Sunday, November 27, 2011


In the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday, I am struck by the amazing feeling that comes from being surrounded by family. It sort of wraps its arms around you with unconditional security and love. For many of us, this time of year stirs our need to let people in…into our homes, and into our hearts.

Just as we appreciate the inviting warmth of our families, we want the very same from our homes. Homes personify so much more than shelter; they are extensions of our personality, our values, and a reflection of our individuality. Our homes should not only invite us daily, but at this time of year, they need to extend their arms even further to our neighbors, families, loved ones, and friends.

So how does a home extend its invitation? The hospitality begins outside, at the approach. Are there well-lit beautiful plants and a pathway to the door? The door itself should be a pausing “moment.” Perhaps the door is over-sized and spectacular in its grandeur. Or perhaps its materials are beautifully crafted, rich in natural color. Perhaps there is some glass at the doorway, allowing visitors to see the warmth within.

The threshold is the marked transition bringing guests into our home’s embrace. There should be a momentary delightful “aaahhh.” From there all of our senses should be invited in. We might see the home’s heart, the fireplace. It should not only be a striking focal point, but it should radiate its warmth, drawing us both physically and visually. Its colors should emanate beyond the hearth. The inviting colors of coral, deep red, green, sienna, and brown remind us of the palette of nature.

The lighting can set the tone or mood in any space. While bright lighting can be visually exhausting to our eyes and better suited for tasks and work, slightly dimmed lighting offers the opportunity to soften a room. When combined, varying light sources such as lamps, overhead lighting, and candles, convey character and ambiance.

The textures throughout the house should invite comfort. Cozy knits, chenille, faux furs, tempt us to nestle. Extra throws and cushions provide that added sense of comfort. Our furniture should encourage us to recline, relax, converse, and linger.

The scent of a home can also have a powerful pull. Whether candles, flowers, or fragrance sticks permeate the air, we are drawn to the aroma of vanillas, jasmines, lavender, and cinnamon spices.

And finally, the sound of the home is equally powerful. Whether it is the crackling of the fireplace, soft music, or a soothing water fountain, we are drawn to the harmony that tranquil sounds instill.

So as the season coaxes you to welcome others in, let your home invite all their senses to the forefront. Far more than shelter, a home’s warmth wraps us in comfort, evokes security, and embraces our soul.

The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there. ~quote by Ellie Rodriguez

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Balancing Act

"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony." -Thomas Merton

Balance is a powerful word. It can be both elusive and difficult to achieve, yet holds the key to unlocking peacefulness, and harmony. Architecture is deeply aware of balance as it not only keeps structures from collapsing by balancing weights and loads, but it also seeks a harmonious composition of the spaces, and their facades as it balances architectural features, volumes, color, etc.

Balance is understood when we see Stonehenge

Balance is understood when we see a ballerina on Pointe

Balance is understood through the teachings of yoga

And with that sense of balance, even when precarious, we feel a sense of rightness, of harmony, equilibrium, and steadiness that resonates with us.

Balance plays an integral role in the design of our spaces. As architects, we balance the desire for light-filled spaces with the need for privacy; the use of new bold materials with a sense of comfort and warmth; vibrant lively design within a soothing environment.

Our personal lives too have experienced the importance of balance. We were first introduced to it as we tried to sit up as babies and balance our heads upright. Certainly wobbly at first, we unknowingly learned to “balance our weight,” thus understanding point and counterpoint. Then as toddlers, walking gave us an often rude lesson on balance. Sometimes painful falls were our teachers as we naturally got a little bruised up with some of our early balancing acts.

In adulthood, the search for balance is a life-long endeavor. As parents, we try to balance our work and our family time. When one area of our life becomes too dominant, the other parts suffer as we fail to strike that balance. Many of us stay on the endless treadmill that we think will lead us to a happiness triggered by success and achievement. But, we often find that we are running aimlessly and truly getting no closer to our pursuit of happiness, or we exhaust ourselves in the process. Without balance, we feel unsteady.

In a generation of excess and instant gratification, capturing and maintaining that sense of balance is a true feat. It is much easier to allow oneself to be pulled into something all-consuming, where discipline and balance are disregarded. It is with far more awareness and dedication that we make our way towards the beauty and poise of balance.

