How Large a Home do You Really Need?

Everyone contemplating a custom home asks “How big a house do I need?” There are multiple considerations that go into answering this question, besides the most obvious — the budget.

Important elements to consider:

  • The physical limitations of the building site
  • Family members living in the home (small children, teenagers, extended family, etc.)
  • Long term use of the home (family events, aging in place & accessibility)
  • Alternative uses for the space
  • The cost of energy in your area
  • Your personal philosophy

At Stillwater we believe your home should compliment your lifestyle–now and in the future. Too large a space wastes materials, resources and money. Too small and reduced scale increases costs.
According to architect Matthew Stannard, Stillwater’s CEO:

All of our 20+ plans are designed to maximize livability and efficiency without adding expensive extra square footage. Many homes feature 12 foot high ceilings and floor to ceiling glass. Innovative and efficient design can make even smaller spaces feel spacious.

We love to talk about home planning. Call or email us today.

800-691-7302 kaveh@stillwaterdwellings.com

Want to read more about how big is big enough? Below are some helpful links.
How Much Home Do You Really Need?
10 Tips for Smart Home Design

Just What is Prefab?



The New York Times recently published an article on Revolution, a company founded by Robbie Antonio that sells precrafted tiny homes and pavilions. This article got us thinking about the definition of prefab. Mr. Antonio, a 38 year old Stanford MBA, has a taste for contemporary art, luxury brands, and big ticket architecture. Yes, these homes and pavilions are gorgeous and pre-built, but the designs are so idiosyncratic it’s hard to imagine their production with any efficiency.

I was especially drawn to the bimorphic moon pavilion by Daniel Libeskind (see above photo). It appears to be a bisected blob of molten gold, and shows the hand of a master designer–“blobs” are not as easy to create as you may think.

Likewise, Gluckman Tang’s art pavilion, made from lacquered wood and translucent polycarbonate, is a sweet, well controlled minimalist structure and the closest of all of Revolution’s “precrafted properties” to the reality of typical building methods.

There’s a lot of talk about the notion of prefab, but in actuality the dwellings in this article are more like prefab prototyping, and prototyping is likely to be the way they will stay. After all, one of the fundamental tenants of prefab is that its supposed to be affordable, mass production housing, not a couture dwelling.

An Almost Magical Building Material


As an architect, I could specify a wide variety of contemporary building materials in my homes. But only one is totally sustainable, is flexible enough to shift as structures settle, does not expand and contract with the seasons, is energy efficient, is both a structural and finishing material, is easy to work with and repair, and is totally recyclable. Of course I’m talking about wood.
It’s almost a magical material. Trees take energy from the sun, and carbon dioxide from the air and converts them into a totally natural, renewable and recyclable product. Wood building materials continue to evolve. In the last 50 years researchers have developed ways to utilize wood to make incredibly strong beams and other structural materials. Engineered wood building systems are now being used to build midrise towers. Instead of steel and concrete, the floors, ceilings, elevator shafts, and stairwells are made entirely of wood.
It is also one of the best building materials for earthquake prone areas. In 1995 an earthquake of 6.0 magnitude hit the city of Kobe, Japan. Among the devastated traditional style houses were examples of modern wood construction and wood-frame houses. Of approximately 8000 “2 by 4” framed houses, none collapsed and 70% reported no damage at all.
Personally I love building with wood. It allows me to bring to life just about any design I can imagine. It comes from the ground and will eventually return to the ground. It’s as organic as the people who will reside in the homes built with it, and there is nothing more wonderful than the smell of a freshly framed home.

Why are We Attracted to Art and Beauty?

Is appreciation for art and its architectural component learned, inherited or a little of both?  Why do some people love specific forms of art while others don’t get it?  I have always believed appreciation of beauty was, at least partially, innate.  As an architect, working with hundreds of clients through the years, something about the look of a home and its setting on a site just feels “right”.  Was this because of the client’s highly evolved taste or something much more basic?
Denis Dutton, in his fascinating book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution argues that aesthetic taste, is an evolutionary trait, shaped by natural selection.  In many circles this seemingly logical conclusion was rather radical.  In the introduction to the book Dutton states “Charles Darwin laid the foundation for the proper study of art as not only a cultural phenomenon, but a natural one as well.”  The book provides fascinating arguments to prove the point.  It’s well worth reading.
Mr. Dutton grew up in Los Angeles, received a PhD from the University of California and spent his academic career as an art philosopher in the U. S. and New Zealand.  He gave a terrific Ted Talk on the Darwinian theory of beauty a few years ago.

At Home With Bill Bryson

I enjoyed the dry wit and content of Bill Bryson’s “A History of Almost Everything” so much that I’m really looking forward to reading his latest book At Home, A Short History of Private Life”. Bryson has an incredible knack for making nonfiction especially interesting and at times, painfully funny. The Seattle Times reviews Bryson’s latest publication:
‘At Home’: Bill Bryson Constructs a History of Private Life
By Bharti Kirchner
Special to The Seattle Times
Most people would be satisfied with a home in a village like one in the county of Norfolk, England, and simply go on enjoying it, but not Bill Bryson (“A Short History of Nearly Everything”). A chance inspection of an attic to determine the source of a drip leads him in an unexpected direction. He begins strolling from room to room, pondering domestic objects around him — a fork, a sofa, a cabinet — and also the function of each space, as well as how it might have evolved through time. The journal he keeps results in a new book, quirky but entertaining, filled with observations about the history of everyday life spanning the last 150 or so years.
“Houses aren’t refuges from history,” Bryson says. “They are where history ends up.”
‘At Home: A Short History of Private Life’
by Bill Bryson
Doubleday, 452 pp., $28.95
Read the complete review here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/books/2013091826_br10bryson.html

The cost-per-square-foot game

Costs “per/sf” are like the 10-day weather forecast: they exist because there is a huge demand for them and the fact that they are usually woefully inaccurate is hardly ever factored. To use a favorite Bushism, there’s a lot of misunderestimating going on.
When comparing costs per square foot it is critical to make sure you are using an apples-to-apples comparison. On the top of the equation ask yourself what costs are included. Does it include landscape, hardscape, permit fees, architect and engineering fees, cost of money, sales tax and contingency?
On the bottom of the equation, what exactly, is the area measured? Just livable spaces, or are the garage, mechanical, storage, covered areas, deck and patio areas also included?  Manipulate these numbers for any project and you can easily have a 100% swing.
And that’s not accounting for the human factor; sometimes the most telling metric would be the delta nose length, measured before and after some people spout out these numbers.

