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February 2007
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April 2007

Redfin: find, buy & sell homes online

Redfin is a real estate listing service with an integrated blog, which gathers neighborhood information, maps, photos and other information on a particular for-sale property all into a nice neat package. They bill themselves as "the industry's first online real estate brokerage," and brings the whole web 2.0 package to MLS listings. And unlike customer-hostile realtors and newspapers who hide MLS listings behind layers of logins, security measures and other barriers to a halfway decent customer experience, Redfin puts the listings themselves right there in front of you, to browse and bookmark and share as you see fit.

A recent listing in their San Francisco Bay Area section shows a small, attractive, and - as usual - ridiculously overpriced bungalow in one of my favorite Berkeley neighborhoods. Unlike other real estate tools, though, Redfin is much more upfront and honest about pricing, forgoing hype for honesty; they point out that $602 per square foot is just short of criminal, and present alternatives like this more expensive overall but only $396 per square foot home with a beautiful view just up the hill.

Long Beach realtor shows off her community

Laurie Manny, a Long Beach realtor specializing in older homes and historic neighborhoods, has a nice rundown of those neighborhoods / historic districts on her Long Beach Real Estate blog. The directory includes neighborhood boundaries, a survey of historic home styles in the area, general neighborhood description, maps and plenty of photographs. There's also a sort of reverse-directory by house style - for example, if you are looking for a tudor revival home, it'll be in Belmont or California Heights or Bluff Park, but if you want a Streamline Moderne home, it'd be in Bluff or Drake Parks or Wilmore City.

It's nice to see a realtor with a genuine interest in community history!

beautiful necessity: avoiding trendiness for simplicity

Simplicitybookphoto Sheba Wheeler, a writer for the Denver Post, recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Minneapolis architect Sarah Nettleton, whose recent book The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough "argues for need over trends." Basically, she's pushing the continued integration of the basic tenets of the Arts & Crafts movement into contemporary architectural design and redesign.

Nettleton's basic mantra, or "six paths to simplicity" are:

1. simple is enough;
2. simple is thrifty;
3. simple is flexible;
4. simple is timeless;
5. simple is sustainable; and
6. simple is refined.

These bear a remarkable similarity to Edward De Bono's ten rules of simplicity, which certainly do need a wider audience, especially in the world of design - whether it's graphic design or house design. His own book, Simplicity, should be read by all architects and everyone planning any kind of new build project.

an excerpt from Wheeler's article:

Writing a book wasn't on Sarah Nettleton's to-do list.

But when Taunton Press came knocking, Nettleton pushed aside her drafting software.

This 30-year architecture veteran caught the publishing company's attention after winning national praise from the American Institute of Architects for her simple-living aesthetic.

Here, Nettleton shares her theory for getting more out of life with less, which is outlined in her new book, "The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough."

Q: How do you define simple?

A: In conversations I had with my editor, we kept coming back to defining simple by what it is not. It's not a style, it's not a location, not a city or county or price point.

I went to a different place within myself, to a time in my childhood growing up in New England. My father loved the idea of pounding a nail straight, of reusing a nail he'd taken out of something else instead of driving to the hardware store to get new nails. Each person has that opportunity - whether they are remodeling something in their current house or doing a new house - to (determine) what they need and what would really delight them, as opposed to "here's what's in style, we'd better just do that."

photograph by Randy O'Rourke for Taunton Press

house blogs in the Sun

Our friends Jeanne and Aaron Olson of the Houseblogs empire are (part of) the subject of a recent Vancouver Sun article by Shelley Fralic on houseblogs. (Unfortunately, they didn't bother to link any of the sites to the article, which pretty much ignores the entire point of the Internet.):

For those who spend weekends stripping layers of paint off balustrades, or ripping up linoleum in dank bathrooms, there is an odd vocabulary that comes with restoring an old house.

It has to do with money, and energy, and having both sucked right out of you, to the point you start mumbling wistful phrases like "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger" and "no pain, no gain."

It's the kind of experience that, as most old-house renovators know, is best when shared.

And these days, there's no better place to spread that sweet misery than through an Internet blog.

By way of definition, a blog is a contraction of the words web log. By way of popular culture, blogs are unedited stream-of-consciousness diaries, personal and very public, an on-line spillfest of emotions, opinion and subjective information.

A good blog, of course, is like a good conversation. You have to work hard to find one because, like much of the nonsense on the Net, a blog can be a slog.

Except if you're an old-house junkie.

Because then it doesn't much matter.

All that matters are the details being shared by the DIY blogger, from the diaries to the before and after photos, from the Q&As to the impossible projects, from the vendor lists to the advertising links to old-house hardware and restoration companies.

The renovation blog is the new hands-on seminar, an intimate, honest, real-time encyclopedia of the triumphs and defeats of restoring a period home.

foreclosures mounting in Detroit, Michigan

our friend David forwards us this sad news about the possible upcoming loss of many fine bungalows in Detroit:

There is a current meltdown of foreclosures in Detroit, Michigan. Some bungalows are selling for $20,000 or less; here is the auctioneers website.

