30 June 2008

Choo Choo Charlie envy

Here's one for the books and an interesting housing option I never considered. I came upon the story on Dwell Magazine's website this morning and it has my wheels turning to say the least. An artist in Oregon had a Pullman car renovated and in leaving it on the tracks rather than decommissioning it, it's not real estate; it's considered to be "rolling stock." Ergo no real estate taxes. The car's really well done --it's an attractive living space. It plugs into an auxiliary power source the way a boat at a marina does and it uses an incinerator toilet so it doesn't need to be hooked up to a sewer line. It costs the current owner $150 to keep it parked in a rail yard and that's it. Bravo clever artist guy in Portland for a brilliant execution of a sustainable housing idea. Check it out:

28 June 2008

I love this furniture!

What's a man to do when he has Suessian visions of what life and furniture should look like but still has a life to lead? I mean, I have stuff to store and books to shelve and unmentionables to put away. Over the years, my love of camp and cartoon have been repeatedly slammed against the stone wall of reality and I've abandoned a lot of my ideas about wild colors for their own sake and fun furniture that was cool to have even though it didn't function very well. Along the way too, I've developed a much keener appreciation for fine things that are built well and that will last. I want the things I buy for myself to be fun and clever and at the same time I want to buy things I never need to replace. Oh what to do and where to go?

Well, enter Gallery Dust. Gallery Dust is the Valpariso, Indiana-based brainchild off furniture makers Vincent and Jessie Leman. They take traditional, American, wood furniture and twist and turn it into their beautiful and dare I say whimsical creations. I love this stuff, really. Bravo Vincent and Jessie, thanks for making beautifully clever and cleverly beautiful furniture.

27 June 2008

And then a light went off...

Meet the Geobulb. The Geobulb is an LED light that is intended to replace a 60 watt incandescent bulb. The current wave of compact fluorescent bulbs are but a stop along the way to a world illuminated by LEDs. LED stands for light-emitting diode. An LED is a super-efficient method of light generation that features no breakable parts like the tungsten filament in a standard incandescent bulb. What's more, there's no mercury in it, unlike compact fluorescent bulbs. This lowly bulb produces the equivalent light of a 60 watt incandescent bulb (800 lumens) while using only 8 watts of electricity. Pretty cool. What's even cooler is that it's available in three color temperatures: cool daylight, warm white and soft white. Although the price on these things is just starting to drop (this Geobulb will set you back $120 and that's if you can find one), their long life puts even a CFL to shame. The expected lifetime of this Geobulb is 30,000 hours. What that means in the real world is that if your turned this thing on for 12 hours a day every day, you could continue to do so for the next seven years before you'd need to start thinking about replacing it. The Geobulb is available through C. Crane.

26 June 2008

Modern, prehistoric chic

This is an ammonite, an extinct marine cephalopod. The last of the ammonites went extinct some 65 million years ago, at the close of the Cretaceous Period.

And this is an ammonite-shaped concrete sink by HiTech Design from Germany. If it's possible to fall in love with a bathroom sink, I think I have.

25 June 2008

The USPS discovers mid-century classics

On June 17th, 2008; the US Postal Service issued a series of commemorative stamps honoring the designs of Charles and Ray Eames. Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife team who pretty much defined mid-century American furniture design. The Eames' designs (as well as their collaborative work with the likes of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, among others) also marked the first step toward a "Democratization" of design. That kind of democratization could have only happened in the US. The Eameses epitomized the idea that exquisitely designed furniture needn't be reserved for the very wealthy. Further, everybody deserves to live in a well thought out, fully functional and beautiful environment. In a lot of ways, Charles and Ray were the beginning of the path that lead us to Target. Well, Target's better impulses at any rate. The Eameses work in materials such as fiberglass and plywood were gorgeously designed and mass produced by Herman Miller. Many of their designs remain in production and knock offs of their work are legion. I think I need to buy some stamps. Online.

24 June 2008

Who says dishwater's dull?

In the US and Canada, up to one-third of the water used in a typical household gets used to flush toilets. In Florida, the actual percentage is less than that (23.3% according to the City of Tampa) but our gallon per person per day use is a staggering 243 gallons a day. And 75 of those increasingly scarce gallons get wasted on lawns. Appalling! Appalling and incredibly wasteful and it's the wastefulness that bothers me more than anything.

The United States is on a collision course with a big water problem. Florida's number will come up sooner than the rest of the country's. As much as I would LOVE to blame Florida's plight on lawns, they are only part of the problem. Another big, wasteful part is the water gets thrown down the toilet, 1.6 gallons at a time.

