I love a beautiful kitchen!  
Warmth.  Hearth.  Nourishment.  Collaboration.  Family.  Friends.  Comfort.

What a beautiful kitchen is not:
Cavernously large.  Elaborately carved and difficult to clean.  Imposing and impressive, meant to photograph well for magazines, and to be a stage set for fancy dinners.

Me, my most difficult client

I've been mulling over what to do with the kitchen in our home pretty much since we moved in seven years ago.

The Layout

Like in many other homes, our kitchen is the rear entryway -- the main one used by family and friends -- and the entry path cuts across the kitchen floor diagonally.
It's only about 140 square feet: >10ft x <14ft, leaving enough room for either an island or the circulation needs, but not both.

a fast pencil sketch of our kitchen: North is to the right
As far as improving this overall layout, we're fairly limited by property lines to the West, zoning restrictions to the North, our only bathroom to the East, and the stair to our walk-up flat on the South.

The only improvements I can envision (without knocking the whole house down) are to the openings.  The back door could be moved with some effort (since the walls are 12" thick solid brick), and the one West-facing window could be enlarged.

The "Style"

zessn pinterest board
Oh, how I detest the word "style" when applied to architecture!  I can't even go there right now.  What I'm really thinking of is INSPIRATION.  I'm really inspired by kitchens that have handmade materials whose utility, aesthetics & appropriateness are thoughtfully considered.  I'm inspired by durable finishes that are easy to clean.   I'm inspired by kitchens that are about utility: not in a cold, machined, mass-produced way; but in a personal, I-want-to-spend-a-lot-of-time-cooking way.

Good design is timeless.

Some Inspirations:

Mercantiles, farm kitchens, Proven├žal & Tuscan kitchens, bakeries & restaurant kitchens, industrial spaces, modern kitchens. I've been collecting images on a Pinterest board.  See it HERE.  Dining tables that double as work spaces.  Storage that doubles as decoration.

Unfortunately, if you're thinking "Tuscan," this is what your kitchen designer hears:

"Tuscan Kitchen" image courtesy of via Flickr
A kitchen that really inspired me this year is the one featured on a show called "Little Paris Kitchen." If Rachel Khoo can open a two-seat restaurant in her tiny apartment using a kitchen easily 1/4 the size of mine, I ought to be able to do just fine.


I do love open shelving, especially if it's not too deep, and there's a way to contain the chaos. However, I don't relish the idea of all that exposure & dusting.  If each shelf is just the right height, this should be mitigated, somewhat. This article has some ideas on organization.

I do love butcherblock countertops, but worry that they'll start to smell or look funny after a lot of use.  I am comforted by posts like this on how to take care of them.

Will I have enough storage if I eliminate upper cabinetry?  Granted, I could use an opportunity to do some streamlining!  One potential solution: I currently only store a small portion of my servingware, china & crystal in the dining room.  I have a little bit of space I could allocate there.  I am also lucky enough to have a food storage area in the basement, so I do not have to keep all of my food in a tiny pantry.  I so look forward to the day when I am not banging my head on wall-hung cabinets while washing dishes or using the countertop workspace!

One small window does not a happy kitchen make.  I want to dramatically increase the size of my window, but it's a West facing window.  What I mean by that is that during supper-cooking time I am completely blinded by the setting sun while at my stove.
I will have to be very serious about multiple options for controlling direct sunlight.  Awnings just won't do the job on the West elevation.
The other issue is that there is not much of a view from that window.  I put a birdbath just outside the window, but it's not a popular spot too often.  The midrange view is a private alley and a very neatly kept but uninspiring chainlink fence and flat asphalt roof.  The long view is not bad, but obscured by powerlines. Perhaps I should take out the window and just install a flatscreen with nature images?  Just kidding.  There are many approaches I can take with this window; I just have to decide on a few that will work well together.

