cool modern stuff: louise gray quilts

I loves me some Modern quilts, but where can you buy an affordable one?

Louise Gray to the rescue!

Love the simple designs (and reasonable prices).


top ten posts of 2015

Since this is the time of end-of-the-year top ten posts, I figured I might as well throw in. Here are my top ten traffic-inducing posts of 2015!

1. dancing with architecture: Denver

A long-weekend trip to Denver greeted us with great weather, great architecture, and fantastic street art.

2. a tour of St. Martin's Church, Austin, Texas

I toured this gorgeous Austin Modern church and then, mere weeks later, this House of God was under threat of demolition. This country eats its old...

3. haiku for the book "Lilly Reich: Designer and Architect" by MoMA

Glad to see that this little review of Lilly Reich got some attention. She is well deserving and needs her day in the sun.

4. Memorial Day Flood 2015 at Casa Cubed

Truth be told this post probably got a number of hits because of the Memorial Day Flood, but I like to think that perhaps the crazy cloud photos pulled 'em in...

5. dancing with architecture: Tulsa (with a side of Catoosa)

I was really impressed with Tulsa for several reasons, one of which was all the Bruce Goffs.

6. modern maven: peter behrens

One of my series on Modern mavens was a top click getter. That reminds me: I need to get back working on these!

7. haiku for the book "The Perfect $100,000 House" by Karrie Jacobs

Although an older book about seeking to build an affordable Modern home, it's still quite relevant today.

8. Iceland over Christmas

We took a holiday trip to Iceland that was simply FANTASTIC! Yes, there was some architecture there.

9. dancing with architecture: Bartlesville, Oklahoma (with a side of Dewey)

This was a fun little trip with a Frank Lloyd Wright to see as well as a herd of Bruce Goffs.

10. boardwalk Austin

We finally made it down to the Lady Bird Lake boardwalk!


modern music for a modern house: the best upbeat tracks from 2015

A Modern home deserves Modern music. If a house is a machine for living, then the machine house demands machine music. We call this house music.

"Ain't got nobody (Gluteus Maximus remix)" by Sísý Ey
Nobody does cold house music better than Icelanders remixing Icelanders. The remixers are former members of gusgus.

"Azrael" by HVOB
A good track that turns great at the four minute mark where the beats dissolve into atmospherics fringed with HVOB's trademark self conscious vocals. This track feels like secretly reading someone's diary...

"Before the sunrise (Dixon remix)" by Joy Wellboy
Clockwork drum work infused with the call and response of sweet and sourly distorted vocals. Deliciously depressing.

"Distance to the waves" by Pale Blue
I'm listing these things out alphabetically (a la the Pixies when they play live), and they run together wonderfully. There is a theme here: reserved female vocals over a relentlessly tasteful beat.

"The end of it all (2015 mix)" by John Tejada
Here's a slight change of pace: a remix of a classic electro house track by Mr. Tejada. The original track is truly phenomenal (and better methinks), but this reimagining is quite wonderful as well.

"Finally (feat. Jalana) (Holter and Mogyoro remix)" by Sweed
More of a straightforward townhouse track but well done.

"Reciprocity (Marc Romboy treatment)" by Bajka
Lovelovelove the sweet and smokey molasses fueled vocals of Bajka, and Tomboy brings the machines to fight with the soul.

"Seesaw (feat. Romy)" by Jamie xx
Jamie xx of The xx (hence the xx) is the electronics maven of the band; therefore, he releases side albums focused on machines rather that the guitars of The xx. On this track, Romy, one of the lead singers of The xx, adds wonderfully moody vocals to the mix.

"Skin deep (Global Communication remix)" by Dusky
In this delightful combination of old (Global Communication) and new (Dusky), GC brings the Leftfield to the always heavy Dusky. The track becomes transcendental at the three minute mark.

