Monday, August 29, 2011

Cork Flooring

I love cork flooring.  It’s great under your feet, it’s nice and warm in the winter (even over slab-grade concrete), and you can drop a drinking glass on it and not really worry about it shattering all over your kitchen.  It’s period appropriate, and even the engineered stuff (depending on the style/color) is pretty indiscernible from the rolls or tile that was glued down directly back in the 50’s.

My biggest concern with cork floors was how it would wear with heavy traffic, mainly from a 90 pound Doberman-Rottweiler.  I am happy to say we made it through 3 years with hardly a scratch.  However, when that guy passed away [sniff], and we introduced our new 80 pound Boxer/Pitt love to the home, it’s been a different story entirely.

In just a few months, Luther has torn the crap out of the floor in the entrance (near the door, going around the corner where he runs to our defense upon ringing of the buzzer). [For the record, I believe this damage is ultimately my fault.  Had I kept up with proper maintenance, namely, reapplication of the Varethane as often as I should have, I don’t think this scratching would have happened.  Also, bear in mind that this is from a ninety pound beast with CLAWS sliding around on it chasing balls and running at the door when the bell rings.]


Here is a photo of the cork in our entrance way.  Obviously the “look” of the particular style (“Cassatt” from Lisbon Cork co. ltd.) is a very thin laminate glued to the top of a cork substrate.  The beast has made mincemeat of this thin layer of style.

There is a 25 year warranty on the product, but I assume as with most flooring warranties, the hoops one must jump through to qualify for replacement are more difficult than trying to eat a boat.  I guess I should at least call and see.

The floor has also been severely bleached by the sun, as is clearly illustrated in this photo:


This happened very early after putting the cork down.  This photo is from today, so even the darker part is a little bleached; there used to be even more contrast.

Still, it bleached evenly, and I don’t mind the lighter tone, so considering how much we love the material, I guess we’re ok with it (though I will reiterate that the “style-veneer,” the color/visual texture, isn’t as durable as I had hoped, and may leave some people disappointed).

Eventually we plan on doing the master bath in the same material, and I plan on putting an electric radiant heat mat underneath (I wish I would have done this in the kitchen as well).

Even with the bleaching I still love the stuff, so I would recommend it to anyone thinking about putting cork down.  I’m contemplating a darker style (“Dali” from the same company) for my new studio, but only because there are no windows.  I suppose I might try looking for another, more durable, source, but the prices on this product from Lumber Liquidators are hard to beat, so…

Monday, July 4, 2011

Midcentury Modern House Numbers

This topic has been on ongoing one as long as I’ve been a homeowner and interested in MCM.  House numbers, like so many other things marketed to a discerning audience, seem to cost an INSANE amount of money.

Unfortunately, our most recent address has 5 numbers!  At the low end of the house number price spectrum (around $20 a piece), this means I’ll be paying $100 in  house number hardware.

Design Within Reach carries “official” Neutra house numbers at $50 a piece.  Are you freaking kidding me? Bead-blasted extruded aluminum should cost nowhere near this much.f_13956

The best thing going for a while was Chiasso’s numbers clocking in at $18 a piece.



Here are a couple more from Atlas Home Wares that are at that price point.

This would be my choice:


But here’s a Googie option as well:



Hillman Group 6

Surprisingly, Home Depot has established itself as the clear winner when it comes to affordable MCM house numbers.  When I discovered this information online, I had serious reservations.  Surely these would be “ok” but not “good.”  But after heading to the local HD, I found they are in fact quite acceptable, if not great.  They even come with posts for “float” mounting.



There seem to be a bunch of sites that are more “custom” in their ordering process, but you actually have to CALL the company, and the websites look like they were design around 1993.  That combined with the $20+ per number price tag makes me wonder if they ever sell a number.

diy-modern-house-numbers-cuttingIf you’re feeling handy, here’s a little how to for making numbers for yourself (approx. $20 for four numbers… and if you go this route you could then have the “real” Neutra typeface).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Midcentury Topiary

I am wild about funky shaped bushes outside of midcentury houses.
Some of my favorite shapes are called Cloud, Pom Pom (or Ponpom), The Platter, and Swirl (not so much the Spiral, in fact, not at all).  There are a lot of really great specimens in the neighborhoods of Colorado.  I will try to get some pictures of my own soon, but for now here are a few I found on the web.

Cloud (this is simply fantastic)


The three photos above were taken from the blog “Printer and Piemaker.”  I suggest visiting the site (the link is to anything on the blog tagged “topiary”) to view some great “real life” photos of topiary bushes in San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods.  Thankfully there are no animal shapes –ugh.
The house across the street from us has some really great bushes, that are just kind of amoeba-like in shape.  Eventually I will head over there to see if they’ll let me take a look (and pictures!).  Maybe they’ll even give me some tips.  They’ve obviously been around for decades though (they’re huge!), so who knows how much information they’ll have.
I spent this morning looking for good tutorials (video or picture illustrated) on trimming bushes in the Midcentury Modern style.  You know how many I found?
Exactly zero.
What the what?!  I scaled back my search to simply “topiary,” but most of the tutorials were either Martha Stewart types creating dorky looking table decorations, or people who were really proud of their pig and giraffe bushes.  There was also quite a bit of Bonsai stuff, and while I would love to get into that someday, I just wanna start trimming my bushes.
I have two low lying Junipers, some Sea Green Junipers, and a Golden Tam Juniper that I planted two years ago.  I think they are big enough to start shaping, but I don’t want to ruin them by using incorrect tools, starting the shaping process incorrectly (cutting the branches wrong), or beginning before the bushes are ready (both time of season and overall age and size of the plant).
Here are some photos.
CIMG0938 Sea Green Junipers after planting. CIMG4693 Two years later.

