of the crit the evaluators had an opportunity to mention their take aways and advice. This got me thinking on the drive home, what advice would I give as a homeowner who lives in a house that follows many of the tenants the students are learning about – space planning, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability…and also as a homeowner (I was drafted to bring that perspective to the afternoon’s festivities).

ksu-arch-building-2016

The new Kent State Architecture building as you approach from the northwest.

ksu-arch-building-interior

Open studios foster collaboration across experiences and disciplines.

Without further ado here are seven of my off the cuff tips for anyone building, buying, remodeling or designing a home, based on our experience living in our current home for four and one half years.

  1. Rainwater collection is by far the smartest thing we did. This includes the gorgeous steel roof on the house. While pricey (~$20K+ for the roof and $13K+ for the rainwater collection system including cistern) it’s without a doubt the way to go in my opinion for your entire water household water supply. It provides independence from questionable city water supplies. The only maintenance cost is changing filters ($30-$50 each) every few months, and keeping the chlorine tank filled (a gallon of bleach a few times a year). Combined with an on site wastewater treatment solution ($300/year maintenance), it’s off the grid living that allows you to be a responsible steward for how water comes and goes from your property.

    wsfts-schematic

    Rainwater harvesting schematic shows how we collect rainwater for ALL of our water needs.

  2. Central living space – kitchen, dining and family rooms – is the way to go for today’s modern family. These three “rooms” are clustered together in our house and we spend 75% of our family time there I suspect. Preparing meals, eating dinner, watching television – our family of four is always in this space. The only downside is it looks like a tornado hit it with all the dishes, toys, papers, etc. but hopefully as the kids get older we’ll be able to reign in the clutter. And they are not huge spaces individually but as a whole we get a high performance livable space without the complexity of the typical new home floor plan. I only wish the family room space was about 2′ longer, maybe a square bay window. Arranging furniture in that space is a minor challenge. As for quiet time, there are other rooms to get away, so there is balance – opportunities to be in the middle of the action in this central space or not elsewhere.

    central-space

    This is where we spend all of our time essentially – kitchen, family room and dining room. Design these three spaces small and combine them for an effective everyday living space. Bonus points for the adjacent screen porch.

  3. Office space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room or even much more than a strategically placed built in. My office, I work from home 24/7, is literally a 5′ x 9′ space that is technically a hallway between the front hall and my art studio. We recently built a 15’x15′ space in the basement for my new office but laziness has kept me from moving down there just yet. I don’t mind my small office that I have now. I have a handy pocket door that I can close if I’m on a call. The rest of the house is “far away” so the kids are usually making noise somewhere else and early do I have to yell “shut up” during the course of any given day. There is built in storage and aplenty and even a place for our fish tank. When designing a house you can carve an office into virtually any space. And more and more people are working from home either part of the week or all the time. Get creative with office space.

    office

    Office space can be carved out of a hallway; they don’t require a lot of space.

  4. Pocket doors are a fantastic way to partition spaces. When we had our house designed there were several small spaces along the main north-south corridor. All the spaces (laundry, bathrooms, office) have their doors open 95% of the time.If we would have put traditional doors we be walking around open doors all the time and losing wall space. Pocket doors afford us a lot more flexibility in staging the house for when guests come over, need privacy , sequester cats or just don’t want to look at clutter. My tip though is get hollow pocket doors. The solid ones we have are just too damn heavy and difficult to use. Also note that the door needs space inside the adjacent wall to live when they’re open. You won’t be able to hang towel bars in those spaces as well because of the reduced depth behind the drywall.

    hallway-pocket-doord

    Pocket doors save space and provide more options for partitioning spaces than a traditional door.

  5. Kitchens can be small and don’t have to be traditional. We stole our kitchen design from a picture I saw in a magazine. It basically looks like three pieces of furniture instead of a traditional stock cabinet design you see in every house ever. And because the kitchen is part of that shared space with the dining room and living room, our kitchen is small (8’x13′) but doesn’t act small. Two chefs can work the room without bumping into each other. There’s a deep integrated pantry space (with pocket door) keeping supplies at hand without taking up much space. The island is big enough to serve off of and stand around, and that’s about it. Exposed overhead beams and a painted ceiling define the space and add interest without a lot of cost. Lastly there’s an alignment with the dining room table that really amps up the repetition and flexibility of horizontal surfaces.

    clean-kitchen-for-once

    Three piece kitchen looks more like an assemblage of furniture than a kitchen.

