29 March 2008

Fisher Paykel preview

It took me two days to get through the million square feet of KBIS last year at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Two days of new products at a trade show is exhausting let me tell you. Toward the end of my second day I came across the very large tradeshow booth of the New Zealand-based appliance manufacturer Fisher Paykel.

Referring to a major manufacturer's KBIS display as a booth only illustrates how limited our language can be some times. The big players and companies who want to be perceived as big players invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their displays at theses events. Kohler, Wolf/ Sub-Zero, DalTile, etc. build displays larger than most homes. Then they staff them with HGTV show hosts and everyone marvels at the sheer excess of the whole production. For an event that closed to the public, it is a monumental event every year.

Anyhow, I'd always known Fisher Paykel for its drawer dishwasher and thought that it was the only thing they made. That was until I came across the 10,000 square feet of Fisher Paykel's full court press into the American appliance market. To call these guys innovative is an understatement. These guys are out to start a revolution.

The first of these photos shows their Luna gas cook top which they debuted last year. I see and deal with appliances every day and it takes a lot to impress me. The Luna about threw me over the edge. It is a glass cook top for starters and when it's not turned on it looks for all the world like any other glass cook top. However, when it's turned on the burner and posts that serve as the rack rise up from the glass surface. It's like magic. A lit gas burner rising up from a black glass surface stopped me in my tracks. Damn the expense, that thing is COOL! If you expand the photo to the left, you can see both lit and unlit burners on that cook top. Notice that not only to the burners rise up from the surface, so does the control knob. Astounding!

They haven't stopped at gas cook tops either. They are now making a French door refrigerator. But then again, so is just about everyone in the refrigerator business now. As expected, the Fisher Paykel version ratchets up the competition a couple of notches. Notice that the in-door ice dispenser is on one of the refrigerator doors but the ice maker itself would have to be in the freezer in order to work efficiently. So they've found a way to transport the ice up about 18 inches to the dispenser. Wow. The mechanics of the ice maker are actually housed in the space between the refrigeration compartment and the freezer compartment. The result is zero loss of cubic feet inside of either space. In a counter-depth refrigerator ever cubic inch counts.

Most French door models that have an on board ice maker dispense the ice into a tray inside of the freezer, thus taking up room better utilized by cartons of peas and pints of Haagen Dazs. At a retail price of around $2500, the rest of the industry will be watching this one.

Fisher Paykel is now making pro ranges for the American market as well. When it comes to professional, dual-fuel ranges, my heart will always belong to Wolf. A Wolf is a feat of engineering and it is a purchase you make once. Nothing works like one, nothing lasts as long and no other pro range on the market has the same value as a Wolf. At least not in its price point. That price point is pretty steep though. A 48-inch dual-fuel Wolf will set you back $10,000. Like I said, it's a purchase you'll make once.

But a Wolf looks like a Wolf. A big dual fuel range won't always go well in designs that call for something a little more modern-looking. Not so in the hands of Fisher Paykel. Their 48" pro range has the innovations I'd expect from them and they're at half the price of a Wolf. Still, $5000 is a lot of money to spend on a range but the next time I'm trying to put together a big-budget contemporary kitchen, you can bet that I'm specifying this beauty from Fisher Paykel.

28 March 2008

Trend watch: new faucet shapes

KBIS (http://www.kbis.com/), the national Kitchen and Bath Industry Show is right around the corner. Manufacturers and suppliers use the yearly KBIS to roll out new products and in the weeks leading up to it, those same companies offer previews to the industry. My preview from Kohler (http://www.kohler.com/) arrived yesterday, and they have some pretty cool new stuff. Kohler's march toward the higher end of the market continues in their new products, that's for sure.

KWC (http://www.kwcamerica.com/) , a high end plumbing fixture company from Switzerland, makes a faucet they call the 1922. The 1922 is pictured above. I've always thought the 1922 was a beautiful, elegant sink fixture. Kohler's new HiRise suite of faucets seems to have taken KWC's idea of the 1922 and expanded it into a whole suite of fixtures.

The HiRise series has a deck mount faucet, a wall mount faucet, a single pole faucet, a pot filler and a sprayer. The tall, arcing shape of the faucet is continuing the trend of the last couple of years for kitchen faucets to get taller and taller. What's different though is that it has no integrated sprayer. I think it's an interesting direction and the HiRise is really gorgeous. As I mentioned earlier, this is definitely another step in the direction of the higher end of the market. The retail price on these things starts at a thousand dollars. That makes it a more expensive fixture than KWC's 1922, and I always think of KWC as an unabashedly high end brand. From the looks of Kohler's preview, I guess I need to readjust my thinking about Kohler as a company in the middle.

