Dreaming of Unusual Houses

1920px-Pod_house_detail _Perinton _New_York

In 1999, the producers of an unscripted TV series called House Hunters had the idea that people like to look at houses. Over 20 years later, it turns out they were really onto something. Sure, we like the human drama of somebody trying to pick a place that meets their needs, but we also like to imagine what our lives would be like if we were the ones moving. 

Bloggers have theorized that our love for looking at houses springs from the following:

  • Curiosity: It killed the cat, sure. Or at least, that's what we were told. But we like to see how other people live, what other houses look like, and so on.
  • Vindication: One blogger called it the “need to feel better about our own houses.” Why? We may never have the chance to live in our dream home. But seeing other houses can help us better appreciate our own.
  • Decorating and landscaping ideas: Looking at photos and videos of other people’s homes can often inspire us to do something a little different with our own.
  • Ideas for home sellers: One of the most common real estate tips for sellers is to stage your home. This doesn’t always mean getting rid of all of your stuff and bringing in rented furniture. It can be as simple as trimming your lawn, cleaning your gutters, and putting a wreath on your door. Watching a reality show in which potential homebuyers view properties can help you get a feel for what looks good to buyers and what doesn’t.
  • Ideas for homebuyers: Buying a home isn’t something that happens to most of us very often in our lives. The process can intimidate us, but it may help to watch other people do it on TV. Perhaps shows like House Hunters give us a realistic look at home shopping; sometimes, the exact house we want simply doesn’t exist. 
  • The need to dream: Sometimes, it's important to have dreams, and one of those dreams is to live in a different house than we do now. Maybe you dream of a mid-century modern oceanfront home in Malibu. Or maybe your idea of paradise is a cabin in the woods. Dream, dream, dream away.

Occasionally we like to look at celebrity homes. We wonder: How do millionaires and billionaires live? But other times we like to look at strange, unusual, eccentric homes. It stirs something in our imagination. To that end, here are a few of the most interesting homes listed on the market from around the internet.

Enter the Mushroom House – Pittsford, New York

Perhaps the most interesting home of all is something called The Mushroom House. It has captured the imagination of vicarious-living-seeking onlookers since the 1970s. It seems that every few years it gets new attention from the press.

The Mushroom House is an elevated pod-style home that looks, frankly, as though visitors from outer space landed in the woods and decided to build a house. But in the best way possible. 

It's part spaceship, part yurt, and part sculpture, and it’s located near park land, complete with streams and waterfalls. The house was designed in 1969 (duh) by a local architect, who conceptualized it from a stem of Queen Anne’s Lace. The original owner wanted a space that provided artistic harmony with nature, and you have to admit that she got it. 

Located in the greater Rochester area, the Mushroom House has been called “hobbit-esque,” a “rare and premier art icon home,” “retro-modern,” an example of “organic modernism,” “that ’70s house,” and “far out and groovy.” In 2017, it was listed on the rental market for $6,900 a month.

Looking for a unique, one of a kind, out-of-this-world home of your own? Find someone in your area who specializes in such properties! For house and land packages officer, you need to speak with Carlisle Homes.

partnered post • cc-licensed image by Daniel Penfield

Things You Should Consider If You Want to Build a House


Many people dream of building a house to completion. There is that satisfactory feeling of building your home from the ground up. Good things tend to have a story behind them. It is fair to note that there is a long process involved in building a home, and you must be ready to experience it. There is a lot that comes into play when building your home. Those who might be doing it for the first have a lot to learn. It is unwise to get into something without at least learning a few things to expect. Luckily, you are going to learn some useful tips on what to expect when building a house here.


Before doing anything, it is essential to make a plan. The process of building a house should not be taken lightly. You need to understand that there is a lot you need to consider. Many people tend to make the mistake of not planning. Those who construct a building while making changes and adjustments along the way tend to regret it in the end. You need to get your plan going before doing anything else. The plan should include everything to be done until the house is completed. You should begin by looking at the plans that might interest you online. Doing so will help you create a reliable and effective plan. To make a great plan, you should consider seeking advice from an expert in the field. For an expert opinion, you should visit this website and make your home-owning dream come true.

Budget for More

Unfortunately, money tends to be a crucial issue when it comes to building a house. It is essential to prepare yourself financially before embarking on the project. Most people who build their homes tend to spend more than they initially planned, and this is because many items tend not to be included in the initial budget. They may include electrical cables and furniture. The prices of things like timber may increase. It is wise to have more money on hand in case you need it. Those who don't budget for more than they expect to end up getting frustrated when they can’t meet the demand for more cash.

Choose the Right Builder

The builder you choose will determine how your house will look. Picking a builder for the project is one of the most crucial decisions you will make. It is essential to choose someone with a great personality. This is crucial because you will have to communicate with the builder for a long period as the house is being constructed. Before choosing a builder, it is critical to ensure that the person has good credentials and also make a point of checking his or her past work. The style of the house you intend to have will also determine the type of builder you choose. A good way to find a builder is to ask your friends or other people who have successfully constructed quality houses.


