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,

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,

if I wanted to work in London

all photos courtesy

This is where I’d start my search. dRMM. Their buzzwords are innovation, collaboration, environment, uniqueness. And, among many other remarkable and award winning projects, their talented team created a house that slides. Tell me you don’t want to work with this amazing group as well. I wonder, would they let me bring my dog to work?

The house is a close collaboration between client/builder and dRMM. Due to it’s rural location and stringent planning requirements, the team created a building that fits the ‘farm’ vernacular in both color and shape,but has a surprising modern twist: the main building is a glass house with a wooden exo-skeleton that slides over it to provide privacy and weather protection. The house is all electric, and the owner has installed a wind turbine to provide needed electricity.

Have an inspired week….keep in touch,

Edison lamp redux!

photo courtesy venus opto

photo courtesy venus opto

The water is off on my street today, so I called my friend Jane to see if I could pop over occasionally to use the loo and maybe grab a drink. She’s English….that’s why I’m popping and loo-ing. So I was over this morning and noticed she had a lamp in her bathroom light fixture that I hadn’t seen on the shelves. Here I am back home in my own dry house researching this very interesting lamp and lo and behold it is an LED version of the much hated Edison lamp!

I found a few styles, most made in China so far, but very interesting indeed! Color temps as low as 2700k, CRI over 80, no heat sink, 50k hours…am I dreaming? Oh happy day!

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I even found a decorative fixture that is really modern and rivals the coolest of the simple, hanging Edison lamp. Can I take 3?



It’s a good day indeed!

where I live

my house, circa an hour ago

my house, circa an hour ago

the Brunner house, circa 1935

the Brunner house, circa 1935

15 years ago we bought the ugly duckling house on the beautiful block. All we saw was the charm and potential of our little Victorian.  Based on what little bit of research I’ve done, our house was probably built in the 1880s by two young Irish brothers named McElnay.  The original footprint was a single story 4 room house.  It probably didn’t have much of a kitchen, and the potty was out back.  It was built simply in the style of the time, but simply at that time included plaster walls, beautiful wood trims and moldings, and high ceilings with ceiling medallions. Before we bought it, the house was added to and remodeled so that what was once a 900 square foot home with a wrap around porch grew to nearly 1800 square feet.  Not big by today’s standards, but definitely big enough for us.  Between 1880 and 2014 we believe that 4 families have lived in our house.  First the McElnays, then the Brunner family, before us the Kahlers, and finally my family.  The earliest photo I have of the house is above, from about 1935 when the Brunners owned the house.  See the cobblestone street?  Grandpa Brunner was apparently very proud of his roses and grew them in both the front and back gardens.

During and after WWII the house was subdivided and most of it was rented out to servicemen. We have found 3 different locations for kitchens during the course of our renovations.  Grandma Brunner lived in the front bedroom at one point and used the closet for a kitchen (I presume her husband had died).  Sometime during their tenure much of the wraparound porch was enclosed to create a sunroom on one side and a closet on the other.

this is one of three doorways that has the original trim

this is one of three doorways that has the original trim

But back to the ugly duckling part.  When we bought the house everything was pink, the windows were all aluminum framed, the 12′ ceilings were dropped to 10′ and a step and wrought iron railing were added in the living room.  The fireplace was gone (presuming there was one), there was vinyl flooring and shag carpet everywhere, and the beautiful wood trims had all been removed and replaced with 3″ flat oak trim.  Apparently the family before us was enamored with the tract home style of the 60s, and I don’t mean the cool designs of people like Eichler.  So over the course of 15 years we’ve moved a few walls, remodeled every room, updated systems, replaced windows and tried to fix what was ugly and broken.

the the beige/pink laminate everywhere?

the before….like the beige/pink laminate everywhere?

The final room (and it’s really silly that it’s the final room since it’s the room we use the most) was the kitchen.  We began that remodel in late 2011.  I’d done a virtual remodel at least 2 dozen times (tearing down a wall in Autocad is much cheaper than it is in real life).  We settled on a plan and our god-like general contractor came and executed it. Unfortunately my dad got ill mid-remodel and we took a bit of a hiatus before being able to finish.  Last year Steve and I finally installed our tile backsplash to finish (well almost….I still need to add undercab lights) the project.  Now I have a beautiful kitchen to go with the rest of our once again adorable Victorian home.

And I’m going to enter it into the This Old House reader remodel.  Once I take some photos with something besides my iPhone, I’ll upload them.  Suffice it to say there is no pink.

Keep in touch (and enjoy the California rain),