appointing the cabinet(s)

Just as the president must carefully chose his cabinet, so must we. And like the president, we'd prefer a cabinet that is hardy, low maintenance, reliable, flexible. and (ahem) bends to our will. Furthermore, just like the prez, we can't pay the sky for our cabinet. There are limits, governmental and otherwise.

For a modern kitchen, there are many qualified cabinet candidates out there, some domestic, many European. Here's a (I'm sure) partial list:


You can tell that some of these are expensive just by the name (for example, Berloni). And then there's IKEA, the home of (sorta) high design at (amazingly) low prices. IKEA is the Walmart of modern (with Swedish meatballs on top).

Poor little IKEA doesn't get much respect. A pal of mine often (irritatingly...) repeats this joke: How did the founder of IKEA celebrate when he became the richest man in Sweden? He went out and bought some nice furniture!

The meanness of this joke is justified: IKEA sells some crappy furniture. However, IKEA sells some nice stuff as well. We have some of their outdoor plastic chairs, and they are fabulous. And they sell modern cabinets at (amazingly) low prices.

There're fierce debates out there about IKEA cabs (search on "kitchen cabinets" at liveModern.com). On the good side, there's the hardware made by Blum (used by high-end cabinet suppliers), the high rating by Consumer Reports (fourth out of fourteen against domestic competition at a half to a third of the cost of higher ranked cabinets), price, and low-formaldehyde. On the bad side is being stuck with standard sizes, "some assembly required", and the view that IKEA is low-rent. Some opinions vary in dizzying ways: “The boxes are great but the doors suck: buy the boxes and get your doors elsewhere” versus “The doors are great but the boxes suck: buy the doors and have someone make you boxes.” In general, cabinetmakers (and cabinetsellers?) hate IKEA.

I recently visited a domestic cabinetmaker that had some pretty nice modern cabinets. I mentioned IKEA, and the salesdude immediately scoffed. "IKEA: Such low quality. If you're building a home over yonder, you want custom cabinets." I noted that the hardware used by this maker of cabinets was the same as IKEA's. So if IKEA is low-rent and you are using the same hardware as IKEA, aren't you low-rent as well? I would have been far more impressed with a soliloquy about why his cabinets were superior to IKEA's rather than an anti-Swedish rant. And for this cabinetmaker, IKEA cabs probably cost a quarter as much.

One person on the interwebs suggested hiring a custom cabinet builder who is willing to work with IKEA cabinets to get the best of both worlds. For example, the IKEA kickplates land/or legs look cheap and cheesy to me. A custom cabinetmaker could upgrade those. You could also buy higher grade pulls if need be (and maybe float the cabinets in the bathroom?).

We like the built-in look, but we're not sure that can be done with IKEA. So maybe we can mix and match: A little IKEA and a little custom, assuming it all works together. We’ll find out soon enough… The prez was able to do it, and so shall we…

(photo from here: http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_100/picturesqueskylights.html; IKEA cabs in a $2.1 million NYC loft!)


Santa Fe: Cubist heaven.

When I die, I want to turn to dust, get mixed with water, and be an adobe brick in Santa Fe.

architect barbie

Our architect doesn't wear heels.


the staked plains, skewed

Beautiful weather today, so I set out to stake the skewed design which The Architect provided us last weekend before the modern home(s) tour. One thing I learned right off the bat is that staking a skewed homeprint is a heck of a lot harder than staking an orthogonal homeprint. Everything was just skewy! If we do the skew, well need to keep a watchful eye on the foundation contractor

I like the skew, although its hard to visualize what it will look like from the street. The head of the sandcrawler will be hidden from the street, but its plump rear end will peek amply out the north side of the house for street-side inspection. The Architect is presently working up a 3-D view of what the skew will look like.

The skew pulls the north side of the house away from the lot line more, but it still seems cramped over there. At some point Im going to have to put on my big-boy BVDs and get over it, but Im sure pouting about it right now. One thing thats calming my nerves is that one of the homes on the tour had a similar get up and seemed OK with a nice fence backdropping the view from the living areas. But dag gummit, Im still grumpy about it.

The Architect also worked up a hockey stick realization where the front module is orthogonal with the street and the rest of the modules set off on a skew. The hockey stick isnt stirring my stew at this point, primarily because of my concerns of light in the living areas (Im just a bundle of architectural ticks and twitches at the moment). The hockey stick pinches off some of that light. Maybe 12-foot ceilings would help with that? The Architect is working up a 3-D view of the stick, so well see how that looks as well.

