Home Designing Service, Ltd

Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond

Introducing: Going Green

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There’s a lot of go-to phrases attached to the word green. And as a writer, more specifically a writer who’s work is meant to grab a reader and link him or her to a topic they are interested in but may know little about, go-to phrases are the bread and butter, the workhorse, if you will, dragging the reader through the transition from enthusiast to know-it-all.

But back to my original point: the word green’s got a lot going for it. Color of money. The shade of envy and, by extension, the variance with which you judge the grass “on the other side.” The color you get “around the gills” when you’re not feeling well. Green thumbs. Greener pastures. Green light. Now, if I wanted to be cute, I could keep going, or I could promise how I could link all these into some article that essentially had nothing to do with any of the phrases themselves. But I’m just making a point. For such a small word, there’s quite a depth of content.

The concept of building green is just like that. People have been talking about green living or building green in some form or combination of the two since as long as I was old enough to care about the scientific mechanics of the world, the stuff that makes the wind blow, the complexity of purifying water and how all the junk we leave behind somehow makes its way into those same mechanics and gum up the works. The subject has only grown since then. Layers and layers of details, techniques, understanding and then research that clarifies or outright reverses that previous understanding. And it’s only getting crazier.

This may sound like a long sell, but honestly, I’m just trying to foster an appreciation for how deep this winding rabbit hole goes. Even though green building has been around for as long as it has, the movement in its advancement, the sheer volatility in discoveries – it’s like there’s a whole new theory or some new gadget that’s going to change how we look at capturing and storing energy, or the efficiency of the whole procedure coming out every month.
Stuff is getting sleek. Gone are the days of bulky solar panels thick as slabs of sidewalk cement. Living green now isn’t equal to being in a shack in the woods. Current homes are all but indistinguishable from their non-green counterparts, and when you can tell a difference, the look is classy, modern, at home in a swiftly changing, technology based society. And it’s only going to get better.Modular solar panels that basically install themselves and can be taken with you if you leave the house. Batteries to store all that solar power, not filled with lithium or lead, but salt water. Thin, light-weight insulation that offers better protection from the elements than stacks of the traditional variety. A power hub that helps regulate the transition from AC to DC current with the intent of being cheap, efficient and easy to use. Weird, bendy pipes that are super easy to install and don’t make your water taste like plastic. A self-cleaning roof that combines all sorts of different energy systems into one, providing enough power for six people, increasing ventilation and lighting, along with a number of other neat tricks. Hubs that control lighting, heat and cooling that can be controlled from your phone and monitor your habits to save you every penny possible. Even a solar powered riding lawnmower.

This is not the typical blog-in-three-parts. Going Green will offer snapshots into the constantly shifting world of energy efficient technology. When we find cool new ways to make your house do what it does, but better and safer, you’ll find them under this heading. When we hear of something that takes your house a step closer to being the starship Enterprise, you’ll get to read about me geeking out over it here.

Take a chance to hit the subscribe button over there in the column so you don’t miss when something new drops. As fast as this market is, if you don’t catch it right away, you’re likely to miss it.

Designing Greatness: Part 1

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Rockefeller. Vanderbilt. Rothschild. Basically all of Eastern Europe, minus the icy wasteland bits. What do they all have in common, other than dreams of world domination? Palaces. Castles. Summer homes. Estates. Power, creativity and the kind of wealth to construct giant monuments to symbolize them.

So we covered the tiny home aspect of living. The sort of artistic, condensed living that allows those with paychecks that don’t quite match their ambitions to make a space they can be happy to show off. And now we’re going to move to the other side of the street, or, well, to another planet, basically. Neither planets are bad, or even a little better than the other. But they are attractors to entirely different circles of people, or… space explorers, in this metaphor.

The idea of a palace has been around basically since there was the idea of wealth or power, and it just meant the house was bigger than the others. Still made of sticks, still covered in hides or walled with mud, but clearly the abode of the people’s fearless leader. It went quickly from there, as architecture and wealth ramped up. Wood planks replaced sticks and mud, rocks, plaster, cut stone, etc, etc. I’m no historian, I have no idea of the exact order, but as the concept of power and the appearance of wealth dominated over the necessity of shelter and storage, those who could found more creative means to show off.