27 March 2008

How to buy a granite counter top

I spent the better part of Monday at a new stone wholesaler in Tampa. It was my first visit to their facility and I was there to approve some slabs for a client. The wholesaler is the Stone Warehouse of Tampa (http://www.stonewarehouseoftampa.com/) and their slab room was a feast for the eyes. the Stone Warehouse keeps its inventory on their website --check it out and you'll see what I'm talking about.

My client's counters will be fabricated and installed the the great folks at Cutting Edge Granite (http://www.cuttingedgegranite.com/) in Largo. Like all fabricators, Cutting Edge has a large collection of slabs on hand at any given time. Most times when I take people over to Cutting Edge, they fall in love with something they find there. But sometimes, we need to dig a little deeper into the supply chain.

Granite is quarried from deposits located all over the world. At the quarry, the granite is cut into large cubes. The cubes are cut into slices, similarly to the way one would slice a loaf of bread. Those slices are referred to as slabs. The slabs are numbered sequentially and those numbers stay with the individual slabs until they end up as counters in some one's home. This sequential numbering system allows granite fabricators to match up a stone's patterns when a counter requires multiple slabs to complete.

Granite is quarried by Mom and Pop operations the world over and its final price is a function of a particular stone's availability. The less common the stone, the more expensive it is. The granite industry uses four primary price levels that reflect this. In addition to the four primary levels, there are special categories for very rare granites and they tend to be priced on a case by case basis.

Because granite is a natural product, no two slabs can be identical. Additionally, granite changes from slab to slab, sometimes profoundly. It is important that you not settle on a granite until you see actual slabs. Small samples cannot show you the large, swirling patterns present in many granites nor can they show you the tremendous range of colors possible on a single slab. Never buy a granite counter from a sample. Never.

Granite as a material is relatively inexpensive. It costs what it does from the labor involved in transporting it, cutting it, polishing it, installing it, etc. Granite from a reputable granite fabricator should start at around $55 a square foot. Beware low prices. A granite counter is only as good as its installation. Somebody who tells you he's only going to charge you $35 a square foot is going to make money somehow and the only place he has available to squeeze is labor.

There are smart ways to save money and foolish ways to do so. Going with obviously low-ball bids is a pretty foolish way to make a project cost less.

So my how-to hint about buying granite counters is pretty simple --call Cutting Edge.

25 March 2008

Here's an interesting finish for a fridge

Amana (http://www.amana.com/catalog/product.jsp?parentCategoryId=588&categoryId=638&productId=1761&scr=category) just came out with a new refrigerator they call the "Jot" and I think it's an interesting idea. A lot of times I get caught up in specifying expensive appliances that don't necessarily reflect the way everybody lives. That was a point made abundantly clear to me when I was at my sister's house on Saturday.

My sister and her husband are the proud parents of seven really great kids. I noticed when I was over there last weekend that they'd bought a new fridge in a stainless steel look-alike material called Satina. Satina is a laminate that has the vague appearance of stainless steel. Satina, unlike stainless, is a magnetic metal. For someone like my sister and for a family like hers, the refrigerator sides and doors are where important papers, photos and drawings go so that they won't be misplaced in the crush and rush of humanity.

It's easy for someone like me, forty-something no kids, to dismiss needs like this because they aren't my needs. It's easy too for someone like me to lose sight of the fact that real people end up living in my projects and "where will we hang the kids' artwork and report cards" are the real needs of some of those same real people.

Anyhow, Amana has a new fridge called the Jot. The Jot's claim to fame is that its doors and sides are made from dry erase board. It's only available in their top-mount 30" size, but it's a start. What a cool idea though. Thanks Amana.

20 March 2008

You light up my life (and projects)

I have a meeting this morning at the home of two new clients. I am meeting up with a lighting supplier and we're going to figure out the feasibility of the lighting plan I worked out for a kitchen and great room.

