Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Farmhouse Modern

Many of our clients own old farm houses and love the way they fit into the countryside of the Northeast. These same clients want the interior of their homes to be brighter and more modern than the original farm house.

Recently we renovated a large kitchen and added a bright sun room to an 1800s farm house in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The kitchen cabinets were frameless and painted white with simple but elegant details offsetting the extra thick Carrara marble countertops. Sleek stainless steel appliances continue the theme and provide contrast to the monochromatic cabinetry.

One step out of the kitchen is the new sun room which, besides the multi-paned French doors paying homage to the farm house, feels thoroughly modern. The high ceiling and clean lines make the room feel even more spacious. The antique stone fireplace surround imported from France gives the feeling of permanence and grace.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Universal Design

Few of us pay attention to how we get around in our home until for one reason or another it gets harder to navigate that home. I personally had not given much thought to the fact that my master bedroom was on the second floor until I had knee surgery and found that it was difficult climbing those 13 steps. Luckily for me that inconvenience was temporary and I worked around it with the help of my wife.

Baby boomers like myself are beginning to realize that we are not immortal or immune to the effects of time. Sooner or later we will need to make our living spaces accessible or we will require constant assistance .

As architects, we work with these issues every day. From designing a new home which is fully accessible to a library addition on the first floor which can be converted to a master suite or guest suite by closing a pocket door at the end of the hall. Built in accessibility can be so subtle it is almost unnoticeable unless you are looking for it. Wider doors, spacious bathrooms, grade level entries and curbless showers are a few of the easy features to include in a home where you plan to spend a lifetime.

We designed a home for an 89 year old client and his partner who were both avid gardeners and loved to cook. Although the 89 year old was in a wheelchair, he still wanted to get into and out of his house on his own as well be able to prepare meals and tend to his beautiful flower garden. He also did not want his home to scream handicapped accessible. We listened and designed the first floor of his home so he could work and move around without help. He could easily come and go while tending his garden or help cook a fine meal. He decided the second floor could be for guests.

Options have improved for making a home accessible from pre-made adjustable countertops to less expensive residential elevators, baby boomers have once again changed the way we look at living our lives at home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Compact and Crisp

modern stair

Designed for friends who bought a beautiful piece of land on the side of a hill in Columbia County, this home embodies the phrase ‘Simple can be better’. We were given the mandate to design a small home on a budget, but to also give it style and grace. Another strict requirement was to include a dramatic steel staircase and keep it simple. We always welcome a design challenge and set about our work. In the end, we accomplished those goals and produced a bright and comfortable home well below the average market building cost. While being schooled in modern design, it is less frequent that we get the opportunity to express our modern design credentials. This project both excited and fulfilled our clients and ourselves. small home

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Praise of Cupolas

Small structures on roof tops have a special place in my heart. It was to the belfry (a cupola with a bell) of a renovated 1865 school house that I took my wife Alicia on our first date. We talked about life, watched the sun set, drank a glass of wine and felt like we were on top of the world. Almost three children and 10 years later, I think that belfry must have played a part in my good fortune. cupola

As I drive along country roads it is the cupolas I see first in the distance as they create a jagged skyline above the barns. These are small buildings in their own right perched atop of the roofs of larger buildings. In farm structures their function is mostly for ventilation and sometimes to bring light into the hay mow, but no one can deny that they were put up with thought and care. When you see a cupola atop a barn on a rural road you should look at it very carefully. Often it is the one place where the builders 200 years ago had the opportunity to showcase their design and detailing ability. The barn itself usually needed to be put up quickly and simply so the farm could continue to function. The cupola on the other hand is where time was spent working on the details and having some fun.

The role of the cupola on the roof of the American homes is long and varied. Some of my favorite lanterns(cupolas that bring light into the interior) are on Greek Revival and Victorian homes in the Hudson Valley. Early home designers used cupolas the same way we use them today. They used them to ventilate attics, to bring light into an interior space. They made covered rooms to view the world or protect their precious bell, and used cupolas simply as decoration for their rooftops. When cupolas are designed and placed properly, it is hard to imagine the larger buildings without them.

Lanterns not only bring light into homes, but also give off a warm glow on snowy winter nights that feel like beacons guiding us home.

From the Oxford English Dictionary

Cupola: A rounded dome forming or adorning a roof or ceiling.
Belfry: The place in a bell tower or steeple in which bells are housed.
Lantern: A square, curved, or polygonal structure on the top of a dome or a room, with glazed or open sides.shaker style barnGreek revival

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Small Can Be Big (Almost finished)

small house

Our clients asked us to design a small, energy efficient, comfortable home to replace their existing log home which felt confining and dark. Both we and our clients are overjoyed at the way this 'not so big' house turned out.