That’s what we’re going to focus on: creative ways to show off wealth. Castles, while up there, historically, with the concept of a leader’s palace, are more linked to defensive buildings. They took advantage of natural defenses (water, mountains, hills, cliffs), but then there were towers, curtain walls, arrow slits, moats, killing fields, etc. All of these things being less important, presumably, to what you need. If having a building designed that can withstand a medieval army is what you’re looking for, this is not really the type of blog for you, although I’m sure Home Designing Service can draw up plans for you, nonetheless. I suppose when you’re talking 30 ft. high walls and killing fields, zoning and building permits sort of go out the window.

So palaces, mansions, estates, villas, maybe the parts of a castle meant for entertainment and luxury and specifically not the parts designed to hold off and/or kill an invading army. Now, the Rothschilds alone provide enough material for me to write blog posts from now until whatever replaces the Internet is invented. They have had created enough of the buildings we’re going to be talking about to house the royalty and higher government officials of all but your largest countries. They have GIVEN AWAY no fewer than four of these buildings, structures that would look at home next to Buckingham Palace, or in a live action Disney movie. More than maybe any other family in history, they know what it is to be wealthy and powerful, and if you go by their property alone, they can prove it.

Despite the depth of material there, we’re gonna spread out to as many other families and cultures as we can. Like the Tiny House series, we’re going to review building materials, both old and new, style choices and the hurdles you might encounter, except monetary ones… I assume you to be more of an expert than I am for that (and, for a modest fee, I’ll be happy to write a blog post about you, your family, your pets, your celebrity toenail collection, whatever.)

Until then, your homework is to amass a million or so dollars. You’re going to need it.

Tiny Homes: Part 3

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No, no, come back! It’s ok, I promise. And, yeah, I know I promised the second part would be good times and it wasn’t, not entirely, but this one is totally a barefoot walk through soft grass and sweet-smelling wildflowers. Or whatever personal equivalent makes your day. When you get through all the flaming circus hoops (these aren’t in a field of flowers, that would be a fire hazard), the rest is a blast. It’s picking out just that right shade of [insert specific thing you want here] and being really, really picky about the kind of message your home says about you.

