Remodeling, decorating, and more ∨

From designer seating and office desks to message boards and credenza, create your dream home office.
Select outdoor patio furniture to match your style, garden sheds or even a backyard greenhouse to personalize your landscape.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Updating Your Older House

                                        Portsmouth NH (Portsmouth chamber of commerce)
Ideas for sensitively updating your old house

Visitors to seacoast towns from Kennebunkport, Portsmouth and Newburyport all enjoy the wonderful scale, proportion and beauty these towns have as a result of their different histories. The majority of these houses are still in private hands and maintained with love and care. Living in these houses and building comes with the responsibility of stewardship to do the right thing, yet make updates for modern living.

Some of the most challenging projects that we engage with others to work are renovations. The challenges include the needs of the clients, of the town or city and historic restrictions and laws. Two areas that we have been engaged are adaptive reuse of existing buildings and designing additions that accommodate the needs of the current occupant and are appropriate to the building, surrounding neighborhood and the traditions of the style of the building.  We work with preservationist when needed and consult resources like Historic New England for applications to building science and old houses.

Let’s first look at saving energy in an old home. The first thing we prescribe to understand the older building is a blower door test. This allows us combined with a good physical inspection and occupant survey to understand the physical conditions.  The second step is to use a thermal gun to see where the leaks and low insulation are. It’s like an x ray of your house and you can see where obstructions may be. Third we suggest you have your current heating/ cooling system looked at to determine if it is a positive or negative asset to you house and budget.

Our analysis will direct our investigations into what is called the building envelope. The building envelope is the roof, walls and foundation and these elements work together to affect the internal comfort of the occupants.  Sealing the gaps or holes in the house help stop the movement of air and moisture. We study the house to preserve those most important feature, we study how the house is used and house the house acts in different weather. Studying a house and working with those who live in them is important to determine the course of action. We like to start in the attic and basement to add insulation and control air/ moisture movement there. We then decide the value of insulation versus the historic quality of a room or exterior.  Each house is unique and has different characteristics that need to be considered in the final plan. This is something we have spent a lot of time working with a team renovating " Heritage House Program" at Strawbery Banke Museum. (http://www.strawberybanke.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=198&catid=25&Itemid=81)
 Bear in mind that old houses are not new houses, but they can be made more comfortable.  Windows are such an example of an item of a house that needs to be examined and studies for what effect it will have  the long term look of the house. To replace or repair has more implications than just a convenience to energy efficiency. Old house and new technologies are a balancing act between that is good for the house in the long term and what works for the current inhabitants.
Additions are an action that people living in old homes come and speak to us about. For us we listen and examine the house you live. What style is it, what kind of density does the neighborhood have, and climatic concerns.  We also examine how you use your house and what may change if you build the size addition you need. Understanding these and other concerns determine how large of an addition we would recommend. When you add on how you integrate it with the old how affects how people will perceive your action. Using a careful understanding of proportion, traditions of surrounding additions and uses play a role in house the house and addition will connect and what they change about the house and its site.   See our Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/pages/adaptdesign/239285890684

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Architecture means....."

Architecture is what we work towards making everyday at adaptdesign. Today I would like to consider the big picture of what is architecture?  Below are a series of architecture quotes that offer a opinions of what architects do?

"Architecture is not a goal...Architecture is for life and pleasure and work and for people. The picture frame, not the picture."  William Wurster

William Wurster’s quote is one of my favorites because it gets to the heart of what architecture is: People and the relationships that shaping places for them to live have on them.   It is a quote that is specific, yet it allows you to dream, explore and listen to a client to shape for them a home or office that supports what they do. We could go into the details but let’s consider a few of other quotes as examples of the profession.  Think about them as you visit buildings, or design a building. How can thinking in the big picture help you understand the assembly of the details.

“Architecture is the marriage of place and occasion.”  Aldo van Eyck

“Architecture has always been as much about the event that takes place in a space as about the space itself.” Bernard Tschumi

“The house does not frame the view: it projects the beholder into it. “ Harwell Hamilton Harris

“Architecture at its best deals with the nature of people, the nature of places — whether they are in the natural world or people’s homes or places where they work. And it deals with the nature of materials, which is really fascinating.” Peter Bohlin

“By the use of raw materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions. This is architecture.”  Le Corbusier

“Architecture is a continuing dialogue between generations which creates an environment across time.”  Vincent Scully

Please submit your favorite quote of what a definition of architecture is below.  We would enjoy hearing what your favorite definitions are.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The House for to Craftspeople


Architecture in New England is - thanks to pioneers of the modern architecture- more than the traditional colonial and historic house types. Last Spring I was lucky enough to visit a wonderful modern house by New Hampshire architect David Campbell (1908-1963).