The house in question is an early-'90s open floor plan on two floors and the first floor has cathedral ceilings. The house is on the water out at the beach and my task in this case is to bring all of that fifteen-year-old "glamour" into the 21st century. As it stands now, the place looks like a set from "Miami Vice." But I'm planning to make pretty short work of it. Even though the first floor has ceilings that peak at 18 feet above the floor, the builder used ceiling-mounted lighting exclusively. Achieving a sense of scale and intimacy in this warehouse-like first floor is impossible without addressing the lighting. Enter my friends at Tech Lighting (http://www.techlighting.com/).

When I proposed using track lighting throughout the rooms of the first floor, my clients weren't exactly responsive to the idea. Like a lot of people, the image conjured up by the phrase "track lighting" sent them back to about 1978 and a space filled with spider plants in macrame plant hangers.

The new generation of track lights were pioneered by Tech Lighting and the market is flooded with knock-offs in price points across the spectrum. Tech remains the gold standard of the category. Their products come at a premium, but none of the knock-offs look as good or work as well. Tech calls their track systems "Monorail Lighting" in an attempt to dispel the image of the cover art from Carol King's classic, Tapestry.

Monorail tracks are suspended from the ceiling and the tracks themselves are scaled down to the point where they nearly disappear. In suspending the lights (and in the case of a cathedral ceiling, the tracks hang from wires ten feet off the floor) it's possible to imply a ceiling and bring the scale of a room down to something more intimate and human. The other great thing about Tech's Monorail system is the nearly overwhelming number of fixtures that attach to the tracks. In using a Tech Monorail system, I can combine ambient, task and accent lighting in one fell swoop. The effect is terrific and needn't be coldly modern. Tech just introduced a series of drum-shaded pendants that brings a little tradition along for the ride. I love you Tech Lighting!

19 March 2008

Check out a cool new water filter

My friends over at Treehugger.com mentioned something in an article about water yesterday, and here it is. This thing is my new favorite object. It's beautiful, really. It's a water filter that's perfectly designed, sure enough. Yet it's also constructed from inert materials like glass and porcelain.

Bottled water is bad news for a host of reasons. It's an expensive way to buy filtered tap water; millions of barrels of increasingly scarce oil get used to manufacture the bottles; once manufactured, polycarbonates are with us forever and their disposal is a growing problem; polycarbonates themselves aren't inert and their abilities to leach into the liquids they carry is of particular concern to me. If you'd like to read up on some of the research about just how dynamic supposedly stable polycarbonates are, check out this.

Anyhow, the point of this is to pimp this cool new THING that's the answer to filtering tap water while avoiding polycarbonate containers. Enter the Aquaovo. As fond as I am of my Brita pitcher and Da29-00020b fridge filter, it's not something I'd leave out to impress company. Considering that it's made from pseudo-estrogen-leaching polycarbonate I'm not so sure it impresses me anymore either.

18 March 2008

More on walls and what do do with them

The kids over at Dwell keep a great section on their website they call "Marketplace." Dwell uses this section of their site to highlight interesting and innovative products for home that have a distinctly modern bent. Much like the magazine itself. Check out their website (http://www.dwell.com/) and click on Marketplace. Spend some time looking through their extensive listings.

What caught my eye this morning was a section on wallpaper. Like I mentioned before, I seem to have wallpaper on the brain lately. Anyhow, they highlight a San Francisco company called Ferm (http://www.fermlivingshop.us/) and Ferm sells some really great and unusual wall treatments. Their traditionally applied wallpapers grace the left side of this page and their innovative "Wall Stickers" are on the right side.

The wallpapers run about $90 a roll for a 32' roll and the stickers range from $50 to $175 apiece. The stickers come in a variety of colors and would look fantastic as an overlay on a striped wall I think.
What I couldn't help but notice too, was the website editor's mention of the great wallpaper rebirth of the last two years. I will blame the fact that I live and work in a naive market for my having missed this particular trend until last week. Things take a couple of years to trickle down to us here in Florida. Never mind my frequent trips to New York to engage in trend spotting. I guess I've been too distracted by Manhattan to notice the fact there there is wallpaper all over the place again. Oops. Bad me. Maybe I should just stick to the line that I'm cautious about embracing new trends. That sounds better at least. Hah!

17 March 2008

Wild, wild walls

A designer I work with brought to my attention a website called Inhabit last Friday (http://www.inhabitliving.com/) and I spent some time digging around on it over the weekend. I must be grooving to some kind of wall paper vibe because I gravitated to a product they call Wall Flats. Wall Flats are made from embossed bamboo fiber --a sustainable, renewable resource by the way. Wall Flats are paint-ready or can be installed out of the box and left unpainted. According to the website, they are as stiff as dense hardboard.

