Friday, March 28, 2014

building the Jetsons house of the future! Part I

Let's not even START with what became of the flying car! Oh, but we have the Hybrid. The official car of smug: The Prius, you say. Really? It's the AMC Gremlin hatchback of the new millenium. It's slightly less environmentally friendly than a Hummer, and their drivers are so busy patting themselves on the back that they have become known as the second most dangerous driver on the road, unless texting while driving, when they become The Professional Asshole's Death Car from Hell (My apologies to the many, many wonderful Prius drivers who defy this convention by being courteous and thoughtful).

Ok,  so we have made some strides with the Leaf, The Chevy Volt, and the Tesla, but they don't fly. Well the Tesla does, kinda.

So back to the Jetson's future. A house gleaming with lots of windows, humming with automation, high up in the sky, beckoning to a bright and shiny future... that never came. Almost.

A view of the old kitchen
Ten years ago, it began to dawn on my husband and me that the beautiful 1860's Victorian we'd lived in since 1989 was killing us slowly with toxic mold and asbestos. Our life savings were being slowly bled to death by $500.00 a month heating bills, windows and doors that wouldn't seal or close, a decaying and crumbling edifice, and the persistent repairs that a century and a half old wooden shack covered in gingerbread was in need of.

 We hired a well known and respected architect to help us design and build a modest, modern-on-the-inside home. After seven years of meetings and writing checks to the architect, we still had no final plans or permits. I decided that I needed to move back from Los Angeles full time and supervise on a daily basis. After a few more months of little progress and many missed meetings by the architect, I suspected that perhaps he had a substance abuse problem.  A few phone calls to the planning department and to a few members of the architect's family and I had my confirmation: my architect's abilities were being eroded by his addiction to methamphetamine. Lovely.

I immediately fired him, my husband filed a lawsuit which we easily won, and wondered how best to proceed. We had spent our budgeted amount on architect's fees and we couldn't afford to start over with a new one since the lawsuit winnings weren't enough to be made whole. A bold move needed to be made: I would take charge of the design and would hire my ex-architect's talented associate, Andy Rodgers to do the technical work and drawings -- a collaboration of mutual respect for each other's design sensibilities, with deference to Andy's experience and hard earned knowledge. For an experienced mentor I asked an award winning architect and builder, Jim Zack of Zack/Devito Architecture to help advise me through the transition.
Another view of the old kitchen

I hadn't been idle over those seven years. I had read dozens of books on architecture and design, learned many of the complex and arcane rules of San Francisco's building code, and had become very knowledgeable of mid century modern architecture while in Los Angeles. I had learned a lot about green building technologies and practices, including LEED certification levels. I had already been an expert on home automation, home theater and whole house audio and video integration for two decades and I'd had many years of experience doing my own remodels of the various places I'd lived in.

We wanted to rethink what had been done before, yet keep some of the original in front. Since the house was listed as a "Historical Resource", The front must be kept as is with the exception of a garage being allowed. The top floor addition would require a setback from the front, comparable to what the neighbors were allowed, though the Planning Department would fight for an additional setback, essentially penalizing us for waiting to remodel when our next-door neighbor had built dangerous additions for years with no permits. To balance this inequity, the city would waive our 25% required green space/yard, but we didn't want to encroach on our neighbors gardens, essentially blocking light and air. Also, it would set a dangerous precedent that would encourage others to build out further as well. We love having green space around us and have always kept a lush, but well manicured garden in back. So we started looking for solutions to make the top floor setback make sense.

This being a 21st Century remodel, we wanted to rethink everything. Nothing but the front exterior had to be what had come before. Everything was open to reinvention. The wish list...

Green or LEED Compliance
Windows need to be double paned. Insulation should be as efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible. That means maybe several different types depending on the application or need. Automation to reduce electrical use. Solar where possible. Natural cooling through well designed ventilation. Radiant heat throughout. Use locally manufactured materials whenever possible.

Think 50-100 Years
What design trends have lasted? What materials will last? What companies/suppliers have been around for a long time. Remodeling means waste. Who wants to have to redo a bathroom or window when you're eighty-five?

