Outdoor Rooms

 

Many of us choose to live in the Lowcountry because of the natural beauty of our great trees, salt marshes, and beaches. The health benefits of spending time outdoors has been documented by many studies including a 2015 Stanford University study that found that mental health is improved by being outdoors. So it is not surprising that The American Institute of Architects most recent Home Design Trends survey reported that requests for outdoor living spaces have increased for the 8th consecutive year.

With Fall’s gorgeous weather approaching, it is the perfect time to spruce up or create your outdoor living space. When planning your outdoor living, establish zones or rooms for different activities such as cooking, dining al fresco, relaxing, entertaining, swimming, backyard games and sunset or sunrise viewing. The rooms can be defined by structures including porches, pergolas, and gazeboes; different paving materials; plants; and fences. A sense of discovery and surprise adds interest to the garden.

Essential components for sensory richness are light, sound, smell, colors, movement, textures, and patterns. These can be created using fire, water, plants, shade, paving, and light. Start by anticipating the experience you want to achieve. For example, a fire allows you to linger outside a bit longer on a cool evening. This can be something as simple as a fire pit or chiminea or as elaborate as an outdoor masonry fireplace.

The landscape architect Robert Marvin often included a “sun pocket” in his designs.  A sun pocket is a south facing sitting area with a masonry wall behind the seat. The masonry wall soaks up the sun’s warmth and blocks the cold north wind and creates a warm micro-climate which is a perfect place to sit on a cool afternoon.

Bird baths are an easy way to add water to your landscape. Their benefits are not just for the birds. It is delightful to watch the birds preen when they bathe. Fountains add interest both visually and through sound. Devise an element of surprise by placing the fountain where it is not immediately seen but can be heard. The Japanese Shishi-odoshi or “Scare the Deer” is something we all might want to add to our lowcountry gardens. The bamboo fountain is on an off center pivot. The open end of the bamboo fills with water. When full, it tilts to empty the water and makes a loud thud against a rock when the bamboo returns to its original position. It repeats about every five minutes.

The final components for your outdoor living is the furniture, lighting and accessories. Comfort and durability are key. One reason while fall is a good time for sprucing up your outdoor space is many outdoor furniture companies have their products discounted now.


Eileen Fisher - DesignWorks

 

Eileen Fisher was on the American Institute of Architects A’18 Expo Floor promoting her new business DesignWork. She created DesignWorks to compensate the fashion industry unsustainable business model of creating new clothes every year while tossing last years styles. Roughly 85% of textiles end up in land fills, including those donated to charity.

Fisher decided to recycle clothes into new beautiful objects that consumers will keep for years. After enjoying wearing Fisher’s clothes, the company will buy them back, in any condition, to be resold or renewed through techniques like overdyeing and mending which uses part of what is collected, but not all. In 2015, Eileen Fisher launched DesignWork studio to create new textiles and uses from scraps of their own remaining recycled materials.

All DesignWork materials are made directly from the old garments and scraps from new garments. They are felted with 100% recycled fabric from Eileen Fisher and transformed into products for the architecture trade and for homes. Products include pillows (shown above), wall hangings, and acoustical panels. The new felted fabrics are beautiful in looks and soft and cozy to touch.

Go to www.eileenfisherrenew.com to see how to recycle your clothes an receive a $5 Rewards card.


Material Science

 

As we work to make our buildings more sustainable, selecting environmentally responsible building products and materials is critical to reducing the carbon footprint and building healthy buildings.  To select materials wisely, we have to understand what is in them, how they were made, and if they can be recycled at the end of their usefulness.

There are over 60,000 synthetic chemicals that were grandfathered when the first chemical regulatory system was adopted in the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act. These materials are considered innocent until proven guilty and the burden is on the public to prove they are unsafe.

Toxic chemicals can be found in many things including paints, flooring, carpeting, PVC pipes, and appliances. One example is Methylene chloride that is found is the paint stripper Goof Off Pro Stripper. Veena Singla, Ph.D Associate Director of Science and Policy at the University of California, San Francisco said, “Methylene chloride is a toxic chemical that can quickly build up to dangerous levels in work spaces. It can cause rapid unconsciousness and death and has killed far too many people already. These tragedies are preventable.” The elimination of toxic materials is most important for interior products where occupant exposure is an issue.

Materials should also be evaluated on their life cycle which includes embodied energy consumed in the raw material extraction, production, transportation, use, and recycling or disposal. This is especially important for large quantities of materials.

A tool that help determine the best materials is an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)  which is sometimes described as a “nutrition label for products”. The EPD document outlines the sustainability of a product. It includes a list of the basic materials and components, a description of the manufacturing process, the life cycle assessment, the carbon footprint and other environmental impact data such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions or third party certifications.

There are two good resources to find sustainable healthy products. One is  The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization that provides independent certification of sustainable products from building materials to cleaning supplies. Their list of certified products are found at www.c2ccertified.org. The other is Building Green found at www.buildinggreen.com


Home Security Systems

 

We decided that it was time to invest in a security system for our house and office after our house was broken into on Christmas Day. As we starting researching, we discovered that the options were almost overwhelming. Did we want to self-monitor the system or have a third party monitor? Did we need cameras? Should every door and window be connected to the system? How many motion detectors? What about smart-house options? Did we want a professionally installed system or do it ourselves?