You see, maybe you don’t have the money for an authentic Tudor-revival filled with handcrafted everything and tile specially imported from Italy. Maybe you have the artistic sensibilities of Warhol or Frank Lloyd Wright, but the budget of your friends the Schmermans with only one income and three kids. You want unique, but you’d like to keep your family and not gain a bankruptcy. In this story, it also helps if you absolutely refuse to settle for anything less than the best materials available.
Best, in this case, is absolutely dependent on what you want, but green tends to be the way to go with tiny homes. Green can mean anything from reclaimed to new-age materials. People automatically think solar panels, experimental structural components and super great insulation, and, yeah, solar energy is pretty ubiquitous, but there’s a lot of play in the other two.
If you can imagine a benign waste product, they probably make bricks out of it. Hemp, sawdust, the ash from smoke stacks, straw, steel dust. All bricks now. All green. But my personal favorite is a thing called Mycelium. It’s a fungus, or, more specifically, the material that makes up the tough stalk of mushrooms. It can be persuaded to grow around cores of straw and then air dried. The resulting bricks are fire, water and, oddly enough, mold resistant. It’s a better insulation than fiberglass and it’s stronger than concrete. Mushroom houses. What a time to be alive, right? A new but trending material is rammed earth. It is exactly what it sounds like. They take wet earth and then they use these machines that look like a forced union between a jackhammer and an immersion blender to tamp or “ram” it down as hard as it will go. The frame holding it up is then taken away and it leaves behind this hard, incredibly insulating wall with a cool, ripply, sedimentary rock appearance. There’s even a company called Dwell that makes, you guessed it, bricks of the stuff.
And then there’s always reclaimed material. It’s often not possible or affordable to make an entire house from eclectic stuff you find in scrap yards or antique shops. But a tiny home? Definitely. Walls in those old windows that used to be above doors in schools, the siding of barns that have gone silver with time and decades of rain and wind, pre-rusted corrugated metal, an entire train car, floorboards of sanded and polished train ties. Anything. And because it’s reclaimed, it’s green. There are all sorts of grants, government and otherwise, you can look into before you start building your tiny, green home. I’m not going to go into the specifics, because there are A LOT of them, but a simple Google search will put you on the right track. Just this year in Quebec, a cabin was made by Canadian firm Architecture Casa that was rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold. They used reclaimed materials, flawless insulation, a design that minimized its impact on the surrounding environment (it was built to allow a natural stream to run under it), passive solar panels, radiant heating concrete floors and windows placed to capture the most sunlight possible. It’s a touch bigger than a normal tiny home (small or below average, maybe), but the point is it was built intelligently and now has an energy consumption approaching 0. It only uses what it produces itself.
Now, a lot of this hinges on the fact that you want to have a tiny home and not a mobile tiny home. A lot of these materials aren’t meant to move. Or are too heavy to be cheap on travel costs. But there are things you can do for the kind of tiny home with get-up-and-go. Recycled cotton insulation, there’s always the solar panels, you basically want to go as light as possible to reduce the gas cost. And you should still find a way to use those Mycelium blocks, because those are really cool. And honestly, if you can’t say you live in a house made of mushroom, why even do it? I appreciate you sticking with me in the ups and downs of this tiny house series. Home Designing Service is more than qualified to put together the plans of your next dream, tiny or otherwise. Next up, we’re going to be looking at the opposite end of the housing spectrum. Mansions, castles big enough to be sovereign nations unto themselves, and the like. Can’t wait to see you there.

Tiny Homes: Part 2

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So you’re back. You traversed the abyss of “Deciding Whether or Not You Really Want a Tiny House” and came out the other side, scarred but stronger. I salute you, weary traveler. Now pull up a chair, make yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable. We’re going to tackle the Sisyphean challenge of zoning, permits and loans.

No, honestly, it’s not nearly that impossible. It’s more like… what was that Greek myth where the bird came around and pecked out the guy’s liver, which regenerated so the bird could do it again the next day? The labyrinth of legal craziness is more like that. Annoying, painful maybe, but ultimately not deadly.

The problem almost entirely lies in the fact that the whole tiny house “thing” is relatively new and exploded with such speed that the legal and banking systems hasn’t been able to keep up. So while some people try to tell you that you can slap wheels on your tiny home and call it an RV and others will say it works just like a regular home, the truth is that neither is true. It’s something in-between both.

Given the quickly shifting nature of all the rules, regulations, procedures, guidelines, ordinances, (just going down this list of words in the Thesaurus), edicts, laws, etc, the suggestions in this post are going to be more starting points than a bullet-list of steps to follow.

First off, there’s a reason I used that whole “if it has wheels, it’s an RV” thing above. It’s the biggest misconception and quite a few of the shadier builders will try to quash your worries by telling you you’re fine if you have wheels. To even be classified as an RV, you need it constructed by a certified RV manufacturer. And for those who think they’re gonna build it themselves, that certification costs thousands of dollars, requires business licenses and then the structures has to pass a 500+ point test. All very doable, but not quickly or easily.

Then there’s the “I’ll just say I’m camping” or “It’s small enough to not need a permit.” And, yeah, both of those will work. Good job. But neither will hold for very long. The camping one is a solid excuse, and provided you’re on land that’s already ok to have campers, you’ll be fine. But most states only allow that kind of thing for a certain amount of time, sometimes 30 days, sometimes only a few. You’d have to pick up and move regularly. And that “small enough” one is only true of sheds. Once you switch the lawnmower out for a couch, or start sleeping in it, it’s a house.