The process of building a home is not always easy. Make sure to consider the tips above when you are building your home.

partnered post • cc-licensed image by Bob Dass

Ursula LeGuin’s gorgeous Berkeley Maybeck home for sale


From the listing:

Located in North Berkeley among architecturally significant homes and prominently sited at 1325 Arch Street, this 5-BD Swiss Chalet-style house was designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1906, a true architectural jewel. Shielded from the street, a wisteria-covered arbor greets you as you enter. Filled with the brilliance of its heritage and the beauty of natural materials, it has been restored with exceptional attention to its lustrous originality while blending modern features and amenities. Spaces for gathering and other rooms for private contemplation blend throughout. Redwood interiors, wraparound balconies, private flourishing garden, & magnificent views to SF, Golden and Bay Bridges & Mt. Tamalpais. The feeling of union with the environment can be experienced throughout. The suppleness of the wood, anchored with copper nails, can best be appreciated as the sun flows in through the many windows and doors. The flourishing garden offers a private portal to flora & fauna of surrounding lush landscape.

Anyone know who updated the wood? Parts look more modern, although they certainly match Maybeck’s original interior & intent. Looks like it could have been Kip Mesirow or another Berkeley woodworker of a similar aesthetic & high level of skill.

Interview: John Connell

InspiredhouseIn a few days, we'll be running a complete review of John Connell's excellent new book, Creating the Inspired House. However, to whet your appetite, I'd like to share a short conversation I was able to have with Mr. Connell earlier today (or rather, a few questions I was able to ask him through his publicist). Connell's experience with and insight into residential architecture and home design are reason enough to take a look at the new book, but I think you'll agree that the in-depth home profiles & wonderful photography make the new book really stand out - but you'll have to wait until next week to read the full review.

Until then, I leave you with Mr. Connell's excellent comments - read on...

Continue reading "Interview: John Connell" »

Domestic Building Work You Need to Get Right the First Time


Any type of domestic building work is expensive. You have to pay for services, materials and other expenses that mount up during the lifetime of a construction project. There are certain parts of a construction project that are more important than others. Once you’ve identified them, it’s vital to ensure that high quality materials are used and the standard of workmanship is top notch. If not, serious problems can occur in the future. These are some of the most important construction-related tasks you need to get right first time, and why it can be so important to use a reliable firm with real world experience, like Sacramento, California’s A+ Construction & Remodeling.


The ground beneath a new building, extension or renovation project has to be solid and secure. If it’s not, the whole building you construct can be affected and result in a wide range of structural problems down the line. The creation of a foundation of any building should be supervised by an expert such as an engineer. The materials used to create a foundation should be of a high quality, so that the building created is as sturdy and secure and possible.


The roof of most homes is one of the most important features. It’s even more important in places that experience extreme weather conditions. For example, if the place you live in gets heavy rainfall, you want to be certain your roof does not leak and let water into your home. Roofing a home is an extremely specialized skill, learned over many years. This means you should only use the services of established, reputable roofing companies who will ensure that there are no problems in the future.


Most homeowners take electricity for granted. However, this is an important feature in the majority of modern homes. Electrical faults can have devastating consequences for everyone in a home. This is why it’s important to hire an electrician or electrical company who will safely and professionally wire your home.

Plumbing and Heating

One of the biggest concerns in homes is problems with plumbing. Burst pipes, broken heating systems and leaks are just some of the problems homeowners face. Calling out a plumber on a regular basis is expensive. Poor quality plumbing during the initial construction of a property is often the cause of these issues. Once again, hiring a plumber or plumbing company that provides a top quality service will prevent problems in the future.

Windows and Doors

Windows and doors serve many important purposes. They provide security, make a home more comfortable, let in light and increase the energy-efficiency of a home. However, not all windows and doors achieve all of these things. Some are made from substandard materials or they’re poorly constructed. In other situations, windows and doors are fitted badly which compounds the problems associated with these features of a home. Choosing high quality window and door manufacturers and installers ensures that these features will remain in your home for a long time to come.

The features above are the main parts of a home you need to get right first time when you’re constructing a building. Once these features are dealt with, you can start to address the other features in a building.

partnered post • CC-licensed image by tpsdave

Asilomar restored!



Celebrated as Monterey Peninsula's "Refuge by the Sea," Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds has been restored to its former glory. Preservation architecture firm, Page & Turnbull, played an important role in the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall and the Mary Ann Crocker Dining Hall. 

Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall

In this building, Page & Turnbull removed alterations that were not agreeable to the original design and restored the configuration of spaces in the building to be as close as possible to Morgan’s original layout, while improving its functionality. Restoring the Registration Area and rebuilding the hall’s historic Tearoom returned a sense of harmony and order to the Social Hall. In replacing the non-original existing flooring in the Social Hall, the size and grain pattern were matched to the original oak strip floors. Highlighting the ceiling structure and illuminating the room’s beautiful redwood trusses are replicas of the original wall sconces and historical chandeliers produced with a lighting manufacturer. Stains and varnishes were tested on the new redwood boards in the walls and, where possible, many of the existing boards were reused and salvaged. 