My bride is off to Louisiana for work and will return late tomorrow (with gumbo from Richards [pronounced Ree. Shards.] in Lake Charles). Since were off to New Mexico this weekend, I dont know when Ill get to show her the new stakes. Perhaps well have 3-D views by that time. Nonetheless, shell be happy to hear that the tiny volunteer oak tree she fell in love with at the lot would be saved by these designs.

my house is blockier than your house

The Architect and I loaded our brides into the back of the Element last weekend and hootnoodled into the Austin Modern Home Tour. I asked if he wanted to go with us, and he obliged. One of his homes, a little yankee doodle dandy out at Agave, was on the tour, so he wanted to be out yonder late afternoon to hobnob and whatnot. That gave us a few hours to leer and look-see at cubist structures together.

The tour is focused on modern homes on the market, so in one sense you could argue that we (stupidly) paid to go to a bunch of open houses. However, all the homes are conveniently open on the same day, including homes that wouldnt normally stoop to holding an open house. In addition, architects and builders are often at these things in case you want to chat and mingle with the builderati. Furthermore, the crowds give you anonymity you dont get at an open house so you dont have to awkwardly explain to the agent that youre just there to see the baseboards. And lastly, unlike all other homes tours weve attended, indoor photography is (generally) allowed. Yippee!

Being in the design phase of our project, this tour felt a lot different than previous ones. More compare and contrast. Thats what were doing. We aint doing that. Whats that sticking to the bottom of your sock? It was also cool listening to what The Architect, a real live architect, and his bride, a real live architects wife, thought about this and that.

One house on the tour had an element of our planned house (U-shape around a courtyard), so I wanted to see what it felt like. It felt good. In fact, it felt real good. It was also good to feel concrete beneath our socked feet (we call them pookers in our household) during coolish weather. When Ive explained to friends and foes that we want concrete floors, the inevitable follow-up question is Will you have radiant heat? to which we answer No. to which they respond non-verbally with concerned (and judgmental) stares. Needless to say, our pookers were toasty in the concrete-floored homes. The thermal mass of the concrete warms with the warming of the house. When concrete is cold, its cold; when its warm, its warm (and a rose is a rose is a rose).

The Architect wanted to see what the white kitchens looked like in a couple of the houses we visited since we yearn for a white kitchen. Beyond that, the tour itched an anthropological itch I have to see and analyze (non-judgmentally, of course) how other folks live.

I should note that the Tom Selleck pillow had a fuzzy mustache. Awesome.

haiku for the book “Solar power your home for dummies” by Rik DeGunther

here comes the sun(shine)
photovoltaic rooftop
spin that meter back!

Were interested in putting solar on our house and, having had some luck with a previous Dummies book, picked this one up. One word: Yuck. Poorly written with, even worse, the majority of the words not about solar. In reality, what needs to be said about putting solar on your house can be said, I now know, in a pamphlet. To fill the rest of the book, the author repeats himself or writes about weatherizing, or other sources of energy loosely connected to solar. For example, theres a section about wind power because if not for the sun, there wouldnt be wind. Well hell, wheres the heating oil and natural gas chapters? If not for the sun, they wouldnt be around either. Or, for that matter, nuclear power, because without the sun, there wouldnt be miners mining uranium because mommy and daddy wouldnt have been able to see each other at the Frisbee golf tournament before their courting days. The book is also strongly biased toward northern climes. Anything it says about passive solar and windows doesnt apply to the steamy and sunny south.

The book wasnt a total loss. One interesting tidbit I gleaned was that instead of orienting your solar panels to maximize exposure to the sun, consider orienting them to maximize exposure to the sun when the cost of electricity is higher (such as later in the day). Alas, Austin doesnt bill that way (time of day based billing), so theres little financial benefit round these parts. But a neat concept if this is something you have to worry about. The other tidbit was that you only lose 10 percent of solar exposure if your house deviants 20 percent from an ideal east-west orientation (dont tell The Architect, this). The book also had a neat tip about getting a solar cell for your auto to trickle charge your battery.

If youre a complete newbie to solar (arguably the purpose of a Dummies book), I think the book may be beneficial. If youre a notch above a Dummy, consider something else


haiku for the book “101 things I learned in architecture school” by Matthew Frederick

architecture school
positive negative space
less is more is bore

Saw this cute little book at the Austin Museum of Art and, upon seeing terminology that The Architect had used, picked it up. I think it took me all of 30 minutes to read it (which amounts to a value of 50 cents per minute), but it was well worth the read. Its certainly cheaper than an architecture degree.

My favorite part of the book is the juxtaposition of quotes by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Less is more) and Robert Venturi (Less is a bore). Between the two we lean toward Rohe (and, therefore, desire something closer to a Rohe house). In fact, my bride loves Ludwig. She swooned over a large photo of him at the top of the (I-refuse-to-call-it-anything-else-than-the) Sears Tower.

Some of the bits are zanily zenny: We move through negative spaces and dwell in positive spaces. Reality may be engaged subjectively, by which one presumes a oneness with the objects of his concern, or objectively, by which a detachment is presumed. However, other bits are thoroughly practical: If you cant explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms she understands, you dont know your subject well enough. As a scientist in the public realm, I give a hearty Hear! Hear! to that last bit.