They are glued into place in a way similar to how wallpaper goes up and though less resilient than wallpaper, certainly pack more than enough punch. Unlike a lot of techniques for adding texture to a wall, Wall Flats leave behind a flat wall when they're removed. Try removing some one's idea of stucco some time and you'll appreciate what a flat wall really means.

In the meantime, these things are cool!

16 March 2008

Not your grandmother's wallpaper

I have had a raft of wallpaper news and events drift across my desk in the last couple of weeks. I know that sounds odd and I share a lot of peoples' preconceptions of the stuff. I hear wallpaper and my mind leaps to horrible magnolia borders in doctor's offices or that country crap that burns my eyes. Yuck! Look at it if you can.

The kind of wallpaper news and events I've been seeing are as far removed for the pastiche of sunflowers and herb jars (not to mention bow-wearing geese) as it's possible to get. Perhaps there's an opportunity here to call this new stuff something else. The term "wall treatments" gets bandied about but I think it sounds too fussy. Hey, why not refer to what I'm about to illustrate as wallpaper and garbage above as schlock? Hmmmm.

Anyhow, my beloved St. Petersburg Times ran a feature story on a Tampa wallpaper designer yesterday. Her name is Given Campbell and she's been getting a lot of press lately. I am crazy for her work. Crazy for it. She does both hand and machine-printed designs and to call her work beautiful only shows how limited our language is. Her stuff goes beyond beauty and distinction. Check out her website! http://givencampbell.com/default.aspx

A lot of her work uses the motif of a repeated letter. This pattern, called "Angelfish" is a series of repeated Ys

This pattern, called "Bamboo" is an arrangement of Capital Ts.

This safari-inspired design is a horizontal repetition of a lower case K.

This nearly Byzantine-looking paper is based on a capital Z.

She leaves behind the letter motifs easily and brings a fresh eye to the pop aesthetic of the mid-20th Century. This pattern is my new favorite thing in the world. My idolization of the glass tile mosaic might be coming to an end after having seen this stuff. Well, maybe not but it's still really cool.

This reminds me of a Pucci fabric circa 1968. I can see it in my bathroom already.

And if you can't resist a botanical print, here's a thoroughly modern one that will never grace the pages of "Country Living" magazine and for that we need to be eternally grateful.

I love this floral too. I can see the Eero Saarinen dining set already.

So wallpaper seems to be staging a comeback after a pretty long hiatus. The charge is being led by someone in Tampa Florida of all places.

15 March 2008

Suburban chill --my rant of the day

Someone called me yesterday looking for an "Italian" kitchen.

Every time my phone rings, I treat whoever's on the line with as much courtesy and respect as I can muster. I feel it's my duty to deal with people honestly. There is no such thing as a stupid question or a request too outlandish so far as I'm concerned. However, the flip side of that is that I do not believe that since a client or potential client suggests something that I have to go along with it or that I have to suffer foolishness.

As soon as I heard "Italian" kitchen I knew exactly what she was after. I mean, I hear that description a couple of times a week. And baby, it is nails on a chalkboard. Before I heard the back story, I already knew the back story. Someone and her husband or girlfriends had been on a parade of homes in a suburb and saw a bunch of 4000 square foot builder's models and wants to recreate what she saw. Fine. Let's talk about what goes into those things.

To the left is a kitchen I worked on a couple of years ago. It is in a model home in a suburb and to an alarming number of people, that suburb represents the good life. To an even more alarming number of people, this model represents a dream home. But it's an empty shell, a cartoon of a home. This kitchen had a price tag of about $180,000 but lacks anything resembling a sense of home or place. It's gigantic and in its hurry to cram as much detail and ostentation into the space, it leaves out human needs completely. Someone cooking at the range can't converse with someone sitting at the bar waiting to be fed. Someone cleaning up the dishes is isolated from anyone else in the room. You'd need a Segway to get from the fridge to the seating area. Aside from the bottles of oil on the counter and the pasta displayed in jars, there is nothing Italian about it. It is Italy as seen through the filters of Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip. It represents the complete separation of form from function and will make marriages disintegrate and kids turn dope fiends.