There’s also a lot of laws in place to protect people from slum lords. Unfortunately, a lot of those codes also work against tiny homes, which gives them the right to deny you utilities, condemn the house and arrest you when you enter, or just fine the pants off you until you go away.

Loans are also an issue. Because banks don’t see tiny houses as having much in the way of resale value, they often don’t see them as worth the collateral of the loan. If you have an extra child or kidney, depending on the bank, sometimes you can trade it for the loan, but it doesn’t always work and you didn’t hear it from me.

But fret not, my concerned readers. Day by day, with the realization that tiny homes are not just a quick fad, everything’s getting easier. Many states have designated areas where a tiny home can be built, outright zoning clauses for them, or make it very easy to get a variance on an existing zone. Sometimes it boils down to them letting you do whatever you want, as long as you’re not a bother to anyone else, but that’s not exactly a guarantee for anything. And if American television has taught me anything, it’s that if government officials get something over you, they’ll make you sell State secrets to Russia. So better to go the legal route.

Again, this seems like a lot of scare tactics on my part, but it isn’t. These are all problems, but they’re problems with solutions. Chances are, provided you’re not paying your uncle’s best-friend’s son’s old juvie buddy to build your tiny home, they’re going to have a lot of this stuff either taken care of or will at least know where you can go or call for specific help. If that’s not the case, then call your local planning and zoning office for yourself. It’s literally their job to help you.

Banks, too, are starting to catch on. A few have specialized loans just for tiny houses. Call them. Ask. Don’t assume. Honestly, decent life advice, not limited to tiny houses.

Next time, we get to talk about all the fun stuff. Building materials, fancy power options, weird toilets. You know, the classics. Till then…

Tiny Homes: Part 1

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They say good things come in small packages. And, barring vulgar humor, that tends to be the way of things. Everything seems to be getting smaller and smaller as we advance technologically. The computer I’m writing this on is an entire warehouse smaller than the first one designed. Next to me, there’s a phone the size of my hand and about as thick as a travel brochure. There isn’t much I can’t do on that phone. In fact, if it wasn’t for these occasional blogs and my need for a keyboard, I could probably get rid of the laptop and be just fine. Perhaps not as convenient, but cheaper. Simpler.

Did you see my clever segue? Did you?

I suppose, in a way, tiny houses have been around since the beginning. Except, in the beginning, before greed, pride, wealth or whatever engendered the desire or ability to create mansions and palaces, tiny houses were just called houses. That’s all there was. But then the people who could make money did and those capable of building such structures started using words like “convenience” and “quality of life” and “property value” and, well… I’m sure you’ve been to Greenwich.

And that really is the crux of the whole tiny house thing, or movement, as they’re calling it. Of all the hoops someone who intends to own/live in/what have you in a tiny house, and thereare hoops, whether you can or can’t live without a certain level of convenience is what everything boils down to. Which isn’t to say tiny houses aren’t comfortable, or modern, or even downright fancy, because not only can they be, they usually are.

We’ll get to the more technical hoops (read: permits) later. This first entry covers the issue I talked about in the paragraph above. And to do that, we’re gonna play a little game of “C.I.B.H.W.M.T.S.I.M.H.” Or, Could I Be Happy Without Most of the Stuff In My House. The title’s a work in progress.

Look around the room you’re in. Now add a mini-fridge, a small dresser, a sink and a toilet. Remove the rest of your house. Imagine living in what amounts to a single room. You can hear when your spouse or kids go to the bathroom because it’s close enough to hit with a couch pillow, not that you’ll have a couch, in the traditional sense. Imagine heading to the grocery maybe a few times a week because there’s no room for a full size refrigerator or a freezer chest. Imagine never going to an antique store, because there’s literally no room in your house for a knick-knack, let alone a Victorian armoire. Can you be happy without a collection of items to call your own? Do you require a library of every book you’ve owned or hope to read? Do you quantify success by the accumulation of things, like the rings of a tree or the strata of a mountain? You have to go through all these questions and before you look at a single legal document or talk to a loved one, or try to pawn off your rather extensive collection of porcelain cats, they need answers.

