Ideas for plan 2.1

Here is a sketch of possible changes (see below)

We are looking at the “Second Try” layout and trying to figure out
how to address some of the things we are still not settled on. In
some ways we like some of the “First Try” features better, but
also know that won’t work. We’ve been looking at some designs of
“cabin” interiors that we like and have come up with some general
goals. Above is a vague sketch of how it should go, but we do not
have to go with it if someone comes up with something that works or
feels better.

Goals for next try:

1. Reduce Footprint to 1800

2. Create fireplace for master bedroom, possibly by
rotating bedroom down into Jean’s Room and sharing
same FP as great room from opposite side. Bedroom
will now open right out onto main deck, and jacuzzi
should be moved over, as the two leftmost columns
will now disappear.

3. Move sinks and kitchen down to current location
of nook. (the range / counter will have to be rotated
90 degrees to fit).

4. Move Jean’s space to a loft over Kitchen

5. Move Utility room down to former location of

6. Change “Guest” room to “Niles Study”, and move it
south 12 feet. It can be made smaller, 10′ square
or so, windows facing south. Place an exit out the
east side of study, with a ramp to allow rolling the telescope
out to pad.

7. Take former space occupied by Utility room and
turn it into (smaller) guest room. The bathroom does
not necessarily have to be attached to it, but if you
flip the current bathroom and the secondary entrance
hallway it should work.

Only 7 changes! That’s a lot better than the first time around. There is
hope yet…

The Ritter Block

The word going around is, my Dad’s Aunt Eunice has finally found some
prime samples of “Ritter Block”, which is a sort of concrete block that was
invented by my great-grandfather, George Ritter. George was in the concrete
and marble/tile business in Pinckneyville, Illinois, and his “Ritter Block” was
used in many buildings throughout that part of Illinois.

The plot had been hatched in my mind some time ago that a novel tribute to
my inventive ancestor would be to obtain one of his blocks and use it as a
cornerstone for the house we are building.

Here is an old picture of George Ritter with one of his other inventions, a
new jack for automobiles:

The Unbearable Lightness of Building

Slice-o-Life Department:

It was not my most ambitious meal, but I was really happy with the
way the sauce came out. After sauteing the onions and mushrooms
in butter, deglazing with white wine, then adding the fresh chopped
tarragon and vegetable stock, this formed the base of a subtle but aromatic
cream sauce for the pan-seared salmon steaks, resting on a bed of
mushroom risotto (with a little extra cognac to kick it up a notch).

And Gigi was just sitting there, absently poking at it with her fork.

This was right out of a gender-bent 50’s melodrama. I was ready to stand up, rip
the metaphorical apron off and plaintively wail in a fake Cary Grant accent,
“dahling, where has the magic gone ?”

It turns out that

  1. The fish had bones in it (of which she has been scared since Julie swallowed one years ago).
  2. She was thinking about how to completely re-arrange all the rooms in the house design
    to solve some long-standing issues with the current plan.

Good news all around. I had not known about issue #1, but I thought I was the only one waking
up at 3am with brooding thoughts about loft design, light, stone vs. wood, and
soils compaction tests.

The only trouble is, her ideas mean going back a few steps and redoing part of the process I
thought we had finished with. Frustrating. But I have to admit, they open up ways to make
the overall plan cleaner and simpler, with a smaller footprint, but more interesting internal
design and structure that comes closer to what we had in mind originally. Stay tuned.

Next time, I’ll be sure to get the fish filets without the bones in them.

Floorplan Version 2.0

Here is a snapshot of our latest floorplan (click to enlarge):

You can also download the scalable PDF version here.

You will notice that most of our change requests were implemented. In addition, the
observatory was redesigned as a circular platform, and moved away from the main house to
avoid the line-of-sight interference and thermal effects that interfere with astro-photography.
When the telescope is not up, it can double as a picnic area or gazebo.

Sketch of Roof brim and Railing

Here is a sketch of one possible way to implement the leading edge “brim” of the
roof that can be deployed or retracted depending on the amount of shade
and the angle of the sun:

There is also a sketch of some build-in seats that could be put on the inside edges of
some of the columns on the deck. The railing can have small concrete posts that
match the columns in shape, though perhaps flipped or made symmetrical. I see these
railings as being low, about 2-3 feet.

The 1.1 design proposal

The changes to the 1.0 floorplan are in dark overlay over the original diagram:

1.1 proposal

May be described as follows:

1. Move tall windows out halfway along columns, also making them
slant parallel to the outside slant of the column. This
creates 3′ recessed areas inside for reading nooks,
dining nooks, etc. If slanting them is structurally difficult
or expensive, leave vertical but push out the top of window to the
very outside edge of top of column. It also allows for the bottom
portion of the wall to be material other than glass.

2. expand deck along entire south-facing side. Move jacuzzi from
fenced patio to southwest corner of deck.