Banish the Cave
Let in the light... EVERYWHERE. No dark cramped bathrooms, either. Use skylights, transoms, floor to ceiling windows wherever possible. Use glass in stairs or even floors to transmit light.

Swinging Doors = Wasted Space
Pocket doors would be used wherever possible.

Kitchen is the Heart of the Modern Home
How many parties end up in the kitchen? We realized that nearly 100% of the parties (dinner or otherwise) we'd ever attended in peoples homes always ended up in the kitchen. So put the kitchen in the geographic center of the home, and open up the space around it. Not a big change from the somewhat modern idea of the "Great Room", but a more functional version of that, keeping the kitchen the center, not a nook.

Professional Open Kitchen
I've been cooking since I was five, and Michael would rather watch PBS cooking shows and Food Network than anything else, so you know we had to do this up. We have many friends who cook for a living, so we needed lots of room for workstations. so a good kitchen design was crucial.
Completed kitchen

Cabinets to the Ceiling
In our old kitchen, the tops of the cabinets were used for houseplants, oversized vases, and DUST. When I see a cabinet that stops shy of the ceiling, I think, "What's hiding or crawling around up there." Sorry about that. Now you will too. Creepy, no? That's unused space for storing stuff! Cover it up to keep it clean and use some of that space that is going to waste.

Lots of Storage
Built in cabinets or closets that look beautiful in every room, extending to the ceiling. Buy stepladders if needed and provide cabinet space to store them.

Sinks, Sinks and more Sinks
Life is messy, you need easy access to sinks. Couples waiting for each other causes friction, which results in wasted time. Double em up! If counters are rectangular, so should the sinks that sit in them. Round or oval sinks just create splash zones outside them, and splashed counters need to be wiped up to avoid staining or rotting.

Durable Finishes
Glass, stone, wood covered in generous amounts of epoxy, resin, polyurethane. Walls painted with paint that can be washed with detergent and water.

Outdoors Indoors
This one was hard, but basically we wanted to carve out space on each floor that made it part of the outside. The weather can be nice all year round here. So why not think like Eichler did?

When I'm Sixty-Four...
I might break a hip skiing. When I'm Ninety, I don't want to go to to a rest home. I'd rather stay at home and hire a nurse which is much more cost-effective. So put in an ELEVATOR.

ADA Compliant
People are born with disabilities or physical challenges, or they eventually acquire them. There is no reason not to think about making the home accessible. At the same time, make Artoo, Threepio, other Robots and Androids at home. 21st century... remember? This means smooth transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces, too, and curb-less showers.

Bathtubs are clumsy, cramped, gross, a huge, huge waste of water. Big ones are expensive, take too long to fill, get cold easily. Modern spas are clean and efficient and are big enough to actually be therapeutic.

Good and Efficient Lighting
Lots of lights that are LED or low voltage. I don't want to EVER use them during the day, but at night, when I need them to see, or entertain, they should be beautiful and useful.

with all that lighting, I don't want lots of ugly wall switches, and I need some programmed intelligence to keep them efficient and useful for many different scenarios.

Music and Video Everywhere
Using the phone in my pocket as a controller, I want to be able to play music (streaming, digital local, vinyl) or video (streaming, digital local, disc) in any combination in multiple rooms. And I want to run lights, drapes, blinds, security cams, HVAC as well.

Convertible Spaces
Make spaces usable for multiple purposes. Use a murphy bed to turn an office into a fully functional guest room. With space being a premium in San Francisco, this makes real sense.

Better than any Hotel Room
After vacations, we'd come home and think,"What a DUMP!" ok I stole that line from Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", but you must know that it was absolutely depressing to walk into our dumpy Victorian home after staying anywhere. When your house is less nice than a No-Tell-Motel, it's time to remodel!

If you're still with me, I promise that we actually accomplished this list. It is my hope that by sharing this information with you, I will help you to avoid building a cave of the past and welcome you to life in the 21st Century.

From This...
To This!

Part II: We're ready to go... What do you mean, housing market crash & financial meltdown?!