For a home with about 2000 square feet of heated living space, there are many surprises including plenty of room. One important design element probably adds the most to the livability of this home: porches. Their site is a beautiful wooded lot overlooking a stream below. Secondly, the kitchen, dining and living spaces flow gracefully into each other, making them all feel larger.
We know we have struck a cord when the contractor, the carpenters and the subcontractors all want to move into the home they are building.

screened porch

comfortable house

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Good Fit

porch design
Have you ever looked at a house and sensed that something about it wasn't quite right? Perhaps it didn't look finished or feel balanced. Was it the placement of the windows? The pitch of the roof? The size of the porch? It's not always easy to put your finger on what's wrong, but it helps if you understand a few principles of good design. These drawings illustrate the difference between porches that are appropriately placed and in good proportion to the house-and those that aren't.

1. a) How awkward a big, boxy house looks with a microscopic portico attached.
b) How a house and porch are balanced when they are in proportion.

2. a) How skimpy undersized columns can make a porch look tacked on.
b) How a wide header and substantial columns appear to support a facade.farmhouse porch
Excerpted from "On the Porch" by Sandee Mahoney and James Crisp

Monday, November 03, 2008

Energy Saving

After going through a period with oil prices at record levels and winter just around the corner, the topic of conversation at home and in the office is how we are going to keep our heating bills down. If you are building new or completely remodeling, there are many great options from state of the art heating systems to the best insulation and energy conserving design, but most of us need to make the best of what we have, especially owners of historic (old) homes like myself. Even without major renovations there are many things we can do to improve our home’s energy performance.

The best place to start conserving energy is to address those parts of your home that account for the majority of energy loss. Identifying some of these locations can be rather obvious but on the other hand, some areas of heat loss can be more hidden and subtle. The trick is to locate your specific problem areas. While on a job site meeting with the mechanical contractor, I noticed he was shooting a laser around different parts of the walls and ceiling. He was using a laser thermometer to determine the heat transfer to the exterior of the home. You can buy one for under $50 at your favorite hardware store and it can save you a bundle. I bought one and took it home to checkout my own home. By shooting it around the walls, ceilings and floors as well as doors and windows, I could tell exactly where the cold air or surfaces were that needed the most attention. I assure you that this year I will be making an additional check of my whole house to try to tighten things up even more.

There are many sources of information regarding the best way to improve your home’s energy usage, but here are a few relatively easy fixes.
Wear warm clothes and turn the heat down. This may sound glib, but my wife and her family always lived in historic farm houses. They grew up keeping the thermostat low and dressing warm. As long as I can get a warm shower, wearing a sweater the rest of the time could be fun.
Add additional insulation to your attic. This is a major heat loss area. I bought an insulated cover for my attic stair which helps a lot.
Make sure your fireplace dampers are tight. If you don’t like the looks of a glass front(now required by code) add a spring loaded chimney cap which seals the flue when the fireplace isn’t being used.
Check all doors and windows. Storm doors and entry doors need weather-stripping. Windows in an old home need storms-old fashioned wood and glass storm windows cost around $ 100 each.
Try to only heat living spaces by insulating the floors above crawl spaces and basements.
Replace your aging boiler with a more energy efficient unit.
If you find a very cold spot in a wall or ceiling, consider having someone blow in insulation to fill those cavities.
Check your electric outlets on exterior walls. Simple insulated cover plates are available.

There are many more tips and ideas available on web pages like:

A corporate web site of an energy producer:

The Sierra Club conservation site:
Books include:

The Complete Guide to Reducing Energy Costs by Consumer Reports

Energy Saving Guide For Home Owners
by Alvin Ubell & George Merlis

Friday, October 17, 2008

Crisp Architects goes a little greener

energy efficient

Since we are involved more and more with our clients' choices of efficient mechanical systems, energy conserving designs, and green architectural solutions, we decided to be a little more energy conscious while visiting all of their job sites. Even though we have kept our four wheel drive vehicles for those deep mud and deep snow days, now we all drive the low emissions, high gas mileage, Honda Fit to most of our construction sites. To date the record is 41 miles per gallon. It is so much fun to drive, we have to reserve it in advance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Geothermal heating and cooling

installing geothermal One of my favorite jobs is visiting construction sites. On those visits I enjoy studying our homes from the most minor details we have designed to the overall execution of the project.

Earth moving is always interesting but is especially dramatic when it involves the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system. Almost all of our designs include energy saving elements but few have the impact of an energy efficient mechanical system.