Crocker Dining Hall

In this building, a visual connection was created between the historic dining hall and the servery, and the building’s commercial kitchen was completely renovated. 

Asilomar Background

The Pacific Grove retreat was originally designed by Julia Morgan, the first female architect to be licensed in the State of California. The grounds were founded by the YWCA as a young women’s leadership summer camp in 1913 and has been part of the California State Parks system since 1956. A National Historical Landmark, the 100-year-old site features the largest collection of buildings designed by architect Julia Morgan, who embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement. 

You can learn more and book a room at Asilomar online.

Dream Home Dilemma: To Build or Not to Build?


TV programmes like Grand Designs have seen people around the country taking on the challenge of building their dream homes. As a result, more and more people are custom designing their houses, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t do the same. If it sounds like something you fancy getting your teeth into, here are a few things you need to consider, whether this is your first time building – young dot-commers addressing their quarter life crisis, for example – or even if you’ve gone through the process before.

Learn from Other People’s Mistakes

The first step is to talk to other people who have been through the process of designing and building their own homes. Getting to know the problems they faced and whether their budget was accurate will help you with your own project. You might even decide that a self-build isn’t for you, but either way, having the advice of someone who has experienced it will be invaluable.

Utilise Your Skills and Contacts

Are you proficient in a certain trade or do you have a family member who could help out with some of the work? Any practical tradesmen you can rope in to save cash will be a huge help, so start thinking about your options. If you’re a builder or know somebody who is, you’ll probably be able to do a lot of the work yourself and will already have the equipment.

If you work for a construction company, ask if there’s any old or broken excavating machinery you can take off their hands to repair with Scot JCB parts & spares. Utilising your existing contacts can be one of the best advantages you can have when it comes to building your own home, so think about who you can rope in to help before you start budgeting for builders and architects.

Budget, Budget, Budget

If you’re a Grand Designs fanatic, you’ll already know that most self-build projects cost far more than expected. Your budgeting needs to be tight and you need to have enough spare cash to rescue anything that goes wrong or pay for extra materials. To get some idea on how much individual aspects of the build will cost, check out this guide to creating a budget for your project.

Building your own home will be stressful, it will be difficult, but ultimately, it will be worth it. Not many people get the chance to build their dream home from scratch, so if you’re in the lucky position of being able to do so, you’ll end up with the perfect house that you and your family will spend many happy years in.

partnered post • CC-licensed image by Jeremy Levine

How to Create a Modern Bedroom


Note: this is a guest post and consideration was received for its publication. Creative commons licensed photograph by Jeremy Levine design.

If you are tired of looking at your outdated and even traditional-style bedroom, you may be interested in revamping the entire room and turning into something unique, beautiful, and modern. If you are thinking about a modern makeover for your room, you should always look for modern ideas for your room beforehand. There are tons of images that you can find online to get the inspiration you need to turn your room into something magnificent. In little to no time at all, with just a bit of effort, you can completely transform your bedroom.

Get Inspired

Grab a modern bedroom magazine and get inspired. You can look around at all the different and creative ideas that are pictured in the magazines. Of course, this does not mean that you have to copy exact ideas. However, pictures can help you to become inspired on the type of modern theme you want to have for your updated bedroom. Aside from looking at magazines, you can get your inspiration from just about anywhere. A walk in your neighborhood may give you the inspiration you desire for changing your bedroom around and improving its appearance so that it is more modern.

Consider Contemporary Bedroom Furniture

Modern rooms tend to contain a whole lot of contemporary furniture, which includes furniture that you may consider out of the ordinary. There are armories, benches, and even bedroom vanities that are made using different materials. These different products are often shaped with a modern look and feel. You will want to add these accessories to your room to give it even more of a modern appeal. When it comes to bedding, look for down alternatives to get the modern look of down without the allergies. Modus Furniture has become a popular choice amongst buyers looking for modern bed frames. There are many styles to choose from, especially from the different collections that they have available. Check out the collections and determine which meets your personal preference and ultimately has the modern look and feel that you like the most.

Use Modern Colors

Modern colors come in such a wide variety. Brighter colors are commonly being used, which includes bright shades of blue and green, along with shades of red and purple. As you are planning out the customization of your bedroom, you can jot down alternatives for the colors of the walls. For example, instead of painting the walls one solid color, you can choose a solid color and a design. There are many designs that are being commonly used in modern bedrooms. Some of these designs include damask patterns, argyle patterns, and stripes. Adding a splash of color to add an extra touch is also a good idea. As an idea, if you paint the walls a shade of purple, you may want to buy an even brighter piece of furniture. A chair in the room could be lime green and it would still look well in the room.

There are lots of easy ways to create a modern bedroom. It is best to start off with some inspiration, jot down a few ideas, and ultimately go from there. Remember that bold colors are considered quite modern and contemporary furniture has become a huge hit. All it takes is the right supplies, some paint, and a little patience because you will likely be remodeling your room on your own or with the help of a friend or family member.