Budgetwise (trying to keep this under $10K), I was thinking of going with Ikea cabinets, with the pantry area built in by an actual carpenter (I do most of our renovation work myself, but I ain't no carpenter).  You really can't do better than Ikea at their price point.
Apparently though, Ikea is winding down their kitchen cabinetry line (Akurum), in favor of a new line (Metod), which will be released late 2014 or early 2015.  At least, that's the rumor.  The new line will not be compatible with the old line, and replacement parts for the old line may only be available for a few years.  Not sure what that does to their 25 year warranty program.
Does that mean I need to wait another year?  Sigh.

The Solution

I don't really know yet.  I've been mulling for so long, and done a few sketches from time to time, but nothing I'm thrilled about.  Time to spend some real effort on it!



I continue to be intrigued by the relationships between emergency preparedness, sustainability, & self reliance.

Emergency Preparedness

An emergency is something you have not prepared for.  So what is emergency preparedness besides an oxymoron?

  1. In a mild/economic emergency (job loss, etc.), you want emergency reserves like food & money.  
  2. In a temporary emergency (natural event), you want to survive (ideally: comfortably) until services can be restored. I’ve never been in an event that also lost us water & gas, but most storms/hurricanes knock out power & communications, and the potability of the water is in question.  You want water, food & fuel storage (a 72hr kit should get you most of the way there), shelter from the elements (including warmth in the winter), and easy access to emergency documents (currently, all of mine are on my computer… not easily accessible in an emergency) like first-aid instructions, gas shutoff procedures, etc.  
  3. In a major disaster or a situation where services are not likely to be restored for some time, you need more than storage.  You want water filters, a year-round garden, knowledge of how to forage/hunt for food, other low-tech knowledge that any pre-industrial era farmer would know, and a shelter that can protect you from weather extremes without mechanical systems.  
So here’s the pop quiz: what one home item can help you with ALL of these types emergencies as well as during non-emergency times?


A [solar] photovoltaic panel (even just one or two), a geothermal or ground source heat system, or a solar radiant heat system (even in just one south-facing room) will give you free, off the grid power in every emergency situation.

PV Caveats

  • A working PV system (like any supplemental system) will operate invisibly:  you won't be able to tell if it's working or not, because you are also using power from the grid.  It will be equally invisible if it is not working.  Any supplemental system should be commissioned & monitored so you know you're getting your money's worth.  It’s a performance system, not a belief system (like all HVAC). All performance systems should be commissioned and monitored, especially green high tech.
  • A hurricane or high winds can put anything out of commission, including your whole house; yes, it’s possible to have a tree fall on your panels or your generator and you are deprived of power, but that's no reason not to prepare.
  • Batteries have to be maintained if you want power at night when the sun is down.  When the grid is operational, batteries are unnecessary.  If you don't have batteries, you can still use the power during the day, but there's no way to store it for night or overcast day conditions. 
  • Solar panel awning on radio station.
    Image courtesy of Dave Dugdale via Flickr
  • Yeah, I know: they're ugly.  If my mama actually read this blog, she'd probably give me an interminable earful about exactly how ugly her neighbor's array is.  Manufacturers are working on it.  Google "building integrated photovoltaics" and you'll see what I mean. And remember, for the purposes of emergency preparedness, we're talking about a couple of panels, not a Net-Zero goal.  Consider installing them as an awning or a shelter.
  • Unfortunately, NONE OF THIS WOULD WORK in the real world if you're connected to the grid! In power outages, PV systems are not allowed to produce connected power because the electricity might harm those working to repair the grid.  And no one has created a solution to this yet.  Sigh.

Those Relationships

Which brings me back to relationships.

Sustainability is about living in a way that could continue for generations with no cumulative negative impacts like water & air pollution and excessive or hazardous waste.  

Self Reliance is about limiting consumerism to reduce waste and having the skills to support ourselves and others.  There's an element of "buy local" in here, too.  

We cannot prepare for every emergency.  But when emergencies come, we hopefully have a sustainable, somewhat self-reliant lifestyle that doesn't leave us desperate after one day without a trip to the grocery.


