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We are Kitchen of the Week on Houzz!

Oct 3, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

The Novak Residence project was featured as Kitchen of the Week on Houzz.com.  Check it out!

Topics: Press, Projects

Selecting marble slabs

Sep 30, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

It is always exciting to go to the stone yard and select marble slabs for a project.  The large warehouses are filled with row after row of beautiful stone and granite, cut into approximately 5' x 8' slabs.  Yesterday I had the pleasure of looking through Carrara marble slabs for the Knott Street Residence project, where we are using it for bathroom vanities and thresholds.  It has been a while since we have used Carrara, but the look and feel of this particular stone is timeless.  The swirls of gray and cool white are so gorgeous it's breathtaking. It's fun to watch them move the slabs so that we can look at them one by one.  A rubber-tipped clamp hangs from a crane near the ceiling of the warehouse, and moving each piece from one side to the other is a cautious and time-consuming activity.  But it's totally fun to watch heavy things levitate. It's easy to get swept away by the beauty of these slabs, and forget what we're really there to do: select a slab that will work perfectly for the project.  Some things to remember when looking at natural stone: it's critical to pay attention to the pattern, and even bring a tape measure and some masking tape with you so you can understand where the pattern will go when the slab is cut, fabricated, and installed.  If there are large fissures, you'll probably want to avoid those slabs, as those areas are vulnerable to future cracking.  Look for any stains, rub them with your hand, and if they don't go away, you'll want to avoid that area for your project, or skip that slab all together.  If you see large mineral deposits or other imperfections in the middle of your favorite slab, one option is to configure the slab cuts such that the imperfection can fit within a sink cut-out, or place it between cuts. Lastly, stone is a precious and limited natural resource.  It's important to make sure that you are using the least number of slabs, and minimize waste.  If you can use the leftovers for floor thresholds, accent tiles, or even cheese boards, it is worth the extra effort to put it to good use.  If it's as gorgeous as this Carrara slab, you'll want it everywhere anyway.

Before and After: Novak Residence

Sep 15, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

It's not a true comparison to put our "before" photos, primarily taken for purposes of documentation and reference, to those of Lincoln Barbour's "after", which are shot by a professional and styled to showcase the design.  (And Lincoln is particularly good at making everything look fabulous - see him at work in our previous post.)  I should also add that the owners, Rachel and Mike Novak, are very clean and stylish people, and the "before" photos don't do their previous life any justice.  It just so happened that I took the photos on a Portland winter day, when things look especially dreary.  And I think the owners were clearing the cabinets to prepare for construction. (You can see another post about this project here, where we explain our project concept in more detail.)

So, the before/after photos are not intended to scrutinize the "before", but to show you the dramatic transformation between the "before" and "after".  Our hope is that you can see good architecture at work:

  • warm natural and artificial lighting
  • simple, refined lines
  • openness and good flow of spaces
  • smart use of natural materials
  • an improvement to the space, and to quality of life

Let us know what you think.

And as always, we can't do it without great clients (thanks Mike and Rachel) and a great contractor (thanks Scene Construction).  A fun project is always a collaborative process.

Rear elevation - before

Rear elevation - after

Rear elevation - before

Rear elevation - after

Rear mud room - before

Mud Room combined with Kitchen - after

What was the Mud Room - after

Looking into the Kitchen from the Dining Room - before

Looking into the Kitchen from the Dining Room - after

Topics: Projects

Photo Shoot with Lincoln Barbour

Aug 25, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

Last week, we had the Novak Residence photographed by the very talented Lincoln Barbour.  "Photo shoot" sounds glamorous and fun, and it is to a certain extent, but it's also hard work for everyone involved.  For starters, I arrived at the site at 8am, to go over the shots with the owner, talk to them about what props we brought, and how the rooms might be rearranged (but put back to its original condition after the shoot).  The owners had done a marvelous job tidying up the rooms, and since they are both artists and collectors, styling for this shoot was going to be minimal.  Still, there are things that we usually don't notice, that might be captured in a photo. So for every shoot, I go through each room carefully, straightening, moving, or removing things as I go.  Then I clean all the surfaces, including counters, cabinet doors, windows, doors, to make sure there are no spots.  I start bringing the props back into the room, and that is usually around when the photographer and his assistant arrive.  (And I should note that Lynn and I usually work on these shoots together, but I just happened to do this one on my own.)