So, look within to understand the elements that are in need of balance in your life: the balance between your driven, success-oriented, energy and the quiet, reflective, stillness that resides within. Allow the balance into your life, so that the quiet voice of introspection and peacefulness can surface and be heard.

Only a life that is balanced is genuinely poised for happiness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Change...inside and out

This past week researching for a City presentation, I discovered an anonymous, yet poignant quote:

“Change is inevitable, but growth is intentional.”

In regards to architecture, this is particularly true. The spaces in which we live are forever changing. It is impossible for them to stay entirely still and static. Even without purposeful changes to your built environment, then at the very least, the space is changing by aging or simply from use and wear.

For many of us, as we live in and utilize our homes, we enjoy the vitality of making small changes continuously. Perhaps you enjoy changing the throw pillows to a new color scheme, painting a wall a new color, adding different candles, prints, or accessories to introduce a change. Even adding a plant or replanting can alter the space. And for others, who associate change with discomfort, leaving it exactly as it is, and maintaining the familiarity of it, is more important and less disruptive to a routine.

Regardless of your preference, our surroundings evolve. As the quote says, “Change is inevitable.” So we can choose to either let the changes just evolve through wear and over time, or we can embrace the opportunity at different stages in our lives to instigate a change and revitalize our homes, and in so doing, ourselves. Typically, we will reach a point where we have outgrown parts of our home. Perhaps as we grow up, the design aesthetic and style no longer accurately reflect our personality, or the way that we would utilize a space has changed because our family has grown up.

And this is the very key to remodeling.

Remodeling, however big or small, has the power to transform a space. Recently I just completed an interior remodel to a home that I had originally designed approximately 13 years ago. At that time, we had gutted everything except for the kitchen, since it had been remodeled by the previous owner.
We had actually demolished the entire house surrounding the kitchen, plastic-wrapped and sealed the kitchen, and furiously fended off El NiƱo to preserve it. Now, in 2011 my client asked me to redo the kitchen. The transformation that we did was truly remarkable! With the kitchen at the very core of the house, it is now a spectacular focal point.

The energy of the new aesthetic made its way into the living room as well...

This idea of transformation and change is something that we do personally to ourselves several times throughout our lives. When we go to college, there is a tremendous change. Similarly when we have kids, and again when the nest is empty, we transform our lives, often redefining ourselves. Though it can certainly introduce stress, uncertainty, pushing past our comfort zone of familiarity, it inspires tremendous possibility and creativity.

And maybe that is the key to staying inspired, to never stay too long in that familiar comfort zone; to always look at ourselves and our surroundings with fresh eyes. People and places are never too static to change or adapt.

And if we can look at our homes, places of business, places that we see or frequent every day with refined clarity, perhaps we can allow ourselves the freedom to think out of the box; to imagine new possibilities.
So if you feel hesitant with the discomfort of any changes in your life, remember…

“If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living.” -Gail Sheehy

Monday, May 9, 2011

“A home should be a reflection of the spirit that lives within.”

So much of our built world has a “generic” sense, neutrality that attempts to create a universal acceptance or likability. We often choose conventionality in order to make our spaces, our homes neutral enough or mainstream enough to be liked by all. But in that “play it safe” approach, we tend to create impersonal spaces that can lack character and personality…specifically—ours.

I am sure we have all walked through countless homes for sale, and have seen the “vanilla” building design. It is usually the “safe” beige color inside and out, with limited elements that would draw attention. The features follow current mainstream trends, and in that predictable design, the result can feel uninteresting and lacking in depth. There is a detached and somewhat stale feeling to the house that shows no sign of who lives within.

And truthfully, it seems to be unnatural. We should always have an impact on where we live, and in turn, it should have an impact on us. It should be representative of who we are, and should naturally reflect our personality. Whether it does so by displaying our tastes and aesthetic style, or by housing special images or mementos with personal significance to us, it should speak to us and create an environment that is both inviting and defining.So as you look around your home right now, does it speak to you? Does it feel like YOUR home, or could it just as well be anyone’s? Do you feel an emotional attachment to it?

There are so many unique ways to inject personality and life into a house, and in so doing to make it a home that speaks to you.