Yes, this is wrecking the environment; but for most people, that wreckage is something that they have to go out of their way to see. I mean, who bothers to drive to the Everglades, get out of the car and look? Freaks like me for starters and it ain't pretty. But aside from that, where it has a major effect on people in the short term is in the amount of money they spend on municipal water and sewer rates. As Florida plows into an era of increasingly scarce water, those rates are going to skyrocket. So what can you do now to save money immediately and save a whole lot of money down the road?

An answer is a BRAC Greywater System from AquaPro Solutions. AquaPro Solutions is a North Carolina-based water conservation and management company. The BRAC Greywater System sets up a parallel plumbing system in your home that will allow you to make your own reclaimed water. Waste water from your bathroom sinks, clothes washer and shower gets filtered, saved and re-routed for use to flush your toilets and run your irrigation system. Check out the schematic below. Depending on how much water your household uses, you could cut up to half of your water use with a system like this. A-maz-ing.

23 June 2008

It's curtains for solar power

No, I mean that literally. Who says that solar power requires bulky, roof-mounted glass panels? Certainly not Sheila Kennedy, principal architect of Kennedy & Violich Architecture in Boston. Kennedy has developed what she's calling solar textiles; thin, membrane-like materials that can be draped or can cover walls or roofs. In a prototype she just finished displaying in Germany called "Soft House" (it's what's pictured here), Kennedy made patio draperies for a pre-fab structure that could generate 16,000 watt-hours of electricity.

Solar textiles are new and they utilize organic photovoltaics (OPVs), the next generation in solar power. At this stage of the game though, OPVs are less efficient than the old-school silicon-based photovoltaics. OPVs are the new name of the game though, and look for their efficiencies to improve as their prices come down over time. Brace yourself kids, the future is now.

Many thanks to my pals at Treehugger.com for the heads up on this terrific story.

20 June 2008

Shoal, shoal, shoal

What a great word, shoal. I love it when a lighting designer turns to the natural world for inspiration and that's precisely what Dominic Bromley did when he came up with Shoal. For anyone who's never turned on the Discovery Channel, a shoal is a school of fish in a tightly circling configuration.

Dominic Bromley is an industrial designer turned lighting designer for Scabetti in the UK. Scabetti specializes in gorgeous, custom household objects and Bromley's responsible for their lighting.

The shoal is made from 284 individually sculpted bone china fish and they circle a tube light. bone china is translucent, so each of the fish in the light fixture glows and casts a shadow. The effect in a room must be stunning. It almost seems unfair to call this a light fixture. What it is more than anything is a sculpture.

19 June 2008

Poppin' my cork

Check out the new face of cork floors. Zoom in on that image and ooooh and ahhhh. That's the newest incarnation of a cork floor and it's a cork mosaic floor.

Here's how it works. Corks cut for use as wine stoppers are thinly sliced and glued to a square foot sheet of paper. Then they're installed with mastic and grouted in the same way one would install any other mosaic tile.

Cork is resilient, water-resistant, sound deadening, flexible and renewable --all pluses in my book. Where this stuff really starts to shine though is that it can be stained to any color you'd like (that makes sense because after all, it's made from the same cellulose that any wood product is). BUT, it can also be sealed and used in a wet area like a shower floor or a spa.

This is too cool. I've never met a mosaic I didn't like and this stuff's great from every angle.

These tiles are made by the Canadian firm, the Jelinek Cork Group. Jelinek has an extensive list of cork product offerings and I agree with them that cork doesn't get the attention in the US that it deserves.

In addition to their well-done website, Jelinek operates and online store and outlet called The Corkhouse. At the Corkhouse you can browse through their flooring offerings, but where else but The Cork House are you going to find a cork purse or a cork hat?

18 June 2008

Pre-fab fabulous

Finally! I can say something positive about Lowe's.

On the heels of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Lowe's got involved in the pre-fab housing industry to meet the pressing housing needs of the Northern Gulf Coast. They seem to have tapped into a wellspring of unmet need because Lowe's is now selling a line of "kit houses" a la Sears at the turn of the last century. This line of kit houses from Lowe's features the designs of such New Urbanist visionaries as Marianne Cusato, Andres Duany, Eric Moser, W.A Lawrence and Geoffrey Mouen. And much in the same way that Sears did it a hundred years ago, these houses are available for purchase as a set of plans or as a set of plans plus every screw and 2x4 needed to build one of these admittedly cool houses. At an average of $55 a square foot, these beauties are proving that sustainable housing can be affordable housing and still be cool housing.