To the left is an actual Italian kitchen in an actual Italian home in Sorrento. Through a combination of timing and resourcefulness, I'll be standing at this sink and looking out this window for two weeks in May. This is what I think of as a real Italian kitchen. It's tiny, inconvenient, quirky and maddeningly inefficient. Italy in a nutshell in other words. This kitchen has four cabinets, a sink, a cook top and an unobstructed view of the Bay of Naples.

It makes tears well up in my eyes when I look at it, but only because I cannot wait to get there. I couldn't imagine trying to prepare a meal in it every day. Clearly, this authentic Italian kitchen isn't what my caller had in mind.

So there's a middle road somewhere and this caller and I will find it together. Exhibit A is beyond her means and this is someone who adores her family --she loves being a Mom. That first kitchen is a model, a mirage. It isn't real. So rather than immitating a commercial set, she and I are going to work out a design that will empower her to continue be the great Mother she is already. We'll put together a room that brings her family closer together --it will lend itself to their connectedness rather than dissolving it. At the end of the day; that's a real and worthy goal. It's also why I do what I do.

14 March 2008

Appliance field trip

I took a client shopping for appliances today and we spent the better part of the day in a really beautiful showroom at The Appliance Gallery in Largo. The Appliance Gallery is unique in that they show luxury appliances in room settings. From what I know, they are the only place in this market that shows their wares that way. Anybody else has a warehouse when you can go look at a $9,000 refrigerators in packing crates. Call me crazy, but an appliance that costs that much money loses a lot of its charm in a dirty warehouse.

I keep up to date on a lot of products and industries, and I take particular joy from the appliance industry. The amount of research and product development that goes into them is amazing. What really gets me though is how quickly the innovations that the high end brands pioneer trickle down to the consumer level. It takes them a couple of years, but the Whirlpools and the Amanas of the world eventually catch on.

Of particular note to me today were the energy ratings on the appliances we saw and they bought. It bothers me that the more money something like a refrigerator costs, the more efficient it is. The Sub-Zero 695 I'm showing here is about a $9,000 fridge. It uses about as much electricity as a flashlight. Yet; most $2000, better-quality, consumer-grade fridges don't come close to a Sub's efficiency. A Sub-Zero not only uses electricity more efficiently, it preserves food better than a consumer-grade fridge.

Now there are two innovations that can't trickle down soon enough.

13 March 2008


I have been mulling over this whole sustainability thing over in my head for the last couple of weeks and I'm convinced that my role as a designer and building product specifier grant me an opportunity to be part of the solution rather than the root of the problem. I am positive that I can commit to sensible development and building practices while at the same time keep a roof over my head. This is a new direction for me gang and its novelty has been driving my entries in this blog of late. Eventually, I'll get back to pimping shiny objects. In the meantime though, I have a couple more things to think about the topic of sustainability.

My Road to Damascus moment was made possible by the great blog, Treehugger.com (http://www.treehugger.com/). Treehugger does a great job of marginalizing the lunatics who belong on the margins and bringing sustainable ideas into to mainstream. All the while maintaining a sense of humor and fun that's missing from most environmentalist screeds. Check them out.

There was an entry on their site today about pee. Since I waxed so eloquently about poop removal in my last entry, I thought I should give good ole number one some equal time.

The recent finding about pharmaceuticals in tap water supplies can be blamed pretty solidly on the fact that most of the drugs human beings ingest are excreted within hours. If we, as a society, found something to do with urine other than flushing it; there wouldn't be trace amounts of ibuprofen and progesterone in your drinking water.

In Switzerland, The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology has been grappling with this what-to-do-with-pee dilemma and came up with the following:

While urine accounts for less than 1% of total waste water volume, it
contains 50–80% of all the nutrients in waste water. Many micropollutants, i.e.
residues of pharmaceuticals and hormones from human metabolism, also enter
waste water via urine. On average, for all medicines and hormones ingested,
60–70% of the active ingredient is excreted in the urine. 85-90% of the nitrogen and 50-80% of the phosphorus are concentrated in the urine. These nutrients are desirable in agriculture, but not in water bodies. It may therefore make sense to separate urine from waste water and use it for fertilizer production.