And they seem harsh, I imagine. It might seem like I’m trying to talk you out of even thinking about the notion of a tiny house. But on the flip side of all those rough questions, you can ask yourself the following as well. Do you like to be creative with the design of your home? Does the thought of paying little to nothing on electricity excite you? Do artisanal things make you happy? Does the thought of having more time for other things in your life make you happy?

Tiny homes tend to focus your life down to what’s important. Not just the possessions or the space, but what you do, how you do it. Nearly every religion talks at least one time or another about the simplification of life. Living only within your means. Not collecting debt or treasures or whatever. For those who already have all that, they usually suggest to give it away and follow on the path of whichever religion’s doing the talking. And that’s not to say you have to be religious to have a tiny house, only that without the distractions of debt and treasures, you’ll have more time to pursue whatever path your feet are on.

The next parts of this are way more technical. Design options, permits, regulations, etc. I promise the existentialism stays here in part one. So take a breather, answer these questions and think about your life. I’ll see you next time.

IRC 2009 Revision: Air Sealing and You

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So it’s that time again. IRC revision time. Woooo! Break out the booze and the confetti, it’s gonna be a party. And, by “booze,” I mean air seals and, by “confetti,” I mean wind bracing. Of course. What else would I have meant?

You probably know what the IRC is, but maybe you don’t. It stands for International Residential Code, and it governs how one- and two-family houses should be put together. It basically makes sure designers and contractors are keeping up with current practices and the people who employ them are getting the best for their buck. Every few years, things get changed, everyone has a couple years to freak out and pretend there’s absolutely no way they can build a house under the tyrannical new guidelines. Then the changes go into effect, everyone settles down and it’s repeated a few years down the road. We builders are an exciting lot.

But honestly, as crazy as it can get when stuff gets technically more difficult, by the time a change is made, it’s often after that change has become common practice anyway and the technology is already there to facilitate an easy transition. It also shakes off those amateur crazies who are more interested in swindling customers than making a functional house. We here at Home Designing Service are not too keen on swindling, so we’re going to go ahead and talk about some of these IRC changes.

One of the biggies, and the subject of today’s post revolves around air sealing. Arguably more important than insulation, air sealing is a huge hurdle to jump when finishing off a house. Making sure there aren’t huge gaping holes in the walls is one thing, but keeping the air out from tiny cracks around windows and doors, or from pouring into the attic and then into the house, those are entirely different matters. For the IRC 2009, the magic number you’re looking for is 7.

End of blog. Everyone go home.

Seriously, though. Air sealing is more than drywall or the vapor barrier. It’s more than making sure the windows are in and closed. We’re talking more than fiberglass batts for insulation. And air sealing should be tested at several points during the construction of the house, because, basically, once the insulation’s in, doing a proper sealing becomes much more difficult. For Energy Star ratings, there’s a LEED checklist that needs to be gone through before drywall is even up. This gives builders a chance to find leaks before fixing them requires that a wall be ripped into. They can go around and do targeted air sealing on pipes and wires, corners where stuff might not be entirely lined up, etc. Then when everything’s mostly together, they do a blower door test. And they hope for that 7 I mentioned earlier.

So, this blower door. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a door. With a blower in it. It depressurizes your house and then, using the kind of math where there are almost no numbers and it’s all funny symbols and letters, they determine how many times the fan and suction of the vacuum was able to replace the atmosphere within the house in an hour. Seven ACH, or air changes per hour, is the max. It’s also kind of a big number. Quality builders who trip and accidentally make a house are going to hit a 5, a 3 if they actually try a little. California’s code requires a 3. Energy Star Canada wants a 2-2.5. And then there’s PassivHaus. PassivHaus is, if the name didn’t tip you off, primarily a Swedish and German company, although they’ve been seeing a recent popularity surge internationally. PassivHaus requires a 0.6. Which basically means when you turn the blower door on, your house crushes like a tin can because there are no leaks. I’m pretty sure they use ancient technology dredged up from lost Atlantis to make this possible.