"Sordid affair (Maceo Plex remix)" by Röyksopp

Last year Röyksopp released a phenomenal album, and this year it received the remix treatment from several producers, including this little bitty ditty from Maceo Plex.

"Syko (Round's 'Slow Response' remix)" by Kenton Slash Demon

Nice. Just nice.

"Take me there" by Nocturnal Sunshine

The darker little sister of Maya Jane Coles, Nocturnal Sunshine released a full album of tracks including this thumping and groaning winner. Can't help but crunk to this one.

"Undertow (Night Plane remix)" by Warpaint

Warpaint went slightly electronic with its last album which invited in the remixers including this masterfully reworked track by Night Plane.

"Whitehall (feat. Piper Davis)" by Dave DK

Meticulously moody with raspy female vocals and the self loathing of an alarm clock.

"Window (Gui Boratto remix)" by HVOB
I try to avoid listing the same artist twice in these lists, but this was a hard one to pass over (and it's a remix, so maybe it doesn't count). HVOB became a passion this year, and Gui Boratto has been a longtime favorite, so the two of them together are fantastic. HVOB has a haunting hollowness to them that Boratto further empties.


how to save

One of the key things about building a house is having money saved up to pay for the down payments for the lot and the construction loan. If you live in an area with conservative architecture, you may need even more cash on hand to land a loan to build your dream home. So you need cash; lots of it.

There are many ways to get there, but we did it the old-fashioned way: (1) saving over many (more than 20) years and (2) eliminating credit card debt.

Right out of college, with our first jobs, we made two key decisions: (1) to pay off our credit cards and (2) to save money to buy the things we wanted. Loans for a house and cars (one car loan at a time) were acceptable; any other debt was not. These were our golden rules.

Paying off credit cards and keeping them paid off (that is, not carrying a balance) is critical. Credit cards are the debbil! The interest draw can be massive, and the temptation of instant gratification is too tempting. Many years ago I had an former punk rocker IT buddy who idolized Bukowski. One time, over margaritas, he accused me and the little lady of being in bed with "The Man" because we owned a house, had two nice cars, and had nice stuff. In his eyes, we had sold our souls to corporate America while the little people, including he and his girlfriend, suffered in a dilapitated 500 square foot garage apartment. "Wait a minute!" I yelped. "Do you realize that you and yours make as much money as me and mine?" The difference? Massive credit card debt. Much of his take home pay was going to interest charges on his cards. He was stunned. To his (ahem...) credit, he began paying down his cards and getting his finances in control.

To save up money for the things we wanted, we created a savings account with an associated spreadsheet to track our "funds". Not mutual funds but categories of money in the savings account. One "fund" was straight-up savings (in the hope of using that money as a down payment for a house), one was for buying a horse, one was for supporting my music habit, one for donations, one for a new car, and one for travel. Each month, we would assign a certain amount of money to each of these funds in the spreadsheet and then move the money into the savings account. Because this happened every month, it was automatic. We didn't learn to live on the greater amount of money: we just didn't see it in our day-to-day lives. If we had an emergency expenditure come up one month, we could suspend the allocations that month and then pick it up again the next month.

We started this savings account of funds in July of 1991 by putting in $400 a month (I know this for a fact because we still have and update this spreadsheet). As we got raises or bonuses through the years, we allocated half to savings and the other half to various funds. The number of funds changed over time as our needs changed (for example, we had a wedding fund at one point; we added a book fund, an art fund, Christmas fund). For the car fund, we always take a certain amount for the cars, whether that was for a payment or, when the car was paid, saving for the next car. We could use the car fund to pay for unexpected repairs and as a healthy downpayment for the next car.

Over time, as various funds grew, the balance as a whole grew. Ten years later we had some serious money in the fund. Once we had that nest egg, we could borrow money from ourselves (from other funds) to pay for something we wanted or needed now. For example, we could self-finance an auto purchase, so we could pay cash for a car and then pay ourselves (our fund) back off. Ditto on other fund purchases.