This is my first time working with Lincoln.  I had seen his work on Portland Spaces magazine and fell in love with the composition and quality of light.  I thought, someday I will work with him.  So it was nice to finally meet, and find out that we were a good fit.  He and his assistant Justin were very friendly, and very efficient.  As soon as they arrived, they started setting up and got to work.

For every shot, we were able to review the angle, lighting, props, colors, etc. through his laptop.  Here, he's reviewing the shot before he lets me take a look.

Lincoln used reflectors in many of the shots, to get light where he wanted it.  The interior of a house can look dark, particularly when it's sunny outside.  I wanted to take more photos of "behind the scenes", but I was constantly running around, reviewing the current shot with Lincoln, preparing for the next shot, and scrolling through my phone in between to check on other projects.  It's literally non-stop, but since I thrive on that kind of high energy, I loved every moment of it.

So after every shoot, the photographers pack up and leave, and I start moving everything back to its original location, and make sure everything is back in order.  Then if I have some time left at the end, I take some photos of my own, particularly of things we didn't capture in the formal photo shoot.

Here is a view of the kitchen from the interior, as you look out to the back yard.  You can see the rich color of the wood pantry wall against the cooler textures of the quartz countertop and the rubber flooring, which I thought was nice. (But boy, I could have used some reflectors in this shot, huh?)

The original window above the sink had a sill and apron, but in the design we proposed that we remove them and make a new sill that acts as a task light and a termination point for the tile backsplash.  So here is a shot of that transition.

The sill extends all the way across the kitchen, and here you see the other end.  The owners have this magnificent wood figure, which you'll see in many of Lincoln's shots.  I just liked him so much, both as a piece and also as a vertical composition in the photo.

As I check to make sure we haven't left anything behind, I leave the owners a little gift and a note thanking them for letting us use their house.

In summary, we got some beautiful shots of a nice project for lovely clients, and I had a great time working with Lincoln.  Thanks again to everyone who was involved!  And I look forward to sharing photos from the shoot in our next post.

Topics: Office, Projects

Stephan Zirwes photographs: otherworldly and inspring

Jul 27, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

Check out a good sampling of his work here, or go to his website for a more complete viewing.  Photography considers space and composition just as much as architecture does, so it is inspiring on many levels.  I could absorb these images all day...

Topics: Art, Inspiration

Subtle Transformations

Jul 20, 2011 by Lynn Fisher

We are always excited about the prospect of transforming a house, as the act of designing and drawing is always in anticipation of the built product.  But every once in a while the reality exceeds our expectations. We are reassured that architecture transforms spaces, relationships, and quality of life.  And often we are moved by the more subtle transformations that aren't very obvious, but make an impact.

This project in Palo Alto, California, needed a better street presence, as well as a more graceful entry sequence.  As a way of improving the current exterior vocabulary, we moved the front door farther away from the garage door, and created a front porch as a transitional space between outside and inside.

The project is still under construction, but this recent site photo shows the transformation taking place.

Before

During

This project also included a complete gut and remodel of the interior.  This house has been designed to have elements of universal design, with provisions for future accessibility to help the owners age in place.  (If you are interested in reading more about universal design, there is a good article in The New York Times.)  So don't be fooled by its unassuming exterior - this little house will be working hard.

We've been a part of other exterior transformations, such as this one in Portland, Oregon:

You can see more photos of the Portland project on our Facebook page.