17 June 2008

Meet the Plumen

Another one of the blogs I read is called the Sustainable Style Foundation. The Sustainable Style Foundation is an international, member-supported, non-profit organization that's dedicated to promoting sustainable design and sustainable lives. SSF combs the world looking for innovative and beautiful ideas and things that are helping to nudge a consumerist society toward a more sensible yet still fantastic direction. Check them out some time. Anyhow, their site featured a story about this beauty, the Plumen.

The Plumen is the brain child of a London-based design and manufacturing firm called Hulger. The design team at Hulger has re-thought the utilitarianism of the compact fluorescent light bulb and the result is the Plumen. So the concepts are done and the prototypes have been made, now all they need is a manufacturer. Anybody out there in the fluorescent bulb business?

16 June 2008

The Story of Stuff

I watched this 20-minute video last week and it's given me more to think about than I ever expected I'd find on You Tube.

There is a growing awareness in me and in a whole lot of other people that life as we now live it in the west isn't sustainable. This quest for sustainability is an outgrowth of the environmentalist movement and that's not up for debate. The mainstream environmentalist movement fails utterly when it offers solutions though. Attempting to turn back the clock to a time of a smaller human population who hunted and gathered for a living isn't a solution. Human technology got us into the state we're in and human technology will get us out of it. The first step in unleashing the power of the human mind on this mess is to realize that there is a huge and multi-headed problem to be dealt with. Western-style consumerism is at the root and western consumerism is grave need of some rethinking. Rethinking by me, rethinking by you. As this video points out so eloquently, buying a radio for $4.99 is at best a short-term win if it's a win at all. Please pass around this video. You can find out more about this video and the foundation that produced it at their website: http://www.storyofstuff.com/

13 June 2008

How green is your project?

The gang over at Dwell Magazine have joined with the AIA, that's the American Institute of Architects to those of you not in the know, and together they are hosting a contest to promote sustainable home improvement projects.

If you're the proud owner of a green home improvement project and you'd like to show it off, go to the entry form on Dwell's website and enter. All you need to do is submit up to four photos of your project and write a simple, 250-word description. Then Dwell and the AIA will evaluate your entry. The most inspired projects will be posted on Dwell's website and if that weren't good enough, the winner will win $1000 to use toward his or her next project. Two runners-up will each receive $500 in addition to being posted on Dwell's website. Hurry though, the deadline for entries is June 30th.

If you don't have a green project of your own to show off, don't lose heart. The pages of Dwell Magazine and the AIA's website are great places to go to and find inspiration to start one.

12 June 2008

Great lights!

I found this light fixture from Mixco through my pals at Treehugger today, and it may just be the thing that re-engages me in my blog. Thanks Treehugger and thanks Mixco.

I've been having a hard time forging some kind of connection between what I do for a living and what I believe is the deeply flawed vision of my profession. I am bombarded daily with industry generated tripe about what's new and what's better and what's disposable and what's right now. Keeping an eye on design trends is important as a means to make better choices, but I can't escape the feeling that there is a growing sentiment that design is temporary and disposable. "Temporary" and "disposable" are bad words and I am actively trying to purge them from my working vocabulary. In my mind, architects, designers and builders need to be a forefront in the quest for sustainable materials and practices and it's up to us to show people what's good for them in ways that are appealing and fun.

To that end, this new pendant light from Mixco does everything I tell my clients: if you can't disguise something that you can't change, draw attention to it and have it be your idea in the first place.

The shape of a compact fluorescent light bulb has always bothered me and I've always tried to hide them. Well, thanks to Mixco I don't have to hide any longer. Hah!

03 June 2008

Herculean Herculaneum

I was pretty amazed by the level of preservation in Pompeii, despite its having been picked over so thoroughly in the last couple hundred years. Herculaneum on the other hand, has more of its architecture intact and entire homes filled with original mosaics and frescoes. I was blown away by Herculaneum. So much so that I want to start a movement in the decorative arts. I was going to call it Pompeiian Revival, but Herculaneum Revival is making more sense to me after having been there.

01 June 2008

Pompeii pomp

I spent a day combing through the ancient ruins of Pompeii a week ago and came away humbled and moved to say the least. The classical Romans had surprisingly contemporary tastes and sensibilities. Either that or everything, and I mean everything, really is retro.