3. Move the doors leading to outside deck over to the next set of
windows on the right (east).

4. Shorten Guest bedroom to 12′ square and move up (north)
flush with front. Entrance to it will now be on the
northwest corner.

5. Put windows on both south and east facing walls of guest room.

6. Move the guest bathroom down (south) approx. 3-4 feet, forming
a small hallway leading to the guest room entrance. Flip the bathroom
floorplan vertically, and place the bathroom entrance so that
it is in the little hallway connecting to the guest room.

7. Move french doors on south-eastern wall down approx 3 feet,
and extend wall north to intersect the bathroom.

8. Place dual sink/counter against this new eastern wall, and
place window over the pair of sinks.

9. Orient Fireplace so that it is facing south-east, diagonally
into great room.

10. flip the range/counter horizontally, move it towards the
eastern side, and bend the curved edge more towards 60 degrees.
Curve the stairs up 30 degrees to meet the end at right angles.

11. Eliminate central sink/storage island.

12. Eliminate entryway coat-closet. We will never use them. Use
space to fill out utility room.

13. Push south wall of utility room 3 feet further south.

14. Move fridge to South-eastern corner of utility room, facing
into kitchen.

15. Recess the eastern wall of Utility room, to allow placement
of pantry shelves into wall along eastern side of wall.

16. Eliminate closet next to the secondary entrance. leave open
for hanging boots, hiking poles etc.

17. Move Jean’s desk over to recessed south window, facing view.

18. Move northeastern column up, aligned with the others in front.

19. Place window on western wall of master bedroom.

20. Move jacuzzi to south-western corner of deck.

21. Reshape master bathroom from 12×12 to an area shaped 10 x 14, removing 2′ of
space from north front and moving it to the western side.
Remove fenced patio and door in bathroom leading to it.
Refer to overlay showing how bathroom is now split into
a separate shower/bath/sink, and toilet-sink combination,
with a joined walk-in closet.

22. Remove bidet and one of the sinks in master bathroom. Use
the extra space to form a walk-in closet on the eastern edge
of bathroom space.

23. Remove closet from master bedroom, and move eastern wall of
master bedroom so that it is flush with the current location
of the bedroom doorway.

24. Move observatory slightly north so that the roof may slide
into (now larger) courtyard, without colliding with the stone
columns. Note: Observatory may have to be taller than currently,
so that the house roofline does not block the western view of

Notes On The Version 1.0 House

My first comments on the 1.0 design as shown in the 3D CAD view are

  1. We would like to extend the deck around most of the
    south side of the house, rather than have separate decks.
  2. Currently the glass goes straight up, flush against the inside edge of
    the angled columns. We would like to push the glass out at least
    half a column to form recessed nooks for reading couches on the inside.
    It could, in fact be an angled pane of glass, parallel to the outside slanted edge
    of the stone column. This would create a much stronger sense of separate
    “living centers” as Christopher Alexander would say. It also createst a
    stronger definition for Gigi’s studio on the southwest corner of the house. For the
    same reason, we also would not want the glass to go all the way to the outside
    edge, but allow the column to form recessed area on the deck.
  3. The tall windows are beautiful, but at present it almost feels like too
    much exposure. We’d like to keep the “lean-to” style of the southern part
    of the house, but would like to think of a way to someway provide more
    deep shade /privacy for the deck that would now extend around the south.

One possibility that has occurred to me for item #3 is to add a set of hinged
“eaves” to the upward-sloping roof, that when deployed drop down from the
roof edge, parallel to the outside column line. Here is a sketch of the idea:

Another idea for #3 that I’m no longer enthusiastic about was to add a
downward sloping roof on part of the house, forming a sort of clerestory
window in between. Here is an example from an interior of
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West House
(taken on the roadtrip following our wedding in Sedona):

taliesin west clerestory window

Note the tilting window and that the downward-sloping roof forms a space
for a clerestory window at the top. Kind of a neat effect, I think. You can
even see a strong resemblance to the stone column of the Taliesin room
and our columns. If you were to move the lower roof up about a foot or two
it would still provide a nice framing for the moutain views, but still creating
a much more sheltered feel for the deck.

I don’t like this approach as much as the “deployable eave” concept, because
it destroys Ray’s roof line, which I like, and requires a lot more engineering
to support that big second roof. The eaves idea doesn’t tweak the structure
at all, and is simple.

Solid Model CAD Pics of House

Ray Gardner just sent us some screenshots of a 3D CAD model
of the current (version 1.0) floorplan
(click to enlarge):

He also sent us the actual SKP format cad file that you can look at, walk-through etc
using a free Viewer. You can either download it directly from
(they want your email address and blood type etc), or else here are the free viewer
installers I already downloaded for Windows and Mac OS X (Classic macs and linux systems are out of luck).

Looking at the 3D cad model and spinning it around has already helped us figure out some
of the things we need to change. By the way, don’t take the size of the people in the
model too seriously for a sense of vertical scale: we’ve figured out that at this scale those people are almost 7 feet tall !

