Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homemade Wednesday: Playing Architect

I have always secretly wanted to be an architect, and no, not in the George Costanza kind of way. Since I was a little kid, I've drawn building plans for houses, zoos, chicken coops, anything with walls and grid paper. My complete debilitation with math kept me from actually going into the field, but I've kept my hand steeped in rulers, paper, protractors, pencils, and pens for years. About a year ago I began drawing up plans for Birch and my dream home and this week I came as close as I've ever come to designing our perfect house. Small, but roomy. A lofted upstairs, a rooftop garden, a cat porch (to keep them inside but out of Birch's allergic range), huge windows, circular stairs, a breakfast nook... oh, how I love it.

The two floors together. The second floor has a hallway that looks over the living room and "Sun Hall" (like a loft).
 The first floor has a large Sun Hall that faces the South side of the house, capturing light and heat to better heat and cool the house as needed. As you enter, there are stairs on the left along with large windows from the first floor to the ceiling of the second. The project room and living room are separated by a small wall with a built-in bookcase on the living room side. The breakfast nook also has a small wall surrounding it, making it a cozy place but not completely isolated. The North side of the house is completely covered by large floor to ceiling windows (and where able, all the way up to the ceiling of the second floor). The idea is to fill the house with as much natural light as possible so that we're mostly/only using artificial light at night (plus, it's better for pictures). Between the breakfast nook and dining room there is a large scale shelving unit for house plants like ferns and orchids (for beauty and fresh air). The dining room has a short wall on the East side with a built-in buffet table (the front being wood and the back being the regular house materials). Birch has requested a large kitchen with a pizza/bread oven, an industrial hood fan, and the regular appliances. I've added a large pantry to save on cupboard space and electricity as some things that need to be kept refrigerated can be kept in the pantry (dirt floor). I haven't researched this part as well yet, so it may end up needing to be outside or dug into the ground more than I've indicated. There is a small bathroom with a toilet and sink downstairs to mostly be used by guests. On the West side, there is an enclosed cat porch. This will allow me, Cat Lover, to once again have kitties while keeping them away from Birch who is allergic. With ample space to play in, this will keep their outdoor time (if they get it at all) to a minimum without me feeling totally guilty. I saw a show on Animal Planet many years ago where someone had done this and it looked great!
The breakfast nook on the North side of the first floor.
The large kitchen, pantry, and dining room with built in buffet table.
The project room and some of the entrance area.
The second floor has a loft-like feel and an outdoor rooftop garden (over the cat porch below).
The rooftop garden is accessible both from the inside and outside.
The second floor is a bit more complicated in my mind and needs to be tweaked the most. For now, it includes only the bedrooms and the rooftop garden over the cat porch below. The master bedroom will have a window onto the Sun Hall as well as two doors for easy access to the entire house. One to be able to shout down to the floor below (and take "aerial" photos of activities in the living room) and the other for a quick getaway down the stairs. The two bedrooms will most likely have some kind of "secret" crawl space between each other for rendezvous's that I'll most likely regret thinking up later. I'm also planning on the changing the outdoor staircase from the garden to the ground into a circular staircase because they're cooler and I want one (and it gives more space for the garden). Over the living room, I'm considering sky lights and perhaps also over the master bedroom. Solar panels will also be used, although they've come out with some pretty kickin' solar shingles (scroll down to the ones that look like regular roofing shingles) or tiles. Yeah, seriously. I'm jumping on that bandwagon! 

The only problem? Bathrooms. I need to figure out how to expand the space to make room for a full bathroom. Birch's solution? An outhouse. I could be okay with that during the warmer months, but man I do not want to be sitting my little behind on a cold outdoor "toilet" at six o'clock in the morning, I'll tell you that much. So, a full bathroom. There's one in the IKEA catalog that I am seriously obsessed with: the "Getting Ready in the Morning" one with exquisite green tile. Oooo... I love it.

So, as I learn more about sustainable building techniques I'm sure things will shift around and get better, but we're not planning on building anytime soon, so there's time to perfect it all. Have you found any awesome how-to's or sites for sustainable building? Obsessive about interior decorating, my house design also incorporates several interior decorating looks, but I'll save that for another time.

Some design and construction books I own:

Complete Guide to Alternative Home Building Materials and Methods by Jon Nuan
Apartment Therapy's Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan
(I know I have more than this, but they're hiding...)

Some on my wish list (hint, hint: my 26th birthday's next week!):

The Natural Paint Book by Lynn Edwards
The Natural Plaster Book by Cedar Rose Guelberth
Old Wood New Home by G. Lawson Drinkard
The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes by Athena Swentzell Steen
Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates by Paul Lacinski
The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans
New Built-Ins Ideas Book by Sandor Nagyszalanczy
Earthbag Building by Kaki Hunter
Building with Cob: A Step-by-Step Guide by Adam Weisman
The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling by Daniel D. Chiras


  1. This is so great! My Dad wants me to help him lay out his retirement home, so you've definitely inspired me to start brainstorming :) Just found your blog!

  2. these are a bit smaller than your plan, and appropriately adorable, but they might give you some ideas. A friend of mine desperately wants to build one :) You're plan looks amazing!

  3. oh-- and if you haven't played with it yet, you absolutely must check out Google Sketchup. It's free and user friendly, and you can build a 3d model of your house and download pre-existing models of furniture.

  4. Thank you, to you both!

    Jennifer, I love your blog! Can't wait to delve more into your designing adventures!

    Maria, thanks for the link! I recognize Jay Schafer, I must have seen one of his books in a bookshop. I'll definitely have to purchase it now. I love his Whidbey plan, especially.
    Thanks for the tip!

  5. Oh, this is so cool! I loved imagining your home as you described it. Your words and plans gave me a really clear picture of what your home would be like. And I love your cat porch idea! :)

    Your plan reminds me somewhat of a green home we toured in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry. Here is a link: It was neat to see all the different ways the house was sustainable and green.