CIMG0956 Old Gold Juniper right after planting. CIMG4702 Two years later.

Some of the bushes have flourished.
CIMG4695 Others have not. CIMG4697 Some really have not.  Colorado can be really hard on plants!

CIMG0953 Of the five boxwoods I planted to create a new hedgerow to mimic the one in front of the windows (see below)… CIMG4701
…only one sad plant remains.  And, mysteriously, cacti have started growing in this spot!

Here’s the nice, mature boxwood up by the house.  It’s pretty easy to keep shaped by simply hitting it with a trimmer a couple times a year.
So anyway… I’m on a quest for topiary instruction, and I hope to start shaping my bushes soon.  I’ll post more photos from houses around Denver and Boulder in the future, and I’ll be sure to share any information I find regarding proper trimming and other tips!

In memory of the fallen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Help Save (by creating) the Andrew Geller Archives

You know those crazy (crazy-awesome!) geometric beach houses from the 50’s and 60’s like the ones pictured below?  Well those were built by Andrew Geller, and currently his grandson, filmmaker Jake Gorst, is trying to raise funds to create an archive and shoot a documentary about Geller’s works.

You can find out more about the kickstarter project and donate to the cause at this link.

More information can be found at

The Hunt House, Ocean Bay Park, Fire Island, NY, 1958
Elkin House, Sagaponack, NY, 1966

Why I Think People are Scared of Modern Houses

[this is a re-posting of an entry I posted on another blog March 31, 2007]
We’re starting to look for a new house.
We are very excited about the prospect of getting into something modern. The modern that we’re looking at getting into will likely be something built in 1958 or thereabout, but modern has existed since the early 1900’s and continues to be built today.
In considering this, we often lament and puzzle over the fact that “100 years later” the vast majority of the world still hasn’t caught on. Why do people insist on living in beige, tract mcHouses? It’s not cost (if done right, modern is actually cheaper, especially when pre-fabrication, meaning elements built off-site, comes into play). It can’t be looks (do people really think the cut-glass in their Lowe’s front door is fancy, although I realize: to each his/her own…?). And modern houses are much more responsible when considering the world and those who live on it (passive heating and cooling, renewable resources, energy-efficient pre-fabricated components, money/energy saving technologies and responsible amounts of square footage are all inherent to modern architecture).
So I think it has to be fear. People are scared to live in a house that they don’t understand. People are afraid to leave “the house they grew up in.”  People think modern means uncomfortable, stark and cold. But I believe that is all because they’ve never had the chance to experience the joys of modern.
When I think of modern, I think of the word “poignant.” Things are done for a reason. And when something is beautiful and poignant, it’s so much more exciting than something that is only pretty (if even that). I admit that I’ve been in plenty of houses where the idea of “modern” has trumped functionality, but personally I think this is irresponsible of the architect (sorry Phillip Johnson and friends).
Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of modern houses that I think are extremely elegant, visual masterpieces even, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in them. Where do I put my rake and shovel? my table saw? my piles of laundry? the pieces of my childhood (Star Wars figures, roller skates and the Animal muppet) with which I simply can’t bear to part?
Modern architecture is a matter of really understanding the person who will occupy the home. And maybe this is where Mr. Johnson is off the hook. He was building the house for himself. Perhaps there are people who don’t have/need stuff, and they can live in a glass house, but I sure as hell am not one of them. I think a lot, if not most, people feel the same way.
ps Phillip Johnson built himself a giant “barn” on the Glass House property, along with a bunch of other buildings, to house his “stuff.” I guess when you’re rich you don’t need rooms; you can have whole separate buildings.
I believe clutter (rather, the fact that it’s “not allowed”) is the biggest issue that scares people away from modern houses. There’s so much openness that requires responsibility which in turn translates to discomfort. Well, I say screw responsibility! There is an easy solution. Just make sure your modern house includes an abundance of storage space (under the stairs, in the basement, in the garage, behind the Noguchi screen, in the Herman Miller wall unit)! When it comes time to organize and clean up, you should be able to simply throw everything that’s “out” into a storage unit, hidden space, separate room, the closet, or bins. You can still have your clutter (which seems to instill comfort in a lot of humans), but it’s not out for all to see. You can have the best of both worlds! Order and chaos.
This idea plays into one of my favorite things about modern: there’s little to no wasted space. You maximize your dollar amount for your sq. footage. You don’t have to have a giant house (somebody please blow up all the mcMansions) to have a lot of space. It’s my addiction to Tetris at an “adult” level. It’s actually fun to figure out where to hide all of my junk, and still have the house look open, clean and uncluttered.
Thank god for Ikea closet systems and storage solutions, especially when you can hide even those solutions out of site (Storage systems in closets? How dreamy).
p.s. Another important notion concerning modern, and one I will perhaps elucidate upon later, is distinguishing between “modern” and simply “contemporary” or “now.” On top of that, the word “contemporary” has grown it’s own connotations over the years, inferring a sort of 80’s style (think deco-based (but bastardized), Miami Vice drug lord beach house). A lot of time the architectural objects that people refer to as “modern,” especially when wandering around Lowe’s and Home Depot, are what I would refer to as contemporary, actually more post-modern, and most often, in my opinion, “bad.” Modern and Contemporary are very different things. Joey’s porcelain greyhound and rain-window fountain reek of Contemporary (do NOT call them modern), and would both be smashed with hammers if brought anywhere near my modern house.  However, I would consider housing a Tiki bar or 1950’s ray gun collection (things often referred to as Googie or Lounge) –but that’ s another story and aesthetic in and of itself.