Image courtesy of NREL:


I always thought DANDIES were fairly silly.  So vain and careful; not very manly at all.

King George III (in coronation robes) by Allan Ramsay
(1761-1762). George III was deemed unfit for rule, 
so the Prince Regent stepped in.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And then there came the context:
the dandy movement was reactionary.

In Regency England (first quarter of the 19th century), men's fashion was fairly extreme.  Enormous powdered wigs, lots of rouge and makeup, miles of ribbon and exquisite fabrics, and plenty of parties to wear all of this to.

Now this is quite soon after the American Revolution, when the British Empire is just starting to show evidence of cracks in its foundation.  Assertion of wealth and aristocracy was very popular, and there was an extravagant Prince Regent (the future George IV) occupying the throne in his father's stead.

Beau Brummel

Enter George Bryan "Beau" Brummell.  He was a maven of men's fashion, and conveniently for him, a friend of the Prince Regent.

"He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat." (from Wikipedia)

2002 statue of Beau Brummell by Irena Sedlecka
(Jermyn Street in London).  Image courtesy of
Herr uebermann via Wikimedia Commons.

Beau Brummel invented and established the modern men's suit with necktie and no wig, a version of which is still worn today.  The aesthetic was -- by comparison -- refined and masculine.  Dandy detractors saw it as vulgar and common; while dandies themselves forwarded the look by asserting that, far from neglecting their appearance, they spent more time on it.*

Modernist Principles Created

  1. Eliminate unnecessary ornament
  2. Design focuses on custom fit rather than expensive materials
  3. Simplification of the number of elements
  4. Elements expected to each be necessary
  5. Balance valued over volume
  6. Natural/true appearance of hair/skin preferred
  7. These principles held as subjugating previous aesthetic principles: superiority of fashion ethics rather than just another passing style
  8. Well-designed simplicity

Regency Architecture: a Contrast

The Prince Regent's favorite architect was John Nash.  Diverging from typical Georgian architecture, which was severely symmetrical and fairly unornamented, the architecture of the Regency period is lavish, overbudget, and often exotic.

Brighton (United Kingdom): Panorama of the western front of the Royal Pavilion, remodeled by John Nash 1815-1822
Image courtesy of flamenc via Wikimedia Commons.

Followup question

Does architecture -- as the manifestation of taste that takes the longest to adapt to changing fashions -- OFTEN follow the lead of clothing taste-makers?  I think the seeds of modernism were planted earlier than we usually assume.


P.S. Time Spent = Value

*The amount of time spent on creating art was apparently a very important element in determining whether it was, in fact, art.  Famously, Whistler sued John Ruskin in 1877 for libel when Ruskin reviewed his work:
The offending painting:
Nocturne in Black and Gold:
The Falling Rocket
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler,
currently at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Image via Wikimedia Commons

"For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay [founder of the Grosvenor Gallery] ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." --John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera on July 2, 1877

The subsequent suit tried for the first time to determine a legal definition of what was art and what was not.  How much time required to create a work of art was one of the main topics of discussion.

Read more about the suit in the delightful & surprisingly entertaining book, A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin.


What is the difference between the purpose of architecture & the purpose of art?

Primavera (1482) by Sandro Botticelli.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Newcomb pottery c.1910.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
FINE ART has no practical purpose.  It is meant to engage the mind, touch the heart, evoke the senses.  These are achieved by only the best artists.

The purpose of the APPLIED ARTS is usually easy to discern and is only successful as applied art when the function/goal is met with efficiency and grace.  A gorgeous chair that is not meant to be sat in is a sculpture of a chair and not applied art!


ARCHITECTURE's purposes as an applied art are decidedly more complex and layered.  And yet much of its beauty is derived from a similar efficiency and grace in achieving its goals.

A bridge is beautiful for its efficiency/grace in attaining its design purpose  = the span.