I'm afraid at these bargain-basement prices and the exodus of renters who can't find jobs, many out-of-state buyers might chose to tear down the houses and sell the salvaged materials. Or whole neighborhoods could be bought cheap and torn down for future development.

if you live in Wisconsin, turn on the tube tonight

The always-dependable Douglas Anders notes on his Frank Lloyd Wright Newsblog that there will be two good FLW-related documentaries on Wisconsin Public Television this week, one tonight and one Wednesday:

Expo: Magic of the White City is on tonight at 8pm. I saw this documentary a few months ago and it’s not bad (despite the cheesey historical re-enactments). Some of the photographs and other images are jaw-dropping awesome — including some of the Japanese section (the Ho-o-den) that so influenced Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo will air Wednesday, March 21 at 7pm. this hour long documentary follows the friendship of Wright and Darwin Martin, and the buildings that they built in Buffalo. This is worth watching, but I thought that it was too short — an hour isn’t long enough to do justice to the three buildings Wright build for Martin (the brevity of the Larkin Building segment will make you weep). But it is still a good effort, and great introduction to this aspect of Wright’s life.

what makes a neighborhood - new building or older, well-kept homes?

A good column from John Canalis in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He explores two very different points of view on the increased property values in Long Beach's Belmont Heights neighborhood - one, that new development (McMansions, mostly) drive prices up, and the other, that the better-constructed and much more humble Craftsman and Mission Revival bungalows built there in the 1920s sustain prices and make the neighborhood what it is. As Belmont Heights explores ways to keep its character and at the same time allow folks independence in what is built and how, they come up against many of the same challenges that other historic review boards and permitting bodies have faced over the years.

"Gorgeous" is the word Curtis Watkins chooses to describe his neighborhood's newer homes.    

"I consider what is happening in Belmont Heights progress," he says. "The property values are just skyrocketing."    

But Elizabeth Lambe prefers the Craftsman-era houses of the 1920s and 1930s. She believes it is the older homes, not the newer ones, that sustain prices.

"I grew up in Orange County and moved to Belmont Heights because I really loved the look of the neighborhood and the lovely historic homes," she says. "And I think it's important that we preserve that because it's part of our history."

Just as it transformed Belmont Shore, the Peninsula and Naples, "mansionization" - a growth of houses 3,000 square feet and up - is changing the Heights, where homes a third to half of that size were once the norm on many streets.

ZIP Code 90803, which includes the Heights, is the most expensive in Long Beach, with a median home price of $850,000 and plenty of properties in the $1 million to $2 million range.

Well-heeled owners, buyers and speculators often want - and can afford - more room for children, home offices and entertaining than a two-bedroom cottage can offer.

Critics say the new homes, sometimes constructed in Mediterranean, Tuscan and contemporary "box" styles, clash with the lines of original Craftsman, Spanish, Storybook, Tudor and Victorian homes. They complain that the manses dwarf their homes, shade once-sunny gardens and give the nosy a perch to peer into backyards.

Billings MT seeks Craftsman homes for annual home tour

Planning for the Billings Preservation Society's annual Heritage Home Tour is under way, and this year the tour will feature homes in the Craftsman bungalow tradition.

If you have such a home and would be interested in participating in the tour, please call Paul Whiting at 406.252.5646 as soon as possible.

The tour will be on May 12, preceded by a panel discussion on May 10.

The panelists will discuss the history, care and restoration of homes built in this tradition.

The Billings Preservation Society promotes historic and cultural preservation activities in our community.

courtesy of Gazette News Services

Greene & Greene Influenced Bed


Take a look at this beautiful bed! The very strongly Greene & Greene inspired design is originally by Gary Rogowski, but this example - in cherry and walnut, finished with hand-rubbed oil and wax - was made by Paul DeWitt in Colorado. It sells for $2775 (king) and $2600 (queen).

Take a look at Paul's other work at his custommade gallery and on his own website.

Jackson / Klauber home restored in San Diego

Thomas Shess has a nice article in San Diego magazine on Graham Downes' remodel (more a restoration and updating, really) of the 1910 Train-Williams Jackson / Klauber home. There are some small photos, also, but unfortunately San Diego doesn't include larger versions so you can really see some of the detail of this beautiful home.

“MY ARCHITECTURAL STYLE EVOLVES so quickly,” says architect Graham Downes, one of San Diego’s top hospitality designers. “I didn’t want our home to be one particular style. Then in 10 years I’d have to move because I was no longer happy living with that mood.”

So what did San Diego’s leading 21st-century minimalist architect do to remodel one of San Diego’s first great homes of the 20th century? First, he didn’t do anything alone. The revamping of their newly purchased 1910 Jackson/Klauber home is a “we” effort of Downes and Tracy Borkum. ...