Bubble Diagram Version One

We met with Ray Gardner on Monday and worked out our first real bubble diagrams.
Here is what we came up with (south is down):


(click to enlarge)

The interesting thing about this is that it is very similar to the “version zero” diagram, in spite of
the fact that this one was drawn freehand by Ray, and we did not show him the first diagram, nor
did we tell him where to put things. All he did was ask a few questions, and the thing just unfolded
from his own knowledge about views, light, room placement and the like.

Marin Courthouse

I’ve never really liked these things that Frank Lloyd Wright did
that have all the circles in them. It’s pretty in an abstract sort of
way, but I wouldn’t want to live there:

One of the things that Christopher Alexander says about all this is that the
architect allowed an abstract image or idea take precedence over the life
of the site, and the people that were to be using it. In Wright’s case, he was
at war with “The Box” at the time, and using circles seemed like a good idea
at the time. It just doesn’t look like a friendly place to sit around in and read
a book.


Another one we like is Fallingwater. This place seems very alive, and appears to grow out of the site, made out of the same rock and earth (click to enlarge). The horizontal planes and vertical stone walls look like features that would fit well in our own site.

We’ve heard that the engineering in the place was faulty, however, and there have been some heroic efforts lately to keep the cantilevered concrete slabs in one piece. The lesson there is to know your materials, and to not sacrifice good structural integrity to artistic imagery.

Bubble Diagram Version Zero

This is a first attempt to get down on paper a bubble diagram of all the stuff that
we want to go into the house (click to enlarge):

bubble diagram

Clearly this thing needs work. There is a sort of clam-shell appearance right now, which
comes from the vague idea that we want to take advantage of the panoramic views in
the south-facing direction, and that we are on a slight slope heading south, towards
the bottom of the page. Consequently, the bubbles at the top of the page are not actually
at the same level as the lower ones, but about a half or quarter of a floor up.

3D Anaglyph of Site

I took a couple of digital photos of the site and combined them
into a single red/blue (or red-cyan) color 3D anaglyph photos,
which you you view below (click to enlarge):

If you look closely, you can see Gigi and Ray Gardner, our architect, in the middle
right portion of the picture. This gives you a sense of the scale.
If you do not have 3d red-blue or red-cyan glasses (JPL recommends cyan),
you can get a couple of pairs (or 50) from

Our Wish List

Wish List: (aka Ask for the Moon, and maybe you’ll get half):

  • Serene
    Ideally, when walking into the house you should feel a sense of relaxing, of coming home, the pressure off. Here is where you can be yourself and enjoy life.
  • Beautiful:
    Rustic beauty. Should come from the natural way that it expresses the life of the people that live in it, and not from any preconceived notion of “style”.
  • Stone, Glass and Wood.
    Niles grew up with stucco. That was enough. We see stone floors, lots of glass for the views of Zion, and some interior and exterior wood accents, such as cedar, which is common in the area.
  • Books, Books, Books:
    We read. A lot. Bookshelves by the kitchen for cookbooks, bookshelves underneath window-seats for something to read while
    enjoying the view, bookshelves in the bedroom.
  • The Deck:
    Barbeque on one side, Jacuzzi on the other. The deck is at least partly covered by a long shading roof extending out from the great room. At one place along the shaded part of the deck, there should be at least hooks for a hammock. Another possibility is to have a mist generator on the eaves for hot days, which are many.

  • Views and Light:
    Our lot has almost 360 degree views. We see the deck growing out of the Navaho sandstone with a south-facing view, skylights.
  • Great Room:
    Old houses have all these claustrophobic little boxes called formal dining rooms. We do our own cooking and would like to see and talk to people while we’re cooking. Ideally, it will open out to the deck with the view. The kitchen will have an island which will have the main burners, with suspended hangers for various pots and pans.
  • Master Bedroom with fireplace:
    ideally the fireplace is shared in the stone wall between the bedroom and the great room.
  • Guest Room / library:
    We should be able to accomodate one couple and their kids.
  • Entertainment area
    Occasionally we watch TV or DVD movies. We admit it. Never during the day, though so the best thing would be to have a suspended projection TV with a screen that retracts. Probably can be integrated with the great room.
  • Observatory:
    Nothing fancy. It is probably a good idea to have a simple base on the hard bedrock to avoid vibration of the telescope, with some kind of retractable cover. Could be integrated with the separated studio by the garage.
  • Studio:
    A studio for getting away and studying, reading, writing and what not. A place for Gigi to get away and read, such as a loft.
  • Storage Room / Pantry/ Cellar
    A place to store long-term food, wine and the like. Ideally it would be in an earth-cooled cellar.
  • Laundry/Utility/Mud Room:
    With shower, allowing you to come in after hiking the Zion narrows and not get
    the rest of the house muddied up.
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