the home tour cometh!!!

The home tour is this (gulp) Saturday, and we've been getting ready. Spent about six hours on Sunday upgrading downstairs switches and plugs (swank, baby, swank) and hanging art, mostly upstairs (the piece above is by our friend, Jennifer Balkan). The bride worked on the yard (she's bagged over 50 bags of leaves; it's become an obsession). I did a little touchup painting this early evening. We'll have some last minute tidying up to do on Friday and early Saturday morning before the show, but we're pretty much there!

There was an article about the tour in last weekend's paper, which is good advertising for the tour this weekend and modernism in general, but several statements in the article rankled my delicate cockles.

The article focuses on one of the houses on the tour, a fabulous modern rehab of a 1950s ranch. A couple sentences are particularly irritating.

"Travis Young...came up with a modern yet livable home..."

What's that? Modern yet livable? Did someone really write that?

I know, I know: Most people assume Modern is not livable because (1) it has a lot of windows and (2) there's not a nasty pile of magazines and cat vomit sitting the middle of the living room. That statement contradicts itself because the whole premise of Modern is livability and adjusting design and building norms to reflect the living styles of the day. Sigh...

Here's another one:

"Young sees the home as modern in its approach without foregoing the warmth of wood, brick and views of greenery."

O jeez, where to begin, where to begin... I sure hope Mr. Young didn't say that (and I'm almost sure he didn't; he doesn't seem like that sort of chap...). Being Modern doesn't mean you forego wood and brick (see "honesty in materials" in countless Modern manifestos), but the "views of greenery" comment made me spit up coffee onto my cold, gray floors. Modern means you can't even have a view of greenery outside your windows? No one told me that. Where's the Agent Orange!!!!!!

Wished the American-Statesman had a real architectural writer...


Snowpocalypse Austin 2014

We got dashed with a wee bit of sleet and snow (wee bit = 0.25 inches, perhaps...) on Thursday night and early Friday morning.

Shut. The. Town. Down.

Having grown up in northern Illinois, part of me finds this comical; however, given how some Texans drive (and really, let's be honest here, Americans in general [or maybe people in general?]) it ain't a good idea to be out on slick-as-snot streets. Even in the northern climes, it ain't a good idea to be out when it's sleeting. It's especially not good here because people just don't know how to drive on it, and it becomes bumper car time.

Stay tuned. Snowpocalypse Austin Too 2014 may be coming on Tuesday!


office x-mas parties (and the impacts of coming out of a recession on building costs)

The architects' swag rag featuring our home.

The architects were kind enough to invite us to a holiday shindig (back amidst the holiday season late last year) at a nice new restaurant they designed called Haymaker. At the shindig they were showing off a new swag rag that included our house as the first featured project!

During imbibitions and chatting with one of the architects, one of the architect noted that construction costs have increased substantially since we built out house. His guess was that our place, built today, would cost 50 percent more. Holy 2x6s, Batman!!! I'm not sure I believe that, but I certainly believe costs are higher. A lot higher. When we were closing out our construction loan, the banker, building a house of his own, was having to pay 10 percent more to keep subs on the project, and that was six months ago.

Headline in yesterday's paper.

Since then, like a Formula 1 race car hitting the back straights, the housing market in Austin has kicked into a bee-buzzing high gear. As we headed down the path to build our house, the banking crisis hit, which made getting financing to buy a lot and build a house a bit of a challenge. On the negative side, buying a lot and building was a risk: Would the market recover? Was this going to be a disastrous decision? Would the real estate gods smile on us again? On the positive side, if we could get financing, the lot sellers (of the spec building kind) would be anxious to dump there lots and the builders would be hungry. That could save money (and ultimately did: I estimate our lot is now worth at least 80 grand more than when we bought it).

Now that the market has swung the other way, costs have apparently gone sky high. Not surprising if you think about it. The build market before the banking crisis was pretty hot, so the building industry grew to accommodate that demand. The banking crisis brutally reduced that build demand, so the building industry shrank considerably. Now that demand has come back like zombies starved for cerebral matter, there's a great deal of demand for new construction with a low supply of builders to do it. And prices go up. Economics 101.