Frank Lloyd Wright gallery opening


It's a bit off the beaten path, but if you find yourself anywhere near Racine, WI (just a bit south of Milwaukee) you could not do better than to stop at the SC Johnson headquarters, where a new gallery devoted to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright is opening this week. The initial offering - a broad meditation on Wright's most popular Prairie-style work - will run for a year, to be followed by other exhibits focusing on various aspects of the architect and designer's work.

Several buildings at the SC Johnson campus are Wright creations, so you'll want to schedule a tour to see those as well.

Arroyo’s Edge: Greene & Greene interiors 2012


a tour of six Greene and Greene-designed properties in Pasadena’s historic Park Place neighborhood
This coming Earth Day, architecture buffs are in for a Greene and Greene (and green) treat. On Sunday, April 22, 2012, The Gamble House will present Arroyo’s Edge: Greene and Greene Interiors 2012, a rare opportunity to visit six privately-owned properties designed by Charles and Henry Greene between 1902 and 1915. Featuring acclaimed architectural features and design by the masters of the American Arts & Crafts movement, the five private homes and one private garden will be open for touring along Arroyo Terrace and North Grand Avenue in Pasadena, all within easy walking distance of The Gamble House.
It has been twenty years since a “Greene and Greene Interiors” tour featured the interiors of houses in the historic Park Place neighborhood.  On April 22 from 12 noon to 5 p.m. (last entry 4 p.m.), this remarkably intact enclave of the Greenes’ work – once known as “Little Switzerland” for its woodsy, chalet-style structures – will once again be the focus of a tour to benefit The Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark designed by Greene and Greene in 1908 and operated by the University of Southern California School of Architecture as a public site since 1966.
Thanks to the generosity of six property owners, the Arroyo’s Edge tour will feature: the Duncan-Irwin house(1906-08), the Mary Ranney house (1907), the F. W. Hawks house (1906), the Van Rossem-Neill house (1903-06), the Louise T. Halstead house (1905-15) and the James Culbertson garden (1902-14), and will give participants a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Greene and Greene interiors that are rarely, if ever, opened to the public.
tour details:
date: Sunday April 22, 2012
hours: noon - 5 pm (last entry at 4 pm)
general admission: $85 per person; $50 for children under 12
member admission: $75 per person (to join Friends of The Gamble House visit gamblehouse.org or call 626.783.3334 x16)
Off-street parking is available to ticket holders. We regret that these private homes and gardens are not wheelchair accessible. Visitors should plan to wear sturdy walking shoes.
proceeds benefit The Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark in Pasadena, CA
about The Gamble House: Built in 1908, the Gamble House is the most complete and best-preserved example of the work of renowned Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene. The Gamble House is an internationally recognized National Historic Landmark in the style of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Owned by the City of Pasadena, the Gamble House is operated by the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
The Gamble House is open for public, docent-led, one-hour tours Thursday – Sunday, noon – 3 pm, closed on national holidays. For more information, visit gamblehouse.org.

photograph: Exterior detail from the Duncan-Irwin house (which is part of this tour). Photograph by Alexander Vertikoff.

Tree Kindergarten

At the Fuji Kindergarten in Japan, Tezuka Architects created a unique environment that, as a tool for learning, promotes freedom of movement. "Ring Around a Tree" is the extension of an existing kindergarten that consists of a wood and transparent glass volume spiraling upward, enveloping a Japanese Zelkova tree. The project creates spaces for play and foreign language instruction, while also providing a fun area for the children to wait for the school bus.

read the full article at mymodernmet.com

Pasadena's Bungalow Heaven in Photographs

Pasadena, like Santa Barbara and a few other communities in southern California, has a very large number of beautiful, well-preserved Craftsman homes. Home to several Greene & Greene masterworks, the town also hosts an annual Craftsman Heritage Weekend (this year's just ended) which is always worth a visit should you be in the area.

With its combination of typical Southern California sun, wide streets and the overhanging canopy of huge old trees, Pasadena is also a photographer's heaven. Here's a little gallery I'm in the process of building on Flickr.

Chicago Bungalows

In November, I'll head to Chicago for an annual 4-day trip with my father and uncles. We're all big Craftsman fans and fans of interesting American architecture in general, and would love to take a tour of, say, an interesting architecturally-significant neighborhood and/or a few Frank Lloyd Wright homes, or other buildings of note. Any particular suggestions for tours or groups we should contact?

Hume Castle in Berkeley, California

note: article updated with new image & details Screen shot 2010-10-06 at 12.42.27 PM

2900 Buena Vista Way in Berkeley, California is home to a rather unique property, one which many local residents don't even know about given its location on a hillside high above street level and the fact that it's almost completely shrouded in olive and pine trees.

Originally built in 1927 for Samuel James Hume and Portia Bell Hume - the former professor of theater arts at the University of California and the latter a pioneer in the field of community psychiatry - Hume Cloister was designed by John Hudson Thomas based on a very specific 13th-century Augustinian monastery in Toulouse, France.