  6. Open kitchen cabinets add an eclectic touch while making life easier. A minute a day spent opening and closing kitchen cabinets? Six hours a year? Four years of living here and I’ve saved a day of my life not spent opening cabinets, right? We never got door installed on our cabinets due to circumstances, and frankly I’m kinda sold on not having them. It doesn’t look too cluttered. If you’re Martha Stewart you can go crazy with really nice dishes and keep everything organized. If you’re us you have a collection of random cups and glasses and it all seems to work anyway. Go for it, live a little and simplify your life while standing apart from every other cookie cutter home experience out there.

    open-kitchen-cabinets

    Open cabinets make getting, and putting away dishes a breeze and add an eclectic feel to the kitchen.

  7. USB wall chargers are a fun little add on. Replace an outlet in the office or kitchen with one of these USB outlets and you no longer have to hunt for adaptors to charge your electronic devices. Eventually everything will probably wireless charging or whatnot but in the meantime you can go old school by installing a couple of these in your house.

    usb-charging-outlet

    A USB charging station allows you to plug devices directly into the wall socket without hunting around for adaptors.

 

Some other personal thoughts that I won’t go into detail this time around but keep them in mind – low maintenance is great, low cost / simplicity to keep construction costs down, character in finishes and details, a screen porch / outdoor spaces, circular staircases are your friend, and 4″ diameter ceiling lights as opposed to old school 6″ ones.

There you have it, some quick tips for your home or your client’s home to make it more useable, flexible and enjoyable.

What are your home design tips? Share in the comments below, I really want to hear them.

 

-Chris

New Roof Washer Filters

After four years of living here, our roof washer filters really needed changing. The roof washers wash all of the water that comes off of the roof when it rains. There are two fiberglass chambers in our front yard that the water flows into. As the chambers fill up with water, debris like leaf parts, bugs, and dirt stay on one side of the filters and the water flows through to the center of the filter, into a pipe and down into the cistern for storage.

I had previously taken the filters out twice, they’re like a cotton material, and washed them. I tried getting new ones last year, and through circumstances didn’t successfully get new ones until this year.

I’m very glad the new filters came with new mesh screens inside and out. The screens give the filters their circular shape. The old screens were rusting out. To install, I simply took off the top caps and threw out the old filters, and inserted the new fluffy white ones.

I’m still waiting to get an invoice for the filters, but I don’t imagine they cost too much.

Elsewhere not much is going on. In the 90 degree heat this past weekend I cut the grass and finally spread a few bags of mulch I had purchased in June; spreading them around some of our smaller younger plants we planted in the meadows. The mulch will help them get some breathing room from encroaching meadow grasses and golden rod.

 

 

For a link to one time when I cleaned the roof washers click here.

August 2016 Bee Check

It’s been a busy, exhausting summer for us. Thus not too much desire or time to write on my part. But I will fancy you with an update on our bees, whom we haven’t checked in on in a few weeks.

Both hives are doing surprisingly well. Hive No. 3 is very strong with lots of eggs, larvae, and capped brood. Their honey stores are looking good. There are two boxes above the queen excluder that are filling up with honey, but nothing is capped enough for us to extract so we’re leaving them be.

Hive No. 1 is bouncing back slowly from it’s fight with the mites. It’s a dark vacant feeling hive, but there are enough bees and honey for them to rally in late summer. And there are brood and eggs so there’s still a queen in there. This is the hive that tried to kill us. In a way it’s sad to see them so tame and “knocked down” so to speak. We won’t take any honey from them this year.

July 2016 Bee Check

A quick update on our bees, as we checked them earlier this week.

Hive No. 3 is looking good. They filled up their first mid sized super so we added another mid size box just above it, and put a queen excluder in between. We don’t usually use queen excluders but this we are trying them out. The excluder keeps the queen out so that the bees can only put honey in the top box. The bottom three boxes can have eggs and or honey. Overall this is a strong looking hive, free of mites.

Hive No. 1 is not looking good at all. We saw mites the last time we checked, then ordered some “Hops Guard” to treat them with. That product was on back order so we had to wait a few weeks, then I noticed I actually had some in my studio…so we could have treated them.

Well anyway, we treated them this week but it looks like the mites took a toll on our super strong aggressive hive. Our smoker isn’t really working right anymore so I was apprehensive to check Hive No. 1 but as it turned out, about it’s population was knocked about in half, and they weren’t much in the mood for fighting.

We think we saw eggs, and there is some brood. After treatment that should get rid of the mites and hopefully the hive will rally for late summer.

