Architectural Digest and Me

Architectural Digest in the Mail - A Dramatic RecreationYesterday I received my first issue of Architectural Digest. Rob Lowe was peeking out over the other (junk) mail, inviting me into his newly designed home. And the cover noted that we would also be visiting a host of other well-known celebrities. Exciting! I had flipped through issues at the library before, but never truly read the magazine … what would I find inside?

Before even reaching the table of contents, it was already clear that I am not in their target market. The advertising was a dead giveaway. Cadillac, Breguet (appears to be a watch brand, though may also be a jewelry boutique that has their own brand of watch), Restoration Hardware (the new updated version that I completely don’t understand), Chanel #5, Clive Christian (furniture), David Yurman (watches), American Airlines, and GIA (Gemological Institute of America). Luxury brands, and not my usual fare.

So that’s kinda disappointing – not a good start for my new subscription. We like to try out new magazines periodically and know that there are going to be both hits and misses. And since they all come for free, well, using random airline points that will never add up to a free ticket, it’s really not a big deal when one fails. This one was not off to a good start.

Moving further into the magazine, the photography really stood out. We have a real appreciation for quality pictures of homes (as most buyers do too after looking through listings for any length of time), and the Architectural Digest pictures are exceptional. The photographers framed the shots well, properly lit the scenes, and paid attention to the details that can really help a picture. The homeowners also deserve some credit since the Editor-In-Chief noted that they don’t do any staging on the shoots – it’s just the photographer.

The articles were well written, but I struggled to stay engaged. They’re a mix of insight into the lives of people you may (or may not) know and discussion of the design process. I found myself skimming through the prose to get a sense of the subjects’ human side, while skipping over portions about their design aesthetic. In thinking about why, I decided that design is so personal that it’s really difficult to get me (and others?) interested in someone’s process. Even though I’ve only gone through a design exercise and project on a much smaller scale than these people, I feel like I understand how it works and am most interested in the result. Perhaps if I had not had an experience of my own I would have read the stories more closely in hopes of gleaning some insight.

The photos are definitely the highlight of the magazine for me. I’ll look forward to seeing the architecture and decorating ideas that arrive on my front porch in the coming year, even if it does mean flipping through page after page of luxury items that I don’t aspire to ever own. Well, maybe I could be convinced to invest in some Bang & Olufsen speakers one day … just don’t tell Amy.

A New Home for Steve Jobs

Will the Bulldozers Roll onto Steve Jobs' Property?Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and technology visionary, has a gift for designing things. People have been going bananas over Apple’s various portable devices for the past decade, and he is credited with many of their important design principles.

Although gadgets are fun, we’re more about the real estate on this site. And this news piece definitely caught our attention – Steve Jobs is going to be building a new home! And the site plans are available on the internet!

The story of this property is too long and complicated for us to fully understand the details, but there seems to be two interesting themes – historic preservation and design.

Jobs bought the estate in 1984, lived in it for a while, rented it for a while, and let it sit vacant for a while. The existing structure is a 30 room Spanish Colonial Revival mansion with 14 bedrooms and 13.5 baths over multiple structures on 6 acres. Although Jobs has wanted to demolish the home for years, local preservationists have successfully intervened on the property’s behalf, working to either save the structure or move the home to a different site. In 2006 someone made their way onto the vacant property and took these pictures, which show significant neglect. There seems to have been rulings in favor of each side, with the most recent victory being for Jobs when the preservationists dropped their lawsuit seeking to prevent demolition. At this point, the demolition is on.

The other interesting subplot is about what the new home will look like. Jobs has the resources to build anything he wants, so what will it be? Conceptual plans for the new home were submitted to the Woodside Town Council, and they have reached the interwebs. I haven’t found images that I can zoom in on (please post a link in the comments if you find some), but these small images and the accompanying commentary give a good flavor for the space. The basic conclusions of those who have studied the plans in detail are that Jobs is sticking with the clean, simplified aesthetic popularized by Apple products. Also, that he won’t be throwing large parties at his house, it’s designed more as a peaceful retreat than a showpiece property.

Jobs has won the most recent battle with the preservationists, but will it be the end of the war? And if he actually follows through with his plan, will the final product truly be as restrained as the current plans? Only time will tell.

Creative Use of Small Space in Hong Kong

We see real estate stories about the smallest apartment, house, or whatever all the time. This one caught my eye because it shows an inspired use of a small space.