Samuel Beckett Bridge (2009) by Santiago Calatrava in Dublin.
Image courtesy of Ariost80 via Wikimedia Commons.
"Seed Cathedral", UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010
by Heatherwick Studio.
Image courtesy of JACK728 via Wikimedia Commons.

If a building merely succeeds in being a very expensive interesting sculpture and fails in its architectural goals, then it is successful art and unsuccessful architecture.  The "Seed Cathedral" at right is an inhabitable sculpture at the scale of a building.  It was not designed to be architecture, but is quite successful as public art.

The very subjective tests for successful architecture are just as multifaceted as its goals; and yet, many people uneducated in the arts of architecture will instinctively recognize the good stuff when they see it!

I think that an object (or a person) fulfills the measure of its creation when its PURPOSE is beautifully and readily apparent.




"Severus Snape on the set from HP6"
Image courtesy of  red_sunshinegirl
In architectural education, there is a culture of the CRITIQUE.  It starts out fairly mild each semester.  There is a professor over your course who lectures during the first class and perhaps even a little through the semester, but whose main job it is to wander among the drafting desks giving “crits” to each student, to spur them in their design.  (This can’t have changed much since I was in school, though the drafting is all the computer-based.)  

Ideally, these consist of timely questions, guidance, and perhaps even a quest for justifications for certain choices.  What it often was in my experience (and I have reason to believe this is fairly universal), was the equivalent of Professor Snape hovering and in his loudest whisper mocking students (except his favorites), one by one.


At the end of each semester (or each project, if less than the length of the semester), the students each stood in front of their class and a JURY (which consisted of their professor and other professors or professionals from the community or even visiting architects from the world at large who happened to be in town working on a project).  Ideally, these “juries” would be a hive of discussion as to appropriate responses to the site and program, more questions that hadn’t yet been put by the professor, and an additional quest for justifications. Yet they usually felt like this:

"The Pillory." Image courtesy of  Ephemeral Scraps via Flickr.

I’ve often wondered why!  I absolutely believe there should be justification for architectural choices, though what passed for “theory” (architecture’s version of philosophy) was laughable.  The justifications were so abstract as to be absurd, and their only qualification for acceptability was eloquence.  Though we often spoke of “how people would feel in a space,” these proposed feelings were riddled with angst as if the goal were high, incomprehensible art instead of PLACES of habitation.  
"I want visitors to feel pushed through the space as if squozen by a giant boa constrictor... and then released into the plaza as they realize they are going to live to see another day...."  
Okay, I made that one up, but it's not far-fetched.

Public Speaking & Teaching

This process has left me as an adult with a fairly healthy fear of public speaking that I am trying to battle.  I keep telling myself that most classes are not trying to pick apart everything the teacher says merely to look important themselves.  And I am finding that it’s true.  Most people actually go to classes to LEARN. What?!

The stunning contrast for me has been teaching Sunday School to a class of adults, many of whom are generations older than me.  Some are religious historians, some are lawyers with incredible insights on Biblical law, many have attended seminary and institutes of religion.  It is daunting to prepare a lesson for a group like that, knowing that many of them will see the multitude of errors I make at the outset.  But everyone is there to learn and to participate and teach one another. It's almost as if no one assumes they already know it all; as if every human being can learn from each other. 
As the teacher, I end up leading a respectful discussion with a variety of opinions and insights.  And everyone walks away feeling enriched, inspired, and bound together by the experience.  Wow. 

What if?

What if architecture school had been like that?  

Instead of promoting absurd, egocentric rhetoric under high pressure-- though I’m sure most architects end up needing that skill, too-- you might have collaboration, respect, and places that people actually want to be in.


Out of school, at my first job, we occasionally had what are called in the architecture world “charettes.”  These were fairly wonderful.  We would drop all of our other projects, refuse to answer calls for a few hours (or even a whole day) and brainstorm collaboratively on one project.  This was usually a new project, though it was occasionally a competition or even urban design.  It required focus and an ability to listen to varying viewpoints and ideas without shooting them down (at least, at first).  The results were rarely less than stunning.  