This is something to consider if you're thinking of building during the early stages of boomtown. At some point building capacity, and thus competition, will increase and prices (may) come down. Our builder works with the same subs on his projects, so they are less likely to walk from a job, jeopardizing future work with the builder. Perhaps that something to look for when choosing a builder. And although we didn't have to worry about it when quoting out our house, it might be good to include an "appreciation cost" when soft bidding. In a hot building market with several months between soft bidding and building, costs may increase beyond your ability to cover.

Postnote: A little bird told me that even previously loyal subs are bailing out on their loyal builders. oof.

Postpostnote: Here's one. Had a friend have an architect bail on their project for a better and bigger one! At least said architect didn't charge them for services rendered, but my pals were still out their time invested up until that point.

Postpostpostnote: Another one of the architects told me that it would probably cost 25 percent more to build our house today than last year. I find that more believable  than the 50 percent more quoted by one of his colleagues. Still kind of a shocker, though...


review: Swanx cabinetry

The funnest person we had the chance to work with while building the house was Michele, owner of Swanx. Not only was she great to collaborate with (I truly felt like we worked as a team), but her ideas and design and decorating thoughts were spot on (even when they didn't seem like it at first; I learned to trust the Swanx: she knows what she's doing). And she's a hoot to boot!

The kitchen and baths came out awesome, and she even did the built-in cantilevered-off-the-wall bedside cabinets, which came out cooler than we could have ever imagined. Oh, and she also did the buds-n-suds room adding the pizazz of lights in the uppers. She does more traditional (and transitional) kitchens as well but was perfect in our Modern project.

Highly recommended!


The Fertility Window

I sometimes like to surf local real estate. One of the joys is seeing terrible photography (What was that agent thinking?!?!) and terrible decor (OMG!!!). This chap has the same interest but one-ups me by sharing it with the world via "Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs". And here's a doozy: The Fertility Window!


haiku for the book "The New World Architecture" by Sheldon Cheney

by 1930
the seeds of Modernism
were deeply planted

I stumbled across this book while picking through tomes at the Frank Lloyd Wright library at the Johnson complex in Racine, Wisconsin. A couple things grabbed my attention: (1) it's old (published in 1930; therefore, an American author's opinions on Modern at that point would be fascinating) and (2) it had photos I hadn't seen before of various Schindlers, Neutras, and Wrights. After finding a copy on ebay for $4, my own copy was shortly on its way to Texas!

Sheldon Cheney grew up in Berkeley, California; studied (pre-Modern) architecture and theater; worked briefly in real estate; and then made his name in Modern theater and Modern art review. Given his predisposition toward Modern in general and his architectural background, he wrote this book about Modern architecture in the late 1920s. The book is particularly interesting because it predates Philip Johnson's and Henry-Russell Hitchcock's MOMA show dedicated to Modern architecture by two years, a show purported by several sources to have introduced Modern to America.

Text-wise, Cheney regurgitates the standard visions of Modern at the time. Having closely read Le Corbusier's "Toward an Architecture", he flourishes on "the house is a machine for living" aspect and the abandonment ornamentation. He also glows upon the "good architecture will save the world" thoughts of post-WWI Europeans (a quaint idea abandoned after WWII for good reason; nothing stops the dark side of humanity). Interestingly, he nearly invokes the words "International Style", the later moniker to the new architecture introduced just after the 1932 MOMA show. Cheney fleshes out the argument that not only might the new architecture save the world with more humane accommodations, but that an international way of building might temper nationalism gently stoked by vernacular styles.

Cheney clearly spent some time with Wright and Wright's writings as he discusses Wright's work, theories, and influence on the new architecture. At the same time, while Cheney has a great deal of respect for Wright, he struggles with Wright's use of ornamentation, gently recognizing that the new movement has left him behind (at least at this point in his career). He seems to apologize for Frank's decorations in the examples he provides and attempts to justify them.

Oddly, after reading the book and admiring photos of several Schindler projects and Neutra's Lovell Health House, I didn't see either mentioned in the text. Checking the appendix, I found one footnote dedicated to Schindler and Neutra (and Lloyd Wright, Frank's son). Here, Cheney lovingly defines them as "'radical' practitioners in Southern California" and notes that he became aware of them too late (gee, thanks Frank...) to include them in the text itself but was able to include photographs of there work. He refers the reader to architectural journals and notes that said journals have "gone modern".