In New York this week, there's an exhibition at an art gallery called Eyebeam (http://www.eyebeam.org/) called drinkpeedrinkpeedrinkpee, It's provocative title is there to generate interest of course, but the purpose of the exhibit is to illustrate urine's role in the water cycle. It's not gross, so lighten up. Anyhow, one of the goodies in the goody bag at the door is a DIY kit to make fertilizer from your very own urine. Imagine! Get the nitrogen and phosphorous from urine out of sewer water discharges and it will end red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hey, the Romans used it as laundry detergent.

11 March 2008

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Yesterday's AP stories about contaminated drinking water supplies gave me pause. If you're living under a rock and missed yesterday's story here's the quickie re-cap.

The Federal Government studied, for the first time, the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies in 28 metro areas around the country. This should come as no surprise to anyone. But of course it was met with the usual chorus of hand wringing and paranoia. The science of this scientific study will be cast aside in favor of quick fixes and feel-good policy changes. Lost in the shuffle will be the fact that there are no quick fixes and that there is even less to feel good about.

That study says as much about how precise the science of finding wildly diluted traces of substances has become as it does about the state of drinking water in the US. Someone pointed out to me recently that worrying about infinitesimally small traces of ibuprofen in my drinking water makes as much sense as worry about how much dog feces I'm eating every time my neighbor runs his leaf blower.

So if the traces of pharmaceuticals that show up in tap water aren't thought to be harmful directly, it's worth studying how they got there.

I read a study a year ago from the University of Washington that found elevated traces of cinnamon and vanilla in Puget Sound that peaked between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Who knows what, if any, deviltry those substances can get into when they're released into the environment. But that they're there is a canary in the coal mine if nothing else. Ditto the pharmaceuticals.

Modern sewage treatment plants trace their lineage to systems invented in London to get sewage out of the city and into the sea as quickly and unstinkily as possible. The sewage systems today still do the same thing, only now they filter out the poop first. This by the way, is the only thing they are designed to remove. Treated sewage with the poop removed is judged to be safe and then discharged into the nearest body of water. No one looks for anything other than the poop when judging whether or not the water is considered to be "clean enough."

Since poop is all that can be filtered out, anything that's not poop (and dissolved) is still there. Pour Drain-o down the sink and it ends up in the Bay a couple of days later. Flush away an expired prescription and you might as well be walking down the street and dumping it into the Gulf directly because that's where your Xanax, Ambien or Zoloft end up.

In Tampa's case, Tampa treats its sewage and dumps the "clean" water into the Bay. Tampa also has a desalination plant that sucks water out of the Bay and makes drinking water out of it. True, there's no poop in it anymore when it hits the intake pipes of the desal plant, but it still has its Xanax, Ambien and Zoloft. Cities not located near a body of salt water do the same thing only without a desal plant. Chicago dumps its treated sewage into the lake and then gets its drinking water from the same lake. What's that word again? Oh yeah. UNSUSTAINABLE.

That story yesterday will come as welcome news to the bottled water industry who already has the masses duped into believing that there is something inherently better about water in a bottle instead of water from a tap. This is a lie, a damned lie.

  • 40 percent of the bottled water sold in the US is tap water with a brand name on it
  • 1.5 million barrels of imported oil gets turned into those convenient plastic bottles every year
  • Those plastic bottles can't be re-used
  • US tap water is the safest supply in the world
  • Bottled water is essentially untested and unregulated
  • These bullets could go on for days and all of them would say that bottled water is a bad idea

What's the solution? A carbon filter for under your sink. Why is this a topic for a design blog? Look at this beautiful filtered water faucet!

10 March 2008

Terrific terrazzo

Florida seems to be the land of the terrazzo floor. Or at least it used to be. I live in a part of Florida that was essentially built out by the mid-seventies, and the typical house in this part of the world is an 1800 square foot, cinder block ranch house. I remember being mortified by them when I first settled here but in time, the Florida rancher has grown on me. When the Florida ranch house was hitting its stride as a style, it marked the culmination of house building technology of the time.

Prior to the mid-'50s, houses built here were timber frame homes that sat on pylons about two feet off the ground. These frame homes had framed floors. For the most part; homes here don't have foundations. This is due to the proximity of the water table to the surface of the earth, and it's also due to the staggering volumes of rain water that fall during the rainy season. So without a foundation, traditional home builders here simply made sure that a home didn't sit on the ground. Around the middle of the last century though, somebody figured out how to pour a slab foundation from concrete and to build a home directly on that slab. Enter the Florida rancher.