Joking aside, air sealing covers a wide range of needs. Want to stay warmer and have less/no drafts? Want to save money? Want to reduce your carbon foot print, use less energy and help save the planet? I mean, we’re not exactly in “For just 50 cents a day, you can save a child in Africa” territory, but we’re pretty close. We at Home Designing Service know our stuff. Give us a call, come in, email, whatever you like, and there’ll be a specialist here to go over all your air sealing and non-air sealing needs. We might even let you flip the switch on the blower door.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

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Good things come in small packages. You hear this randomly throughout life, mostly from guys, short people and cheapskates. But in some cases, it really is true, especially when it concerns houses. And today we’re going to go over some of the best examples.

Now, this is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list. It’s not even meant to be all that detailed. It’s simply meant to show that dream homes don’t have to be castles or gigantic, sprawling mansions and some of the coolest, most famous people in history agree with this philosophy. Architects, queens, samurai, presidents, etc. Not a single cheapskate in that list, is there?

Take Frank Lloyd Wright’s home of Taliesin. Nevermind the fact that it’s situated at the peak of a hill, in a beautiful valley and the property also includes his large architecture studio and a school. The part of the house that was actually the living quarters was just a simple, if beautiful, home, built in Wright’s unique Prairie Style. It burned down twice, though and had to be rebuilt. Frank lived a pretty crazy life.

Or perhaps the home of Isamu Noguchi, the famous Japanese American sculptor, who had a 200-year old samurai home moved to the village of Mure and restored. And while the property later turned into a well-appointed compound with all manner of areas for art and reflection, the house itself was a clean, simple, traditional Japanese home. If Apple started designing houses, I feel like they’d look like these historical Japanese houses. They have such a simple, modern feel, despite being so old.

Heating in the winter must be fun.

Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello, might be pushing the upper limits of “small home,” but when put up against what is typically considered a mansion, I think it fits, if just barely. Jefferson, who was an avid architect, made sure his home was in a constant state of redesign, but mostly kept it within Neoclassical boundaries. But when he saw an element he liked, or had an idea, it didn’t stop him from experimenting. What resulted is one of the most famous houses in America.

A house in California, owned by Gisela Bennati and built by Rudolf Schindler, started off as a rustic, mountainside home, but because of local regulations had to, for whatever reason, be changed to a more formal Normandy style home. Zagging when most might zig, Schindler preempted a lot of design elements that would later become extremely popular: expansive windows, locally obtained materials, exposed rafters and large, open living areas. It was also one of the first a-frame houses. It’s also incredibly beautiful.

Pointy

But, really, why stop at a single building when you could just as easily (not really as easily) build an entire little town for yourself. Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet, for our non French reading audience), was just such a place. Ms. Antoinette, unhappy with her posh lifestyle, decided to build a hamlet so she could pretend every once in awhile that she was actually just an average citizen. There was a dairy, a farmhouse, a mill, a barn, some other buildings, then about five or so buildings designed for the Queen’s comfort. All constructed in such a way as to make them look rundown and rustic, to the point that she requested the builders put in imitation cracks and fissures, rotting timbers and moss. If you want to pretend you’re a peasant, I guess the best way to do so is to construct an entire little city built around your comfort and delusions. Rich people confuse me.

When in doubt of whether or not you’re out of touch with the problems of your impoverished subjects, build a little city for yourself so you know what they’re going through.

We’ve looked at just a handful of houses, all of them famous in one way or another, but the point is… there are countless small, amazing homes owned by less-than-famous people all over the world. And you can be one of them. Call us, we’ll hook you up.

Evolution of the House: Part 4 – Where No Walls Have Gone Before

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the history of housing, where it originated, the path it took through the centuries and where it is, more or less, today. It’s been a long, bumpy ride with many cool discoveries (like indoor plumbing, that was neat), but the houses being built now, some of them on the very edge of new technology, are the craziest things yet.