Philip Johnson defended his decision to not include Schindler in the 1932 MOMA show by blaming Neutra, who Johnson claims badmouthed Schindler (probably true) and who only took Johnson to see Schindler's own house, which is Modern in its bones but Wrightian in its use of color and associated materials (although probably more Modern that Modern at that time in the honest use of materials). However, given that this book came out before the 1932 show and that this book prominently shows examples of Schindler's Lovell Beach House, it defies logic that Johnson wasn't aware of Schindler's work beyond his house. Perhaps by seeing Schindler's early work and his previous role with Wright, Johnson felt that Schindler wasn't a "purist" a la European Modernism. Who knows. None of these people seemed to tell the truth.

One thing that Cheney helped to clarify for me was exactly how William Morriss' and John Ruskin's Arts and Crafts movement rebelled against the machine age, especially considering that Modernism in architecture ("machines for living") was in part inspired by the movement. In essence, the industrial revolution allowed for extreme decoration (think gingerbread) to be introduced into architecture. Machines, particularly lathes, could be used to quickly and affordably adorn houses in nine kinds of gaudiness.

Cheney includes this illustrative quote by A. Kingsley Porter: 

“The machine killed architecture in America, not only because it killed handiwork and because it substituted quantity for quality, but also in a more subtle way. It changed the ideal, the nerves, the entire nature of our people. It is an eternal truth that to think highly one must live simply. Our people ceased to live simply. Life became ever more complicated, ever more agitated. Prosperity entered at the front door, amd thoughtfulness, poetry, and repose were forced out the back.”

I wonder what Mr. Porter would think of our age of smart phones...

Can't say that I'd recommend this book as a reader since it's a bit of a slog and an example of the pedantic writing of its time (I LOL'd after reading the first few pages where Cheney blames the poor state of architecture in the preceding 500 years on corrupt Catholicism!). However, if you're grotesquely interested in the details of Modern's history, it is rather fascinating. And the photographs include several early Modern adherents that I'd not heard of before or had appropriate appreciation for.

Some interesting photos from the book (or found due to inspiration by the book):

House by Joseph Frank.

Corbu's demo house in Stuttgart.

A Schindler duplex.

House by Heinrich Lauterbach.

House by Heinrich Lauterbach.

House by Heinrich Lauterbach.

House by Evžen Linhart.

House by Evžen Linhart.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fricke House.

A Barnsdall House.

House by Heinrich Lauterbach.

House by Heinrich Lauterbach.

Another shot of a Barnsdall House.

House by Joseph Frank.

House by Joseph Frank.

House by Joseph Frank.

Neutra's Lovell Health House right at completion.

House by Adolf Bading.

House by Thomas Tait.

House by Ernst May.

House by Ernst May.

A Schindler duplex.


Modern tunes for a Modern house: 2013

A Modern house deserves good modern tunes, so here's my list of the best tracks of 2013. My preferences lean heavily toward electronic, so be forewarned. I've broken the list into uptempo tunes, downtempo tunes, and albums. Get yer ears on!

Top uptempo tunage:

1. "Poor Leno (Silicon Soul's Hypno House Dub)/There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (a capella)" by Röyksopp. I know, I know, this track came out in 2004, but this is the best thing I heard in 2013. It's a dub of Röyksopp's Poor Leno by Silicon Soul mashed with an a capella of Erlend Øye's version of a Smith's song (got that?). It works brilliantly! LISTEN

2. "Burning Bright (feat. Kim Ann Foxman)" by Maya Jane Coles. Maya had another stellar year with various brilliant remixes (see later) and a gorgeous album. There are many tracks I could have chosen, but this collaboration with New York's Foxman is especially yum-yum. LISTEN

3. "Gimme Your Love" by Morcheeba. The latest by Morcheeba brought Skye, their original soymilky-smooth lead singer, back to the fold resulting in this wonderful track. Love the dubsteppy whompa-whompa baseline and that Skye calcium-rich goodness. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is a yawner... LISTEN