Pictures are powerful images that connect us to places and people that mean something to us. Surrounding ourselves with these images gives our home vivacity and depth. Whether you place them on a console table, the mantle, or fill a wall, use different frames that are similar in color. This gives variety while still feeling cohesive.

Visiting new lands can be exhilarating, educational, and enlightening. And bringing a part of that culture or land back to our homes is a way to maintain those memories. Why not take a wall and decorate it with colorful or antique framed maps of the places you have visited, or plan to visit? Or, create display cases of unusual objects, souvenirs, crafts, or art pieces that have personal meaning from diverse travels.

Kids artwork, no matter how “artistic” always holds significant feelings and memories for us. Rather than storing them all in a box high up in the garage, why not devote a wall to kids paintings over the years? You can help to unify the different frames by painting a “panel” in a unique color as a backdrop for them; for example ,a light slate blue wall, or sage green with black frames of various artwork. They will feel unified, while maintaining a playful aesthetic.

So today when you walk into your home, take stock…look around. Does it reach up to greet you? Do you feel your personality embedded within? Allow your home to surround you with the kind of comfort we get when we are with someone who truly knows us. Let your home reflect the spirit that lives within.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Architecture becomes interesting when it explores the idea of putting two or more things together, and experiencing the result. It can be the creative spark that happens with the juxtaposition of elements to create a new understanding, new meaning, and new vision.

When we hold two opposing or conflicting thoughts in our heads at the same time, our thoughts have more depth and complexity than if one simple thought resides. Pairing two complementary or different elements can create something entirely new. For example, when we pair a good wine with food, what we enjoy is a complexity of flavor that brings out something new in the wine. Often the profundity in design is similarly the result of a merging or collaboration of elements that encourages us to see anew.

In the design of architecture, we can put two materials together that we might not ordinarily see. Merging the two, juxtaposing them, allows each one to comment on the other. For example, stainless steel next to smooth stucco—each one can be a beautiful finish, each one feels smooth, but the coolness of the steel emphasizes the warmth and tactility of the pottery-like stucco.

So let’s take this a step or two further…

How do we pair things in our homes in order to create something new? And how do we pair things in our lives in hopes of obtaining an even more interesting result?
Combining several different textures in your home can be an easy solution to inviting that complexity in. For example, smooth varnished wood shelves against a rough stone wall. Or, satin and silk throw pillows upon a textured couch…a thick wool rug lying on a smooth polished concrete floor. Merging the two, and highlighting the contrast, makes each one individually more interesting.

Now for the more difficult question…How do we bring that depth and complexity to our lives? When we get accustomed to doing the same thing day in and day out…we begin to blur our vision. We become less and less observant and less present. If we were to inject something new and complementary to our routine, perhaps we would begin to take notice of that, and everything it contrasted. Perhaps the pairing would bring renewed awareness. For example, if you spend a lot of time talking on the phone, socializing at work or conversing with your kids and family once you get home, try to carve out a time for true silence. Whether it is a walk on the beach, a meditative pause, or a time to read or reflect, you will sense the profound quiet and stillness. The contrast of this tranquility to the typical mundane routine and chaos of your life will bring a new awareness you did not know.

For some of us, watching television every evening becomes habitual, and while we are tuning in to our favorite show, we are all too often, tuning out. Maybe try sitting on the porch or in the backyard with a glass of wine whether alone or with your partner. Or choose eating dinner outside on the patio by candlelight. This can add the depth and complexity that is lacking by contrasting that which has become all too familiar and ordinary.

"Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience -- to appreciate the fact that life is complex."
— M. Scott Peck

Friday, March 11, 2011


"It is good to have an end to journey towards,
but it is the journey that matters in the end."

~ Ursula K. Le Guin

Life can be a rat race.
However having an alarming aversion to rats, I prefer to call it a hamster race. We can feel like that little hamster that is running in circles on that wheel. We run, we run faster, we get out of breath, we get off for a little while…but eventually we are back on, running in circles once again.

We want so badly to get that promotion, that degree, or that quaint house on Wisteria lane that we focus so intently on reaching that goal, we can lose sight of our journey. Frequently plagued by the stress and anxiety intrinsic to the hamster race, we often wish to accelerate our life just to get there, whatever there might be.

