is it right?

all photos/video courtesy donate to their kickstarter here.

all photos/video courtesy Donate to their kickstarter here.

Do we, each of us, have a right to shelter and food?

A friend of mine uses a Martin Luther King quote as part of his email signature. It seems especially poignant right now as we weather a social climate that is exceedingly animus.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to social ills that include race relations, economic challenges and religious non-understanding, there are those among us that need help with the basic human needs of shelter and food. As a society are we obligated to provide these basic human needs?

Marcin Jakubowski thinks that making home and hearth more affordable, and less resource intense, is not only do-able but right. He is working on an open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible. Along with a host of consultants on everything from energy to compliance to architecture, he calls his endeavor the Open Building Institute. He knows it can work because he has done it. And he believes that you can do it too.

kickstarter link
The idea is that each one of us, either with friends or hired help, can build a home. The Open Building Institute will provide the knowledge: a library of modules and instructions, building materials production facility, training, even a certified builder if you so desire. You begin with what you can afford…could be a tiny starter module with a kitchen, bathroom and loft. As you can afford you add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing food and fish, maybe a separate bedroom, perhaps another bathroom and a library or office. The home is made from CEB (compressed earth blocks) from on site soil, uses solar panels for energy, hydronic in-floor heating. The home operates off the grid and grows as finances and needs change. No mortgage (unless you mortgage the land), no power bills, lower grocery bills.

I’m 100% in favor. Yes, I do believe that we all have a right to shelter and food. And we also have a responsibility to work toward that end. If you want to support the Open Building Institutes Kickstarter you can be part of this solution. Donate $20 and get a book laying out the OBI method. Donate $500 and you can participate in a 5 day build and learn all the nuts and bolts of this system.

In case you were wondering, I have no connection to Marcin Jakubowski or Open Building Institute. This project was forwarded to me by a mutual friend, Nat Turner, who you may remember hearing about in Parti* Notes.

Keep in touch,

food tv


Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, the Galloping Gourmet and Martin Yan, those are the chefs I grew up with, the chefs who taught me what I enjoy in a cooking show. Current food television offers a much wider variety than days past, much of which makes me want to run screaming from the room. Kind of the way you’d run from the kitchen of a crazy chef. I’ve worked with chefs who rip phones off walls and throw pots. I don’t want to hang out with them in person or through the TV screen. So if you do enjoy that style of food drama, you should probably click away right now.

If you do enjoy a good cooking show, or entertaining romps through neighborhood restaurants, or info about where food comes from, then stick around. Now that it’s raining in California, and I’ve binge-watched all my current dramas through, it’s time to catch up on food. Check out my list…and send me yours too. Hopefully it will rain for a very long time and I’ll binge-watch my entire list while the drops are still falling, then move on to yours!

restaurant shows

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having: Phil Rosenthal is funny. He’s a writer, an actor (well, he was), a producer and the creator of the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. And he apparently loves food. So he travels the world with his friends (some of whom you’ll know) and he eats food. He’s done shows in Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Los Angeles. He will take you to amazing places to eat good food. And you’ll even learn a bit about cooking.

Check, Please! Bay Area: 3 regular joes and a host anonymously visit 3 of their favorite restaurants then discuss their experiences. Very homey and a great way to stay in touch with the Bay Area food scene.

cooking shows

The Mind of a Chef: How do great chefs think? And what do they cook? Crawl right into their creative brains and learn what real chef-ing is about (and no one in this series will refer to themselves as a ‘celebrity chef’, but they are all the best of the best). David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Magnus Nilsson, Ed Lee, Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch. Brilliance in the kitchen.

Julia Child: PBS release has released a selection of episodes from various Julia Child’s series. It’s a potpourri of Julia and a lovely way to spend an afternoon! Learn, cook, then see if you can do the voice. ‘Chello….Ihhhhh’m Jhooolia Chaaaiild….’

Good Eats: cooking with Alton Brown, well kind of. Alton Brown isn’t a chef. He’s kind of a geekyscientist who applies his mad science to food. And teaches us how to cook things in a really nerdy but effective way.

more food

Food Forward: Food rebels in the 21st century and beyond. I can’t possibly say it better than they do…‘Food Forward goes way beyond celebrity chefs, cooking competitions, and recipes to reveal the compelling stories and inspired solutions envisioned by food rebels across America who are striving to create a more just, sustainable and delicious alternative to what we eat and how we produce it. Created by a veteran documentary film making team led by Greg Roden, Food Forward explores new ideas of food in America as told by the people who are living them. Each episode will focus on a different theme–school lunch reform, urban agriculture, sustainable fishing, grass-fed beef, soil science–and spotlight the real people who are creating viable alternatives to how we grow food and feed ourselves.’