I'll try to get some pictures from the inside - maybe the owners have a few photos they wouldn't mind sharing with us. All I know is that the interior details are pretty incredible - enormous wrought iron chandeliers, a deep wishing well, a beautiful cloister, spiraling stone staircases. It sounds terrific!

There aren't many images of the house available online, and not many other textual references either; this fellow lived in the area and writes a bit on it, and includes some maps and pictures; the home sits on a tract of land known as La Loma Park; finally, Hume may have been involved in this staging of Henry VI, which took place on the property. I'll post contemporary pictures if I can find some!

Greene & Greene's Gamble House - in Lego!


Grant Scholbrock lives in Portland, Oregon, and - if these photographs are any measure - is one of the greatest Lego architects of our time. His focus includes architecturally significant and unique skyscrapers in the United States, landmarks across the world (check his photostream for a terrific White House and Taj Mahal), as well as important Arts & Crafts homes.

After his earlier (and beautiful) Robie House model, Grant decided to build a tableaux of the Greene brothers' Gamble House in Pasadena. After Three months worth of work and at least 500 blocks - which included a trip to Los Angeles to visit the real thing (Grant took numerous photographs of various details to supplement the images he found online; this was his sixth trip to visit the building), the piece is finally finished. He's had several requests for various Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and hopes to someday complete a model of the Blacker House, especially if he's able to visit it during the 2010 Pasadena Heritage Weekend.

See more photographs of this project - and many others - in Grant's Flickr stream. And, if you're so inclined, Grant and I would both like to know what you'd like his next project to be - do you have any favorite buildings that would lend themselves to this kind of model-making?

Greene & Greene and Christopher Nolan's Inception

Inception, the new Christopher Nolan film about psychic espionage, includes a number of scenes in an extremely striking, obviously Greene & Greene home. Scenes in a hallway, dining room, kitchen and back yard show off cloud lift cabinet pulls, green ceramic mosaic tile in the kitchen, and Japanese-inspired lamps (and a front door with some very interesting stained glass inserts) that could be made by the Greenes or very talented imitators.

Does anyone know which house this is? It may be right on the Pasadena arroyo, if it is in that city, as the backyard is gently sloped down away from the back porch. I've heard much of the film was shot in and around Pasadena, so that gives a bit more weight to the idea that it's a real Greene & Greene, rather than a set.

out-of-context remodels

It's so sad to see something like this - a very cute, sharp looking bungalow (on the outside), with a horribly anti-Craftsman bath and kitchen inside, which totally ruins the entire Arts & Crafts feeling of the entire place. Why spend all that money on a kitchen that is exactly the opposite of the style of the house? Successful remodels are always in the context of the house as a whole, and don't try to rebel against it.

William Livingstone House, aka "Slumpy"

William Livingstone House

Pictured: demolished in 2007, the often-photographed William Livingstone House - a good example of Detroit's (and especially Brush Park's) long, slow, and ongoing architectural apocalypse. Incidentally, the house was the first commission by eventually very well known architect Albert Kahn. Photograph above is uncredited and was passed on to us by Fipi Lele; if you can tell us who shot it, please do in the comments below.

sinusoidal teak door in Surat, India


I'm not usually a huge fan of modern architecture - obviously, given the theme of this site - but the material and the flowing organic quality of this door really struck me. Designed by Matharoo Associates in Surat, India, it is installed in a private residence.

At 5.2m high and 1.7m wide, the door is comprised of 40 sections of 254mm-thick Burma teak. Each section is carved so that the door integrates 160 pulleys, 80 ball bearings, a wire-rope and a counter weight hidden within the single pivot.

Stacked one above the other in the closed position, each plank can then rotate by a simple push causing the door to reconfigure into a sinusoidal curve.

Despite only submitting the door for the competition, the accompanying 1700m² showpiece house features a number of similarly inventive components, including a light-emitting onyx wall, which also caught the judges attention.

Mission Revival home in San Jose's Palm Haven


Lookiloos has a terrific profile on Michael Borbely's gorgeous Mission Revival home in San Jose, California. The tile, beams, fixtures - everything is spot-on and a really nice example of the style.

The stark white house at the end of Plaza Drive in San Jose's historic Palm Haven neighborhood takes you by surprise. It's small in scale, a single story on a corner lot. But its domed tower and decorative parapet across the roofline force you to take a second look.

  This is Michael Borbely's mini masterpiece - a recently completed Mission Revival house of stucco and tile that took years of research to create, plus help from San Jose's Fireclay Tile to reproduce century-old details.

Borbely, 45, is an architectural activist of sorts who spearheaded an effort several years ago to restore the pillars at the entrance to the 1930s Palm Haven in Willow Glen to their original Mission Revival style. So when he was ready for a new project after selling his Prairie style house in the neighborhood, "I looked for the house in the worst condition that had the most impact on the neighborhood." He decided on a tiny Spanish style house for sale nearby in need of a major remodel. He wanted the house to fit into the streetscape and, taking some cues from the pillars and an original Mission Revival house in the neighborhood, decided to reinvent a scaled-down version.