Unfortunately, few design budgets would allow for such manpower early on, and so the charettes went unpaid. 
A charette during the early schematic phase seemed to be the best guarantee that a client would get something wonderful in the end; yet, it was seen as an extra extravagance. In my mind, a charette is rather like trying a bit of diplomacy before going straight to war: ALWAYS a good idea.

Future Architects

So what is it we are teaching future generations of architects? I hope it's not just the ability to stand tall in the face of verbal abuse, but the ability to explain and expound our ideas and ideals. 


It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world.  It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”  -- L.R. Knost


Zero Waste

Boy Scout Patch, image courtesy of Wikimedia
Is it a good goal to have "zero waste?"  I hate goals that are unattainable.  We have a goal in our home to have less waste: to consciously choose consumables that don't come with extra packaging, or that come only with packaging that can be recycled.  Also, we try to be less consumerist in our behavior.

Funny, with Christmas coming up, huh?  But what if gifts were experiences, like tickets to a park, the zoo, or for a visit?  What if they were handmade?  What if they were trees that could grow in our yard?  It's something to consider.

Some people don't think zero waste is an unattainable ideal.  Check out this project featured at Sunset Magazine.

Net Zero Energy

NET ZERO = Producing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines.

This is a fantastically cool idea.  Of course, with enough money, anything is possible, right?  Bill Gates can probably afford enough solar panels to provide enough electricity for his enormous mansion-home, right?

Illustration courtesy of University of Wuppertal, B+TGA via Wikimedia

But that's not the point.  The point is to FIRST REDUCE CONSUMPTION.  And even though I admire those people who can just do without, that's not me and I'm pretty sure that's not most of us.  However, with the right BUILDING SCIENCE, buildings do not need to consume as much energy as they do.

"Greater building efficiency can meet 85 percent of future demand for energy in the United States." -- U.S. Green Building Council

What, really?  This is true for new buildings and to a lesser degree, renovated older buildings.  We know so much more than we did just 30 years ago about keeping buildings comfortable and healthy.

After a building's energy needs are minimized, it is a small (not all that expensive!) thing to provide enough energy to meet those needs.


p.s. I like the doggie Zero from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas; but, unfortunately he has nothing to do with this post.


Women in the Workplace

Women, for the most part, are not seen as subordinate or subservient to men these days.  Don't get me wrong, there are still many challenges for women in the workplace, but that's not what I want to talk about today.  There's plenty written on that.
image courtesy of

What I'm thinking about is what unique perspective or approach do women bring that makes the work and/or the workplace richer?

Just a few:

  • an empathy (perhaps inspired by taking care of many members of a family) for a great variety of client/customer perspectives
  • an ability to tackle multiple, sometimes contradictory elements of a situation as one problem
  • an appreciation for an over-arching quality of life rather than an approach of obsession (workaholic, playaholic, careeraholic)
  • a preference for collaboration; a reluctance for the limelight 
  • a perspective for the big picture
I'm not saying men do not sometimes have these qualities.  I guess I'm saying that if they do, they are qualitatively different than women's versions.

And yet the contribution of women is often glossed over.  Is it because of deference or the curse of collaboration?  Is it because women rarely "toot their own horn?"  Who knows.  


"Mother teaching child" 1881
by Alfred Gilbert
Image courtesy of ketrin1407

I find myself continually wishing that there were room for valuable part-time architects in a firm.  It's rather all or nothing, like many other careers.  But for working moms, there are just not enough hours in a day.  Even when children are school age, there are multiple days off every month, early release Fridays and other days, teacher inservice, and don't forget summer.  Even on a full school day, a primary caregiver would need to be home by 2:30 in the afternoon.  Not exactly a full work day.

And yet....  I feel like (once my children ARE all in school), that I could contribute immensely at about 20 hours a week....a much larger contribution than 1/2 of fulltime.  I would be worth MORE per hour because I could be contemplating a design problem while cooking supper, drawing baths, or cleaning up.  Many design solutions are found just by mulling over them, not necessarily at a desk.  Some of my best ideas come when my hands are busy.