Enjoy our rainy weather and happy watching…

Keep in touch,


small is the new big

small is big

Small living has been getting bigger and bigger the last few years. Between slim wallets and the growing interest…and let’s be honest, dire need…to build more sustainably, the mcmansions of the last century seem to be falling out of favor. Can we all say hallelujah? (Any excuse for a little Leonard). When designers and architects are faced with constraints, it allows opportunity for some pretty impressive creativity. Four of this year’s AIA award winners for small projects are featured in FineHomebuilding and include the Fall House, designed by Fougeron Architects, along my very favorite stretch of California coastline. The three bedroom vacation home sits on the land quietly, following the natural curves of the site, and is wrapped in glass to honor the beauty outside. And to add my own bit of love to the story, it is near enough to Esalen to run on over for a quick tub in their natural spring fed hot tubs (that is if you tire of that awesome built-in glass tub).

And for the rest of us, small is growing as well. There are ‘tiny house’ blogs and websites, and it seems that every couple of months there’s another news story about a family downsizing and simplifying. Karen Baumann and her two large dogs live in 460 square feet in Marin County, one of the country’s most expensive areas. She says that living small allows her to spend less time cleaning and organizing and affords her more time and money for the things she loves like entertaining and traveling. Micro-apartments are also becoming quite the rage, especially in the most expensive cities around the globe. Curbed has a column dedicated to micro-dwellings which seem to get smaller and smaller. The smallest they’ve listed so far in San Francisco is a mere 200 square feet (that rents for a whopping $1275 per month). And in Paris these micro-apartments get even smaller. Architect Julie Nabucet’s 129 square foot apartment includes an elevated kitchen above a bed/couch in a drawer, linens that tuck away and a tiny bathroom.

This is a bit too small for anyone with, say, clothes, but somewhere between the 129 square foot apartment and the 2600 square foot average home size, is the right house for most of us who are trying to simplify and live within the means of our limited ecosystem.

I’m off to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for their quarterly night out….have a great night and keep in touch,

home: my prefab story

Welcome to my new garden office! Overall I’m very pleased to have such a sweet place to work, but the process was not what I expected when I ordered ‘prefab’. It’s been a long ‘5 day’ build getting the office completed and has been fraught with incorrect shipments, missing parts and not always quality workmanship. I did learn a lot and offer my newfound knowledge to anyone contemplating this process for themselves.

research your manufacturer

The photographs are great, but they won’t show you the details or explain the process. Interview people who have purchased from this manufacturer and look at several of their installations (if they are available locally…if this is a big project then travel to see installations). Talk with at least 3 previous customers and ask questions both about the quality of the finished product and about how the process went. Did everything arrive as expected and on time? Did installation take longer than expected and if so, why? What will be delivered from the manufacturer and what will be purchased locally? What parts of the building are built in the factory and what is built on site? How well did the installation team communicate with the customer? Was scheduling spelled out and adhered to? How were problems handled?


A large out-building or a residence will of course require a permit. If you are looking at a smaller out building, don’t be sold by the prefab company on a ‘permit free’ sized building. Talk to your local building department and tell them what you are planning….in detail. Find out whether a permit will be required, what type of permit(s) will be required, and what the submission requirements are in your jurisdiction. DO NOT rely on information you find on your building department’s website. Permitting could affect timing as well as the design of your building. If you are not versed in pulling building permits this may also require the help of a local designer or architect. This extra time and expense must be considered as part of your building cost. My 120′ outbuilding with electricity required a full submission (meaning I had to draw a full set of plans and drop them off at the building department for full review) and required several weeks and incurred significant permitting fees.


Understand the design of your building before you purchase. Ask for the manufacturer’s standard construction details and review them, or have someone you know who is versed in construction review them. If the manufacturer can’t provide construction details for walls, roof, millwork, etc. and specification sheets for doors, windows, lighting, hardware and other accessories, don’t make your down payment until they can provide these standard details and specifications. At this point in the process the manufacturer won’t be able to provide details specific to your project, but they can and should be able to provide you with whatever is standard. If you want something customized, discuss in detail the customization and find out how it will be handled. Is this something that will be done in the factory? Will it be customized in the field? Who will be responsible to oversee the customization and how is it communicated?