This approach requires self control, but by keeping money out of the general spending pool, we weren't able to expand our lifestyle to eat up every dollar we made. As the bride's father would tell us, you tend to live on what you make. If you make twice as much, you tend to live in a nicer house, drive a nicer car, eat nicer food...

Also in the spreadsheet is an estimate of our net worth. This included not only the savings fund described above, but also the value of our 401Ks (you should always top those babies out, especially if your employer matches your contributions [that's an immediate 100% rise in value] and you should always put money in regardless of what the market is doing). Our investments are in index funds: low fees and perform just as good if not better than managed funds.

It was fun to see the net worth increase each month and each year (less fun to see it decrease...). The plot below (I've carved off the monetary value for obvious reasons) shows the growth of our net worth over time:

The neat thing here is that although there have been a few bumps in the road, for most part, the trend is up. The rate of increase changes, and sometimes it's flat or goes down, but the overall trend is up. Again, a key thing here is to keep putting money in no matter what's going on with the market. We kept putting money in after the Dot Com Crisis and the Banking Crisis. This is where you are buying low. When the market comes back, your assets roar. The big inflection point in the curve above represents the Banking Crisis; however, note that our net worth flatlined and did not go down. The reason it didn't go down it because we continued to put money into our 401Ks and whatnot, just as we did before. When the market comes back (and it always seems to come back...), the value rises at a pretty good clip (in large part because we bought low during the bust).

So there you have it. A way to eliminate credit card debt and save money. It works for us. Maybe it will work for you!


cloudhaus: random thoughts...

So we've been thinking of building a cabin up in the high hills of New Mexico. Through happenstance, we stumbled upon the Sacramento Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. Originally, we thought we'd build R.M. Schindler's log cabin; however, given the lack of windows and head-knockingly short ceiling heights (and an unwillingness to build something simply inspired by his design), we drifted toward prefab, specifically Rocio Romero's LV Home. We thought prefab anticipating the lack of willingness of a local builder to tackle a modern design in the upper hinterlands. Therefore, we approached Cloudcroft looking for lots/land to accommodate the LV.

Because we were looking for a lot to possibly build a Rocio Romero, our lot looking was biased toward lots where a Romero would work. This is bass ackwards in that one should find a cool lot and then design a house to fit the lot; however, the Romero, with it’s privacy protecting facade and uninhibited backside, is a readymade design for a scenic rural space along a roadway.

While the Romero would be a great place, there are several things that work against it: (1) it’s not designed specifically for the location; (2) the design forces some functions, namely the kitchen and the bathrooms, particularly the windows, to work within the footprint and aesthetic concept of the building (not that we are opposed to that); (3) the realization that, outside all odds, there’s a builder there familiar with contemporary architecture; and (4) wouldn’t it be fun as hell to build something custom? These are enough things to consider building from scratch and keep the Romero as a Plan B.

Indeed, there is a builder in Cloudcroft (married to an architect) that builds contemporary homes as well as retail buildings: Green Mountain Construction. This removes one primary concern: a builder that understands and is willing to build modern. So the next question is, what does this custom cabin look like?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible design of this cabin. Helps me sleep at night (’cause I sleep like a baby when I dream of architecture...). Although I had sincere hopes of just letting an architect run loose on the project, I’m finding that I can’t. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe its not. We'll see. But here are my thoughts nonetheless.

I’ve been thinking about three morphologies (if that’s the proper term): (1) a minimal mass, (2) three volumes connected with bridges, and (3) three distinct volumes huddled together. I’ve seen precedents of all three, so perhaps they are doable. In all cases, the street-side of the cabin is private (and holds service space) while the far side is open to embrace the forest. One key thing that I mentioned to an architect friend is that we want someone passing by it to think "What in the hell?!?!"

the minimal mass

The cube appears in many projects I’ve seen over the years, the concept being: start with a cube and then subtract volumes to achieve programmatic goals. Pros for this approach is that it minimizes foundation area (cheaper), minimizes impact on the lot, and keeps things cozy. Cons are that there may be programmatic compromises to maintain the cubic purity, it would require stairs (not a deal killer, but could limit our use of it as we age [although one could argue that if we cant walk up a flight of stairs, maybe we shouldn’t be up in the mountains anyway...]). A simple geometric volume checks the same boxes as a cube.