Conceptually a geothermal heat pump exchanges the earths natural thermal energy to heat or cool a house(or other structure) In practice although the initial cost of installation substantially exceeds a conventional system, the cost of operation is a fraction of that conventional system. With fuel prices at record levels, the payback period shrinks every day.

In this case the piping run to extract the earths' energy is buried 8 and 4 feet below the surface of the property and is placed in a giant loop. In winter, heat is captured from the soil at approximately 50 degrees while the air temperature can fall below zero. In summer the relatively cool ground temperature can be used to cool the indoor air. Extremely quiet condensers are located in the basement of the home.

geothermal pipinggeothermal trenching

Saturday, June 28, 2008

FineHome Source-Huge Success

nontoxic paints home show

We would like to thank all the visitors and all the vendors for what can only be described as a huge success. The weather was perfect and the show was filled with enthusiastic patrons and vendors all day long. The demonstrations were fascinating, with Fletcher Coddington of Arrowsmith Forge drawing the biggest crowds while he forged steel into useful tools. Kids had the best time painting the decorative bird houses with non toxic paint. Experts in geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy, wood working, and all sorts of building products answered
questions all day long. A good time was had by all.
environtally friendly environmentally friendly architectural productshand forged natural products

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our New Space

architect's office
interior design Sometimes change is just what the doctor ordered. In our case even more so.

Although it has taken a while to get settled, our new space fits us well.

Again we owe a debt of gratitude to all the people worked with us on our new office.

Monday, March 03, 2008

More Than A Garage

board and batten
Today’s garage, in some ways, is simply an update of the nineteenth century carriage house. Compared to today, those structures seemed more important and therefore more time was taken for planning both the look of the buildings and their relationship to the home. Often the carriage house was part of a barn or stable and occasionally included living quarters above.

I consider the character and placement of a freestanding garage as important as locating the house on the property since the addition of a garage begins to make an isolated house into a compound. A garage structure can be used to block winter winds, an unsightly view or to simply provide an attractive element in a landscape composition.

When a client asks us to design a garage for their home, one of the first questions we ask is: “Do you think you would ever need additional living or storage space?” and most of the time the answer is “Yes”. Compared to building free standing guest quarters or studio space, the second floor of a garage is the best deal in town. Since you already have a roof and foundation, the additional costs include taller side walls, a stronger ceiling/floor, and a stair to create usable raw space for storage. simple interiors

Once the building is framed, finishing off the space can be accomplished modestly or at great expense just like you would any room in your home. A living space over an unheated garage does present some unique challenges. First the floors as well as the roof must be very carefully insulated. Secondly the water and septic lines must be insulated until they are in the ground below frost line. The garage space must be separated from the living space by fire rated sheetrock and any door into the living space from the garage must also be fire rated.

As far as taking care of cars, we have designed garages with radiant heat in the slab as well as air conditioning. For one car collector we included lifts and an oil changing pit as well as a two story viewing gallery.

Whether you need a simple structure to cover a car, a place to display a valuable antique, or a multipurpose building for cars and guests, the architectural details and the relationship to existing structures is as important to consider when designing the garage as any building on your property.

A Room for Mud

mud room storage
A Room for Mud

Living through the seasons in the Northeast reminds me of my daughters’ favorite book ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ where the father, the kids and the dog go looking for a bear and when they find one, they run home through the snow storm (Hoooo woooo), the forest (Stumble trip), the mud (Squelch squerch), the water (Splash splosh) and back through the grass (Swishy swashy). They then run into the house(without wiping their feet), up the stairs, into bed and under the covers with the bear country mud roomlooking through the window. I’m sure that having a mud room to shed the wet and muddy layers would have made mom happier when she came home.

Just about every home we design includes a mud room which is good for keeping bears out, but more importantly provides a place to take off boots and coats and leave the mud and slush behind. Mud rooms are also the primary place for organization of outer wear for future excursions. More elaborate spaces include slop sinks for cleaning gear and storage space for sports equipment and even sometimes a dog grooming area. Some layouts also work as an airlock to the rest of the home.

The basic requirements include a non slip, water resistant, durable floor. Walls and cubbies should be made of a rugged material such as wood with plenty of room to hang coats and store boots, gloves and mittens. Occasionally we will add a center drain to the floor for easy wash down(make sure the baseboards are waterproof). A bench with or without a hinged seat top is required for putting on and taking off those extra tight boots. Near the ceiling, a long shelf comes in handy for hats and other paraphernalia.

Even though the mud room can be the smallest room in the house, from its organizing capacity to the impact of a cleaner home, this little room earns its keep.