Most of the prefab manufacturers tout their ‘green’ products. Find out what they mean by green and how much they really know about building sustainably. Much of this process is hidden from the consumer so you must rely on the manufacturer’s disclosures. Although the manufacturer I went with bragged (mostly appropriately) about their ‘green’ product, I realized early on that their knowledge of sustainable construction was limited. I wanted my building sited to use to best advantage passive solar principles, something that confounded the manufacturer until the building was constructed and they saw the wisdom of the siting. In order to accomplish this I had to flip the design of the building and relocate the door to what they considered the back of the building. Don’t presume that the manufacturer knows a great deal about sustainability beyond the products that they integrate. If this is important to you, ask questions to determine how much the manufacturer knows. You may want the help of a local designer or architect who has specific knowledge in sustainable practices to be involved.

site preparation

If you are responsible to prepare the site, understand what options exist and the costs involved. Is a slab required? What size? Will your building be set on sleds? Hire a general contractor if necessary to get the work done. If a building permit is required, site preparation will be part of the building permit and details will be required of the manufacturer. This information will be required early in the process. Schedule the work to be done in time for delivery (I know….I probably don’t need to say this).

5/8/14 update:  Don’t you hate it when you wake in the middle of the night remembering something really important but too tired to do anything about it? Yup, last night. Power! Your outbuilding will likely require power, possibly a data line, maybe plumbing. It is critical that you understand what the building itself requires to function and also what you need to perform whatever tasks you plan for the interior (and exterior possibly). This information will go into your drawing set (if permitting is required), and at the very least will need to be communicated to your general contractor as part of site preparation.


Once your order is placed, ask for a schedule to include expected delivery and length of installation. Keep in touch with your factory or sales contact to verify that the project is progressing as expected through the factory and find out what is expected of you at the site. Get the installer’s name and contact information. Ask to be contacted by the installer and schedule a pre-meeting (by phone is fine) so that you understand the process.


Expect to spend more time than you expect to spend on the site during construction. There will be questions as with any construction project, but if all of the prior steps were followed they should be minimized. You will need to have an area cleared for storage of the un-built building. Plan for that ahead of time. The installers will need power to run their tools. Pets and children will need to be managed and kept safely away. Hopefully all the parts and pieces will be delivered correctly and on time. If not, your installer should be able to correct the problems. Just in case, make sure you have the name of the person that you can contact to follow up. If you are responsible to provide any finishes or accessories (I provided my own light fixtures and flooring), have it on site when the building arrives. Review the work that’s been done every evening and if you see something that doesn’t look right, say something immediately. Work should not continue until you are satisfied. Be very stubborn on this point! And hopefully, if they promise you a 5 day build, you will have a 5 day build (I’m past one month and still waiting for a few items to be finished). But better is should take longer and be done right than meet schedule and be poorly built.

I hope you find this information helpful.  Feel free to pass it on, ask questions, send me pictures of your prefab….,
LeslieOLightingOpad Sales

good houses

I don’t read the online magazines that feature opulent houses with overdone window treatments and too many pillows on the sofa. I read the online magazines that talk about the future of design and architecture. That includes building small, building sustainably, and building smart. Check out these three homes.

Origami House

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TSC Architects designed this home in what looks like a Japanese suburb. The website is in Japanese, which unfortunately I don’t speak, so I have no background on the house. But what strikes me is the opportunity that a design like this provides for using passive solar techniques to minimize power needs. Siting the home so that the main exposure is to the south, (if you live in California…check your location for best practice ;)) and protecting the windows with extended eaves accomplishes several things:

  • it minimizes summer cooling needs because the hot summer sun is high in the sky and does not reach the protected windows,
  • it increases winter heating when the sun is low in the sky and shines through the wide expanses of glass, therefore decreasing the need for artificial heating,
  • it allows light to penetrate into the house through the many protected windows reducing the need for artificial light.

All images courtesy TSC Architects.

A Recipe to Live

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Another project in Japan, Materia found this one which is built at Waseda University. The home is self heating as a  result of walls that continually compost, keeping the home at an even temperature year round. And the house is continually making black gold for the garden!

All images courtesy

Tower House

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Built on a small, steep, tree covered lot in Portland, Benjamin Waechter designed this home to go up rather than out to minimize environmental impact. The home is also wrapped in corrugated steel with rounded corners to minimize the additional need for trim at square corners. A beautiful light filled home on a difficult lot…proof that constraints can encourage greater creativity.