Contemporary alarm systems are comprised of three basic sub-systems, burglar alarms, smoke and fire alarms, and carbon monoxide alarms. Temperature and water sensors are also available.

The burglar alarm monitors the perimeter of the house with door and window sensors and cameras; the interior is monitored with motion detectors. Select motion detectors that are pet sensitive and will not be set off by your animals.  Most people opt for a combination of the above. Depending on the visibility of your house to your neighbors, second story window sensors may not be needed.

Smoke and fire alarms can be the basic smoke detectors or be upgraded with a heat detector which monitors a sudden rise in temperature. The building code requires a smoke and fire alarm to be located in each bedroom, outside of each bedroom, and on every level. The alarms must be interconnected (either wirelessly or hardwired) so that all the alarms will sound when one is activated.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas. The carbon monoxide alarms are installed on each level of the house and detect when carbon monoxide is present at an unsafe level. The building code requires carbon monoxide alarms in houses with fueled fired appliances and/or houses with attached garages. Most systems offer a combination smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide alarm. This reduces the number of sensor mounted on the walls.

Temperature sensors monitor cold air inside the house to prevent pipe freezing. The water sensor detects water intrusion or a leaking water heater.

Cost can be a determining factor in deciding whether to have a centralized third party monitor or to self- monitor. A self-monitoring system will notify you on your smart phone when the alarm is activated. It is then your responsibility to call 911 or determine if it is a false alarm. One drawback with this system is if your phone is turned off you will not be notified. Centralized third party monitoring has an on-going subscription fee. Many home insurance policies provide a credit for monitored systems so it might be a break even investment. Both professionally installed systems and do-it-yourself systems offer centralized third party monitoring.

Remote access and the integration with a home automation system is available with most security systems. With the remote access you can log on and control your security system, thermostat, lights, locks, and other connected items. Some systems will even notify you when someone rings your doorbell and you can talk to them by video on your phone. Most systems allow you to add additional automation features at a later date.

Online reviews of security systems and meeting with local security specialists can help you determine the best solution for your needs and budget. The system we selected for our house and office was professionally installed and monitored. We chose it because of the ease of use, the ability to add home automation systems later, and the price was reasonable.


Custom Furniture Design

Did you know that we design custom furniture? We designed this walnut headboard that is book-matched with curly maple insets. It was made by Michael Sanders with Sanders' Woodworks  Below is a close up of the headboard.

We designed this pair of matching foyer tables with scrap slabs of marble.

Sometimes you need a skinny table that is just the right size. This is a steel table we designed that Pender Brothers made for us.

Likewise, a really big table to feed a crowd outdoors is pretty nice, too. Pender Brothers made the base for this granite top table.

This funky corrugated metal coffee table is perfect in a corrugated metal Quonset hut.


Lighting Your House

Have you ever had the experience of arriving for a visit at someone’s house and the porch light wasn’t on? We end up wondering, ‘Are they expecting me?’ Let’s say it turns out that they are expecting you and you are ushered into a kitchen to chat under bright lights and then into a dining room that is somewhat dim.

Contrast this to pulling into a well-lit space on the driveway and following a path of attractive footlights up to a front porch that has a welcoming glow. Inside, sofas and chairs bathed in the glow of nearby lamps as well as some ambient lighting from above. When you step into the kitchen to help the chef, task lighting eases your vegetable chopping. Upon being invited into the dining room, the chandelier is the centerpiece over a dining room table on which the crystal and china seem simply lit up. Wondering how this has been accomplished, you notice two spotlights shining down onto the table from the ceiling, adding luster to the scene.

The cues we get from lighting color our experiences. In the first scenario, the impressions are: unclear, harsh, enigmatic. In the second, all seems arranged for your pleasure and comfort.

But let’s say you are working on a task one evening and entertaining the next. We like to use layering of the lights to achieve the desired effect. This way you are able to use ambient lighting so you can see to get through a room, task lighting for just those areas where you need it, ‘jewelry’ lighting like chandeliers for special occasions, and spotlighting to heighten the attention or effect. They can be used separately or in combination, particularly on special occasions.

Now, let’s say you’ve figured out or worked with a lighting designer to determine how to get just the right combination of lighting for a dinner party. That can be programmed into a control panel, as can several other lighting combinations. Then, it’s just the press of a button on a control panel or iPad to get the same arrangement again. Of course, we still like to have traditional switches on the wall so that visitors or grandparents will know how to work the lights.

Most of our local houses have large windows to take advantage of the great views of the Lowcountry landscape. Without the proper landscape lighting the windows become black mirrors at night creating a boxed in feel. Layering light in the garden connects you to the outside even at night by visually expanding the interior space.  It is important to remember that you are not recreating daylight, but a dynamic composition to enliven the outdoor room.