But, wise philosophers, therapists, Zen masters, and every self help book on the shelf, tell us that we need to slow down and be in the moment to enjoy the present. In other words, life is not simply a means to an end….the journey matters.

In architecture, a staircase is all about journey. It is an architectural element enabling us to get from one level to another. While it serves this purpose, it can also be a rich opportunity to offer us volume, dimension, and an entirely new vantage point. Rather than solely providing a utilitarian and practical function, a staircase can be aesthetically transformed into an interactive sculpture that encourages a dynamic change in perspective.

A staircase embodies dramatic architectural possibility.

The first step is to make the steps comfortable. When stairs are too steep (high riser) or the tread too short (where you can barely place your foot on it without feeling clumsy), there is an awkwardness, and we feel out of breath as we climb our way to the top. Stairs can also feel confining and claustrophobic, making us feel uneasy and unsettled. The other day, I was in a medical building, and rather than take the elevator to the second level, I decided to take the stairs. It turns out that the staircase was actually a stairwell. I opened the door and stepped in, and instantly got this nervous go-as-fast-as-you-can feeling, and hurry-and-get-the-heck-out-of-here vibe. Checking over my shoulder certain that there would be a creepy stalker, I took the stairs two at a time…Clearly I was not enjoying the journey!

The second step is to bring sculptural form that is not only striking to look at, but beautiful to experience. As we ascend the stairs, do we get the sense that we are perched above, hovering between floors? Does the shape of the staircase feel dynamic and energetic? Is there a gracefulness reminiscent of flight?

The aesthetic power of a staircase can be captivating. With its quiet drama, it can profoundly elevate our experience, making our journey matter.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Passageways mark our transitions from one place to another.
In architecture they are arches, doorways, entrances, opening, foyers, gates, lobbies, or porches. They bring awareness that we are making a transition.

We may each be going through our own transitions; embarking on a new job, beginning a marriage, or ending one, going off to college, becoming a parent, moving into a new house or to a new city. Our lives are made up of many transitions all pieced together.

There are so many conflicting feelings that are attached to these passageways: fear, anxiety, possibly excitement, and hopefulness. We often feel a combination of emotions as we are passing through to what is unfamiliar, and that may bring confusing discomfort and veiled uneasiness.

Aware of our own apprehension, we strive to make our passageways inviting, unique, and memorable.

They should be to scale. When passages are massive and overwhelming, they do not take into account the human scale. In essence they fail to acknowledge the human spirit. That can make us feel too small and powerless. Instead, a doorway needs to invite us through feeling safe, and able to walk through with confidence and certainty.

Passageways should be inviting and interesting. While we have our conventional doors and standard opening sizes, why not redefine those? Still marking our transition, a door can be surprising in size or unexpected in shape. This invites our attention and coaxes us to pass through.

And lastly, passageways should pay homage to the transition. When we try to ignore the reality of our transition, we awkwardly stumble with its abruptness. Our awareness of the change that is upon us, recognizing its significance, and understanding our trepidation helps us to welcome the passage.

Whatever passage you might be approaching, make it memorable.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Architecture as Habitable Sculpture

So much of what we acquire or admire in life are things we need to survive such as food and shelter; or things which give us a sense of status and importance, such as racy cars and fashion couture. Uniquely, art serves neither purpose. It is simply pure beauty for our eyes and nourishment for our souls.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
-Thomas Merton

With so many facets to the art world, architecture is unlike most other disciplines. Architecture must not solely be an object to be admired from afar, but rather, be sculptural art to be walked in and through, it is to be touched and used, it is to shelter and protect. True architecture engages the viewer or visitor – it enhances and deepens the experience of a space. That experience is as important as the aesthetic result.

“There are three forms of visual art: Painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you can walk around, and architecture is art you can walk through.”
-Dan Rice

By creating sculpture that we inhabit, architecture resonates with us, because it identifies and pays particular attention to the very needs we seek as human beings. Often what we appreciate in architecture is what we strive or search for in our own lives:



By speaking directly to our intrinsic needs, architecture becomes a human experience. Perhaps that is why we feel a quiet understanding when we enter a powerful, awe-inspiring space. Without quite defining the elements of its beauty, we intrinsically know that we feel connected to it. We feel our awareness awakened as the space somehow acknowledges our human need.