All images courtesy Architectural Record/Benjamin Waechter/Lara Swimmer

Happy May Day!

biomimicry…the beginning of the story




noun: the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.

Our planet and its organisms have been growing, creating and evolving efficient life systems for over 3.8 billion years. The science of biomimicry studies and models man-made processes after these biological systems. The term biomimicry seems to have been coined sometime in the 1970s (perhaps around the time of the first oil shortages when I remember sitting in long lines of cars with my dad on our designated day waiting for our turn to get gasoline) and has rapidly grown in usage since 1997 when Janine Benyus published her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In the last decade the study and use of biomimicry principles has grown exponentially and architects and designers are learning to look first to nature for solutions.

In the desert of Lima, Peru an engineering company, Utec, developed a billboard that pulls water from the atmosphere and purifies it for consumption by the locals. Kind of sounds like a beetle in the Sahara (you have to watch the video above to get the connection). Click on the photo for the story.


photo courtesy

Nature knows….we just need to pay attention. I’ll keep you posted on projects that I find inspired by nature. In the meantime, check out asknature. It’s an awesome creative resource and a lot of fun too.


seven generations

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

~Great Law of the Iroquois


Earth Day is April 22.  I’d like to respectfully suggest that we take the law of the Iroquois into our own hearts and start again. Let Earth Day be a new beginning of doing at least one more thing (or one less thing, depending on the thing), that will benefit those who come behind us. Here are a few suggestions.

Consider one, or all, of these 22 eco-conscious habits.

Up the health of a school. Start or join a project for Green Apple Day of Service.

Wear nothing new.  Or take it a step further…buy nothing new (except consumables, duh).

Eat slow. One of the markets I shop in lists the distance that their produce travels to get to their shelves. Buy produce that travels less than 500 miles…that way you know it is in season.

Take out your lawn and plant a garden. Cultivate it with your children, friends, neighbors…spread the wealth!

Have a great weekend….sending some special love to my sis today,


just coffee, no plastic please

Coffee should be simple. I’m all about simple, especially first thing in the morning. But simple and lazy are two very different things.  I don’t want to mention any names, because there are quite a few of them, but lazy is taking over the coffee world. Simple is water poured over coffee. Slightly, and only slightly, less simple is heating the water first. Lazy is turning on an electric machine, putting in a very environmentally unfriendly plastic container with crummy coffee in it, setting a cup underneath, and superheating the water to drip through the plastic container into the cup.

Simple yields a delicious cup of coffee that harms the environment very little (depending of course on your beans). Lazy yields a marginal cup of coffee similar to the instant coffee you might find at a cheap motel.  And its been dripped through plastic so who knows what else is leaching into that cup. So why are Americans buying these machines in record quantities? And why are we willing to spend up to $50 per pound on bad coffee to use in them? Lazy is a powerful motivator.

I’m sure I don’t need to list all of the reasons why using these popular machines is a bad idea for the planet, human health and personal economy. We all know this already, don’t we? I’d rather be positive and offer a few alternatives that don’t include machines (other than the hot water kettle….and even that is dispensable if you cold brew). So I’ll briefly outline the alternatives here, and if you are a total coffee nut and want more info, I’d suggest you see when CoffeeCon is coming to a city near you. Or get Kevin Sinnott’s book The Art and Craft of Coffee.  He’s the ultimate expert.

Pour Over

If you're set on one cup at a time, try pour over. Buy yourself a plug in kettle (the most energy efficient way to heat water), give it 60 seconds to heat your cup of water, set your reusable filter on top of your favorite mug, and you'll have coffee in about 4 minutes.

If you’re set on one cup at a time, try pour over. Buy yourself a plug in kettle (the most energy efficient way to heat water), give it 60 seconds to heat your cup of water, set your reusable filter on top of your favorite mug, and you’ll have coffee in about 4 minutes.

French Press

Put the coffee in the press pot, heat your water in the aforementioned electric kettle, pour the water slowly over the grounds, let rest a few minutes, press the grounds to the bottom of the pot and pour off the coffee. If you want a single serving buy a small press pot.

Put the coffee in the press pot, heat your water in the aforementioned electric kettle, pour the water slowly over the grounds, let rest a few minutes, press the grounds to the bottom of the pot and pour off the coffee. If you want a single serving buy a small press pot.

Stovetop Espresso

Easiest way to make an espresso. Tiny pot, beans ground very fine, fill the reservoir with water and put it on the stovetop. You have one hot and happy cup of espresso.