Soaring roof line of main house (author photo)

The house, still in private hands, was designed (1949) for and constructed with help by Edwin and Mary Scheier, pottery artists and teachers at the University of New Hampshire.  Using the slope of the site and orienting the form to best advantage or our climate; transformed this small site into a dynamic experience of grounded planar forms and soaring shed roofs that intersect at the studio to become a butterfly roof.

The house melds seamlessly into its surroundings where driveway leads a visitor to the front door protected by the garage and discovered by a simple linear overhead elements that leads to a foyer and a series of stepped platforms that rise up to the living room, with angled roof and glass wall revealing an overlook upon a landscaped hillside and small stream. The Living and dining space are divided by a sculptural fireplace- suggestive of Breuer’s well know fireplaces. Beyond the dining area is the kitchen and a door that leads to a screen porch under the shed roof with a forward angled wall gesturing to the landscape below.
                                            View From Road (author photo)
 While living space occupy the top floor, the foyer level takes one to the studio room and garage or down to the ground floor holds the bedroom areas that open onto a terrace with in place Scheier pottery pieces- an integration of architecture and art. The materials are simple vertical siding, metal glass windows and a clever use of scale and low budget detailing suggesting the depth of Campbell’s knowledge of contemporary architecture.

Campbell's output has been compared to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. While some of his central New Hampshire homes that were open during a League of New Hampshire Craftsman celebration may exhibit and passing Wrightian interest; another stronger influence appears to my eye.   Both this house has a sister house in Henniker New Hampshire called the Peter Dooley house (1950) have a strong link in style to Marcel Breuer. I visited this other home in 2005 and was impressed with the same thoughtful use of materials and form that created this modern house with a practical bent. This makes sense as Campbell studied at Harvard in the late thirties when Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and Breuer were both teaching and working together in Lincoln Massachusetts and surrounding Boston area towns.
Period photo of Dooley house (NH state Preservation blog)

Campbell was the director of the New Hampshire Craftsman Guild from 1938-1962 and played an important role in attracting and bringing crafts people like the Scheier’ s to New Hampshire to live and work. Campbell left in the early Sixties to design the new home of and direct the American Crafts Council in New York City. Much is yet to be discovered about this unique architect and his houses tucked away in the back roads and town of New Hampshire, perhaps beyond.

So be aware as you drive around the back roads of New Hampshire, you might discover the unexpected and learn some valuable lessons about modern design for the New England Climate. I know I am always looking for interesting houses to visit. Please share your favorites?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Holiday Read

Over the Holiday Break I read the latest by Howard Mansfield titled Dwelling in Possibility: searching for the soul of shelter.  This book is a series of informal inquiries on the subject of shelter. He writes about both the lighthearted, with a discussion on house hunting, and the serious, with a discussion on war and the destruction of home. The majority of the book is a lively tome on how living and shelter have changed and what philosophy and common sense can teach us about recovering the art of dwelling. While house hunting stops to consider this question: “We have shelter from the rain and snow, but our houses aren’t sheltering our souls.”  Is this a common idea not spoken about?
 Is this idea of the inspiring home and being ordinary an untapped important idea as we consider how best to design and live in our places of dwelling? He quotes the southern architect Samuel Mockbee as an example of a definition of this older idea of dwelling. ” Everyone rich or poor, serves a shelter for the poor.” Should our homes inspire us or at least be a place we want to be?  Think of characteristics of where you live versus places you like in magazines or from visiting others homes. Do you think we should expect more from the houses we buy?  Mansfield writes, “If the house is diminished, then we are diminished.” Do you think this is true? Do our houses express who we are or do we become expressions our homes?
An interesting sub theme is this ideas of complete versus incomplete.  He tells some stories on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Zimmerman house and concludes by asking is a complete house a good house or does a home need to be incomplete?  He steps it up a scale when he talks about the debates that occur in his town zoning meetings over the way the town looks, should it be formal or left informal?  These stories reflect a difference in scale around a level of involvement as to how much time we care to spend concerning ourselves with how things look.
 Mansfield then presents us with short introductions to three philosophers who have three differing ideas of home or dwelling.  One looked for the meaning of words, one for silence and the other for dreaming. This discussion leads you to uncover what definition works for your version of house. The questions you might consider:  Why does dwelling as a word reflects a deeper meaning for describing a house or at least a place of gathering for life?  One might conclude that we use our words as uniformity or casualness, as the sameness of our homes today?
Consider this last idea, of uniformity or variety. What do houses have to be? What is an ordinary house? Is it traditional or is it modern?  Why does our built environment feel so banal or nondescript? Why do older houses hold our interest for the way you look? Consider as you read this book how ideas and built forms are various and different like how a summer house used to be from you primary residence. Think of the vernacular building of our rural past, like sheds or saunas that we now can purchase as ready-made kits. Does the convenience of everyone having the same trump the individuality for how each area of a state or region might have differed from the other?
In exchanging individual expression of our personality have we lost interest in the distinctness of our built landscape? The only thing that would have made the book more interesting would be able to sit across from the author and argue or discuss the idea within – the book can help you begin your own.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Insulating Solid Masonry Walls

Insulate Masonry Walls: a case study of a carriage house

I live in a part of the country where there are a lot of brick buildings. There are many reasons including durability and feel of permanence of the material that brick was so widely used in east coast cities. The main reason, I think, is 19th Century fire codes that mandated in cities to prevent the spread of fire.  When working on an historic structure there are many things to consider. This post will focus on insulating the walls.