4. "Bbb" by How to Destroy Angels. This was a b-sider on the new album which features Trent Reznor and his bride, Mariqueen Maandig. Maandig's vocals fuse with Reznor's industrial nastiness like a dove flying above a coal fired power plant. And this fan video is kinda awesome: LISTEN

5. "Bodycodes (feat. Asbjørn)" by Lulu Rouge. Hard to chose just one awesome track from Lulu's new album, but let's randomly go with one. Not as trip hoppy as the rest of the album, this track features Asbjørn, a Danish pop singer with a voice as tasty as a danish. LISTEN

6. "Fiction (Maya Jane Coles Remix)" by The xx. The sparseness of The xx lends itself well to the sparseness of Maya's electronics. Part of Maya's brilliance is not overdoing her remix on an already great track. LISTEN

7. "Came Back Haunted" by Nine Inch Nails. After releasing the How to Destroy Angels album with his wife, an album of new NIN material surprisingly dropped soon thereafter. I'd kinda felt that Trent had been off his game the last couple of albums, but this one finds him back in classic form. And check it out: This epileptic-unfriendly video was made by none other than David Lynch! LISTEN

8. "First Fires (feat. Grey Reverend) [Maya Jane Coles Remix]" by Bonobo. Yet another great remix by Maya of another great song. Bonobo was back this year with a downtempo gem, and Maya punched up this track for possible booty twerkage. LISTEN

9. "Nothing Matters feat. Nneka" by Tricky. Tricky, the prince of trip hop, also returned to form this year with an awesomely perfect album. Here's a randomly great track from that effort. Sad the dude canceled his Austin date from his U.S. tour... One of the best shows we've ever seen was when he played at SXSW a few years ago right before Deco. LISTEN

10. "U-2" by iamamiwhoami. Trying saying that band name three times really fast! Love the old-skool late-80s bass and the vaguely robotized vocals. Freakin weird video.  LISTEN

Top downtempo tunage:

1. "Immunity" by Jon Hopkins. Sooper mellow track that evokes Iceland and green sweaty moss. LISTEN

2. "A Taste of Struggle" by A / T / O / S. A nice moody and ssssllloooowww electronic track. As Saddie said on the video link: "Oh, hey dopamine... I've been waiting for you." LISTEN

3. "All Inside" by Bondax. I generally dig deconstructed vocals, and this track got 'em. LISTEN

4. "Need to Feel Loved (feat. Zoe Durrant)" by Unclubbed. This track is arguably half and half: half ambient vocal and half upbeat, but let's go with the former since this would be a mood killer on the dance floor. LISTEN

5. "You Say I'm Crazy (feat. Alice Carreri)" by Lulu Rouge. Love the desperate foreboding of this track and the rewind of the lyrics. LISTEN

6. "Numb (feat. Kathrin deBoer)" by Max Cooper. Another desperately foreboding track. I loves me some darkness. Max might be Marxist: "We wanted to make something about the modern capitalist lifestyle for this project, and how it can induce a numbing effect from the overpowering demands of the machine in which we live in." LISTEN

7. "Heaven for the Sinner (feat. Erykah Badu)" by Bonobo. The Horny Monkeys new album is mostly mellow and nondescript instrumentals, but a couple tracks, including this one, expertly weave vocals into the jazzy loveliness. LISTEN

8. "Gravity (feat. Jana Hunter)" by Trentemøller. The Moller of Trent released a new album this year, purported to be more assessable than previous efforts, which may be why I didn't enjoy it as much. But this is rather nice. LISTEN

9. "Keep It Together" by How to Destroy Angels. Lemme guess: More foreboding? Why yes, Virginia, there is a lost cause... LISTEN

10. "Devastate" by Amanda Shires. Which song is out of place? Might it be this little country ditty? Then again, if country music had a goth movement, Ms. Shires would be at the front of the line. LISTEN

Bonus: "Are You Mine?" by Kim Deal. Sad song about a question Kim's mom, suffering from Alzheimers, asked Kim while Kim was taking care of her. LISTEN

Top albums

I'm generally not an album buyer these days, preferring to pick over the carcass for the good bits before flying down the road in hopes of a fresh armadillo. Nevertheless, there seemed to be several great albums this year (defined as "each track is edible").