Almost all of these sitting-on-a-slab ranch homes had terrazzo floors. Terrazzo is a flooring material that the Romans perfected and the terrazzo floors all over Florida are essentially the same thing the Romans used. A slurry of concrete and decorative stone aggregates is spread over a prepared surface and then the mixture is leveled. Once cured, the top layer of the concrete and aggregate mix is ground off; leaving a smooth, shiny floor with a distinctive pattern of random stone pieces in it. A typical, vintage terrazzo floor looks like the image to the left.

The native Floridians I know shudder at the thought of a Terrazzo floor. I think they're beautiful though. I suppose that people grow to resent what they grew up with and my native Floridian friends' bad reaction to Terrazzo is the same as my urge to vomit when I see hex signs or other Pennsylvania Dutch accouterments.

Traditional terrazzo is a labor-intensive and as building trade labor has become more valuable, the price of a new terrazzo floor became prohibitive and at some point in the mid-'70s, terrazzo was largely abandoned.

But terrazzo is making a comeback. It's starting to show up all over the place in public spaces and in private homes. The new terrazzo is a bit different than the vintage stuff and in a lot of ways it's a better deal. It's certainly less expensive. New terrazzo uses epoxy resins instead of concrete as a base. That's the first difference. In using an epoxy, the resulting floor is non-porous and highly stain resistant. Since the base material is manufactured and is essentially moldable plastic, it can be made in virtually any color. In a nod to the idea of sustainability, the aggregates used in the new stuff tend to be things like recycled glass and cast off stone from quarries. The new terrazzos have the same shiny stone feel of the old ones and they are virtually maintenance-free.

Since they are no longer being used as a cheap floor in mass-produced housing, the new terrazzos are as often as not designed and installed by true craftspeople and artists. Here are a few examples of this new terrazzo. In the hands of a competent professional, the sky's the limit. Or should that be the floor's the limit?

You can learn all about the new terrazzo floors and see some great examples of them in actual homes and businesses at the website of the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association (www.ntma.com).

06 March 2008

Mein gott im himmel! That's a stone mosaic!

The image to the left is a mosaic made by a San Francisco company called Exact Mosaics (http://www.exactmosaics.com/). It is an uncut tile mosaic made from 5/8" squares of natural marble.

I have never seen anything like this and I'm pretty much struck dumb by it. Exact Mosaics uses a pattern-recognition software to interpret a scanned image. The software actually selects the placement of the differently toned squares of marble that make up the whole piece. I mentioned yesterday that achieving curved shapes was something that was possible only with cut tile. Well, these people have found a way to do it with uncut squares and in a natural material to boot. Unbelievable.

The second photo is a close-up of the top left corner of the image and you can see the individual squares. The Romans mastered the art of the mosaic and since then, people have been using pretty much the same techniques. True, the Romans didn't have glass tile the way we do now, but even most glass tile gets used the way the ancients used colored stone. These guys on the other hand, have created something entirely new. Got to their website and gawk.

04 March 2008

More more more mosaics mosaics mosaics

I had another big conversation with a client this afternoon about the wonderful, accessible world of glass tile mosaics. I am suggesting that this particular client forgo the usual accent wall in a great room and that she instead use a glass mosaic on that expansive wall. I cannot get enough of glass tile mosaics, and seeing them used on a huge scale is a thrill beyond compare. Please excuse my hyperbole.

There's a company in Oregon called Hakatai (http://www.hakatai.com/). Hakatai sells mosaic tile by the truckload, they sell to the public and will do custom work using fine-cut, cut and uncut glass tile.

Uncut glass tile mosaics use the same size square tile over their entire design. A lot of times, uncut mosaics stick to geometric patterns. However, by varying the colors of the individual tiles, a mosaicist can convey an alarming amount of detail and subtlety. Uncut mosaics are interesting because they only look right when viewed from a short distance.

Simple cut mosaics rely on the square mosaic tile shape for the lion's share of their form, but use cut pieces of those squares to add shapes to a design a mosaicist can't achieve with small square --usually curves.

Fine cut mosaics are the most complicated and labor-intensive of these three categories. they abandon the square tile shape all together. Cut mosaics don't rely on distance for you to be able to see them. They look as good up close as they do from far away. My friends at Hakatai will make you a custom, cut mosaic based on a supplied photo or other image too. Love Van Gogh's "Starry Night?" Do you have a pressing need to have it rendered in glass tile in your foyer? Talk to the kids at Hakatai.