Design snapshot: Self-assured symmetry

I just watched East of Eden this weekend, the c. 1955 Hollywood interpretation of a portion of Steinbeck's classic, which recalls Cain and Abel -- with James Dean as Cal (Cain) and someone else as Aaron (Abel). They're brothers vying for their father's affection. Well, Cal thinks their vying, when, truly, Aaron has already, long ago, handily won. Aaron has it all: confidence, good looks, a solid reputation, a balanced ease, support of the establishment. Poor Cal is the seeming opposite of Aaron, in all respects save the looks department. You might (if you're a House Enthusiast) even compare their attributes to those of symmetry and asymmetry.

What is it with symmetry, so sure of itself, so solid, so relentless, so balanced, so attractive, so established, so lauded, so trusted, so good, so Aaron? This Georgian could be the poster child for symmetry. It's a self-assured delight. How we enjoy the parade of double-hung windows and the march of stone treads, railing, and balustrade emanating out equally from the center of the door and pediment. What pleasure we take from the repeated shadows cast by the matching sconces, thick sills, and proud window heads. How comfortable we are with a countenance that's symmetrical like our own.

But fear not, asymmetry has its strengths, too. It's the underdog, less established, less trusted. But it, too, can posses its own unique kind of balance. It can be less relentless and more open as a result. It can win your trust. And it can be uniquely attractive; take a look at Cal (James Dean); he's redeemed in the end. He just needs someone to believe in him. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a worthy asymmetrical "Design snapshot" to share, if only for Cal's sake.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast 

Posted on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 10:36AM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Primer: More comfortable cathedral ceilings

Image excerpt from my Fine Homebuilding "Drawing Board" column about cathedral ceilings. Rafter battens and paired wood rafter ties.Pick up a copy of the November 2013 Fine Homebuilding magazine to catch my latest "Drawing Board" contribution. This one explores lending nuance to cathedral ceilings by introducing different levels of enclosure, overhead density, and orderly rhythm.

Click here for a PDF of the column. "Comfortable cathedral ceilings" by Katie Hutchison, Issue #238, October/November 2013. Reprinted with permission copyright 2013, The Taunton Press, Inc.

Visit the KHS publications page to see other magazine columns and articles I've written.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast
Posted on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 11:32AM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

The idjit gardener strikes again

In between the Hibiscus and the Rose of Sharon stand the offendersThis idjit gardener was starting to get a little cocky about her new found gardening acumen until the recent weed incident. Early in the summer, as I tilled the dirt patch next to the deck, I came across a discarded empty Delphinium seed packet. How lucky, I thought, that my predecessor had made the effort to gift me some delphinium.

Soon afterward, some green sprouts in the area of the found packet began to reveal themselves. They had multi-pronged leaves, which -- to the idjit gardener's untrained and suggestible eye -- looked to be the delphinium I awaited. In no time, there was a booming bounty of them popping up in a haphazard array. So, I subjected them to my innate orderliness, and transplanted them into two neat, tightly-spaced rows. I watched over them carefully for a few days, saw that they were thriving, and went on my merry way.

Next time I took note, they were about 18 inches tall and topped with short spikes of little lightgreen buds. But wait, that's not what Delphinium are supposed to look like, are they? I googled "Delphinium images," and doubt set in. Things got worse when I spotted the same Delphinium impostors among weeds in a town parking lot. Oh no. I dispatched photos of the impostors to friends and family who possess plant identification skills light years beyond the idjit gardener's. In reply, I received diplomatically worded emails about how something is only a weed if you don't want it, and that perhaps my impostors possessed an unsung worthiness. Well, they didn't.

This morning I removed the offenders with somber resolve. In revenge, they set my fall allergies into overdrive. But I would not be deterred. Now they rest curbside in a yard-waste bag. The garden looks a little bare in their absence, and, though I mourn the Delphinium that might have been, I've already transplanted some Hollyhock seedlings into the sunny spot the offenders so enjoyed. Perhaps the idjit gardener will next learn that Hollyhocks do not tolerate being transplanted in early fall. 'Til then, there's always another adventure for the idjit gardener.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 4:21PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Kids summer camp architecture workshop

This House Enthusiast visited a local summer camp yesterday to present an architecture workshop. My hope, of course, was to inspire future house enthusiasts in the joys of the creative process.

Twenty plus campers ranging in age from preschool to high school joined me in talking about what architecture is, what it's made out of, and what an architectural scale model is. Then, I introduced them to their project for the morning: to imagine a place to read and to construct a scale model of it out of sustainable materials that I provided.

Each camper received a brown goodie bag containing a 6" x 12" thin piece of cork, four wooden plant-labeling sticks, four bamboo toothpicks, and a 2" x 6" piece of moss ribbon. We talked about the properties of each material, including the brown paper bag, and what each might represent in their models. For the sake of scale, I suggested that the length of a plant-label stick represents eight feet in the real world, which amounts to 3/4"=1'-0" scale. And then the campers launched into design and construction of their imagined places to read.

Much of the fun for me was when I got to play the supportive Tim Gunn role and visit the campers mid process to discuss and occasionally advise them on next steps. Naturally, I was very impressed with the kids' resourcefulness and good will. Here are some of them with their creations, and some close-ups of their scale-models of a place to read.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast


Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 5:49PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Design snapshot: Three-sided room/porch

Architects love designing spaces that can be transformed from one use and feel into another use and feel, and, if possible, into yet another use and feel. This three-sided room/porch is a great example why. Close all of the sliding glass doors and enjoy a bright room at the end of the house. Open them all most of the way and experience the outdoors indoors. Open a pair on one side only, and feel the nuance of prospect from within partial enclosure.

The continuity of flooring material and level indoors and out, the wicker furnishings, and pale blue ceiling color enhance the indoor/outdoor vibe of this space. Is it a room or a porch or both? It's the ambiguity that's so engaging, as is the attention to detail in the flanking windows, basket-weave brick flooring, and rafter-tail overhang.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 10:23AM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off