Gary Chang, a Hong Kong designer, transformed his 360 sqft apartment into an incredibly functional space using rolling walls that appear to be inspired by the moveable stacks often seen at town records departments, and sometimes in libraries. It looks like he put everything that needed plumbing into the outside walls, and must have figured out a way to manage the electric cables, so that he could roll his TV to wherever he wants it to be. Very creative – check it out.

Maple Tree Cabinetmakers: The Josh Winkley Experience

Maple Tree CabinetmakersJosh Winkley, of Maple Tree Cabinetmakers, likes the challenge of designing for a space. And as previously noted, we are design challenged. So working with Josh was critical to the kitchen turning out as well as it did.

From our point of view, the basic process was pretty painless. We told Josh the kinds of things we liked and disliked, and talked about some of our priorities and ideas for the space. He asked a number of questions that we had never considered, and a few that we didn’t really even understand. Our answer to most of the hard questions was simply, “use your best judgment.” It seemed to us that he had a much better chance of doing the right thing than we did, especially since we had seen his previous work.

Every project has its unique challenges, and this one was no exception. There were three requests in particular that felt more important to us than anything else.

1. The Butler’s Pantry: Before the project started, the butler’s pantry was an after-thought at best. A previous owner had added a door that made the space more of an intersection and entryway than the traditional passageway between the kitchen and dining room. We wanted to take it back to closer to what it used to be when the home was originally built. That was really the only direction we gave, Josh took it from there.

2. The Overall Feel: We wanted the kitchen itself to be bright and open and to have a consistent feel with the dining room and butler’s pantry. Ideas for accomplishing this were well beyond out design ability, and we knew it, so we relied on Josh to come up with a plan.

3. The Sink: Early in the process Amy and I visited the plumbing store to pick out a sink. We knew we wanted something large, and were initially thinking a farmhouse style sort of thing. Nothing in the kitchen section made much of an impression. However, there was something in the bathroom section that captured our imagination. It looked like one of the old oversized utility sinks that we sometimes see in the West End kitchens that haven’t been updated … ever. We knew we had to have it and asked Josh to figure out how to work it into the design.

Words turned into sketches, which turned into 3D computer models, which turned into cabinets that appeared in a trailer. Josh synthesized all of that information into a wonderful design that exceeded our (already high) expectations. Now that the project is complete, the site fully cleaned up, and the space back in use as a functioning kitchen, the level of planning and attention to detail is even more apparent.

The conclusion from all of this seems clear – Josh needs more, and bigger, challenges.

Looking Towards the Sink

Looking Along the Sink Wall

Looking Towards the Seating Area

Cabinetry in the Pantry

Plate Rail in the Pantry Matches the Dining Room Exactly

Here are the previous posts about our adventure:
Remodeling Our Kitchen
Budgeting for a Kitchen Remodel
Designing a Kitchen
Our Before Kitchen
Our Temporary Kitchen
A Remodeling Surprise
Our Kitchen Remodel – A Progress Update
Beefy Moldings
It’s Like Magic
Design Help Needed

I Want That!

Orange Bull - I want this too, but don't tell Amy!
Today I saw the best yard ever. Large, level, fenced and sunny, it had everything I look for in a yard. There were flower gardens and vegetable gardens. The patio had covered and open areas – both large enough for a table and chairs. And of course there was an area for the grill. I want that yard.

This sort of thing has happened to me before. One of the interesting aspects of working in real estate is that you see different versions of the standard features. Sometimes the features are basic elements of the property like the home style, topography, or view. These features cannot be reasonably replicated elsewhere. In this case I can’t have the yard unless I buy the house.

Other times the interesting features could be replicated. For example, I could use the ideas of a particularly well done kitchen in a different house. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, but close enough to capture the feel and functionality of the space.

The ultimate in collecting unique features is to build your own home. You get to make all the decisions (not always a good thing) and set the priorities for the design. I’ve always thought that it would be really interesting to work with a professional to design a home that brings together a collection of my favorite features into a single cohesive property.

My home wouldn’t be over the top. It would have relatively common features like a kitchen with built-in electronics, a master bath with heated floors and towel bars, second floor laundry, and an entertainment system with projector in the family room. I would also want some less common features like a rooftop deck, elevator, and rainwater collection system. All of this would be wrapped up into a traditional design with historic elements. I think it could be done, but I would certainly have to save my nickels.

Now if only I could build it on that yard…