We feel the tranquility...

or the commanding strength...

or the pure simplicity of the space...

It is not always something easily verbalized...
but it is usually something felt with genuine force.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trendiness vs. Timelessness

In response to last week’s blog, the question a reader asked was….
"At what point does a building become eternal?"

For a building or space to become eternal, there must first be a moment where the building or space is alive, where it embodies a soul. The architect is usually the first to feel the moment when his or her creative spark gives birth to the project. And somewhere in the creative process, the project itself, with its new found spirit or personality, begins to lead the design, and generate the design decisions that follow.

And once the space is built, when does the architecture transcend from “living” to “eternal?”

I believe that the moment the building leaves a lasting impression on any one viewer/visitor, that is when its eternity is sealed. Because it is in actuality, our memory that makes the building eternal. It is the indelible mark a space etches onto our memory that grants it timelessness. We leave that space forever changed in our thinking, or perhaps in our vision, awe-struck by the experience. Once the “awe” factor has been ignited, it is hard to ever let it go. It will stay embedded in our memory as we bestow upon that building a cherished timelessness.

And that leads us into today’s topic of trendiness versus timelessness. Timelessness is a quality that remains invariably powerful throughout time. It sort of suspends itself between time, unaffected by its passing. But trendiness is the following of what is fashionable and often faddish at a given moment in time. They are quite the opposite. Certainly when we see a trendy building, something that might be “cool, hip” and “of the moment,” we feel an excitement as we respond to its vitality and boldness. However, over time, that diminishes as a newer trendiness gains momentum, and overrides the old.

Timelessness is quite the opposite, since it does not heed time. Its strength or power remains unaffected by time or the fashionable changes that come and go. It has a sophistication, an understanding, or a depth that resonates much deeper than a trend can possibly evoke. For example, looking at the fashion world…the stretchy neon disco pants of the 80’s had their moment. But I think we could agree that their moment has now passed (thankfully!). But the little black dress is a timeless piece that has the classiness, clean structure that accentuates a woman’s body in a timeless way.

Similarly, architecture can define itself as a trendy project, or a timeless one. While a trendy design can shake things up a bit, bringing a lot of attention to the project because it is unusual and “new,” it can; however, later become stale and dated, unable to stand the test of time.

For timelessness to be achieved, I believe the space and/or building has to resonate for us on a deeper level, in a way that transcends time. When we are in a space that has the awe factor, and we sense its enormity, or its exquisite detailing, or the ethereal quality of light against texture and form, we have experienced timeless beauty. It is those buildings that will continue to inspire, long after the latest trend disappears and is forgotten, long after each visitor leaves, and even well past the building’s life expectancy. It is the memory of our experience of the architecture that will hold it timeless.

Friday, February 4, 2011

An Indelible Mark

This week, with the passing of a dear family member and the six month anniversary of another dear friend, I was reminded about our mortality. At some point we all reach the finish line of life. It arrives either with sudden shock and loss, or is defined by a gradual letting go of this world. And as we arrive at the finish line, we will have had the ability to leave a lasting legacy, a vivid memory of ourselves.

The more engaging and intertwined our lives have been, the larger the legacy, the more timeless the memory that we leave behind. Hopefully, throughout our lives, we have all been enriched by many wonderful and unforgettable people who have made an impression, an indelible mark on us. In having known them, they may have elevated our lives with their special connection and significant meaning. They may have changed our understanding of love and friendship; and we are certainly better for having known them.

Certain buildings and spaces too can be such powerful experiences, that they too leave their indelible mark upon us. With that impression, they become timeless, enduring, and sustained in our memory. These buildings enrich our experiences bringing beauty and aesthetic awareness to the forefront.

There are certain buildings that etch themselves into our minds.

The Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, that sits afloat the water, defying its weight and looking as if delicately placed upon a sheet of ocean, is extraordinary.