And I find that though I have not practiced architecture in the years since I starting having children, I have continued to learn and grow and expand my architectural skills.... in ways I could not have done if I had continued to be employed.

Women in Architecture

Denise Scott Brown, the lifetime wife and partner of Robert Venturi, was not acknowledged when he (but not she) was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1991.  There is a petition to amend this oversight.  Read about it here in a beautifully written article by Esther Sperber in the fall 2013 issue of Lilith.

Read on, two important articles on women in architecture:

Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity.”  -- Denise Scott Brown



I finally found the tile I've been looking for.

Thirteen years ago, I saw a movie called Chocolat with Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Carrie Anne Moss and many other amazing actors in smaller roles (Leslie Carron!).

It's a lovely, moody film, gorgeously set and beautifully shot, with wonderful music by Rachel Porter. Juliette Binoche and her daughter blow into town and set up a chocolate shop, right before Lent.  I love stories about shaking things up a bit!  This film remains one of my very favorites of all time.

And that shop!  Judi Dench walks in the first time and calls the decor "early Mexican brothel."  And that floor!  It reminds me of what I like about old buildings: handmade, durable, and never without craftsmanship.

an approximation of the
tile from the movie set

I've been looking on and off over the years, and I think I finally found something close in an 8"x8"!
It's at Grenada Tile, out of Miami & L.A.  They're still hand-making their tiles, and their online tool allows you to customize your choice to an impressive degree.

I'm quite pleased with how close it is.  I'm not terribly thrilled about the cost, though.  It came out to just under $20/sf including shipping to Salt Lake City, with a 100sf minimum.  That's certainly more than I planned on spending on a new kitchen floor... but what a floor!

I'm sorely tempted: and with an inspiration like Chocolat, I shouldn't be surprised.


P.S.  Did you know that this shape is called an "octagram?"  Who knew?


History of the Home

I watched a great BBC documentary on YouTube called History of the Home, based on a book by the eminent & witty curator/hostess Dr. Lucy Worsley, "If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home.”

There are four episodes, one each on the

The program's breadth is from medieval times to the present and secondary topics included the changing roles of women, pre-industrial housekeeping & hygiene methods, the results of various taxes on what homes looked like… wow, I am making this seem very dry.  It’s actually highly entertaining!

Another History

I then watched another on women called Harlots, Housewives & Heroines (Restoration Period) that's really good, too.  I'm enjoying the segment called "at home" better than the one called "at court," because the court ladies were salacious!
She's witty, hip, is great on camera, and can breathe life into historical subjects.  Well done.

this one is on the Tsars



I was reading this Forbes article on America's history of recessions.  This quote stood out to me:

Steve Jobs.  Image courtesy of
Matthew Yohe via Wikimedia Commons.
Gilder showed that the problem [of a struggling economy] has always been a lack of supply.  And here’s the key: not a lack of the same supply; rather, a lack of a new, inventive and entrepreneurial supply that meets consumers where they live and takes them to new heights.  Focus on the supply-side entrepreneurs, who will deliver these goods, not the demand side, said Gilder."  
-- George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty 

And another:

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
-- Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25 1998


The architectural design ideal is a building that is both timeless and timely; both universal and client-specific; born of its site and its program, a memorable place.

The problem: WHO'S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?  The number of potential clients who can afford the luxury/risk of trusting an architect to give them this ideal are few and far between.  Clients will instead deliver a laundry list of stuff along with a budget and then try to bargain for more expensive finishes than they can afford… because that’s the model they’ve been given.

What if we could “show it to them” not just with plans and sketches and models in a language they do not really understand… but with the language of architecture?  What if we could give them a walkthrough? 

Would a virtual walkthrough do it?  A completed building "model home" like developers do? A high-end store at the mall?  I don’t know.  Just sayin’.



It's somewhat ambiguous, but the definition of affordability has to be related to income, right? Income as well as other debt & ob...