Topics: Projects

John Lautner at LACMA through July 24 2011

Jul 15, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

A must see for anyone who will lives in LA or will be visiting in the next month.

Topics: Architecture, Life

Novak Residence Tour and Post-Construction Visit

Jun 7, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

Last weekend we toured a past project with a current client so they can see some ideas.  Touring past projects is great both for the clients and for us.  For the current client, they can see and feel actual colors, fixtures, and surfaces, so they can start to narrow down their preferences.  For the past client, it's a time to let us know if any aspects of the completed project need attention or maintenance; sometimes they want to bounce off ideas about their next project.  For us, we get to see the completed environment in action; we see how they use it, what works, what doesn't, and whether it's standing the test of time.  If you currently work with an architect, or are thinking about working with one, we encourage you to ask for a tour of a past project; you'll find it to be insightful in many ways.

The Novak kitchen, which we toured last weekend, was a modern remodel in a traditional Craftsman bungalow. The owners, both artists and designers, were looking to incorporate their beautiful and minimalist sense of style into their home.  In general, kitchens and bathrooms are excellent and easy places to insert different styles; they are typically updated frequently, and rely on built-ins and surface finishes to set the aesthetic tone.  The challenge for this project was to integrate the style contrast seamlessly, since the kitchen was going to be completely opened up and visible from the rest of the house.  Mike and Rachel Novak were wonderful clients.  They had excellent taste, but were also open to new ideas.  The innovation and coherent aesthetic in their kitchen design was truly a product of intimate collaboration between the client and their architect (that's us).

There are so many fun things about this kitchen that it's hard to narrow down the list...  But the highlights are:

  • an open galley kitchen with full-length and full-height pantry storage on one side
  • opening up the rear mud room to create a larger area for the kitchen
  • using two types of cabinet finishes to make one side feel like a restaurant-quality working kitchen, and the other side feel like a textured feature wall (which is actually the pantry)
  • a window sill that is extended across the whole kitchen counter, and hides a strip light for illuminating the work surface
  • a floating breakfast bar in front of a three-panel bifold window
  • a feeling of openness, lots of natural light, and the integration of old and new

Special thanks Scene Construction, who did a marvelous job making our collective vision come to life.  We try to make most of the important design decisions before construction begins, but there are always more questions and unexpected issues that come up while construction is in progress.  Our role is to help answer those questions that are in keeping with the clients' budget, time line, and vision.  And we couldn't do our job as well if it weren't for a versatile contractor who knows when to ask questions, and respect the design process.  Needless to say, Jason and Kris of Scene Construction can do both.

We are in the process of securing a photographer so we can get NICE photographs of the project; in the mean time, Hiromi took some simple shots on her phone so we can share some before/after shots with you.

Before - a typical doorway into the Kitchen with some built-in casework on the Dining Room side

After - Dining Room wall is removed to let the Kitchen spill into the room

Before - a separate Mud Room

After: the Kitchen extends into the old Mud Room with the bifold window and breakfast bar at the end

The head height at the eave end of the Mud Room was too low, so the breakfast bar blocks you from trying to go through. There is a french door on the side to access the deck and yard

We designed the breakfast bar dimensions to fit into a drawer space, so it look like it's emerging out of the cabinet

This project will soon be featured on Apartment Therapy, so stay tuned.

Topics: Projects

Sakai Residence post-construction visit

May 27, 2011 by Hiromi Ogawa

We recently visited the Sakai Residence (here's a link to a recent interview with the owners) to say hello, see how everything is holding up, and to scout some possible photos to shoot with our favorite photographer, Joe Fletcher.  Our photos below are far from the stunning images Joe will capture for us, but here's a sneak peek of the project.

back elevation of two-story addition and new detached studio; owners are currently landscaping the back yard

close-up view of wood siding and corner window

open ktichen

breakfast room next to kitchen

the view of San Francisco Bay from the master bedroom balcony on the new second floor

Master Bath wall tile with pebble accents and teak floor

Topics: Projects

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