The carved out Italian plaza amidst a sea of buildings

An ethereal interior

Searching for depth and meaning in our lives is essential to the human experience. People and spaces can come into our lives, that literally inspire and change us. It is this quest for significance and personal fulfillment of not only our physical needs, but those needs of our souls as well that can transform a mundane existence to a life that is profound, authentic, and unforgettable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Choose Change

This week the economy seemed to be weighing heavily on the minds of many Americans. With the President’s State of the Union Address, many of us are hoping that this year the economy will turn itself around. We have been holding our breaths, making decisions with caution rather than frivolity, and cutting back wherever possible. This has dramatically affected the construction industry. In terms of the residential market, homeowners are choosing to not sell their homes since their values have plummeted. New home construction has been painfully stalled or halted. So instead of starting from scratch, homeowners are choosing to wisely and cautiously remodel.

Remodeling can be big or small. But regardless of the size of the project, its purpose is to transform, to create a dramatic change. For some, there is a level of anxiety associated with change. We get comfortable with things as they are, and there is a sense of security with the familiar. Change can make us feel insecure and uncomfortable. But change, remodeling, and transformation are critically important…and here’s why.

Over time, we stop paying attention. We stop really “seeing” that which has become too familiar to us. After a while, we just stop noticing. Our minds tend to become desensitized, and we only selectively pay attention. So if the arrangement of your furniture has been the same for years, chances are you just don’t “see" it anymore. Architecture continuously shows me that making the smallest change, can make the biggest difference.

So, rather than resisting change, give it a try, and you will see what I mean. For example, try re-arranging the furniture you do have, or put new throw pillows on your couch or bed, or replace the family pictures that have been in the frames for just about forever. And watch your mind take notice. There is something exciting about “reawakening” your attention. And the minute we engage our minds to take notice, to become aware of our surroundings, we find ourselves present in the moment. That is the true benefit or gift of remodeling one’s surroundings. It gives us the renewed chance to be in the moment. So, rather than walking by the all too familiar pictures, the new images will draw your eyes to them, capture your attention, invigorate your memory, and stimulate your awareness. Instead of just blindly sitting on the couch at the end of the day, the newly arranged furniture in your living room will cause you to see things from a new vantage point. Perhaps this new spot has unusual lighting, or a different view towards the yard or the other rooms in the house. Just by the rearrangement of the furniture you do have, there will be a pull to go sit there, to experience what it feels or looks like. And just that simple act, will pull you to be present.

So, even in this year of economic struggle, we need to remember the importance of transformation. In fact, when times are tough, there is even more stress in our lives, and that causes our minds to go numb, and our attention to distractedly wander.

As Benjamin Franklin said in this quote that I love:
“When you're finished changing, you're finished!”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Building SOUL

Let’s talk about “soul”… what is our soul? Is it our deepest innermost being? Is it that part which connects us to our spirit? A higher being? God?

The notion of a “soul” is so esoteric.

SOUL: we strive to fill it, be true to it, connect with it and to those of others. To understand something cognitively is one thing, but to understand it with our soul means to understand it on such a deeper level. Perhaps our soul is what gives us dimension and depth. That’s what allows us to feel more deeply, and understand on an intrinsic, spiritual level. The soul doesn’t just “see,” but rather it “feels.” It recognizes beauty, sensitivity, passion, understanding, and inspiration.

I like to think of architecture as buildings that embody a soul.

How does a building have a soul? When a building “speaks to you,” when walking through it, you are not just seeing with your eyes. You feel engaged and know that you are “experiencing” the space…that is when you are in the presence of a building with spirit and soul. It is that soul that breathes life into the building, creating an unforgettable space that unfolds to you.If you’ve ever visited Gaudi’s work in Spain, or Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in San Diego, you know the feeling that literally takes your breath away as you stand in awe of the space. The quiet power of beautiful and timeless architecture can be spectacular and mesmerizing. In that moment, its soul speaks to ours, and there is recognition and understanding.

A soulful building will be captivating no matter how often we return to experience it. But it is not just historic European buildings that embody spirit. It can be the smallest most insignificant space that can stir our soul. So take note of the spaces that you are in, those that you visit, and those that you occupy. Does it capture light in a rich way? Does it resist confinement, and feel as if it breathes? Is nature woven into the space to remind us of the natural environment? What building or place evokes feeling in you? What space stirs your soul?
Because it is so esoteric, because it is so intuitive, a building’s soul is best understood in images rather than words…

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Hearth

Frank Lloyd Wright was often quoted as saying, “The hearth is the psychological center of the home.”