Ninety-five years later, the clean stucco lines designed by Los Angeles architects Train & Williams remain contemporary, as do many of the homes built by the firm’s contemporaries, Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright and Pasadena’s Greene brothers. Downes and Borkum did little to alter the exterior, and passersby will be hard pressed to see any modernization of its wisteria-covered pergolas and Craftsman- style perimeter fencing. A design necklace outside is the surrounding frieze molding under the eaves, shaped as a Greek key. That pattern is repeated throughout the house and its grounds.

“Overall, we improved the interior functionality of the home by asking the termites to leave and by wiring and lighting the home with the latest high-tech wizardry,” Downes says. “As for the interior woodwork, we caught a break. The red mahogany in the paneling, wainscoting, moldings, frames, doors and windows remained fairly pristine. In fact, if there was damage to the woodwork, we did it—and had to quickly repair it.

“Of the 118 windows and doors [facing the exterior], we redid them all. We replaced what was broken and refurbished what we could to the period.”

Don't Fence Me In, part 2

One of the burdens facing historic-home owners is how to choose fencing that matches - or at least doesn't visibly clash with - the architectural style of their home. This can be more difficult than it seems, especially if you don't want to break the bank; a good landscape designer or carpenter with an eye for historic architecture can match details in the house with custom work, but we don't all have thousands of dollars to spend on a project like this (although a professional - someone like Peter Kirsch-Korff - would be happy to build you a fence, arbor, deck or gate that would certainly be more beautiful and sturdier than anything from a kit). The right fence, as Charles Smith notes in his 2005 San Francisco Chronicle article on the subject, can - paradoxically - draw neighbors in, and make a neighborhood's overall aesthetic character even more consistent, rather than working to compartmentalize a block. Such fences can also be "functional works of art."

There are some ready-made pieces, kits and packages out there, but a lot of times you'll have to be a bit more creative, gussying up a standard design with small details to reflect aspects of the structure's design - sheathing post-tops in copper or using a decorative finial, for example, or mirroring the house's lattice or lintel work with a small add-on. In some cases, a simple minimalist fence will allow an arbor or gate, picked specifically to match a feature or features in the house, to really shine. Lights - post lanterns or even something on the ground - picked to match outside fixtures on the house are also a great and relatively inexpensive way to tie the house, yard and fence all together.

And of course if you're handy and you've got the tools - and the time - you can just do it yourself. But be careful - if you haven't done this sort of job before, and if your property isn't perfectly graded, you might be biting off way more than you can chew.

Whatever you do, don't forget to investigate permits and local guidelines governing landscape design first, or you could be in for a rude surprise. No matter how much you know about the historic character of your home and neighborhood, there's sure to be someone in the city who thinks they know more and who claims to have more interest in the overall character of your neighborhood than you do.

A few miscellaneous links:

for sale: Stickley Bros. sideboard, $4200

O2cntamvue2yuj0reg2uy6a2wxna reader Jen Orsini forwards us a Craigslist advertisement for a signed Stickley Bros. sideboard with mirrored backsplash. The "'Quaint' Furniture" label is visible and in good shape, and the piece looks to be in wonderful overall condition from what I can see in these small images. The piece is located in Santa Ana, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Call Tom at 714.319.0505 if you are interested in this pretty piece of furniture.

this weeks' Craigslist finds: Northeast edition

Lots of good stuff out there for those of you seeking a bit of refuge from the frozen wastes in zealous consumerism. Look at all of these goodies!


  • slat-side Stickley cube chair: $1200 (North Jersey)
  • sturdy-looking, simple low dresser: $350 (Washington DC)
  • antique armchair, interesting motif: $300 (NYC)
  • Stickley rocker: $500 (NYC)
  • Stickley Harvey Ellis design bookcase: $1095 (Albany)
  • Stickley Prairie settle: $995 (Norfolk)
  • pretty and simple antique desk: $150 (New Haven)
  • spindle-back storage bench: $399 (Syracuse)
  • oversized slat-back rocker: $75 (Erie)
  • antique drop-front secretary: $125 (Western MA)
  • neat little Mission plant stand: $45 (Boston)
  • attractive high-grain antique sideboard: $300 (Boston)
  • wiiiiiide oak bench: $225 (Boston)
  • antique side chair with green seat: $120 (Boston)
  • library desk: $200 (Brooklyn)
  • signed Limbert settle: $1800 (New Hampshire)
  • slat-back rocker: $125 (Philadelphia)
  • library desk & side chair: $145 (North Jersey)
  • sturdy (looking) green leather Mission sofa: $1100 (Ithaca)

lamps & fixtures

  • square blue & green hanging fixture: $150 (North Jersey)
  • contemporary Mission style ceiling-mount lamp: $20 (NYC)
  • new outdoor Mission style lamp & post: $140 (Baltimore)
  • set of four hanging pendants: $20 (Catskills)