Archive for November, 2010

Star and Tribune Article

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


Letter to Atomic Ranch

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Ramblers and Ranches

My wife and I, who are both architects, love mid-century architecture and we love your magazine. Many people, including both of use, have grown up in ramblers and ranch houses and still live in them today. Often overlooked as being ordinary and dated, they still function very well for a modern family. They are practical, modern and they were built for everyone. They are the “common man” house. You don’t have to have hired an architect to live in one. You don’t need millions of dollars to own one. You don’t have to be a licensed engineer to reroof one. You don’t have to consult a landscape architect to plant a flower garden in the front yard of one. They are pretty simple houses with open floor plans. This housing stock is still charming after all these years especially since the trees have had 50 years to grow up around them.

We were very excited when we purchased our mid-century house 6 years ago. The house we live in is 1,100 sf. on the main level and 750 s.f. of basement. Perhaps small by some standards, a family of 4 was raised in it when it was built in the 50′s and a family of 4 lives here presently. Our house happened to be designed by an architect and fits well into a neighborhood of ramblers of similar size. It has large glass windows on the south side of the house which overlook a large backyard and garden. We are in the process of restoring the house. We have replaced the e.p.d.m. on our slightly pitched roof, the redwood siding has been sanded and resealed, we added a deck and are planning to add an entrance canopy next spring. Luckily the house was in very original condition when we purchased it, but needed a lot of TLC.

Atomic Ranch is a great resource for the home owner who loves their house. Atomic Ranch magazine can help illustrate what others have done with their mid-century homes. I have had in-home consultations where I have turned the owners on to Atomic Ranch magazine and suggested where the addition might go and never heard from them again. Not even a thank you for the free magazine. I assume they found a builder and did it themselves without my help. I guess I don’t blame them. A couple of thousand of dollars for a few sketches is a lot of money, even though many municipalities require a drawing from a builder or architect. Many owners believe that they are experts in mid-century architecture having read, researched and lived in one for their entire lives. They just need a little help to get from point A to point B. Why should they pay someone to do this for them when they are more tuned in to their own house than an architect?

I think that a good architect can be very helpful to a mid-century client, however. I have drawn up remodeling plans for several small houses. My design approach when it comes to these kinds of houses stems from my personal love, research and experience with mid-century architecture. As an architect, I feel that it is my responsibility, not only oversee the technical parts of a remodel, but more importantly to design with inspiration. With most of my clients it hasn’t been difficult to get them inspired about their houses. Their inspiration comes from the same source of love that I feel toward mid-century architecture. The difference for me, while designing a remodel, addition or new, is the envisioning process. One has to think beyond preserving a home and its mid-century nostalgia. One has to think beyond originality and at the same time enhance the inherent charm. This is not as easy as one might think and can become a very slippery slope. I have seen many successful examples of house remodels in Atomic Ranch magazine, but many not so successful ones where I live. I think that this is where a good architect can really help a client open up to the possibilities of what their houses can become, not only what they are or have been.

I am aware of some of the prefab houses that you have featured in your magazine and the architects that have designed them. I have mixed feelings regarding prefab construction. Architects love to design small, efficient, modern homes for people and prefab is the essential Usonian home. Like ramblers and ranches, prefabs have the potential to provide good housing stock. The attraction of prefab has been that it is seen to be affordable and modern. Unfortunately, I have seen quite a few prefab homes that were neither. Some are inexpensive but poorly detailed and ugly. Some are quite unique but extremely expensive. Sometimes they are expensive and poorly detailed. In these cases, prefab deserves a bad reputation.

In my opinion, if an owner wants to have an unique house, they are better off hiring an architect at some level to help them with the design and finding a good contractor to help them build it. Most people don’t realize that we have been building a sort of prefab or standardized home for decades now. Ray and Charles Eames No. 8 Case Study House built in 1949 in Los Angeles is a masterpiece of standardized and prefabricated design. Houses have been built using standardized lumber, concrete blocks, windows, shingles etc for quite a while. Structurally insulated panels (or S.I.P.s) are available and they are what I like to use. Houses have always been and always will be a combination of prefabricated components and site built components. The key to a successful project, however, isn’t necessarily the components with which one builds. A successful project has to have an open minded client/owner, a creative architect and responsible builder. Hiring an architect is an important step toward that end. Architects are not always as expensive as you might think and most of the time well worth every penny.

How are architects worth every penny? Aside from the knowledge, creativity and design lead that an architect brings to a project, an architect represents the home owner’s best interests. An architect helps owners design and build within their budgets, maximizes floor plan layout efficiencies, coordinates technical and structural issues, oversees the construction and contractors, educates clients regarding products and construction techniques. I think I have saved some of my clients thousands of dollars simply by suggesting less expensive products they could buy for their houses that work just as well and look better than the alternative. Architects really have your best interests in mind and are on your side, whereas others may not.

Specific visual examples can be seen under “Projects” category.