The last few weeks it really felt like winter. There was finally this year, a true cold front in California. So, I do what I always do each winter day. As I finished work, I poured my glass of wine and lit my fireplace. To me, that is the most relaxing and rewarding moment on a cold day. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes I could smell gas…not good. I had to turn the fireplace off and turn the tv on instead. Absolutely not as relaxing or rewarding.
So today, I called the gas company to come and see if there was a leak. I knew that something wasn’t quite right. And sure enough, being the fireplace aficionado that I’ve become, there was a leak in the valve at the wall. The gas man’s detector lit up like a Christmas tree!

Thankfully he was able to fix the problem. So now here I sit with the fireplace lit, and of course the delicious glass of red wine to accompany it. And it struck me, how utterly transformed this space became. The fire brought with it a glow and stillness to my living room. The fire changed the ambiance and light in the space instantly. The mood was altered the moment the flame ignited.
That is the tremendous power of a hearth. It has the ability to transform a house into a home. Its intensity brings heat and energy instantly, as it transforms our emotions, making us feel warm, passionate, comfortable (even cozy) and enraptured in its glow.

It is no wonder that Frank Lloyd Wright thought the hearth was truly the home’s psychological center. It is difficult to sit near a fire and not feel affected by it. So tonight, light the fireplace and see how it transforms your home, your evening, and even your psyche.

Here is a simple idea for making your fireplace even more spectacular:
If your gas fireplace feels smoky, dark, and dirty with soot, you can easily transform into a dazzling architectural feature. It’s an inexpensive and dramatic “fireplace face lift”. Here’s my simple suggestion: Remove the iron crate and the log set that are probably in there right now. Also, say farewell to the old lava rocks that are probably strewn across the base. Mike Brady would have loved it, but time for a change!

Measure the overall size of your fireplace (length and width) giving you the overall square footage of the fireplace floor. With that information, visit your local fireplace store and with their recommendation on quantity, buy the following:

1.Sand to cover the fireplace floor. It will go directly on top of the fire gas ring (which is usually what feeds the gas to the fireplace and was originally obscured under lava rocks). This is a fine type of sand, so please don’t substitute beach sand!

2.Glass crystals. You will find that there are so many beautiful colors to choose from. I suggest choosing one color rather than a multitude. Choose a color that accents or complements your living or family room well. The salesperson will help you determine how many bags you will need based on the fireplace dimensions you took. And then, buy one bag of the same color crystals, but the mirrored type for some added iridescence.

When you get home, first place the sand on the fireplace floor. It will cover the gas ring. Then place the glass crystals directly on the sand. Make sure to cover all the sand. Then sprinkle the mirrored crystals on top for that extra sparkle.
To light it simply turn your gas key (just a little, please don't go crazy or you may just singe your eyebrows off...Use a fireplace lighter and spark it just hovering over the crystals until it lights.)
That’s it…fire it up! Enjoy your evening, and share with me the photos of the transformation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here and Now

Zen and Architecture….Being Here and Now:
There is an undeniable acceleration in American culture. A “need for speed.” We are continuously trying to get somewhere, either literally or theoretically. We want to squeeze in a workout at the gym before we get home, or before work…and the quicker and more efficient the workout, the better. Now there is even the new vibrating machine, and you stand on the plate and within 15 minutes your muscles are toned. We want to rush through the drive-thru between kids’ soccer games, because we don’t really have to time to sit and have lunch, or dinner for that matter. And theoretically, we are trying to get somewhere better, a better job, better home, better car…..
It is more and more difficult to just stop….to just sit in the moment…So instead of being present, we are either in the past, regretting our past decisions….or we are in the future, thinking or worrying about what’s next. Experiencing the moment evades us.
It gets more and more difficult to pause. And architecture needs to help us achieve this. It needs to offer us, to invite us, to be present. When you walk into a room, and are confronted by a beautiful view perfectly framed from that spot, this is a moment to pause. That is the architecture’s invitation for your presence in the moment. And truly timeless architecture repeatedly invites us to experience it. No matter how many times we visit…we feel its magnetic pull for our attention.
Zen is the practice of being in the moment, present and of one mind. Quieting the mind’s distracted nature is at the core of Zen. In architecture, it offers us simplicity, tranquility, stillness and cohesion.