Regardless, after these two hives die out, we’re going to take a year or two off from beekeeping. We’ve got a lot going on, and other things we need and want to focus on. Beekeeping is an incredible hobby and we’ll pick it up again after a short break. I’m not getting rid of any of our equipment. It’s just something for when we have more time and less stress.

For Fourth of July I’m looking forward to finally getting a day off after working for a few weeks straight. I’m going to work in the yard from dawn to dusk hopefully and whip it all back into shape – spread a few bags of mulch beneath the fruit trees, weed whack the nature trails, clean out the front bed…also going to look at cleaning out the roof washers for the rain water collection system, and possibly even stain the sand box finally after two years.

The cicadas are about done in northeast Ohio. Most of the trees are now sporting dead tips on their branches where the cicadas laid eggs. Many of our smaller trees that we bought and planted over the last four years got hammered. It’s hard to imagine our remaining two black gum trees surviving, but only time will tell. Same for our poor allegheny serviceberries. The apples and even the peach trees weren’t spared either.

If I thought it wouldn’t upset the kids so much I think I’d be ready to move. It was a fun experiment that I probably wasn’t cut out for lol.

Here are this week’s photos:

Clover

I was finally going to cut the grass yesterday, Friday. I’m lucky to find one day every week or two to even think about cutting the grass. I had planned to work in the yard all day Saturday. Getting the lawn cut on Friday would help free up more yard work time the following day.

Before I got out there my wife mentioned that the honey bees could be seen from the front window. I had mentioned offhandedly earlier in the week that I haven’t seen the bees foraging as much as I thought I should. I walked over to the window and looked out at the overgrown front yard. Sure enough, looking hard enough, I could see a honey bee enjoying hopping from clover to clover. Then I saw another honey bee, and another. Quickly I realized the front yard was filled with bees.

Very cool.

I went outside and laid down in the clover to get a closer look; careful not to lay on any bees.

There were a ton of bees. The clover blooms danced as if there was a breeze, but instead it was just the weight of honey bees visiting flowers, making them dance. I went back inside and got my camera to take some photos. It was amazing to just lay there and watch the bees go from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen. It’s really something you would normally overlook in the course of a busy day.

Well I decided not to mow the lawn last night, instead leaving the bees to their happiness.

I did get out there today, after I wrapped up my regular day job work. It’s in the 80’s but felt hotter than that. Ran through both rechargeable batteries in the lawn mower, mowing the back yard and orchard. And I ran the gas trimmer along the nature trails until it decided not to work anymore. Hopefully just some old gas and not a repair. There are a ton of cicadas. And they’re wreaking havoc on our young trees, cutting branches to lay their eggs in. I’ll be happy when they are gone. I cut my yard work “day” short around 2:30pm – too hot.

So I’ll write and paint this afternoon.

The bees can enjoy the clover to their heart’s content.

Here are today’s photos:

 

 

Spring Honey

I extracted honey this week. It was a mix of dark and really light honey, which when combined made medium hued honey, not surprisingly. We pulled seven frames from Hive No. 1. Presumably some of the honey is left over from winter and some is new, on the same frames. This batch yielded twenty-four 8oz. bottles and six and one half 4oz. bottles.

The bees are doing fine, we’ve checked them twice since I last wrote. We spotted Hive No. 3’s queen the last time we checked. And we’ve seen eggs in both hives. Hive No. 1, the aggressive hive, is still fairly aggressive but we’ve been fortunate and cautious. I only got stung once the last time we checked.

The yard has been an abundance of clover and other wildflowers. Regular work, art shows and running kids around has meant that yard work has taken a back seat. Our yard looks is quickly reverting back to the wild.

We do have several peaches on each peach tree. So far the deer have stayed away from them. The apple trees aren’t faring as well. Inexplicably the only apple tree that blossomed this spring had four apples on it. I just checked them and the two branches with apples on them both broke, 12′ up in the air so not sure if it was the wind or a really zealous deer. Regardless we will not be having any apples this year. I don’t know what’s going on with the apple trees. Suffice to say I lack time and knowledge to be successful at growing much of anything in our yard.

The cicada’s are wrapping up their once in seventeen year visit. I actually relish the sound, the never ending chorus or symphony…or drone depending on your perspective I suppose. The weather has been warm as well this June. Overall it’s been a pretty good, enjoyable, memorable spring I suppose.

Here are today’s photos from honey extraction.

Restlessness

I’m a restless man.

RV

This found it’s way to our house.

We’re watching it for a friend. So if it’s here, and we can’t afford one of these, because we have to pay for one of these, then we’re going to use it to go to places like here.