 

But before we get into that, how about a look at slightly more regular improvements with today’s houses. Sustainable and zero energy houses are becoming more and more popular, with systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Energy Star in place to rate how effective they are.

Neat!

First LEED Platinum class house in East Asia. Completely self sufficient.

 

The most used process is good insulation, or building in a way that maximizes surrounding features to hold onto or shed heat faster, such as wind currents, positioning of the sun and shade and building layout that either increases or minimizes surface area. Past that, though, is energy reclamation, passive and active solar power, wind turbines and heat pumps among other things.

 

Existing homes can be modified to function at or near sustainable levels, but zero energy or energy-plus houses depart significantly from traditional construction practice, so must be created new. Zero energy homes use all the features previously mentioned but to a higher degree and contain superinsulation techniques. Energy-plus homes are actually constructed in such a way that they generate more energy than they use, benefitting the local community.

 

But who cares about all that, right? Bring on the high-tech gadgets. Like that $13 million home in Telluride where you can control temp and humidity, multi-room audio-visual systems, alarms and outdoor video monitoring from an iPad. Or the house in Portugal that makes the most out of its smaller space by being able to actually move its walls and produce hideaway flatscreen tvs with a touch of a button. Better yet is a Los Angeles home that incorporates the iPad control from the first home with the ability to also use it to change the colors of interior and exterior walls.

 

And let’s not leave out the possibility of living off-earth. In a few years, maybe the cutting edge of housing includes geodesic domes on the moon or Mars, maybe they’re little space stations orbiting Earth or large ships making use of breakthroughs in physics to seek out other planets like ours. Seems pretty hard to believe, but fifty years ago, changing the colors of all the walls in your house with a magic sheet of metal and plastic probably seemed far-fetched too.

Space Ship

Welcome mat not included.

 

So if you’re looking for something, whether it’s a well-appointed tent in up-state New York or a gigantic mansion that runs on classified technology and doubles as a generator for the surrounding city, Home Designing Service is where it’s at. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we are no longer able to design space ships. We offer our sincere apologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution of the House: Part 3 – When Walls Were Nice

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As you could see toward the end of last week’s blog post, the idea of class played a big part in where you lived. Obviously, this is a concept that has always been – even when people were fighting over trees and caves, the stronger or smarter would have prevailed. But as the level of talent surrounding architecture rose, the distinction of class became more and more apparent.

Class was the difference between living in a townhouse or a hovel. A villa or a hut. But even as the gulf between social tiers widened, the living conditions of everyone rose collectively. As it, in general, became easier to make houses, it also became cheaper, which allowed more and more people to jump on the bandwagon. So to speak.

During the medieval era of architecture, timber framing became a thing. And, by thing, I mean it had been around almost since forever, but was finally coupled with a level of skill that made it easy to produce. Early houses during this period were basically just big communal rooms and a few side rooms. Even the manor houses of the more affluent weren’t very intricate. Cross the class gap, however, and you were up against castles and whatnot.

Swiss homes in particular had a very interesting design. Two story, cabin-like homes, home owners housed the animals on the lower level and lived in the upper. It seems pretty rustic by our standards today, but at the time, they had separate rooms for cooking, dining and enjoying each other’s company, which was a pretty big deal. These Swiss homes universally used the timber design, but also used brick and stone for the lower levels.

Fast forward a few (hundred) years and you’re smack dab in the middle of the Romanesque period, and while this moment in architectural history is most known for the construction of castles and abbeys, it also was a time of improvement of inner-city living. The tower house and town house entered the scene, both under heavy constraints of space due to the packed nature of walled cities of that time.

Tower cities rose like, well, like towers, often only having a single, small room for each floor. Town houses, in contrast, allowed the fairly rich a place to stay close to all the action in the city. Unlike the sprawling domus of Rome, town houses looked like proper houses. Two story, stone or half-timber, etc. Despite being primarily for the well-to-do, they were a statement for what would come.