Determining actual construction of wall type can be difficult. We had a project in the office, that is the focus of this case study, that was constructed during a time of transition; from solid construction to an early version of the cavity wall. It turned out to be solid, but some investigation had to be done, both on site and at the local historic society, to confirm this. The next is to evaluate the current building code and energy code requirements the design requirements.

Let’s focus on how on updating the insulation of a solid masonry wall. Researching a topic is a good opportunity to test design questions by looking for evidence based information, both the latest and past, to understand if a solution will have its intended affect.  For example, what is the best way to insulate a solid brick wall?  With a wall there are two sides and thus, two location choices: one is to insulate the exterior or insulate on the interior? Which side is best?  What’s the best thickness for the insulation to be? Does the building’s location or history affect this decision? Of the choices I need to make for code, what are the most cost effective ones? In an effort to save energy adding more is usually the direction to go in, are there unintended consequences of doing so?

Often searches don’t initially help you locate the complete or conflicting answers. Sometimes are lucky but often times you have to sift through a variety of sites- some offering good and bad information.  I searched Building Science Corp.com and found an interesting article titled BSD-114: Interior Insulation of Load Bearing Masonry Walls in Cold Climates,( http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/digests/bsd-114-interior-insulation-retrofits-of-load-bearing-masonry-walls-in-cold-climates ) By John Straube and Chris Schumacher; Created 2007.03/22. This article informs you of the dynamics of the solid brick wall and the control of a walls water balance. The article incorporates research from Canada about what was discovered in retrofitted mill buildings where the water balance equation was thrown out of balance by the selected insulation depth. The recommendation, after further analysis and testing that when it comes to insulation less is more and airtightness is a better energy savings strategy for the long term of the masonry wall. It was found that the more insulation you add to the interior of the wall you push the freeze point of the brick wall into the walls interior which it was found caused the wall to spall- or water freezes and causes the brick to become powder.  This information was helpful when going to the code official to explain why we would not be maximizing the insulation thickness. It also please one of the clients who is a preservationist.

Parallel to this I searched another website http://www.greenspec.co.uk/  that corroborated my initial finding and offered another perspective.  Here is their take on the same subject: http://www.greenspec.co.uk/internal-insulation.php.   

We applied the research was a Victorian carriage house (1864-65) that incorporated a French Mansard roof with a selection of classical details including corbelling at the eaves and decorated flat arches at the entry points. The building had a short life as a stable, for the adjacent big house, and a long life as a two horizontally arranged apartments. Over time use and age took its toll on the building.  Our clients directed us to conduct a complete restoration of the exterior elements – this allowed us to restore deteriorated elements and make sure the wall was air and as water tight as possible. The interior was completely gutted and two new modern side by side apartments with a bonus loft space.

Our strategy was based on research and discussions with the mason. We calculated where the dew point would fall on the brick wall. It , not surprisingly, ended up where the articles suggested. As we pieced the pieces of the puzzle together, we looked to our building sections and outlined our strategy. The goal was to implement airtightness and insulation to achieve the best thermal conditions for the interior spaces. We began with a repointing to both sides of the brick wall. For the roof we re-shingled and devised a proper flashing plan for the edges. On the interior we closed cell foamed the entire roof cavity, walls and first floor to separate the basement from the apartments. Here the research on walls paid off by allowing us to correctly insulate with 1-1/2” closed cell foam to isolate interior moisture from brick wall, we applied a drainage plane against the wall and applied wood blocking for the gypsum board on top. The structure was applied to internal ledgers and is attached to the inside face of the wall, not fixed in the actual brick wall. Ventilation of the interior is accommodated with timed flushes by the bathroom fans- this was possible because of the small apartment size.  The insulation package described works in conjunction with an open plan, interior transparency of materials, natural light and passive heating and cooling strategies to create a modern series of living spaces. The articles aforementioned helped us thru building science to have update energy efficiency and preserve the long term help of the buildings masonry walls.


First Post

This is a sketchbook of ideas, books, technical comments, projects that are in the office of adaptdesign.  Please feel free to comment and engage with us on the post we enter.