Contemporary Prefab Houses

Stillwater Dwellings has been included in a just-released publication from Braun Publishing on prefab design. Beautifully produced, Contemporary Prefab Housesemphasizes design by architects who incorporate a modernist aesthetic, sustainable production and deliver high-quality, affordable dwellings. The author explores the challenges in combining sustainability with building designs that appeal to the discriminating tastes of the average prefab client. Galindo also examines the efforts to overcome the negative stereotypes that arise when prefab is mistakenly associated with manufactured housing.


The featured Stillwater Dwellings home, model sd231, was installed in Bend Oregon in 2009.


Let the Sun Shine

What do California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have in common? Homeowners who live there, and who love the idea of solar power but can’t afford the upfront costs, have a terrific alternative. Innovative California company SunRun offers residential solar power systems for as low as $0. As in zero, nothing down; simply a monthly payment for your solar electricity.
It’s an intriguing business model that takes the complexity and expense out of alternate energy while weaning us off our dependency on fossil fuels.
“SunRun, the nation’s leading home solar company, has received a 2010 Green Power Leadership Award from the Department of Energy (DOE) for its clean and affordable solar power service.”
We’re not the only ones who are excited about it.

Livable Cities are Bike-Friendly

The New York Times T Magazine design section recently showcased the stylish Linus bicycle:
And a few days later the BBC picked up the trend of America’s increased interest in bicycles as transportation, not merely recreation:
“America is known for its enduring love affair with the automobile. But in the last few years cities across the US have reported a surge in bicycle use, as people search for greener, healthier – and cheaper – transport options.”
“…even the most bike-friendly US cities have years to go before catching European cities such as Copenhagen, where an estimated 30% of residents commute to work or school on a bicycle.
But Copenhagen cyclists have benefited from decades of pro-bike planning decisions, while US urban planners must overcome a century of energy politics and urban policy designed to promote vehicle use.”
Read the entire story over on BBC online
Cycle commuting in the US
Portland, Oregon – 5.96%
Minneapolis – 4.27%
Seattle – 2.94%
Sacramento – 2.72%
San Francisco – 2.72%
Washington, DC – 2.33%
Oakland – 2.15%
Tucson – 2.04%
Albuquerque – 1.75%
US – 0.55%
Source: US Census Bureau

New Urbanism, Old School Design

Vacationing on the outer Pacific Coast in Washington we made a detour to the planned community of Seabrook, WA and got to meet the very approachable Casey Roloff who is the proud father of this baby. From a planning perspective it’s a very good example of New Urbanism with a sensible approach to environment and community. It has a good feel that will only get stronger as the place matures and gets that lived in feel that only a bit of time can accomplish.  But wandering the lanes and paths I couldn’t help wondering what it could have been if the buildings were contemporary. This recent Seattle Times article goes deeper:
planned comunity new construction
Seabrook developer building community, not just homes
By Beth Potter
SEABROOK, Grays Harbor County — Developer Casey Roloff likes to say that he’s building a sense of “community” — one house at a time.
His 6-year-old beach town on a bluff overlooking the ocean is designed to make folks feel at home — from the bustling Front Street Café as you drive in, to the open, wooden box filled with balls and other sports equipment at the entrance to a centrally located park.
You can pick up a loaner bike to ride around the narrow streets of the town about three hours’ drive southwest of Seattle — or take your kids down to the beach to dig in the sand. Houses have colorful names like “The Lost Lobster” and “Hodge Podge Lodge.”
“It’s not about the view or the beach or the ocean,” Roloff says. “A lot of people come and buy a house, and the town is so compelling that they haven’t been to the beach, and they’re sold.”

Less is More? It Depends on Who You Ask.

In a recent gloomy and hand wringing report on Japan’s declining living standards and intractable economic stagnation, the New York Times’ Martin Fackler decries a unique solution to urban infill:
“The downsizing of Japan’s ambitions can be seen on the streets of Tokyo, where concrete “micro houses” have become popular among younger Japanese who cannot afford even the famously cramped housing of their parents, or lack the job security to take out a traditional multi-decade loan.
These matchbox-size homes stand on plots of land barely large enough to park a sport utility vehicle, yet have three stories of closet-size bedrooms, suitcase-size closets and a tiny kitchen that properly belongs on a submarine.”
While over at Inhabitat, a Japanese micro house is featured as a model of intelligent design:
“The Showa-cho House in Osaka Japan is an amazingly airy residence despite its miniscule 59 x 13-foot lot. Architect Fujiwara Muro made incredible use of the limited space available by building up and splitting the home in half with a staircase, which acts as both a transition space and delineates the private and public sides of the home without a wall. Plenty of daylight flows in, and a simplified modern interior streamlines the space, adding a tranquil feeling to a home dictated by a ten foot-wide interior dimension.”
Read the complete story: Amazing Japanese Micro House is Only Ten Feet Wide Inside