Frank Lloyd masterworks available in lego form

6a00d8341bf72a53ef0115708abde9970b-800wiOur friends at Prairie Mod, always hep to news in the tiny overlapping center of the Frank Lloyd Wright / Lego Venn diagram, have noted two additions to Lego's classic architecture line. Both are Frank Lloyd Wright designs, of course: the Guggenheim model is now on sale for $55 shipped, and Fallingwater will be available soon.

Brickstructures, the folks who are collaborating with Lego and the Frank Lloyd Wright folks on these models, has several other structures available to view on their website, including 7 South Dearborn, the Burj Dubai, the Chicago Spire, the Empire State Building, Jin Mao Tower, the John Hancokc, Marina City, the M.B. Skyneedle, Sears Tower, the St. Louis Arch, San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, Trump Tower and the World Trade Center.

No idea if these others will be available for sale; for most, it's doubtful, given the huge number of blocks

special homes in unspecial places

I got this from the folks at Preservation Directory and thought some Hewn & Hammered readers might be able to help. My own home is the opposite: a very plain, unfortunately much-"improved" Mission Revival bungalow in a neighborhood full of beautiful Victorians, Craftsman highwaters and Mission cottages.

Please contact New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir directly to participate or to receive additional information about the article. Her deadline is Thursday, May 14, 2009.

I am looking for homeowners who love their historic or stunning house, even though it is in a neighborhood that you wouldn't usually find this type of home in. Perhaps the neighborhood has changed from what it was like when the house was built, and now it doesn't really fit it. The house might be next to something unusual like an airport or power plant. Or they are in a neighborhood that was once residential and is now a mall or an urban center etc.

Two caveats: 1) the neighborhood should not be "up and coming", rather a place that is going to stay as it is, but the home buyers love the house anyway. 2) The house is NOT for sale.  These can be recently moved-in residents or long time owners, but no one who is selling the house currently.

I'm looking for people who love their home where others might not give the same house a second glance.  Thanks so much I look forward to your e-mails."

Humphrey House: greening a classic bungalow

The Humphrey House blog details a total, top-to bottom green remodel - keeping many original features but altering the underlying materials and design to make it as energy-efficient as possible - of a beautiful 1920s Chicago bungalow. This is probably the most complete houseblog I've read in a long time. They carefully document every single project (in photos and drawings) - including the little mistakes that we all learn from -  in the seemingly-endless quest to turn this drafty but pretty home into a showcase of modern green technology, techniques and materials.

They are also maintaining a list of trusted Chicago contractors in the sidebar, so if you're looking for someone to take on a modernization project on an older home in that area, this is a great place to start.

Sacramento's Cranston-Geary house

Sacramento Craftsman home

This past Wednesday, I mentioned Sacramento's Cranston-Geary House in passing. An enormous, beautiful, and somewhat unorthodox Craftsman home just a few blocks from my house, it's one of Sacramento's large number of National Register of Historic Places structures and is, from what I've heard, completely restored to its original luster inside and out. I wouldn't mind taking a peek inside and posting a photo gallery here, if I can get around to contacting the owners.

Interesting fact: the architect, George C. Sellon, was California's first state architect - as well as the designer of San Quentin Prison. Thanks to Sacramento Historic House for that tidbit!

Sacramento Historic House

Tracy Doolittle lives here in Sacramento and is just as much a fan of our beautiful old houses as I am. For $300, she'll do very extensive history on your home, finding out a timeline (and biographical highlights) of its past owners & residents, a permit history, the original property or historic neighborhood map, and other information - including, sometimes, historic photographs. She has also written a how-to article if you'd like to attempt this yourself.

A useful service, certainly. Tracy also has a website, Sacramento Historic House, which profiles several representative properties (including the beautiful and enormous Cranston-Geary house, in whose listing she gives a shout-out to us). Several of the most impressive Victorians are already listed, and it looks like she's adding new structures all the time. There's a blog, too, with many recent entries focusing on the historic homes and castles she encountered on a recent trip to London.

"the house that sausage built" on SFgate.com

Cmaidell07_ph11_0498977651 The San Francisco Chronicle's online edition, SFgate.com, has a nice story (and pictures, but I wish there were more see notes at bottom) of Bruce Aidells - of Aidells' chicken sausage fame - beautiful new A&C home. Read the entire article at SFGate.com. (photo by Jeannie O'Connor)

It started innocently enough - Bruce Aidells bought some English Arts and Crafts furniture from an Oakland antiques dealer and designed his kitchen in Kensington around it. Then he began frequenting the House of Orange, an Alameda antique shop that specializes in Arts and Crafts. He might have stopped there, but a fateful invitation in 1996 to visit Berkeley's Thorsen House with an architecturally inclined friend introduced him to the architecture of Charles and Henry Greene, and he was instantly captivated. He befriended Ted Bosley, the curator of the Gamble House, a Greene and Greene house museum in Pasadena, as well as Jack Stumpf, the chief docent at the house, who, as it turned out, was also a sausage aficionado. Soon Aidells was getting the private tour of the Gamble house (whether bribes of bratwurst were involved is unknown). He began to want a Greene and Greene of his own, but realized that to build one properly would require a good deal of money, which he did not have at the time. He settled for immersing himself in Greene and Greene, buying books, visiting other houses and museums, and biding his time.