Easiest way to make an espresso. Tiny pot, beans ground very fine, fill the reservoir with water and put it on the stovetop. You have one hot and happy cup of espresso.

Not Stovetop Espresso

Now this is fancy and you'll have to watch the video.

Now this is fancy and you’ll have to watch the video.

Coffee Straw

Really. You should try this if uber simple and uber earth friendly is uber important. Again, you'll have to watch the video.

Really. You should try this if uber simple and uber earth friendly is uber important. Again, you’ll have to watch the video.

Cold Brew

Apparently there is quite a cult following for cold brewed coffee. Who knew? I like my coffee hot, so you'll have to take someone else's word for the fabulousness of this method. Put your grounds in the pot. Fill the pot with cold water. Cover the pot and refrigerate for a day. Then pour the coffee through a filter. (You can even use your press pot for this)

Apparently there is quite a cult following for cold brewed coffee. Who knew? I like my coffee hot, so you’ll have to take someone else’s word for the fabulousness of this method. Put your grounds in the pot. Fill the pot with cold water. Cover the pot and refrigerate for a day. Then pour the coffee through a filter. (You can even use your press pot for this)

So there you have it.  Coffee that’s tasty and simple and doesn’t create its very own landfill.

Happy sipping!

my friends are so talented

Since we are on the topic of awards, the Northern California Chapter of IIDA just announced the winners of their tenth annual Honor Awards. A couple of my friends were big winners and their projects are amazing.

Studio O+A

Primo Orpilla and I went to college together in Silicon Valley when it was still young. We graduated from San Jose State University in 1988. Primo went on to open O+A with his wife, Verda Alexander. Together they’ve changed the look and feel of the Silicon Valley of our youth….the offices of that day tended to a lot of very sad beige. O+A won two prizes last week at the IIDA award ceremony.  They won the ‘Work Medium Honor Award’ for their project for Open Table in San Francisco.  And just to prove that the world is tiny, the structural engineer on this project was my buddy Bobby Vaziri of Vaziri Structural Engineering.

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O+A also won the ‘Work Small Merit Award’ for Giant Pixel in San Francisco’s Mint Plaza.

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EDG Interior Architecture + Design

My friends Cindy Kupka and Catharine Tarver collaborated with the rest of their team on Elena and Pony Line at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires to win the ‘Anywhere But Here Honor Award’.  When I worked at EDG a few years ago I had the luck and pleasure to work with both Cindy and Catharine….both talented designers and so much fun to work with!

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what do biorhythms have to do with silicon valley?


photo courtesy and my biorhythms

Two of my biorhythms are down today.  It’s one of those ‘I just feel crappy and I want to go back to bed’ days so I went online and checked.  Yup, physical and intellectual are down, but at least emotional is up.  So I can laugh.  Around May 17 it’s even worse, so you’ll want to give me a wide berth.  But come the end of May it’s party time in my world!  When I was in high school, my math teacher, Mr. Headley, installed a computer that filled a classroom.  He created a program that told us all what our biorhythms were doing.  My math teacher was also Steve Jobs’ math teacher.  I lived in a world of super nerds amongst apricot and cherry orchards that would eventually all be razed to create Silicon Valley.  And raze they did, then they built it all up.  And unfortunately, not in a very nice way.  The last orchard was levelled about a decade ago, and in its place yet more concrete.  Probably another parking lot.  Silicon Valley was designed around cars, not people.

can this

can this

and this

and this

become this? photos courtesy

become this?
photos courtesy

I’m not the only one who left Silicon Valley as soon as I was able.  Silicon Valley was another name for the area around Santa Clara, where all of the tech companies were building their headquarters.  But it has sprawled east, west, north and south from there, and one concrete town bleeds into another.  The young tech crowd, while still a nerdy bunch, have a different ideal for environment than the techy nerds I grew up with.  And they don’t seem to want to live in this concrete jungle.  They all want to live in San Francisco.  And let me just say that San Franciscans aren’t all that happy about it.  It’s kind of like the way the Arizonians and the Texans feel about their border crossers. But saying ‘go back where you came from’ isn’t working when all that money is changing hands. Now San Jose, a town that wasn’t even part of Silicon Valley originally, has a 30 year plan that hopes to change all that.  Fast Company has done a really interesting story on the urban future of San Jose.  Can a city built around a deliberate suburban framework reshape itself to be a more compelling urban environment? San Franciscans can only hope it can, and it will.

Here’s hoping all your biorhythms are up!  Keep in touch,