Like interior lighting, you want to use different levels of lighting in your garden.  Task lighting is used for grilling or reading. These lights are typically down lights and should be switched separately from the other exterior lights. Ambient lighting is indirect lighting that softens shadows.  Accent lights provide depth and dimensions and should be used sparingly.  Finally decorative lighting is the finishing touch welcoming you to the house.

Lighting is essential to being able to use your house in multiple ways and create the appropriate atmosphere for the occasion.


Kitchen Trends

Kitchens are trending more contemporary according to the Kitchen & Bath Business (KBB) research. Some of the trends are great looking, but are they practical for your lifestyle? One hot trend is floating shelves instead of wall cabinets. They look cool if you have attractive coordinating dishes, but, not so cool with peanut butter jars and chip bags. Open shelves also collect dust and grease so there is additional cleaning. Another is no wall cabinets, which works if there is a large pantry close by to house the misplaced items.

Kitchen islands are becoming the focal point in the room. Waterfall countertops are stylish and add drama to the island. Dropped island counters for chairs instead of raised for bar stools is on the rise. A combination of counter materials, such as quartz and wood, is chic.

Some trends are driven by the desire for low maintenance such as slab cabinet doors, large format tile backsplashes and engineered quartz countertops. The flat smooth cabinet doors are easy to clean since they do not have anywhere for dust and dirt to accumulate. Likewise, large tiles have less grout for cleaner lines. Engineered quartz has the beauty of natural stone and is almost indestructible. It is also non-absorbent, so there are no worries about stains.

KBB reports that side-by-side refrigerators are on the decline and French door with bottom freezers are the most popular because of the large width for eyelevel refrigeration. Completely separate refrigerators and freezers are gaining popularity. We have also noted a preference for additional point of use undercounter refrigerators next to salad and bar sinks. French door ovens and side opening ovens are new on the market. They can make the kitchen more accessible when mounted at counter height. Many of the appliance companies are now offering a darker stainless steel, often called slate or black stainless steel, which is perfect for the trend in gray colored kitchens.

Trash compactors are almost obsolete, and warming drawers are on the decline. Built-in coffee stations are “meh” for our clients who think it is just one more built-in item that would need repairs. The hot new appliance is a convection steam oven. They can cook in multiple modes, steam only, convection only, or a combination of steam and convention. The steam oven cooks vegetables to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is great for defrosting and reheating leftovers. The steam oven cooks more quickly at a lower temperature. The combination setting is perfect for meats by keeping them moist and tender.


Thermally Modified Decking

When we first proposed using thermally treated decking for a project in Long Cove Club, we were drawn to the beauty of the wood. After the heating process, ash is rendered a gorgeous brown that looks exotic and expensive. There are many other advantages to using this product besides the aesthetics.

The product is very durable, water resistant and environmentally friendly. The heating process removes the sap and resin in the wood, which prevents mold and bacteria growth. There are no toxic chemicals applied. After the thermal modification process, the moisture content of the timber is very low, which limits the moisture absorption. The boards won't warp, bend or swell, even without a protective coat. Thermally modified timber is a great choice for exterior applications, especially in the hot and humid South. 


Outdoor Kitchens

Summer is the perfect time for outdoor cooking whether it is steaming a pot of crabs or grilling burgers on the 4th of July. Outdoor kitchens range from full kitchens with grills, fryers, smokers, pizza ovens, refrigerators, sinks, and dishwashers to a charcoal grill on the edge of the patio. When planning your outdoor cooking area, begin by determining what will be the end use of the space. Is one person going to go outside to flip the burgers or will you entertain while cooking and eating outside? This will help you decide the size and location of your outdoor kitchen.

The design of a full service outdoor kitchen should follow the same rules as outlined by the National Kitchen and Bath Association for an indoor kitchen. The basic layout is a work triangle measured from the center of the sink, refrigerator, and grill.  Each leg of the triangle should be between four and nine feet and the sum of the legs should not exceed twenty-six feet.  There should be no obstructions in the triangle or through traffic.  Counters should be a minimum of 42” apart for one cook and 48” for two cooks. Kitchens designed for multiple cooks should consider two sinks and therefore two work triangles.

The outdoor rooms should complement the design of the house and create distinctive areas for cooking, eating, and sitting. To extend the use of the space install a roof that both shades the area and blocks the rain. By controlling the temperature with ceiling fans for warm weather and a fireplace or heaters for cool weather, the room is usable almost the entire year. Outdoor fireplaces are a great way anchor the space. Full service outdoor kitchens can be further away from the main house because the prep work can be done outside rather than inside.

The details are critical for longevity, maintenance, and ease of use. For countertops avoid highly porous materials such as limestone or marble. Instead, use cultured granite with UV stabilizers or stainless steel. Select appliances that are designed for outdoor use. Install an outdoor range hood if the grill, smoker, and/or fryer is under a roof. Lighting is critical and should include both task lighting for cooking and cleaning and general lighting for entertaining. Finally, don’t forget to add music to the mix to add some life to the party.

A modest grilling area can be very functional when it is close to the kitchen where all the prep work will happen. A grill, small staging area, and a task light are the essential components to cook up a great dinner.