The opportunity came in 2002, when Aidells sold his interest in the eponymous sausage company he started in 1983. He figures the cost of the house came out to 322 miles of sausages. Finally having enough money in his pocket, he began looking for an architect who knew how to design a Greene and Greene-style house. He eventually settled on Greg Klein of John Malick and Associates, even though the company had never before designed a Greene and Greene house. But it was local, and Aidells felt they would be hands-on. Klein had long been a fan of the Greenes, and says, "Their work is unique, and most people think no one does that anymore."

Editor's note: thanks to reader Ann for noting that the architect's website has many more images of the house; Danielle, with John Malick & Associates, the folks who designed the house, also supplies us with this URL for photos by Healdsburg photographer Jeannie O'Connor.

looking for show homes

Do you have a beautiful Craftsman home in Connecticut, Westchester, Palm Beach or the Hamptons that you'd like to show off in an Architectural Digest style magazine story in large regional & national magazines? If so, please contact me no later than Noon on September 4, 2008, and I'll put you in touch with a journalist who wants to talk to you.

living in a bigger home - without remodeling

Our friend Joel McDonald sends the following dispatch:

Does your house seem too small? There are a few inexpensive things you can do that will make your home seem larger to guests and prospective buyers. This can certainly be an advantage when you are selling a smaller home. You may well like the results enough to reduce the urgency of moving!

  1. Wall Color – Use colors that give a warm feeling such as red, orange and browns. These colors can make a room look larger and more welcoming. To give a room added depth, you might want to try the approach of using light shades on three walls of the room and a coordinated darker tone of the same color on the other one.
  2. Using Light – When your home is small, lighting becomes very important. To make a room appear larger there should be plenty of light to increase an impression of being unconfined. Shine lights on walls so they will look brighter. Consider having controls installed that will allow you to adjust the intensity of the lighting in each room for different times of day.
  3. Minimize the Furniture – Rooms that have too much furniture in them will look smaller. The more crowded a room is, the smaller it will appear. Be sure not to crowd your furniture together when you want to make a room look larger. Avoid putting large armchairs and sofas in small spaces. To maximize space, try to use dual purpose furniture. An example would be a that opens up for magazine or pillow storage avoids the need for space that would be taken by a second dedicated item.
  4. Accessories – The accessories you use to decorate your house have an impact on how large or small it appears. Use light colored curtains to allow light to come in during the daytime. Choose light colored furniture, or as an expedient you can use light colored covers and accent pieces for the furniture, because choosing light colors will usually give a more relaxed, open appearance to the room.
  5. Storage Plan – Having efficient storage is an important consideration in limited spaces. The more clutter in your home, the smaller and less attractive it will look. Select storage systems and solutions that fit your family's needs and lifestyle. When you eliminate clutter, your house will seem more appealing to guests and prospective buyers – and you will be happier there too.
  6. Mirrors Can Add Size – Use wall mirrors in carefully planned locations to give the appearance of depth to a room. There is hardly anything you can do that will be more effective in making a room appear to be larger. Mirrors can be attractive in themselves, and they serve the additional and very pertinent purpose of adding apparent size rather directly to a small room.

These techniques can save you a lot of expense and effort in the necessary task of making it more attractive and marketable. Given all the things you have to do in preparing a home for sale, these suggestions are among the best ways to improve the value of your home as well as simply making it look great.

This content was provided by your Denver real estate experts in Colorado, Automated Homefinder.

world's tiniest violin playing for UK estate owners

Apparently, the descendents of the English super-rich are burdened with the maintenance costs of their rapidly-crumbling estates, and must nibble away at their fortunes - accrued, as one Metafilter commenter notes, "through centuries of feudalism, tenanting and clearances," - just to keep these structures from falling down. And the National Trust isn't well funded to cover the costs of maintaining any but the most "exceptional" properties.

It comes down to the rich looking for handouts while the thousands of historic homes owned and lived in by working people must be maintained on our own dime. "To those who have much, more will be given; to those who have little, more will be taken away" - the key to socialism for the rich, the only kind of socialism we have here in the US, and apparently something the rich require more of in the UK.

Durham bungalow saved from the wrecker

 407 Ottawa in Durham NC was recently saved from death-by-backhoe when neighbors bought off the wrecking company with $900 in cash. Obviously the city doesn't give two craps about historic preservation; at least this neighborhood does.

These people care so passionately about the preservation of their neighborhood, they are willing to personally sacrifice to ensure its viability - a viability that is still threatened on all sides. One neighbor has called up the trustee and offered to pay him $10,000 for the house - primarily to prevent it from being torn down. (I'm sure she doesn't really want another house.)

To be clear, these weren't city bulldozers this time. But the city - council- needs to do more to protect the integrity of the historic areas of our city. This portion of Cleveland-Holloway is not yet a local historic district, although they are working hard to become one.