What followed over the next handful of (again, hundreds) years, were a collection of “Revival” styles. It’s like how 80s clothes are becoming popular again, except for houses. As architectural techniques began to solidify, older styles were revisited and given a new treatment. Classical and gothic elements were introduced into domestic homes, homes that were steadily becoming affordable to the very people who had to fight for a thatch-roofed hovel in previous eras. These styles have been highlighted in previous articles, so I won’t bother going into them.

A standout style, however, was found in Japan, during a little period of change. Much like the European countries, Japanese homes were becoming more and more decadent. I wouldn’t put it as equal to the Victorian-era houses, but for the Japanese, it was becoming a serious problem. When the Zen masters introduced the Tea Ceremony, the resultant Tea Houses changed residential styles to a more modest, simple design. The interesting part of Japanese housing is the changeable nature. Walls were made of sliding panels, which could be changed with ease. So rooms could be joined for entertaining a large number of guests, or closed for privacy. Nevermind the fact that they had to practically set themselves on fire to stay warm in the winter, you can’t really put a price on that kind of convenience.

Then the Americas happened and ugly little colonial buildings became the norm for awhile. Without the infrastructure of an established country like England, the American colonies just weren’t capable of producing bigger, more intricate houses. But within a short time, they would catch up and even invent a few styles of their own, as evidenced in the Frank Lloyd Wright post.

Housing has come a long way from trees, caves and tents. A lot of styles have come and gone, but the concepts of style, protection and comfort have been around since the beginning. We’ve taken a brief look at where we came from. Stay tuned next week and we’ll discuss where we’re going.

 

 

Evolution of the House: Part 2 – When Walls Were Walls

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Last week, we visited the beginning of time. Or whatever you call the vague, detail-deficient thing I wrote last week. But I’m not a historian, which we’ve gone over. And that period of time is pretty light on facts anyway, which we’ve also gone over. So I’m not to be blame.

So this week, to continue the series on houses, where they came from and where they’re going, we’ll move forward a bit in time. The date: 3500 BC, the place: Finland. There is snow. Lots and lots of snow. In fact, there is nothing but snow and trees for as far as you can imagine. And what do you do when all you have is snow and trees? Naturally, you build log cabin saunas. True story.

The log cabins the Finns were making, saunas included, were way ahead of their time. Using a pretty advanced form of double-notched jointing, the buildings were more resistant to weather and the extreme winters, and infinitely more stable. And some of them were saunas. This point can’t be emphasized enough. The only reason the Finns didn’t use their genius to conquer the world is that the first manifestation of their brilliance was a sauna. They were too mellow afterwards to do much of anything.

 

Invention of peace.

The only reason we speak American and not whatever language they speak in Finland. I’m gonna assume Finnish.

There were log cabins in Russia and Scandinavia too, but they didn’t have saunas, so they’re not worth mentioning. Around 300 BC, though, Chinese architecture came to Japan and saved their homes from the rains there, by creating log cabins on stilts. So that’s kind of neat. Japanese architecture wouldn’t become fun until much later. Check in next week for that.

So last week, we went from sleeping under trees to tents. This week, it’s all about walls. The end of this period, at least in my eyes (remember, not a historian) is the early Greek/Roman domus. It sort of perfected the wall part and just started edging out into decorative extravagance. Sure there were gigantic villas at that time, but the majority of housing was in the domus. It is one of the earliest forms of our now traditional houses.

Courtyards and bedrooms, dining rooms and storerooms, the domus was a huge step in the right direction. Although mostly available only to the wealthy, it began a trend for demanding more from a place of shelter than just protection. Comfort, convenience, something to be proud of. It had walls, a roof and was heated mostly from a central hearth, but it also had gardens, frescos, rooms to entertain guests. Family life had grabbed a gigantic flag and staked a claim. And it wasn’t going anywhere.

 

Domus

Looks more like a compound than a house, but it’s house. Just go with it.

Next week we’ll go over the direction housing took from here. The spread across Europe and each country’s translation on different themes. Italy, France, Europe and eventually America will all be making an appearance. Oh, and that fun Japanese architecture I promised earlier.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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