1. "Comfort" by Maya Jane Coles. Wowsy good. In addition to the aforementioned track, check out "Easier to Hide", "Fall From Grace (feat. Catherine Pockson)", and "Wait for You (feat. Tricky)".

2. "False Idols" by Tricky. After several hit and miss albums that went too dark, the Trickster is back with a trip hop spectacular. Besides the aforementioned tracks, also check out "Somebody's Sins", "Bonnie and Clyde", "Does It", "If Only I Knew", "Nothing's Changed",

3. "The Song Is in the Drum" by Lulu Rouge. These cowpokes are mining territory claimed a long time ago by Massive Attack and others, buy my o my do they do a great job. In addition to the above, check out "Landscape of Love (feat. Fanney Osk)",  "Smoke Through Fire (feat. Asbjørn)", "Welcome to My Dream (feat. Tuco)",  "Sign Me Out (feat. Fanney Osk)", and "Ghost Mosquitoes".

4. "Welcome Oblivion" by How to Destroy Angels. Trent and Co. had a good year. For example, listen to "Ice Age", "The Loop Closes", "Fur Lined", and "Parasite".

5. "Hesitation Marks" by Nine Inch Nails. And listen to "All Time Low", "Running", "I Would For You", and the oddly poppy "Everything"

10 resolutions for 2014

Ah yes, a new year beginning and a (brief) time to reflect and then plan for the future. Here are some (housey) items on our list 'o resolutions that, depending on money, time, and health, we plan to do this year:

1. Put in a garden. 

One of the things we missed living up in the sky was having a garden, so we need to put one in before spring. The hope is to put in raised wicking beds using livestock troughs. Need to get green before the spring!

2. Survive the home tour. 

The home tour cometh! With the work we put in over the holidaze, we're ready to tour today if we had to. Nevertheless, we still have a couple dozen little projects to attend to. Nothing like the specter of having several hundred people come over serve as a motivator for getting stuff done!

3. Rent a Schindler.

Discovered last week that the Fitzpatrick-Leland House in Los Angeles, a house we fell in love with when we visited it in 2012, can be rented! It ain't cheap, but after sleeping with Wright, we need to sleep with Schindler. Schindler's Buck House, another fabulous place, is also for rent, but with a substantially longer stay and larger cost.

4. Visit Corbu and Weissenhof in the Old Country.

Amid other reasons to jump the pond, I'd love to stop in and say hello to several modern masterpieces in Paris, particularly Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. Additionally, I would love to pop into Stuttgart, Germany, to visit the Weissenhof Estate's collection of modern houses (post coming soonish on the amazing Weissenhof...). Time (and bride...) permitting, I'd love to also stop in at the Bauhaus as well as the Reitveld-Schroder house.

5. Volunteer to preserve local modern.

With mid-century Modern architecture reaching its 50-year birthday, it's becoming eligible (locally) for historic designation and protection. We've long been members of the Heritage Society of Austin, now known as Preservation Austin, and would like to help them transition into also protecting the modern architecture of Austin.

6. Two words: Garage nesting.

After moving out of our outside storage facility this past weekend, the garage is a mess. I need to get it all set up and purdy for working on our little cars.

7. Garage sale.

Related to the previous post, we need to have a garage sale. The hood holds a neighborhood-wide garage sale every year, so we plan to participate. Despite moving from a house half the size of the current one, we seem to have twice as much stuff for the new place (transitioning from maximalists to minimalists and shabby chic to sleek is rather daunting). We need to liberate, as hard as that will be.

8. No more storage.

Somewhat related to the previous item, we need to empty out of the indoor storage facility. Sigh...

9. Continue this blog

I'd like to continue the blog as long as possible, the main drivers probably being architectural tourism and history, with at least a post a week. I still have a lot of reading to do (I'm swimming in unread architectural books...) and a lot to learn. Thanks for reading over the past year. Hopefully the new year will continue to offer useful and interesting stuff.

10. Enjoy the house.

We always seem to be GO! GO! GO!, so we need to slow down a wee bit (from time to time...) to get mellow and simply enjoy the house.