And that's just it - the citizens, all of whom have jobs and lives to live are required to fight tooth and nail to simply keep the neighborhood they have. The onus is on them, rather than the city making proactive efforts to have preservation be a priority. The departments will say "we can't do [whatever]" - and it's true, because the leadership of this city does not promote historic preservation. My understanding is that the mayor's appointee position on the Historic Preservation Commission has sat vacant for - a year? Members of the council want to eliminate property tax reductions for individual local landmarks. The Historic Commission has been disempowered by a city finding that, if NIS deems a property unsafe, demolition permits can be issued without the consent of the HPC.

Why must citizens like those in Cleveland-Holloway swim upstream constantly to save their neighborhoods? Why is the quickest and easiest way for a property owner to deal with fines from code enforcement to proceed with demolition? Why isn't the city leadership their partner, by creating city policy that protects these resources - rather than making the barriers to preservation ever-harder to overcome?

note: apologies to the kind folks at Endangered Durham for using the image without their permission. It has now been removed.

historic homes in Redlands, California

David Estes, aka Flickr user Cyclotourist, lives in Redlands - a town of about 60,000 near San Bernardino in Southern California. Redlands is not particular noteworthy compared to some of its neighbors, but it does have several attractive neighborhoods chock-full of well-maintained historic homes, including Victorians, Mission Revival and Craftsman - and all sorts of variants, like Tudor, Georgian and Queen Anne - structures. Together with several contributors, Estes has put together a photo pool of close to 150 Redlands historic homes, spanning the full gamut of the area's most popular architectural styles. Unfortunately, the constant encroachment of commercial and industrial structures puts some of the prettiest small homes at risk. I'd be happy living in this one. Or maybe this one, with plenty of work. Just maybe not this one.

beautiful Illinois bungalows slated for demolition

95harrison To make room for gardens and other landscaping around a neighborhood drug and alcohol treatment center, several historic properties in Charleston IL will be razed in upcoming weeks. The homes - 5, 15, 21 and 95 Harrison (see photograph by Ken Trevarthan) - are in various styles, 95 being a brick and stucco bungalow of a type common in this part of the state. The neighborhood is not part of a historic district, so the demolition permit has no reason not to proceed, according to local officials. Neighbors are unhappy that the homes are being torn down - especially the two best looking and most sturdy of the structures - instead of being moved or integrated into CEAD (the Central East Alcoholism and Drug Council) plans. Two neighbors noted that the house at 95 Harrison was the most significant (and furthest away from the planned development), and while they did not begrudge CEAD's decision to legally raze the properties, they did suggest that leaving the building intact would greatly increase the neighborhood's opinion of CEAD and this particular program.

new architecture, new materials, new reading

Even though I'm not interested in living in a modern house, I've always been interested in the new materials that contemporary designers use - many of which are much more environmentally sound than the materials of two decades ago - and I find that there's a lot the old-house scene can learn from the various technological tricks developed by today's architects and designers.

Just as Maybeck constantly experimented with new materials and techniques to maintain heat in the winter and cool in the summer, I think there's plenty of room for old-house remodelers and DIY-types to expand our knowledge from the experiments going on in the various alternative-shelter movements.

There are a jillion blogs devoted to experimental architecture and repurposing of various engineering techniques and materials. Here are a few from my irregular reading list; maybe they will be interesting and/or useful to you:

A&C home gets modern upgrades in Alameda, CA

Picture_1 Zahid Sardar, the San Francisco Chronicle's design editor, is one of the few architecture journalists out there who understands the Arts & Crafts Movement and its importance to the Bay Area.

Yesterday's paper included the following article by Sardar on a recent remodel of Berkeley architect David Burton's 1908 home; visit sfgate.com for the whole story.

Berkeley architect David Burton's 1908 Arts and Crafts house in Alameda, which he and his wife, Jordan Battani, purchased in 2001, had been altered in the shag carpet, avocado green and harvest gold era of the late '70s. Outside, the shingles were painted powder blue.

With new paint to mitigate all that, they made do until five years ago, when they needed more space for Battani's mother, who moved into the 2,700-square-foot home. "It was easy. We felt we are rattling around in a large space," says Burton, 43, whose son was only 3 then.

Burton used to work for Bob Swatt, an architect whose taste for modernism he shares, and so the skylit, eat-in kitchen he and Battani envisioned was to be modern. But, he also wanted it to mesh with their Arts and Crafts home, whose roomy closets, oak floors, dark wood built-ins and leaded glass details are intact.

Anyone who reads this site regularly (OK, I flatter myself, I realize there are only a half dozen of you and my mom) knows that I take a pretty dim view of redesigning old homes in anything but an at least attempted orthodox fashion. However, this is an attractive remodel. For the most part, the materials complement the house's own materials and design, and the architect added light to focus attention more on historic detail, and only in a few cases (such as the removal of dark exposed beams) removed what I consider attractive portions of the original design. All in all, very pretty and very effective.