Not a cube, but a simple geometric volume.

Minimal. A treasure box cracked open...



Longtime favorite: a small house in Houston. Love the material choices.


Three volumes connected by glass bridges comes from seeing a cabin with multiple volumes (all of them cubes, it just so happens) and talking about the project with an architect friend (who suggested a bridge to the house). In this concept there are three volumes: (1) entry/kitchen/dining/living, (2) guest/bath, and (3) master. Each volume is connected by a bridge that follows the private/open stance of the volumes. Pros include that the volumes are not volume restricted and can reflect the program (and in fact look better if each one is different: a big one for the entry/kitchen/living/dining, a small one for the guest, and a medium one for the master), the volumes are somewhat isolated from each other (better sound control), and each would have its own private terrace/deck to the forest/outdoors. Cons include a more complicated foundation (higher cost), more articulation (higher cost), higher utilities. Another plus on the Bridges concept is that I haven't seen an exact precedent yet. The examples below are masses connected by external hallways (or simply walkways). 

Separate but connected.

Separate but connected with al fresco walkways.


I had been thinking about this morphology when spookily an almost exact representation of the street presence of what I had dreamed about appeared on my Facebook feed. This calls for three abstract volumes glommed together in an orgy of abstract objects. This fulfills a “requirement” that the cabin invoke a “What the hell is that?!?” response from passersby. Pros include not having all those dang bridges and having the volumes respond to the program (as long as the program doesn’t interfere with the abstractness of it all). Cons include a more complicated foundation, more articulation, more attention to detail and smooth surfaces on the front, and listening to people hooting and hollering from the street (”What in Sam Hell!?!?!!).

I dreamt about this house before I saw it...

Freakin' love this, probably more because of the Schindleresque aesthetics than anything.

Bring us your poor...

Huddles on steroids!

At this point, of the three, I’m favoring Bridges, probably because thats the most recent one I’ve been thinking of. It could be that budget ultimately decides, although it may be possible to design in a way that other costs are minimized to make any of these possible. We shall see...

Another thought we had was to have an architect develop a master site plan that includes a separate and self-contained guest cottage. We could build and use the guest cottage in the short term until we can pull off and build the cabin. And we could live in the cottage while the cabin was being built, say, after we truly retire.

So many possibilities and options. We can dream, can’t we?


We found an intriguing lot that is in town but on a corner such that it backs up to National forest on two sides:

Possible view from "the back porch".

Looking up the hill toward the street entrance.


dancing with architecture: Sunspot, New Mexico

One of the side trips we took out of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, was to Sunspot, a small scientific community perched at the literal edge of the Sacramento Mountains overlooking the Tularosa Basin. The focus of Sunspot is, well, sunspots! It's a solar observatory station and is one of the places that provides early warnings of solar storms in addition to basic solar research. It's a rather gorgeous facility in a rather gorgeous setting with almost everything painted in International Style white. The facility above is as much below ground as above with its shape driven by function (nonetheless, I think Corbusier would love it). We showed up at just the right time for me to catch this shot of the sun peeking over the top.

Visitor center.

Another observatory.

Yep: That's a sunspot in Sunspot!

The inside of the tall tower.

There's another observatory on the next hilltop; however, this one focuses on the night sky. 

One of the older buildings.

Original barracks.

One of the original observatories (in a grain silo!) that now houses a night telescope (for the amusement of the scientists).

Driving out to the site from Cloudcroft are roadsigns for the planets to give you a sense of scale for the distances between them.

Kerning: It's important.